City brings local control to coastal development

Alicia Robinson

There's no doubt the city has spent a great deal of time to create a

framework for development along the beaches and harbor.

There's even less doubt that not having a plan in place is costing

the city a wad of cash.

Every city is required by state law to have a local coastal plan,

which spells out what kind of land uses and development are allowed

in the coastal zone -- an area defined by state law -- and what

happens when people violate those coastal protections. After working

since 2002 to create a draft plan, Newport Beach officials finally

turned the plan over to the California Coastal Commission for

approval in July.

Not that the job is finished. Some residents argue the city's plan

inappropriately exempts certain areas from environmental regulations

and allows more development than the city's general plan. And the

land-use plan it submitted is only half of what the Coastal

Commission needs to approve. The other half, which will explain how

the land-use regulations will be put into place, is still being drawn

up.

Local control

The local coastal plan defines what kind of building and

development is allowed in the coastal zone, with the goal of

protecting public access to the coast and coastal resources -- both

man-made, such as the harbor, and natural, such as wetlands or

coastal bluffs.

"Basically, it is taking our situation here in Newport Beach and

showing how we're going to fulfill the requirements of the [state]

Coastal Act locally," City Planner Patrick Alford said. "If a project

needs a coastal development permit, we would review it against these

policies."

The increased local authority that will come with an approved

local coastal plan is one benefit officials have touted. Instead of

traveling the state to attend a Coastal Commission meeting just to

get permission to rebuild a dock, property owners will be able to get

the needed permits from the city.

"The intent is that local government will have more control and

tailor-make their local coastal plan to fit the needs of their

community, while implementing the policies of the Coastal Act," said

Ann Blemker, a coastal program analyst for the Coastal Commission.

The commission does retain jurisdiction in the harbor, tidelands

and some other areas, and those who disagree with a city decision on

a coastal issue can appeal to the state commission.

What if it's bluffing

When drawing up its plan, the city granted exclusions to certain

areas, which means people in those areas don't have to ask for a

permit to build a deck or upgrade a home.

Except for the line of buildings closest to the water, most areas

zoned for one- and two-family residences have been exempt since 1977

from coastal development permit requirements, Alford said.

The city wanted to exclude those areas because its existing

development restrictions will prevent harmful changes to the

environment, he said. The plan kept the existing exclusions and added

multi-family residences because the developments in some cases are

far from the shore and have been developed for years, he said.

Exclusions also were granted for some coastal bluffs in Corona del

Mar and the Dover Shores neighborhood, where the bluffs were man-made

and don't have the same protections as natural land formations along

the water.

"The resources have been altered to where there's really nothing

there to protect," Alford said.

But with all the development in the city over the years, it would

be difficult to find a bluff that hasn't been altered in some way,

said environmental activist Jan Vandersloot, who lives in Newport

Heights.

Letting one neighborhood claim its bluffs are altered just opens

the door for others, and soon you've got a lot more development, he

said.

"You're not going to tear down a house to restore a coastal bluff,

but what these people want to do is do further damage," Vandersloot

said. "Nothing should be excluded. Coastal bluffs are coastal

bluffs."

Others argued that the coastal plan doesn't line up with the

city's general plan -- its basic blueprint for development -- and in

fact allows higher-density construction.

"The [local coastal plan] is attempting to sneak through expanded

definitions of land use that goes beyond those in the current general

plan," said Tom Billings, spokesman for Protect Our Parks, a group

fighting the proposed Marinapark resort.

Newport Shores resident Everette Phillips said he didn't exactly

object to the plan, but he thinks it should have been better aligned

with the city's general plan, and more public outreach could have

been included on the coastal plan.

"That document has so many issues in it, you would think there

would be [more public comment]," he said.

Those arguments don't hold water for Councilman Steve Bromberg,

who was on a committee that oversaw creation of the plan. The city

went through a long public process to create the local coastal plan

that included enough discussion and thought on environmental issues,

he said.

Most of the exemptions have been in place for years and are there

to address the wide variety of terrain and development that exist in

the city, he said.

"What's good for one particular area might not be good for another

particular area," Bromberg said. "We're just not strict

constructionalists. There are people who will want a strict

interpretation on it no matter what you do."

Opposition ahead

The city will have a reprieve while Coastal Commission staff

members review the plan and come up with a recommendation for the

commission. Though it probably won't take a year, Blemker said staff

members are asking for that long to go over it thoroughly. The

commission will decide Sept. 10 whether to grant the extension.

In the meantime, the city will continue to be charged $1,000 a

month until the commission deems the land-use plan and its companion

implementation plan complete. The city has racked up about $12,000 in

late fees since missing a July 2003 deadline to have a plan ready.

Vandersloot said he'll oppose the plan when it comes up for a

Coastal Commission hearing, and Billings said he expects the plan to

be rejected, because it doesn't follow the guidelines of the Coastal

Act.

But Bromberg thinks the city put together a good plan that

surprised the commission with its thoroughness. He sees a cautionary

tale in what happened to the city of Malibu, which failed to create a

coastal plan and recently lost a court appeal over a plan the

commission created for Malibu.

"We don't want to go there," he said.

* ALICIA ROBINSON covers business, politics and the environment.

She may be reached at (949) 764-4330 or by e-mail at

alicia.robinson@latimes.com.

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