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Newport committee signals preferred outreach specialist for general plan update

Newport committee signals preferred outreach specialist for general plan update
Newport Beach is in the early stages of updating its general plan, its long-term planning and development guideline. A consultant for community outreach, selected with input from a local steering committee, is expected to be in place this summer. (File Photo)

Newport Beach has a front-running candidate to lead community outreach in updating the city’s long-term planning and development guideline.

The city received five applications and the citizen-led General Plan Steering Committee publicly interviewed three applicants Wednesday, asking about their familiarity with general plans and how they would engage casual observers of local government.

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After weighing the candidates’ answers and seeing work samples, the committee tentatively pegged Kearns & West, which has offices around California and elsewhere in the country, as its top pick.

The outreach specialist, which will be confirmed by the City Council this summer, will be expected to become familiar with the current general plan, “capture community desires” and summarize them as part of a full general plan update process that is expected to take about three years.

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Committee member Larry Tucker said he was impressed with how the Kearns & West employees who would directly handle Newport’s outreach took the committee’s questions. Committee Chairwoman Nancy Gardner said she liked how the firm is focused on the educational process more than a particular outcome.

A staff review also placed Kearns & West at the top of the application pile, giving it high marks for qualifications and experience, references, understanding of scope and ability to perform.

The two Kearns & West project managers said they have worked on more than 25 local general plans between them, while one of the firm’s consultants has worked on more than 60 general plans. Locally, the firm has worked on the Laguna Beach Village Entrance project, which wrapped up its first phase this month.

The committee split its search for consultants, separating the preliminary “listen and learn” outreach from the preparation of the actual plan, which will require another application process. However, the panel leaned toward firms with both strategic communications and municipal planning backgrounds.

City Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis said the next step for staff will be to review the applicants’ proposed prices.

The city plans to spend about a year on outreach. Public forums generally will cover land use, housing, traffic, sea level rise, sustainability and, specifically, the future of development in the John Wayne Airport area, Banning Ranch, Mariner’s Mile, Newport Center and the harbor and bay.

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