Mariners’ Mile overhaul could be 2 to 3 years out

Traffic travels along the approximately 1-mile section of West Coast Highway in Newport Beach known as Mariner's Mile.
Traffic travels along the approximately 1-mile section of West Coast Highway in Newport Beach known as Mariner’s Mile.
(File photo / Daily Pilot)

A decision on whether to revitalize Mariners’ Mile was put on hold after a letter from a lawyer representing Newport Beach residents opposing the change was sent to city leaders.

The letter preceded the city’s decision to postpone a commission vote that could have sent the plan to the City Council for adoption.

City management said the community needs more time to discuss the wide-ranging plan, potentially putting it off for about two to three years.


The Newport Beach Planning Commission was set to possibly recommend a framework Thursday to the City Council for refreshing the stretch of Coast Highway between Newport Boulevard and Dover Drive. Some ideas included rerouting traffic flow and making the area a more pedestrian-friendly village.

In a 10-page letter sent Monday to the Planning Commission, City Council and several key staffers, attorney Aaron Ehrlich cited numerous reasons why the Mariners’ Mile revitalization draft plan should have included a detailed environmental impact review — contrary to statements in city reports that the plan doesn’t require one.

Ehrlich, who represents the citizens group Coalition to Protect Mariners’ Mile, made the following arguments:

  • The plan is a project that will cause a physical change, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect change, in the environment in the short term, including a workers’ parking shuttle, standardization of valet parking agreements, a worker parking permit program, and opening private parking lots for public use, all elements authorized in the draft plan.
  • Feasibility or exploratory studies would not legally need an environmental impact review, but the Mariners’ Mile plan is more than that. The draft plan outlines specific aesthetic and physical building changes and “this is not merely prospective.”
  • The city had previously presented the widening of the 1.3-mile stretch of Coast Highway to six lanes as part of the revitalization project, but split if off “in order to avoid a full environmental review and to make the Draft Plan appear more innocuous than the true full project.” Ehrlich argued that after public opposition to the road widening, the city started saying there is no relationship between the road project and the revitalization plan.
  • Mariners’ Mile changes should be part of the upcoming general plan revision, which is set to start at the end of this year, especially since the general plan update could revise Mariners’ Mile boundaries.
  • Even if the plan does not legally require a full environmental impact review, it does require some kind of environmental consideration, which it lacks.

City Manager Dave Kiff said Community Development Director Kim Brandt and Deputy Director Brenda Wisneski made the call after discussing it with him.

“It was a policy decision to delay it, not a legal one,” he said in an email. “We all felt like the community needed a lot more engagement time on several issues relating to Mariners’ Mile, and believe that the General Plan process will assist in that.”

The city announced Tuesday that the plan’s vote was bumped off this week’s planning commission agenda because of “significant concerns expressed by the community,” and that the item may return after the city completes its revision of the general plan, the overall policy document that guides planning and zoning decisions.

Mariners’ Mile changes could be rolled into the lengthy overall general plan update, Kiff said. And that update will include an environmental impact report. He said “any vote on changes to Mariners’ Mile would likely be two to three years away.”

Brandt said the road widening component will become a part of the general plan discussion and the results of that will inform what planners do next.

“We understand what the community’s saying and the general plan update is a very important project that we’re going to be undertaking soon,” she said.

Many area residents have expressed concerns about the revitalization plan, particularly the proposal to widen the busy road.

At a study session in April, commissioners were hesitant to move on the plan. They were split on whether the revitalization and road widening were separate issues or if they go hand in hand. But they did say they wanted to gather more feedback.

Peggy Palmer, who lives in the nearby Newport Heights neighborhood and is active with the Coalition to Protect Mariners’ Mile, said widening Coast Highway to six lanes — three in each direction — is incompatible with the area and would defeat the purpose of any other redevelopment.

Palmer said she is excited that government listened to the locals, and she looks forward to working with the city on a smart Mariners’ Mile refresh. She pointed to the recent facelift of Lido Village as an example of good improvements.

“We’re not the old lady brigade that doesn’t want development,” she said.

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