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
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
"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
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 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
Letting one neighborhood claim its bluffs are altered just opens
the door for others, and soon you've got a lot more development, he
"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
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,
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."
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
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