Newport Beach’s housing element update almost ready for state’s review

A person bikes past a few houses in Newport Beach.
The Newport Beach City Council looked again at the housing element update on Tuesday. The draft document will be submitted to the state in 30 days.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

At a study session Tuesday, the Newport Beach City Council got another look at the draft for the housing element, a comprehensive document that details housing plans and policies within city borders, before it’s submitted to the state in a month.

Local jurisdictions are required to update the housing element every five to eight years. The update is supposed to be adopted by mid-October, but the state provides a grace period of 120 days.

Current scheduling suggests that the housing element update will be adopted some time in January, according to the presentation.

The initial draft was introduced to city council members in April and has since undergone several revisions. Tuesday’s presentation was the third time it was presented to the City Council.

The draft plan now assumes 1,000 accessory dwelling units, also colloquially known as granny flats or secondary units, and an increase in the number of units at Banning Ranch and Coyote Canyon.

Jim Campbell, deputy director of community development, said city staff felt the draft plan now represents a more equitable distribution of housing throughout the community.

It also includes a policy to encourage senior housing and an interim policy that would require at least 15% of new housing developments to be affordable to lower-income residents.

Campbell said city staff sent a letter to the state Department of Housing and Community Development asking for a reduction in the Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers required of Newport Beach. He said the letter was chiefly related to Banning Ranch and “competing state priorities” related to conservation and housing.

Conservationists have long vied to purchase the 384-acre oil field and turn it into a public park and, as of June, have raised $72 million of their $97-million goal to do so.

That potential purchase creates uncertainty as to whether or not housing will be able to be placed there. A special meeting is tentatively proposed should any major development occur between this week and the time of the draft’s submission to the state.

The city of Newport Beach is currently being required to allow for 4,845 housing units over the next decade, according to the Southern California Assn. of Governments, which assigns the Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers for Orange, Los Angeles and four other Southern California counties.

The organization made the call to shift more housing toward coastal cities as opposed to inland in November 2019.

Though the state does not require local jurisdictions to construct the housing units, they are required to at least zone for them on paper. Newport Beach, along with several other cities throughout Orange County, have pushed back on the mandate.

The hearing went on for almost two hours, with residents asking questions about density bonuses, the inclusionary housing policy and increasing the number of accessible dwelling units. Some expressed that they didn’t feel the draft, as it was proposed Tuesday, was ready for submittal to the state for review and asked for delay of it.

“We understand,” Councilman Will O’Neill said in response to those concerned residents. “We [on the City Council] don’t like this. No one up here likes this and that’s saying it mildly.

“But at some point, we need to get to a point where we’re not studying and we’re submitting and, at least on a draft side, putting it in,” he continued. “I think at that point we should probably be putting this in in about 30 days, holding our nose the whole time.”

Submittal to the state for a mandatory 60-day review period is expected to be made in 30 days, following council direction.

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