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
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