Commentary: Proposed condo development ignores the spirit of Greenlight


Once again, the residents of Newport Beach are at odds with our own city.

This time, the Planning Department is advancing a 26-story condo tower in Newport Center that will be the highest residential tower in Orange County.

This project could be the poster child for a city that just doesn’t get it. Despite multiple elections in which residents have decisively rejected development on this scale, we keep having to fight this battle again and again.

Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. After Measure Y was decisively defeated in 2014, one might expect city leaders to respect the desires of their constituents, but here we are again looking at yet another insanely large proposal.


In 2000, residents approved Greenlight, a smart-growth initiative that requires a vote of the people for certain large projects. Greenlight respects existing property rights but requires a vote for developers who seek to increase their development limits in a way that will impact residents. This is exactly the type of project that would require a vote, except that our city has made an end run around Greenlight and claims that a vote isn’t mandated.

This isn’t the first time our city has done this. Measure Y itself was a poorly concealed effort to add more developments while duplicitously claiming to reduce traffic and density. The city has previously converted tennis courts into a 38,000 square-foot building and for this project has transformed hotel rooms into 4,900-square-foot condos.

Newport Beach zoning laws allow certain transfers of development rights as long as there is no increase in traffic trips or intensity of development. By converting hotel rooms about the size of my master bedroom to “dwelling units,” the city claims to have the right to approve condos in the Museum House project that will be up to 4,900 square feet, or twice the size of my whole house.

Ouch! Hardly a neutral transfer. This condo tower might better be described as vertical mansions.

The power to defeat this project ultimately lies with us. The Line In The Sand political action committee was formed in response to a tone-deaf city leadership that has not yet heard the voice of the people crying out that enough is enough. We need a paradigm shift in Newport Beach away from accommodating the requests of developers and toward respecting the desires of the residents who live here.

If the City Council follows its expected path of approving this enormous construction and denying the residents a voice through a Greenlight vote, the Line In The Sand PAC will seek to qualify a referendum against it. This is a huge task with a very short time frame that will need strong community support to be successful.

The choice is ours: We can look like Laguna Beach or Los Angeles. You decide.

MELINDA SEELY is a board member with Stop Polluting Our Newport (SPON) and the Line in the Sand political action committee.