Greenlight foes say measure too costly

Noaki Schwartz

NEWPORT BEACH -- The debate over how many citywide elections could be

triggered by the proposed Greenlight initiative -- and the price tag it

would carry -- is raging between the respective authors of the

slow-growth measure and a countermeasure that will appear on the November


Both parties continue to wrangle over the Greenlight initiative's

complex wording. But the simple fact is the Greenlight measure would

force a citywide vote and give residents the final say on certain major

developments, even if they've been approved by the City Council and

Planning Commission.

The number of potential elections could become an important

consideration for taxpayers, who would end up footing the bill each time

a project was put on a ballot.

At an estimated $4,000 for a consolidated election, or as much as

$90,000 for a special election, the cost could become exorbitant.

Greenlight proponents say if their measure was in place during the

last decade, fewer than two projects a year would have been put to a

citywide vote. Opponents, however, argue that in their analysis, it would

have been many more.

"Once an area is built out, Greenlight requires an election for any

general plan amendment," said former mayor Clarence Turner, coauthor of

the competing Traffic Phasing measure. "Using this logic, the number of

elections we would have is staggering."

However, Greenlight proponent Allan Beek says Greenlight foes don't

understand the measure they're criticizing.

"It would only have to be the big projects that get voted on," Beek

argued. "I think Greenlight is easy to understand and I think it's easy

to spread confusion. They can make it confusing."

Perhaps the real culprit is the measure's wording itself, which has

not only sparked months of debate but even led to variations on the

Greenlight analysis, as well as revisions of the city's commissioned


If the Protection From Traffic and Density initiative -- dubbed

Greenlight -- passes, there will be a citywide vote on all developments

that would require a "major" general plan amendment. Major is defined as

creating more than 100 peak-hour car trips, more than 100 homes or more

than 40,000 square feet of floor area over what the city's general plan


However, these thresholds do not apply to the city as a whole, but to

nearly 50 distinct neighborhoods -- all of which have a different history

of general plan amendments.

And this is where it gets really complicated.

The wording of the initiative says the measure is cumulative. It

requires that 80% of the changes to the general plan during the last

decade be added to the numbers of a proposed project to determine if a

vote is required. Because each specific area is so different, the end

result is that a developer could build 40,000 square feet of office space

in one area without a public vote, but a project consisting of 200 square

feet in another area would require a citywide election because of prior


In addition, once any of the thresholds are maxed out in any of the

specific areas, all sorts of developments would require a vote.

Projects like the remodeling of the Harbor Day School Gymnasium, the

Balboa Island Fire Station, Upper Newport Bay Regional Park, a Texaco gas

station and Temple Bat Yahm would have required a vote.

Still, Greenlight proponents have said this is the purpose of the

measure -- to allow residents the opportunity to vote on certain proposed


The question voters will have to resolve before the November election

is whether they are prepared to pay for the elections Greenlight could


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