Commentary: Newport is not a ‘pay-to-play’ city for developers

As a planning commissioner appointed by the Newport Beach City Council, I was dismayed to see attorney Richard Zeilenga, representative of Newport Place Residential, state at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, that decisions made at the Planning Commission and City Council level to deny his client’s project, were a result of a “pay-to-play” situation.

This unsubstantiated allegation couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, if you attended the meeting, or listened to the recording and reviewed the minutes from the Planning Commission’s March 17 and June 9 proceedings, you can easily decipher all of the concerns commissioners had with the proposed project.

These concerns ranged from the lack of a city-required, 1-acre public park, street traffic and parking issues, building aesthetics and design, as well as the displacement of current long established retail establishments in conjunction with how to serve the needs of the existing commercial community and future residents. In response to one question, the applicant said with a straight face that future residents could do some of their shopping at a nearby 7-Eleven.

While the issue of whether a development agreement was required for the project was raised, there was never a notion or a behind the scenes movement to require one. In fact, city staff specifically told us that a development agreement was not required and should not have any bearing on our decision.

During our deliberations, it was unfortunate the applicant told us they were in communication with tenants, and the tenants were given a full understanding of the project and how it would affect their businesses over time. However, at the meeting, tenants in attendance specifically said despite their repeated attempts, the applicant had ignored their requests to open a dialogue or communicate with them about the project.

Furthermore, the applicant was given every opportunity to adjust, update and fine tune their proposal for the site, yet they declined and refused to accommodate each request.

Now it appears the applicant may seek legal remedy to overturn the City Council and Planning Commission’s decisions.

In my opinion this cannot stand. Our city is much too precious to allow a rogue developer from crying foul, mischaracterize the facts and misinterpret the process for which our government adheres.

This project was not up to par with what our community desires and deserves. The respective bodies of city government reinforced that stance according to existing rules.

What all developers in our city need to know is that the citizens are the ones who must live with the decisions we make. Our residents require projects that work for the community’s future and its unique character.

Growth is inevitable, and we demand open communication and dialogue between those who seek to build and those who are fortunate to call Newport Beach home.


ERIK WEIGAND is a Newport Beach planning commissioner.