Author Archives: Jim Mosher

City Manager replacement

Dave Kiff (LA Times file photo)

City Manager replacement in Newport Beach — as of August 2018
Grace Leung selected as new City Manager starting September 4

Latest News
Project Overview
Why We’re Watching
Recent Events
Prior Replacement Timelines
Background – Importance of City Manager
Background – Current Manager’s Employment Status
Background – Privacy Considerations
News Coverage
Helpful Links

Latest News:

As described in a City News Splash posted within minutes of its action, the Newport Beach City Council, at its August 14 meeting, selected City of Irvine Assistant (and recently, Acting) City Manager Grace K. Leung to serve as Newport Beach City Manager starting Tuesday, September 4. (see the Recent Events, below)

Subsequent to the City’s announcement, a Public Records Act request for the documents establishing Grace’s qualifications for the job yielded:

Grace holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Urban Studies from Columbia University, where she studied from 1989-1993, and a Masters degree in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, which she attended from 1993-1995.  According to her biography, after a 19 year career with the City of Sunnyvale (the last six as Finance Director), Grace was hired by the City of Irvine as their Administrative Services Director in January 2016.  In October 2016, she was promoted to Assistant City Manager (working alongside longtime Assistant City Manager Sharon Landers).

After Irvine City Manager Sean Joyce’s October 2017 announcement of his intention to retire, Grace filled in as Acting City Manager from December 2017 through the hiring of John Russo on July 10, 2018.  Grace’s job status since then is unclear.  According to the City of Irvine website, Mr. Russo hired Marianna Marysheva as Assistant City Manager on July 27.  Ms. Marysheva was presumably intended to replace one of the existing assistant managers, but it also appears Grace continues to serve Irvine as Assistant City Manager through September 3.

Prior to  August 14, this is what was known about the replacement process:

  • At a special closed session at the Newport Center Marriott on Monday, July 23, the City Council spent an entire day interviewing what we now know to have been 7 candidates for the City Manager position out of a total of 72 applications.
  • Three unnamed finalists were given second interviews by telephone in a special closed session on Monday morning, July 30, starting at 9:00 a.m. in the City Council Chambers (see the Recent Events surrounding this on July 27 and July 28).
  • A slightly ambiguous statement read in public at the end of the closed session, and later posted on the City’s website, suggests the Council may have selected a candidate to make a job offer to (“pursue”), but, pending the candidate’s acceptance of the offer, will not mention the person’s name or what the vote on making the selection was. An alternative (but less plausible?) reading of the same statement is that the Council is down to two finalists, and has yet to make a choice between them.  The City has refused to clarify the statement, as it has also refused to release the names and resumes of the three finalists or even to provide the complete details of a vote partially reported in the statement.
  • On July 30, the public was given an opportunity to comment before the Council went into closed session in its Conference Room — with about a dozen out of a crowd of 50 or so speaking, most responding to rumors that Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson was among the finalists.
  • Supposedly no “appointment” was to be made at the July 30 meeting, but in past appointments, the Council did not announce its appointment until a contract had been worked out and agreed to, even though the Brown Act would seem to require an announcement of the selection at the meeting where it was made.
  • Because contracts involving employee compensation can be discussed and approved only at regular meetings, the finalist interviews may have been moved up to July 30 from the previously-announced August 13 in order to allow completion of a contract, and its acceptance by the the new hire, prior to the Council’s next regular meeting on August 14.

Project Overview: On Sunday afternoon, March 25, 2018, the City’s Public Information Manager reportedly sent a message to the media saying “After two decades with the City of Newport Beach and nearly a full decade as its city manager, Dave Kiff has informed members of the City Council that he will leave his post toward the end of 2018.”  The parties since, by mutual consent, signed a contract terminating Mr. Kiff’s service by August 31, 2018, at the latest, and the Council hired an executive recruitment firm, Roberts Consulting Group, to search for a replacement.  The secretive process concluded with the Council’s announcement, at its August 14, 2018, meeting, of Grace Leung as the new City Manager starting September 4, 2018.

Why We’re Watching:  Since under the form of government we have in Newport Beach the City Manager is completely responsible for the administration of the City and the face it presents to the public, the appointment of the manager is arguably one of the most consequential decisions an elected City Council makes.  SPON is concerned that in the present instance the Newport Beach City Council is being over secretive about the process by which a new manager is being selected.  While the presence of an online survey (see May 3 under “Recent Events,” below) was welcome, it is disturbing there was essentially no public discussion of how the recruitment firm was selected, and that no public discussion seems to be planned of what the Council will do with the survey results, or what the Council itself is looking for in the next City Manager.

As best we can tell, the City does not even have a page on its website to track the recruitment process and keep the public informed about it.  This page attempts, in part, to fill that void.


With the new manager in place, no events are upcoming.

Recent Events:

September 4 – New City Manager Takes Office

  • Grace Leung will begin service as Newport Beach City Manager starting Tuesday, September 4, 2018.

September 1-3 – City Managed by Acting City Manager

  • Assistant City Manager Carol Jacobs will serve as Acting City Manager over the Labor Day weekend.

August 31, 2018:  Last day of work for outgoing City Manager Dave Kiff.

August 30, 2018: From 3:30-6:00 pm, the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce hosted a retirement event on the “Civic Green” (the lawn at City Hall) for outgoing City Manager Dave Kiff.

August 14, 2018: The City Council held its only regularly scheduled meeting in August, and the agenda (posted on August 9) contained several items related to the City Manager replacement, culminating in the appointment of Grace K. Leung as the City’s new manager and the approval of an employment agreement with her at essentially the same terms as those of outgoing City Manager Dave Kiff.  Video is available of the Closed Session Report, a Statement by Mayor Duffield and Contract Item 23.

  • The Closed Session (between the Study Session and Regular Meeting) included:
    • Item IV.D to privately discuss the appointment of a new City Manager.
      • The notice says “A new City Manager may be appointed at this meeting,” but goes on to say “It is not uncommon for an appointment to become effective at a future date, such as the date set forth in the open session item for the new City Manager’s employment agreement” — possibly intended to leave open the possibility the name of the person that is appointed will not be revealed until the effective date of September 4, 2018).
      • The fact that a contract for employment effective September 4 is being presented for approval as Item 23 on the open session agenda appears to belie the notion that this item is actually be used to select an appointee.  For a choice to still be possible, there would have to be two or more remaining possibilities, all of whom have given notice to their current employers (but not to the Newport Beach public) that they are prepared to start on September 4.
    • Item IV.E announced a private “conference” between the Council and the Mayor acting as “labor negotiator” for the hiring of a city manager.
      • It might be noted that the Brown Act Section 54957.6 supposedly justifying this “conference” is limited to instructing the negotiator.
      • Since a completed contract is being presented for approval as open session Item 23 (see below), it appears no further negotiation is planned, making this closed session wholly unnecessary and improper — and is being held to circumvent the requirement that the “final action” on appropriate compensation for key employees be debated and decided in public.
    • An announcement read by the City Attorney when the Council returned from closed session said they had selected Grace Leung as the new City Manager.
  • Item 4 on the “Consent Calendar” proposed the adoption of a resolution establishing August 28, 2018, at 5:00 p.m. as a “regular” City Council meeting date.
    • California law, in response to the City of Bell scandal, allows the approval of the contract specifying the salary for new manager to occur only at a regular meeting.
    • It is possible approval of the employment contract with the new (unnamed) City Manager, presented as Item 23 on the August 14 agenda, may be deferred to the new August 28 meeting.
    • The existence of this item appears to indicate an lack of familiarity with the Brown Act on the part of the City.
      • Regular meetings are, by their nature, expected to occur on a regular, predictable schedule — not to be one-off events.  The lack of predictable meeting times and places was largely what the Brown Act was originally enacted to cure.  See Section 54954(a).
      • When items announced on a regular meeting agenda cannot be completed in the allotted time, the Brown Act allows them to be continued to a later date announced at the meeting, with resulted regarded as an “adjourned regular meeting” (something Newport Beach held many of in the past).  See Section 54955.
      • Creating new and unpredictable “regular” meeting dates at which potentially any variety of new agenda items could be introduced to be treated as if they were held at a true regular meeting is not what the Brown Act was intended to allow.
      • In view of the Council having selected Grace Leung in closed session, the City Clerk’s request for Item 4 was withdrawn and the special “regular” meeting was not scheduled.
  • Item 23 presented for approval an employment contract, starting September 4, with an unnamed City Manager.
    • It also approved Assistant City Manager Carol Jacobs acting as City Manager in the interval between the old City Manager’s last day on Friday, August 31, and the new Manager’s first day on Tuesday, September 4.
    • The Council approved the employment contract with the name “Grace Leung” inserted into it.

August 3, 2018:  In an attempt to obtain clarity, resident Jim Mosher filed a new Public Records Act request for the names of the Council members participating in the 4-member vote reported in the Council’s July 30 closed session report.  Since the City’s response, received the same day, and a follow-up to it, cited no exception to the Public Records Act allowing non-disclosure of a record in the City’s possession, but simply that no record could be found, the City appears to be claiming it has no record at all of the remainder of the vote reported, even a confidential one.  The idea that the City keeps no records, even confidential ones, of the decisions made in closed session, and publicly reports information for which it has no records to rely on, is rather alarming.

August 2, 2018:  City staff refused July 31 requests from residents Lynn Swain and Lauri Preedge for the full Council vote on the promotion of applicants to finalists (in its July 30 closed session report, the Council said that Council member Jeff Herdman had been one of four members voting to advance a candidate Herdman later felt was unqualified).  The City’s response to Ms. Swain is here.  The response was ambiguous but suggested the City had no record it could find of who the three Council members joining Herdman in that vote were.

On the same day, City staff refused a July 25 Public Records Act request by Daily Pilot newspaper reporter Hillary Davis for the names and resumes of the three finalists the Council planned to interview on August 13 (as had been announced at the July 24 City Council meeting — even though, as it turned out, those interviews were held on July 30).  The City’s response is here.  When an agency refuses to let the public see a documents it possesses, the Public Records Act requires it to provide the legal justification for non-disclosure. In this case some rather strange exemptions are cited:

    • A “Privilege for Official Information” is invoked from California Evidence Code Section 1040, a body of law regarding what one can refuse to testify about in court proceedings — something that seems irrelevant here, although in the end it seems to devolve to the same standard for non-disclosure as the “deliberative process” exemption cited next.
    • Next, to invoke what it calls the “Deliberative Process Privilege” of Government Code Section 6255(a), the City seems to think it sufficient to quote the law’s text (namely, that when all else fails, an exemption can be claimed when based “on the facts of the particular case the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record“) without actually explaining what facts make such a conclusion “clear” in this case.
      • There seems a certain arrogance (or laziness?) on the part of the City in claiming they qualify for this exemption without deigning to tell the public why it qualifies for it.
      • Presumably the City’s claim is that disclosing the names of the applicants could be jeopardize their current positions and hence discourage good people from applying.
      • However, these are public officials voluntarily operating in the public sphere which should give them a lessened expectation of privacy with respect to those actions.
        • It is is very much in the interest of the public in Newport Beach to know details about the applicants so they can guide and inform their elected representatives in their choice.
        • It is likewise very much in the interest of the public in those individuals’ present cities to know their public servants are applying for jobs in Newport Beach.  If hired, it will likely cause disruptions their, so those citizens may wish to take action to encourage them to stay or to correct the situation making them want to leave.  At least they would want to know a change could be coming so they could prepare for it.
        • As a result of these considerations, it would seem the promises of confidentiality were made more to protect the private interests of the applicants than the interests of the public, and hence, contrary to the City’s conclusion, the balancing test of Section 6255(a) should tip in favor of disclosure rather than non-disclosure.
    • The City then claims the records additionally can’t be disclosed because of the “personal contact information” they contain, disclosure of which would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of the privacy” — even though any home addresses, telephone numbers or emails they might contain could easily be redacted.  In making this claim, the City cites no specific code section, but instead gives a list of five California appeals court cases, two of which Proposition 59 in 2004 was promised to reverse, and most of which actually reject alleged invasions of privacy being sufficient to offset the public’s interest in disclosure.
    • Finally, the City invokes what it calls the “Closed Session Communications” exemption of Government Code Section 6254.25, something that by its own language protects attorney work product until the pending litigation it is related to has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled — and something (like the first claimed exemption) that has no obvious relevance to the names and resumes of city manager candidates.

August 1, 2018:  Council member Herdman, who had been condemned in the Council’s July 30 closed session report for leaking names and voting for a candidate he later found unqualified, sent out an email denying he had leaked any names, but verifying he voted to advance to the finals a person who he later realized was unqualified.

July 30, 2018:  Special Council Meeting to Interview Three Finalists

  • Per an announcement made at its July 24, 2018, meeting (see entry, below), the City Council was expected to meet in closed session on August 13 — at an hour and location to be announced — for follow-up interviews with the three finalists it has chosen for the City Manager replacement.
  • However, on July 27 (see entry, below) the City posted a new announcement (see entry, below) saying the interviews would take place on Monday, July 30, instead, at 9:00 a.m. in the City Council Chambers Conference Room.
    • Although the City chose not to produce a video of this meeting, it did preserve an audio recording of the public portion, as well as copies of the many written comments submitted by members of the public.
    • After about 30 minutes of public comment in the Council Chambers (with approximately 50 people in attendance), the Council retired to the private Conference Room for roughly two hours of closed session.  Three candidates were apparently interviewed by phone.
    • A possible reason for moving the interviews up was to allow the contract negotiations with their final choice (if a choice could be made on July 30) to begin in time for a completed contract to be ready for approval at the Council’s August 14 regular meeting (contracts affecting compensation can be discussed and approved only at regular meetings, the next of which after August 14 — because the Council takes the last half of August off — would be September 11).
      • Regarding the contract, the Council had previously designated Mayor Duffield as its negotiator at the special meeting on July 23.
      • The Council may have given the Mayor instructions as to allowable salary and benefits during a noticed closed session with its “negotiator” on July 24.
    • If a final selection is made on July 30, it is required to be announced at the meeting, where it is made, but the agenda assured the public no “appointment” would be made on July 30.
      • That assurance might well have constituted a playing with words, for the City Attorney may be using a theory that even if a “selection” is made, the person isn’t an employee and an “appointment” hasn’t been made until a contract has been signed.
      • Twisting the words to allow a decision made in closed session to be hidden should not be tolerated, since the California Constitution (Article I, Sec. 3(b)) requires the words of the Brown Act to be broadly construed when such construction favors openness, and narrowly construed when the proposed reading allows or promotes secrecy.  Indeed, since executive employment contracts have to be approved in open session, the closed session appointment reporting requirement would be meaningless if appointments can’t be made in closed session.
    • At the end of the July 30 closed session, the City Attorney read a slightly ambiguous closed session report (later posted as a “News Splash” on the City website) saying the candidate who had been “the subject of community speculation” had been eliminated from consideration (many took this to be a reference to Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson) .
      • The statement went on to suggest the Council may have selected a candidate from among the remaining two to make a job offer to (that is, to “pursue”), but, pending the candidate’s acceptance of the offer, will not mention the person’s name or what the vote on making the selection was. An alternative reading of the same statement is that the Council is down to two finalists, and has yet to make a choice between them.
        • A request for clarification has not been answered.

July 28, 2018:

    • Former Mayor Keith Curry sent out a mass email supporting (and repeating) the July 27 rumor that Supervisor Nelson was a finalist for the City Manager position, and urging the public to send comments to the City Council.
    • Council member Jeff Herdman sent an email to constituents expressing concern about the change in plan announced on July 27, and seeking input on his additional concern that in his opinion two of the three (unnamed) finalists to be interviewed were well qualified while the third, who he feared might be favored by a majority of Council, was not.
    • Activist Susan Skinner posted an online petition protesting the rumored appointment of Supervisor Nelson and facilitating comments to the Council.
    • Council member Scott Peotter replied to constituent questions with his own form email assuring the public the recruitment was being conducted in a thoughtful, methodical, and open-minded way, with no pre-selection of any candidate, and castigating Council member Herdman for purportedly “leaking” a name “because he doesn’t like the guy.”

July 27, 2018:  Late Friday afternoon, the City Clerk caught many by surprise by posting a special meeting agenda on the City website saying the interviews with the three City Manager finalists, previously planned for August 13, would be held, instead, on Monday morning, July 30, starting at 9:00 a.m. with the meeting beginning in public in the City Council Chambers and then adjourning to the Council’s private Conference Room for the closed session interviews.

    • Rumors immediately began circulating that soon-to-be-termed-out Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson was one of the candidates being considered for the City Manager position, and that the special meeting was being held to facilitate his appointment.
      • Many in the public expressed concern that Mr. Nelson appeared to be a career politician with no experience as a city manager or administrator of a comparable organization.
      • While the Newport Beach City Manager position would represent a roughly $100,000 increase in salary (with attendant pension benefits) over the position of County Supervisor, if Mr. Nelson were indeed a candidate, and if he accepted the Newport Beach City Manager job, the principle of incompatible offices (California Government Code Section 1099) would almost certainly cause him to automatically forfeit his office on the Board of Supervisors, leaving the residents of the north County district who elected him without representation until a successor could be appointed or elected.

July 24, 2018:   As Items IV.B and IV.C on its closed session agenda, the City Council discussed the appointment of a new City Manager and salary negotiations, similar to the notices for the July 23 special meeting, but with the additional statement that no appointment would be made on July 24.

When the closed session report was given near the start of the evening meeting, the City Attorney said he had been authorized to make the following statement (see video):

    • The City received a total of 72 applications and the City Council selected and interviewed 7 highly qualified applicants.  Those interviews with the 7 applicants occurred yesterday at the Newport Beach Marriott and that was done at the suggestion of the recruiter and it’s primarily done to protect the identities of those who are putting in for the position.  After extensive deliberation, the City Council decided to conduct second interviews with three of the best and most experienced applicants.  Those interviews will be conducted on August 13th.

Based on this, it appears that in the July 24 closed session the Council selected the three finalists (who remain unnamed), and may have given Mayor Duffield directions to negotiate with them, or a future selection, over contract terms.

Although not involved in the present process, the current City Manager has offered the following timetable as a possible one for the replacement, based on his own experience:

  1. Council conducts interviews and picks a favorite.
  2. Recruiter does background checks while Mayor negotiates possible contract which may or may not be accepted by candidate.
  3. Appointment formally made only if previous step successfully completed.
  4. Selected person gives notice to current employer.
  5. New manager appears only after being released by current employer. 

July 23, 2018: The City Council held a Special Meeting starting at 8:00 a.m. at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Spa (agenda here).

  • The agenda included an opportunity for the public to speak to the Council, in the lobby before they adjourned to the closed session, which apparently took place in a room upstairs.
  • What appeared to be the main part of the agenda, to be conducted pursuant to Government Code Section 54957(b)(1), allows for discussion about candidates and interviews of candidates, mindful that Section 54957(b)(4) prohibits any discussion, under this title and exception, about compensation (including salary and benefits).
    • Under this heading, it was later revealed (in the closed session report on July 24) the Council members interviewed seven city manager candidates. This likely included pre-interview preparation and post-interview debriefing by the contact recruiter per the terms of contract C-8550-1.
  • The agenda also said that after publicly appointing him as their negotiator, the Council would, pursuant to Government Code Section 54957.6(a), privately instruct Mayor Duffield regarding negotiations over such contract matters as compensation for the new Manager.
    • Although Mayor Duffield was appointed to this role, the City Attorney announced no instructions to the Mayor would be given, apparently in recognition of the fact that since the City of Bell scandal, such discussions are not allowed to take place at special meetings.  See Government Code Section 54956(b): “Notwithstanding any other law, a legislative body shall not call a special meeting regarding the salaries, salary schedules, or compensation paid in the form of fringe benefits, of a local agency executive.”
  • The minutes of the July 23 special meeting are not yet available, but it seems likely that at the end of the closed session interviews (which reportedly lasted most of the day), the public announcement was that “no reportable action” had taken place.  Limited details of what took place on July 23 were, however, reported at the July 24 Council meeting (see above).

July 12, 2018:  Outgoing City Manager Dave Kiff shared his experiences as city manager and offered his advice for the future at the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Wake Up! Newport event held in the Friends Room at the Central Library.  Details here.

July 10, 2018:  Item IV.D on the City Council’s closed session agenda provided the same notice as that posted on June 26.  Based on the contract signed on April 27, the recruiter was expected to present the City with an interim report on the candidates during Week 10 of the contract (the week starting July 9?) and help the Council begin interviews in Week 13 (the week starting July 30?).  Since what appeared to be the recruiters were seen leaving the Council Chambers after the closed session, it seems likely they delivered their “interim report” to the Council on July 10.  However, there was no public disclosure of what may, or may not, have happened.

June 26, 2018:  The posted agenda for the City Council’s June 26 meeting announced an Item IV.D, closed to the public, in which, according to the agenda explanation, “The City Council will consider all matters authorized by Government Code Section 54957(b)(1) related to the appointment of a new City Manager; however, the City Council will not be appointing a new City Manager at this meeting.”

  • Since the cited California Government Code section says only “this chapter [the Brown Act] shall not be construed to prevent the legislative body of a local agency from holding closed sessions during a regular or special meeting to consider the appointment, employment, evaluation of performance, discipline, or dismissal of a public employee,” the explanation is not particularly informative.
  • Most authorities seem to believe the sole reason the Brown Act allows the closed sessions is to protect the privacy of candidates during interviews, and hence that the closed sessions are not intended for general discussion of the recruitment process, including the general qualities being sought in a new city manager.
  • In the oral announcement that precedes closed sessions, the City Attorney said the Council would not be discussing this item, so presumably this closed session did not occur.

June 25, 2018: Per the job description brochure published by the City’s contract recruiter, Roberts Consulting Group, (of which there seems to have been an original and a revised PDF) this was the last day for interested candidates to email applications to them.  The recruiter has promised to screen the applications and present the “most qualified” ones to the City Council.

May 30, 2018:  Newport Beach City Manager job posting appeared on ICMA and Western City websites, both linking to the brochure on the Roberts Consulting site.

May 24, 2018Notice of job opening for City Manager appears under “Job Opportunities” on City’s Human Resources Department page.  Interested parties are directed to a brochure on the Roberts Consulting Group website.  It indicates applications must be received by June 25.

  • The brochure (the origin of the content of which is unknown) echoes the City Manager job description on the City’s Human Resources website plus powers and duties from Section 504 of the City Charter.
  • The authors were apparently unaware that as Item 17 at the City Council’s May 26, 2009, meeting (as part of the previous recruitment) a revised job description and revised qualifications had been adopted — but, for unknown reasons, never uploaded to the HR website, despite the HR Director at the time having participated in crafting the language.
  • As a result, the current crop of applicants has been given misinformation regarding the job description and qualifications.

May 22, 2018:  As later revealed in response to a Public Records Act Request, the City Clerk on this day gave her emailed approval to the recruitment brochure prepared by Roberts Consulting Group.   The initial response had been that the City had no disclosable records related to its interactions with the recruiter.  The emailed approval was disclosed later, and only after the public asserted that City approval of the brochure was one of the deal points in the public contract, and as such the public had a right to know that the approval had been given, and by whom.  It remains disturbing that the City appears to have no record of City Council participation in this decision, especially since the understanding from April 10 was that the City Clerk would be acting only as an agent for the Council.

May 18, 2018:  Online survey (see May 3, below) closed at end of day.  The City did not immediately seem to post any of the results, but a May 23 article in the Daily Pilot summarized them, apparently based on information disclosed in response to a Public Records Act request by the Daily Pilot.  What appears to be a complete set of results later appeared, without announcement, under “Open and Transparent” on the City website.

May 15, 2018:  Copy of contract C8550-1 with Roberts Consulting Group apparently uploaded to City’s contract archive, but not to the “Contracts and Agreements Approved within the Last 30 Days” page.

      • A Public Records Act request to inspect the document remained unanswered until May 24.
      • The contract calls for the consultant to visit the City three times. The first is to obtain approval of the recruitment brochure, and may have occurred during the closed session on May 8 (before the citizen’s survey had closed).  The second is discuss the preliminary screening of the applications, and the last to assist with the interviews of finalists.
      • Much of the selection and screening will apparently be done by the consultant in apparent contradiction of Newport Beach City Charter Section 500 which requires the City Council to screen all qualified candidates.
      • The prospectus provided to the Council by the Roberts on April 24, and accompanying the contract, emphasizes their wish for the process to be as secretive as legally allowed — including promises to “keep the candidate names confidential.”

May 8, 2018:  In a poorly advertised afternoon study session item, the Council agenda announced an opportunity for the public to speak to them about the qualities wanted in a new City Manager.  Only one member of the public spoke.  The Council then met in closed session to discuss “PUBLIC EMPLOYEE APPOINTMENT (Government Code Section 54957(b)(1)): 1 matter, Title: City Manager.”  This announcement led to considerable speculation the Council might actually be considering the appointment of a permanent or interim City Manager that night.  The speculation was exacerbated by the City Clerk and City Attorney’s refusal to discuss their understanding of the scope of the discussion allowed under the announcement, and if the discussion would involve actual candidates for appointment.  No report of actions taken in the closed session, which might possibly have involved general discussions of questionable legality with the City Clerk or recruitment consultants, was provided. In the regular, open session, the Council, without admitting any fault, responded to the April 10 “cure or correct” letter by asserting, in Item 10, that the public actions to amend the City Manager’s contract on April 10 had corrected any procedural errors that may have occurred preceding that.

May 3, 2018:  City posted a News Splash on its home page announcing the availability, through May 18, of an online survey through which “The Council is seeking input from community members as to what qualities and traits the next City Manager should possess.”  It actually asks mainly about the priority of the issues facing the City, and to a much lesser extent about the attributes community members would like to see in the next City Manager, with “Additional Thoughts” limited to 250 characters (and 50 characters for “other priorities”/”other attributes”).  It is unclear who prepared and posted the survey or exactly what will be done with the results.

April 27, 2018:  Contract C8550-1 with Roberts Consulting Group signed by the City Clerk, alone, and not by the Mayor as the Council had directed on April 24.  The contract was not immediately available for public inspection.

April 24, 2018:  The agenda announced an early afternoon closed session to discuss “PUBLIC EMPLOYEE APPOINTMENT (Government Code Section 54957(b)(1)): 1 matter, Title: Initiation of Recruitment Process for New City Manager.”  After being warned that this Brown Act (the California open meetings law) exception allows only the discussion of specific, individual candidates, and not the recruitment process in general, the City Clerk withdrew the item.  On the regular evening agenda, as Item 11, the Clerk provided the Council with letters from three executive recruitment firms offering to assist with the process.  Without publicly interviewing any of them, the Council authorized the Mayor and Clerk to contract with Roberts Consulting Group Inc.  The actual contract has not been posted as of May 8.  Although not clearly mentioned at the meeting, the City’s Human Resources Director had on April 4 signed an open-ended $75,000 contract (C-7398-1), effective April 16, with one of the other firms, William Avery & Associates, for on-call executive recruitments.

April 10, 2018:  The Council met in closed session to review the job performance of the City Manager and to instruct Mayor Duffield regarding labor negotiations with him.  In the open, regular session, as Item 12, the Council approved an amended labor contract that had evidently been previously negotiated and signed by the City Manager.  The contract called for him to leave by August 31 at the latest, and earlier if an Interim City Manager is appointed.  It also called for certain exceptional payments to be made to the outgoing City Manager if the terms of the agreement are followed, including a non-disparagement clause under which neither side can speak ill of the other (see signed contract C-7033-3).  The Council also put the City Clerk in charge of the mechanics of the recruitment process for the new manager.  Meanwhile, in public comments, the Council received a Brown Act “cure or correct” letter, demanding the night’s actions be set aside, charging they were predetermined by a majority of the Council reaching decisions outside noticed public meetings (something prohibited by the Act).

March 28, 2018: The City posted on its website a “News Splash” (since deleted)  assuring the public the City and its Manager had decided to amicably part ways.

March 27, 2018:  Although not formally on the City Council agenda, the City Manager asked for an item regarding amendments to his contract to be put on the next agenda.  Despite the standing item for public comments on non-agenda items being moved to the end of meeting, many people stayed to make comments on this item (see video).

March 25, 2018:  The City reportedly sent out a press release saying City Manager Dave Kiff had told the Council he will retire “toward the end of 2018.”

Prior Replacement Timelines:

September 12, 2009: Dave Kiff begins work as City Manager.  The time from announcement of a pending retirement to the start of the new Manager was approximately four months.

August 18, 2009: Council holds special meeting (see agenda)  After 11 minutes in closed session, Mayor Selich (at 1:50 in video) announces the Council has selected Dave Kiff (despite City Attorney David R. Hunt having announced “no reportable action” took place in closed session – see 1:22 in video).  After another 6 minutes, or so, of speeches and applause, the five Council members present voted to appoint Kiff and approve his employment contract, confirming those actions by adoption of Resolution No. 2009-61.  Since the selection appears to have been a carefully guarded secret, its appears that neither the resolution nor the contract (both of which contained Mr. Kiff’s name) were available for public inspection prior to the vote to approve them. Near the start of his remarks (at 9:00 in the video), Mr. Kiff mentions how hard it was “keeping the secret.” After he concludes Mayor Selich (at 12:20) says: “I was the one that had the pleasure of telling Dave he’d been selected, and I saw that grin on his face and I wondered how he was going to keep his composure because we told him he had to keep it quiet till we did a few things for [pause] took a little longer than we wanted, but you did a good job, Dave.”  From all this, its seems clear the decision to appoint had been made at an earlier date (the August 11, 2009, closed session?) and the closed session on August 18 was to discuss the contract terms, rather than the selection.

  • Reporting “no reportable action” and “keeping the secret,” especially for appointment decisions, appears to be in direct violation of the Brown Act’s Gov. Code Sec. 54957.1(a)(5) requirement that “Action taken to appoint, employ, dismiss, accept the resignation of, or otherwise affect the employment status of a public employee in closed session pursuant to Section 54957 shall be reported at the public meeting during which the closed session is held.”

August 11, 2009:  Closed session includes item on possible City Manager (and City Attorney) appointment or evaluation. No action reported.

July 28, 2009:  Closed session includes item on possible City Manager (City Attorney and City Clerk) appointment or evaluation. No action reported.

June 9, 2009:  Closed session includes item on possible City Manager appointment or evaluation. No action was reported on that, although it was revealed the Council had voted to accept the resignation of the Police Chief (an item not clearly noticed, and probably not a Council decision, at that).

May 26, 2009:  As Item 17, the City Council approves a revised job description and revised qualifications for the City Manager position.   For unknown reasons, the City Manager job description on the City’s Human Resources Department website was never updated, and continues to display the now 20+ year old earlier version — which was shown to candidates in the current recruitment.

May 12, 2009:  Item 12 on the Council agenda (pulled from the consent calendar) sets up a three-member City Manager Ad Hoc Recruitment Committee to guide a recruitment process. The staff report says Homer Bludau had recently announced he wanted to retire in early September, after 10 years with the City.  Supplemental Item S20 approves a contract with outside recruiter Teri Black and Company, based on the recommendation of the Committee (which did not, technically, exist prior to the this meeting, but which, nonetheless reviewed the applications of firms interested in a recent City Attorney recruitment).

April 28, 2009:  City Council holds additional closed session to evaluate performance of City Manager Homer Bludau.  No action is reported.

April 14, 2009:  City Council holds closed session to evaluate performance of City Manager Homer Bludau.  No action is reported.

May 10, 1999:  First Council meeting at which Homer Bludau is listed as the City Manager. The time from the announcement of a retirement to appointment was about 6 months, and to the start of the new employee, about 8 months.

March 8, 1999:  Council holds a special closed session in The Grill Room at the Big Canyon Country Club from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.  No action is reported.  The Council held an additional closed session in the Council Chambers between the study session and regular meeting, for which the agenda does not appear to have been preserved.  Again, no action was reported.  But as supplemental Item S27 at the regular evening meeting (for which a report was promised to be distributed at the meeting, but if it was, does not seem to have been preserved), Homer Bludau is announced as the City Manager appointee, to start work on May 3, 1999.

February 23, 1999:  Council holds a closed session regarding City Manager appointment.

January 30, 1999:  Shannon Associates makes an interesting presentation about Council-Manager government at the Council’s annual planning session.

January 15, 1999:  Council holds a closed session regarding City Manager appointment.

November 30, 1998:  Councilman Hedges makes interesting remarks on leaving office.

October 12, 1998:  Shannon Associates is selected as the recruitment consultant.

September 14, 1998:  An Ad Hoc Committee is appointed to review the RFP for outside recruiters, and to make a recommendation of the firm to select.

August 24, 1998:  Finance Director Dennis Danner is appointed Interim City Manager in a closed session.

August 10, 1998:  Last City Council meeting at which Kevin Murphy is listed as City Manager.

Background – Importance of City Manager:

Through a City Charter, adopted in June 1954 (effective January 1955), the voters of Newport Beach permanently selected a Council-Manager form of government (see Articles III, IV an V) — ratifying a choice that had been made voluntarily by its “general law” City Council in 1948 (see Ordinance No. 575).

Under the Council-Manager form of government, an elected council, acting collectively in open, public meetings, establishes the administrative structure of the city and the policies and legislation governing it, but (with the exception of the activities of the council’s direct charter appointees — in our case the City Clerk and City Attorney) the day-to-day operation of the administrative apparatus (including hiring and firing employees and all city dealings with the public) is left entirely to an appointed professional city manager. In fact, our Charter Section 406 is a fairly standard non-interference clause prohibiting individual council members from attempting to influence administrative actions, and even the whole city council from providing direction to the administrative staff other than through the city manager.

The above makes the selection of the City Manager one of the most important decisions a city makes.  Although Charter Section 500 delegates the appointment authority to the City Council, public involvement seems crucial for a good result.

With or without public involvement, Section 500 also places on the Council a positive duty to “screen all qualified applicants,” which may or may not be consistent with their use of a outside to recruiter to reduce their work.

Background – Current Manager’s Employment Status:

The current City Manager, Dave Kiff, was promoted and appointed to that position at a special closed session meeting of the City Council on August 18, 2009, and apparently started work as City Manager on September 12, 2009.  He had previously served as one of the prior Manager’s two Deputies.

As Item 16 at its April 25, 2017, meeting, the City Council approved synchronized “evergreen” contracts with all three of the employees it appoints (the City Manager, City Clerk and City Attorney).  Each contract has an initial “term” of two years, but automatically renews for another year on that and the subsequent anniversary dates unless the City gives the employee at least six months notice of its intent to not renew.  The employees can also voluntarily end these contracts by giving at least 45 calendar days notice of their intent to resign on any date.  In neither case would any special benefits accrue at the end of the contract.

Despite having mutually agreed to this evergreen arrangement in 2017, Mr. Kiff is said to have privately let the Council know he would not likely continue beyond the initial, April 25, 2019, anniversary of the contract.

Nonetheless, the March 25, 2018, announcement that Mr. Kiff wanted to leave before the end of 2018 came as a great surprise to many in the community, especially since it had not been preceded by any noticed discussion of his employment with the Council (something the Brown Act allows to take place behind closed doors — see Privacy Concerns, below).

The April 10 approval (see “Recent Events,” below) of a new employment contract ending August 31 and providing numerous termination benefits, not required by a voluntary termination under the 2017 contract, further fueled speculation that Mr. Kiff had either been encouraged to leave or made to feel very uncomfortable continuing in his position.

Background – Privacy Considerations:

Opinions are divided on the extent to which the city manager appointment process should be kept secret from the public.

California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, allows (but does not require) Council discussion of individual employees within the Council’s appointment authority (including candidates) to be held behind closed doors.  It is not believed to allow closed session discussion of the recruitment process or the generalized qualifications the Council is looking for in a new appointee.

Many executive recruiters claim revealing the names of applicants deters quality people from applying out of fear their interest in the job will be made known to their current employer (see this 2017 article regarding the San Bernardino City Manager).  Nonetheless a number of California cities, and ones in other states, make the list of finalists known, and may actually require them to interact with the local public at noticed meetings.  Others discuss the applicants publicly, but avoid the privacy issue by speaking of them without identifying information (referring to them, for example, as “Applicant 1”).

Six to eight states (Florida, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Louisiana, North Dakota and possibly Alabama and Utah)  appear to require interviews of prospective employees by the council to be conducted in public (some may allow individual council members to interview candidates privately, but they can discuss their conclusions from those private interviews only in public).  Florida appears to have the strongest of the state open meeting laws, requiring all meetings other than those related to pending litigation in which an agency is involved to be open to the public, and even the latter have to be recorded by a court reporter with the transcript released to the public immediately following settlement (unlike in California where most of the content of closed sessions is never publicly known, and it is even a crime for participants to disclose it). California’s Brown Act requires public discussion of personnel matters, including appointments, only when it involves elected positions or outside contractors.  While California law does not require as much openness as Florida, it does not prohibit it, and explicitly allows  agencies to adopt local rules requiring any level of transparency (Sec. 54953.7).

Nonetheless, Newport Beach, without public discussion, appears to have opted for complete secrecy — asking for public input, but with no announced plan to publicly discuss what will be done with the results, and with no commitment to reveal the names or qualifications of persons being considered for appointment.

It has to be noted that including in the search “quality people” who do not want their interest in the Newport Beach job to be known, runs the risk that the person hired will spend their time here quietly (and unknown to us) looking for a job elsewhere.

This post on the First Amendment Coalition suggests that even in California it can be argued the public should be able to know at least the names of the applicant’s for the City Manager position.  It cites the ballot arguments in favor of Proposition 59 in 2004.  That California Constitutional amendment, which passed overwhelmingly (83.4% yes to 16.6% no), was, according to the arguments intended to reverse the reasoning in two court cases that had denied public access to the names of candidates for gubernatorial appointments (in one case, to fill a vacancy on the Orange County Board of Supervisors): Wilson v. Superior Court, 51 Cal. App. 4th 1136 (1997) and California First Amendment Coalition v. Superior Court, 67 Cal. App. 4th 159 (1998).

In particular, the ARGUMENT in Favor of Proposition 59 cited examples of the kinds of information people in California had sought but found hard to obtain due to special interest legislation and burdensome court decisions — a trend which Proposition 59 promised to reverse by creating “a constitutional right to know what the government is doing, why it is doing it, and how.” The short list of examples that needed reversing included:  “Who is the Governor considering for appointment to a vacancy on the County Board of Supervisors? Why was the superintendent of the school district fired, and who is being considered as a replacement?

Fourteen years later, and despite the endorsement of the proposition by 83.4% of voters, that information seems as difficult to obtain as it was in 2004.

News Coverage

Helpful Links

Koll Center Residences

Koll Center Residences . . . as of October 2018
Planning Commission Study Session remains in limbo

Latest News:  After determining that four Planning Commissioners had financial conflicts of interest that would normally prohibit them from taking part in discussions about this project, a little-known provision of state law was used whereby at their September 13 meeting the four “drew lots” to select one to join the three unconflicted Commissioners in order to have a quorum available to hear the Koll Center Residences proposal.  The long-awaited Study Session (which had started on January 18), was then re-scheduled for November 8 at 5:00 p.m.   — however, even that plan had to be cancelled due to the resignation on September 25 of Planning Commission Secretary Bill Dunlap (one of the four members needed to hear the Koll application).  Whenever it should happen, a good way to prepare for the Study Session is to review the comment letters received regarding problems with the Draft Environmental Impact Report, and the City’s responses to them.

Project Overview:  This is a proposal to add 260 luxury condominium residences in three 150 foot tall towers in what is now the surface parking lot of an office campus near the corner of Jamboree and Birch in the Airport Area.  See the city webpage for further details.

Why We Were Watching:  This project raises multiple issues about height, density, and compatibility with neighboring uses, including the viability of the current General Plan’s vision for adding residential uses to the Airport Area, and whether it is being properly implemented.  SPON feels the project is out of character with the office park environment in which it is being proposed, and that any further consideration of it should be deferred until the pending General Plan Update has been completed — hopefully providing a clearer and better thought out vision for the future of the Airport Area.


November 8, 2018 @ 5:00 p.m.:  The expected re-do of the Study Session (that originally began on January 18) has been cancelled due to the unexpected resignation (on September 25) of Bill Dunlap, one of the four Planning Commissioners needed to hear the application.  Appointment of a new Commissioner is not expected until the City Council’s November 27 meeting, at the earliest.  A new date for the study session is expected to be set until after that.

Recent Events:

September 25, 2018:  Planning Commission Secretary Bill Dunlap, one of the four Commissioners constituting the quorum expected to hear the Koll Center Residences application, submitted a letter of resignation, informing the City medical issues forced him to leave the Commission.  The City clerk has since posted a vacancy notice.

September 13, 2018:  The City needs a quorum of four Planning Commissioners to take action on the Koll Center Residences proposal.  However, four of the current Commissioners — including the previously announced Commissioner Kramer — were found to have financial conflicts of interest that would normally prevent them from discussing the matter.  That left only three who could vote, which is less than a quorum.  In such a circumstance, a rarely-used provision in California’s ethics laws allows a quorum be be achieved by adding a conflicted Commissioner to the decision-making panel by a “drawing of lots.”  This was done at the Commission’s September 13 meeting, with Chair Peter Zak (who has an interest in a business with offices across Von Karman from the project site) drawing the “winning” card. The panel hearing the Koll Center Residences application will thus consist of Dunlap, Koetting, Weigand and Zak.

May 31, 2018:  The four Commissioners who are allowed to hear the Koll proposal (Koetting, Dunlap, Kramer and Weigand) were expected to meet for a special afternoon public study session about the project.  However, the meeting was canceled, purportedly due to an inability to to assemble a quorum, and needs to be rescheduled.  A new date has not yet been set.

May 24, 2018:  The City announced the long-planned May 31 study session has been canceled.  Speculation is that one of the four Commissioners needed to hear the matter learned he would have been unable to attend.  This likely will change the timing of the previously-announced June 21 hearing date, as well.

March 22, 2018:  In his report to the Planning Commission at the end of their meeting, the Community Development Director selected May 31 at 4:00 p.m. as the date and time for a study session on the Koll Center Residences proposal. Of several dates suggested, it was one of the few on which the four Commissioners able (and needed) to hear the matter thought they could get together.  The Director said the PC hearing on the application would come on June 21.

January 18, 2018 @ 6:30 p.m.: The Newport Beach Planning Commission started to hold a public study session on the project, long deferred from the date that had been scheduled and announced in the DEIR:  October 19, 2017. The staff report included responses to the comments on the Draft EIR received on or before November 13, 2017.  However, after a brief staff report, and introductory comments, the applicant asked for the session to be postponed due to uncertainty over which Planning Commissioners would ultimately be able to vote on the matter (several of them having financial conflicts of interest).  A video of the meeting is available, with the Koll Center Residences segment running for about 17 minutes starting at 1:43.  At 1:55:50 the Assistant City Attorney makes the announcement that one more of the Commissioners had to leave the room due to a potential financial conflict of interest. The discussion about future scheduling conflicts begins at 2:06:45.

January 9, 2018Responses to the public’s comments on the DEIR were posted on the City website.

November 13, 2017 @ 5:00 p.m.:  Due date for written comments regarding the accuracy and adequacy of the DEIR. In the Final EIR, the City is required to provide written responses to comments submitted by this deadline. Comments about deficiencies in the EIR can continue to be made up until the final project approval by the City Council. However, there is no legal requirement for a formal response to comments submitted after November 13.

October 31, 2017:  As promised at the previous night’s developer presentation, the City amended its DEIR comment extension notice to indicate written comments on the adequacy of the DEIR will be accepted through November 10 (later corrected, in view of the City Hall being closed on that date, to the next business day, November 13).

October 30, 2017:  At the City’s invitation the developer provided a roughly hour-long presentation about the project in the Friends Room at the Central Library, followed by questions and answers (but not comments) from the audience. SPON feels this City-invited sales pitch was a poor substitute for the more objective and on-record study session before the Planning Commission that had been previously announced (but cancelled without explanation) during the period the public is expected to comment on the Draft EIR. At this meeting, City staff announced the public comment period would be extended an additional seven days, to November 10, and that a Planning Commission study session on the project had been set for January 18, 2018. There was also an understanding that the developers PowerPoint would be made available on the City’s website.

October 18, 2017:  City announced extension of due date for written comments on the DEIR from October 27 to a new deadline of November 3 at 5:00 pm.  City also announced a “public forum” to be provided by the developer on October 30.  This is a substitute for the October 19 public study session before the Planning Commission which had been announced with release of the DEIR, but cancelled without explanation.

September 13, 2017:  The Draft EIR was released for public review. Comments submitted by October 27 will receive a written response in the Final EIR.  The public can continue to comment on the EIR until such time as it is certified, but the City is not required to provide a formal response to comments made after October 27.  Further details are available in the City’s announcement.

January 18, 2017: A scoping meeting for the project’s Environmental Impact Report was held  with comments due by February 2.

News Coverage

Helpful Links


General Plan update

Next SPON GPAC meeting:  January 12

Latest News
Project Overview
Why We Were Watching
Recent Events (includes GPAC Workshop notes)

News Coverage
City Document Links
Earlier Newport Beach General Plan documents
Prehistory of General Plans in Newport Beach
Non-City Links
Other Helpful Links
Links to videos of comments on 2006 General Plan Update process

Latest News:  The City Council put the brakes on the already much-delayed General Plan Update process with its February 13 adoption of a modified resolution of “strategies” for calendar year 2018 (see “Recent Events,” below).  No further City activity is expected until 2019. Nonetheless, SPON is continuing its efforts to press for improvements to the present General Plan and to help the public prepare to participate in the broader update, when it happens. To those ends, the most recent SPON GPAC meeting was held on August 18 (see “Recent Events,” below).  The GPAC Workshop planned for October 6 has been rescheduled for January 12, 2019 (see “Upcoming“).

The SPON General Plan Advisory Committee functions as an independent citizens interest group. Starting on November 18, 2017, it has held multiple well-attended and lively meetings,  (see “Recent Events,” below).  SPON thanks all who have and will participate!

Project Overview:  Ever since incoming Mayor Kevin Muldoon announced the initiation of an update of the city’s General Plan as a major objective for the City Council during the 2017 calendar year, the details of what that might entail have been a moving target.  No activity actually occurred in 2017, and it now appears none will occur in 2018 as well.  SPON nonetheless hopes to prepare citizens to have some influence over the process as further details emerge, as well as to lobby for improvements to the existing General Plan, most of which was adopted in 2006, and none of which appears to have been implemented entirely as promised.

Why We Were Watching:  Although SPON has repeatedly called for the development of “comprehensive” plans for specific areas of the city, such as Mariners Mile, West Newport Mesa and the Airport Area, the city proposal could be different and could have worrisome consequences. In 2006, the General Plan update process was used, without the full understanding of most residents, to expand and “reset” the Greenlight development thresholds throughout the city.  By approving the updated land use tables and maps, voters in effect gave the “Greenlight” to future projects they assumed they would be given a second chance to vote on, such as the two recently erected high-rise office towers (PIMCO and Irvine Company) in Newport Center (whose erection was specifically contrary to policy statements in the 2006 General Plan) and the massive 524-unit Villas Fashion Island apartment project at the corner of Jamboree and San Joaquin Hills Road.

With greater public awareness, a similar, but even more fast-tracked and developer-driven General Plan update effort in 2013-2014 was overwhelmingly rejected when approval of the land use changes was placed on the ballot as Measure Y.

Measure Y did nothing to allay the widespread impression that staff, consultant and others, guided by unknown influences, formulate most of the content of General Plan Updates “off camera,” spoon-feeding largely predetermined recommendations to what is ostensibly a citizens committee, eventually congratulated for its “hard work.”

While city staff has indicated the present update, if there is one, may not even touch the critical land use limits needing voter approval, some Council members, early on, mentioned hoping to see the matter on the November 2018 or 2020 ballot — which implies that it will.

Whatever the process turns out to be, for the sake of “our town” close watchfulness will be needed to ensure the General Plan modifications are resident-driven rather than developer-driven.


  • The next SPON GPAC workshop was to have been held on October 6, at the Environmental Nature Center, however the planned October 6 workshop has been rescheduled to Saturday, January 12, 2019, at the Santa Ana Heights Fire Station.
    • The guest speaker will be Kevin K. Johnson, an environmental lawyer from San Diego.
    • He will instruct participants on how to read and more effectively comment on Environmental Impact Reports.
    • The event will be free and open to all.
  • The City has no events scheduled directly related to the General Plan Update.  However, the Harbor Pointe Senior Living applicant is asking for a change to the current General Plan to allow a use not presently allowed by it.  The Koll Center Residences proposal also requires at minimum a minor change to the General Plan (to transfer 3,000 square feet of retail development allocation), and many, including SPON, have questioned whether the proposal is otherwise in compliance with the General Plan vision for the Airport Area.

Recent Events:

August 18, 2018: The eighth meeting of SPON’s independent General Plan Update Advisory Committee was held at the Santa Ana Heights Fire Station.  It continued the guest speakers series, with a presentation by a planning principal Laura Stetson from MIG, the private company that conducted the public outreach/community visioning portion of our City’s current General Plan in 2001-2002 (see Item 18, April 10, 2001, City Council meeting). Ms. Stetson shared her thoughts on “Data-driven General Plans,” including how to ensure the community vision expressed in a city’s general plan is actually implemented.  She also provided many detailed insights into the current Newport Beach General Plan. Her PowerPoint includes links to a number of resources where useful planning data can be found.  She mentioned an older website of Model General Plans for examples of good plans, as well as the more recent online-only Hayward 2040 General Plan (which she believes to exemplify the wave of the future, at least in terms of presentation).

June 16, 2018:  The seventh SPON GPAC meeting, held at the Santa Ana Heights Fire Station, continued the recent guest speakers series. Matt Foulkes, the City of Fullerton’s Community Planning Manager, spoke about the Fullerton General Plan, also known as “the Fullerton Vision,” which modified the “standard” layout of a General Plan by focusing on the four key pillars of the community: the built environment, the economy, the community, and the natural environment.

April 14, 2018:  The sixth SPON GPAC meeting, held at the Santa Ana Heights Fire Station, featured  Pete Peterson, Dean of the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy, and Jennifer Lilley, an urban and regional planner working for the City of Brea, who provided insights on how to better engage government officials and drive change (rather than just respond to it).

March 31, 2018: The fifth SPON GPAC meeting, held at the Santa Ana Heights Fire Station, inaugurated a planned guest speakers series.  Chris Carter, GIS manager for the City of Anaheim, gave an fascinating talk on the push for cities to provide “open data” and the difficulties of making that data engaging and useful for the general public.

March 27, 2018: As Item 11 on its Current Business agenda, the City Council authorized submitting to state agencies, without any changes or corrections, City staff’s Annual Status Report (Planning Activity PA2007-195) on the state of the City’s General Plan Implementation Program and its progress on the Housing Element goals.  Some of SPON’s thoughts posted preceding that meeting are preserved here:

  • SPON, and its GPAC Working Group, feel there are multiple problems with the City’s current General Plan and with its implementation since its adoption in 2006.
  • Although the City Council rarely shows much interest in this annual item, it is an opportunity for the public to show they’re interested, watching and engaged — including asking questions about whether a rash of bad planning decisions (Banning Ranch, AutoNation, 150 Newport Center and Museum House, to name a few) has been the result of a bad plan or bad execution of it.
  • Being a “Current Business” item means that not only will the public be allowed to offer their comments, but the Council will be invited to discuss the report, and the public’s comments on it, among themselves (although they have no requirement to do so).
  • This year’s nearly identical report to the Planning Commission is here.  The Commission showed little interest in it, but the one suggestion they offered appears to have been ignored by City staff.  It was to mention under the report on progress made in 2017 on Implementation Program 1.2 (keeping the General Plan up to date) that the City had at least started considering the need for a General Plan update.
  • Last year’s report to the City Council is here (Note that it is mostly the same as this year’s report, even though there have been substantial changes in the state requirements — one of many things not mentioned in the report.  In particular, although the report repeatedly states it is being submitted pursuant to California Government Code Section 65400, that section was extensively revised effective January 1, 2018, and the report about to be submitted appears to be missing the information newly required by subsections C through I.  In addition, the California Office of Planning and Research issued entirely new General Plan Guidelines in 2017, and there is no evidence our General Plan has been compared against the new guidelines, even though Imp 1.3 requires such disclosure).
  • Regarding the items it’s important to comment on, including the City’s failure to provide clear information on the development capacity remaining under the existing General Plan limits, and an even more serious problem with the published development limits not correctly representing the development that has been approved, and thus short-circuiting what the public thought were our Greenlight protections, SPON has prepared some background information and some possible talking points.
  • You may also find helpful the questions about the City’s execution of the Implementation Program that SPON submitted to the Community Development Department in advance of its February 26 “Open House & Community Forum,” which remain unanswered — and the additional public comments submitted when this item was before the Planning Commission on March 8.

March 8, 2018: City staff’s Annual Status Report on the state of the General Plan was presented to the Planning Commission as Item 8 on their agenda.  The Commission showed little interest in it, and recommended passing it on to the City Council with no suggestions for changes or actions to be taken as a result of it.  Several members of the public attempted to comment on the report, and its shortcomings.  They were treated shabbily.

February 26, 2018: SPON submitted to City staff a letter raising questions about the City’s compliance with the General Plan Implementation Program(s) adopted in 2006.  SPON hoped some of those questions could be answered at the Community Development Department’s first ever “Open House & Community Forum” on February 26, but the forum’s format did not allow for that.  A written follow-up was promised, but none has been received.

February 24, 2018: The fourth SPON GPAC meeting was held in the Santa Ana Heights Fire Station training room. The main segment  focused on the promises made in the existing General Plan and the extent to which they have been met, or not, with emphasis on City staff’s assessment of that as seen in their Annual Status Report to the state.

  • The meeting materials included the SPON GPAC agenda and a link to City staff’s 2016 Annual Report (as presented to the Council on March 28, 2017).  It includes a copy of the Implementation Program followed by the status of each task.  A new report for calendar year 2017 will be presented to the Planning Commission on March 8, and to the City Council on March 27.
  • Those who missed the meeting may view the 2/24/2018 SPON GPAC presentation here (although it may be hard to follow without the words).

February 13, 2018: As consent calendar Item 7, the City Council was expected to adopt a resolution confirming a “go slow” approach to the General Plan Update, with 2018 being largely devoted to listening and educating, with any actual update starting only after that is completed.  Instead, the Council unexpectedly changed direction, with Council member Scott Peotter encouraging staff to prepare an alternative resolution (available only to the public attending in person) putting off the start of the staff-facilitated “listen and learn” workshops, that it had been agreed should precede a GPU, until 2019.  As a result, no staff activity at all on the GPU is expected during calendar year 2018.

February 8, 2018 – CANCELLED: The Planning Commission was expected to hold a meeting (agenda here) devoted entirely (because of postponement of the night’s two hearing items) to a discussion of property development standards (including what to do about “mansionization”) in the Cliff Haven area (the blufftop neighborhood between Newport Harbor High and PCH).  Despite having received numerous messages of interest, City staff announced (just a few hours before it was scheduled to begin) that the February 8 Planning Commission meeting would not be held. Supposedly, staff decided not to address Cliff Haven separately, but to include it in a broader investigation of similar concerns citywide, in some forum yet to be determined (but apparently not involving the Planning Commission).

January 29, 2018: The City Council discussed if and when to embark on a General Plan Update as part of the program at a special Monday evening annual Planning Session held at Marina Park.  The Council’s direction appeared to be for staff to embark soon on a program of listening to the public (“with an educational component”), but not hire consultants and launch a full-blown update until state housing requirements for the near future are better understood.

January 13, 2018: A capacity crowd met at the Santa Ana Heights Fire Station for the third meeting of SPON’s independent citizens GPAC group.  Through its GPAC working group SPON hopes to create an informed  citizenry to participate in and influence the General Plan Update outcome, as well as to produce citizen-driven alternatives for conduct of the update process. At this third meeting the participating citizens pored over maps of the city, identifying areas where current General Plan policies appear to be working, and identifying areas where improvement is needed.

December 2, 2017:   SPON’s independent citizens GPAC group held its second meeting at the Santa Ana Heights Fire Station from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.  The group generally agreed that a update to the General Plan is needed, and will assist SPON in formulating a letter to the City to that effect. The resulting letter was approved by the SPON Board and sent to the City on December 11.

November 18, 2017:  As was apparent from Measure Y, SPON anticipates that City staff and Council may have a vision and goals for the future of the City that diverge markedly from the views held by a majority of residents, and even business owners.  As a result, SPON convened a meeting of interested citizens, calling themselves the SPON GPAC, to review what happened on November 14 and assess interest in creating an independent, truly citizens advisory panel to monitor developments and attempt to keep the City’s process on a track residents approve of.  Such true independent citizens’ oversight was lacking from previous GPU efforts in Newport Beach.  The response was a enthusiastic, and a second meeting will be held on Saturday, December 2.

November 14, 2017: Based on the City’s announcement, formal initiation of a General Plan update process was expected to come at the November 14, 2017, City Council meeting. A discussion of staff’s update proposal was expected at an afternoon public “study session” followed by action at the regular evening meeting.  A staff team leading the effort was also announced.  It was to consist of Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis, former Principal Planner and newly-appointed Deputy Director Jim Campbell and Associate Planner Ben Zdeba, and in addition to outside consultants, the larger plan involved the appointment of a Steering Committee (to consist of Council members O’Neill and Herdman and former Council member Nancy Gardner) and a citizens advisory committee (“GPAC”) chaired by Ms. Gardner and consisting of 4 Commissioners and up to 25 community members (it might be noted that it is unusual for City staff to specify who the City Council should appoint).

Largely rejecting staff’s recommendations, the Council instead leaned toward a slower and more deliberate evaluation of the current situation before launching into a major and costly update process.  That alternative approach might include creation of a “Blue Ribbon Committee” to consider the need for an update and explore options for conducting it, but no final decisions were made on November 14.  Staff’s initial suggestion for the alternate exploratory committee was for one consisting of 10 members:  a resident or business owner from each of the City’s seven Council districts, plus a member of a board or commission plus two Council members.  Although it was originally thought a variation of that alternative might be coming back for consideration by the Council as early as November 28, it now looks like that will not be happening until next year.

June 13, 2017: Funding for the update ($1 million in the first year, with at least another $1 million expected in later years) was allocated, without much discussion or direction, in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017.

May 18, 2017: At the Corona del Mar Residents Association‘s May 18, 2017, meeting, the City’s then Community Development Director, Kimberly Brandt, and then Deputy Director, Brenda Wisneski, gave a presentation entitled “Local Coastal Plan Amendments (Shoreline Properties) & future General Plan Update Project” (see the agenda). As part of the latter presentation, they distributed a flyer describing their vision of the GPU project. Although most of this has not yet been approved by the City Council, the flyer indicates staff sees the present calendar year being used to select an outside consultant and appoint an Advisory Committee. Work on actually revising the General Plan would begin in January 2018, with adoption expected in March or April 2020. Although funding for Year 1 was subsequently approved, Ms. Brandt retired on July 28, and Ms. Wisneski left to accept a job in another city at the end of September, which may delay the plans as new staff is put in place. As of late September, the new Community Development Director, Seimone Jurjis (former Deputy Director overseeing the Building Division), has indicated a Request for Proposals for consultants is being prepared, but will be submitted to the City Council for review and approval before actually being posted.

February 16, 2017:  Incoming Mayor Kevin Muldoon announced a General Plan Update as a major priority for the coming year in his speech at Speak Up Newport’s 36th annual Mayor’s Dinner (City video here).

February 14, 2017: City Manager Dave Kiff described a proposal for a General Plan Update in a PowerPoint slide presented at a Council study session regarding the upcoming budget.

News Coverage

City Document Links

  • A set of City webpages regarding the General Plan Update has been posted and should be consulted for the City’s latest official news about the process.
  • Existing Newport Beach General Plan (note: although originally adopted in 2006, and subsequently amended as indicated in these files, the land use allocations shown on the maps and in the land use tables may have been altered by transfers and conversions not reflected in these documents,  As an example, one is not likely to find authorization for a PIMCO tower or Irvine Company headquarters building in it.)
  • The Environmental Impact Report prepared in connection with the 2006 update.  See particularly “Volume 1A,” which is the Final EIR which contains tables showing how the “EIR project” was scaled down during the hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council.  Additionally, although not available online, the reference shelves of the Newport Beach Central Library include a binder of Technical Background Studies that supported the 2006 General Plan.  The City is also known to have agendas, minutes and meeting materials from the hearings held during development of the 2006 General Plan, but aside from those before the Planning Commission and City Council they have not been made accessible online.
  • City Manager’s February 2017 PowerPoint slide requesting $1 million budget allocation for first year of update (approved with overall budget in June)
  • May 2017 Community Development Department flyer describing City staff’s vision for possible update

Additional documents divulged in response to a September 2017 Public Records Act request:

Earlier Newport Beach General Plan documents

Newport Beach has had a General Plan (originally called a “Master Plan”) since at least 1958, with major revisions in 1973/4, 1988 and 2006.  At least the last three of these led to extensive revisions to the detailed Zoning Code regulations which implement the General Plan (the Zoning Code is currently Title 20 of the Municipal Code),

In parallel, but separate from this, and responding to  a separate state mandate, Newport Beach has a Coastal Land Use Plan additionally controlling development in the roughly half of the City in the Coastal Zone.  This was first adopted by Council Resolution 82-25 in 1982.  The CLUP underwent major revisions in 2005 (with Resolution 2005-64) and again in 2009 (with Resolution 2009-53).  Only in January 2017 did the City receive certification of the Implementation Plan portion of the Local Coastal Program, which now exists as Title 21 of the Municipal Code. Title 21 largely mirrors the Zoning Code (Title 20), but gives the City the authority to issue most Coastal Development Permits.

  • Newport Beach appears to have first contracted with a consultant to develop a “Master Plan” in April 1956 (Resolution 4486)
  • That plan, addressing  Land Use, Streets and Highways, and Parks and Recreation, was adopted by Resolution 4728 at the City Council’s January 13, 1958, meeting (see minutes).   However, the plan itself does not appear to have been preserved.
  • In 1969 the City Council endorsed a “Newport Tomorrow” visioning process, involving a consultant, a steering committee and “84 public spirited citizens.”  In 10 months, the process generated a report used as the vision for the City’s first General Plan in the modern sense mandated by the state legislature.  The Newport Beach Central Library has preserved a copy in its reference/historical collection, and we have posted a scanned copy (here) for those interested in reading it.  Responding to new state requirements for more formal, comprehensive planning, the City Council officially received the Newport Tomorrow report with Resolution 7172 on April 13, 1970, and although generally accepting it as the basis for general plan, rejected at least four specific proposals:  (1) an annexation policy, (2) a high-rise development policy, (3) a design review board, and (4) creation of a body to pursue “townscape planning goals.”
  • The General Plan resulting from the Newport Tomorrow effort was adopted in pieces between 1973 and 1974.  For example, the Land Use Element was adopted by Resolution 7968 (May 29, 1973) while the Circulation Element was adopted by Resolution 8206 (March 11, 1974).  Unfortunately, the resolutions reference documents “on file in the City Clerk’s office,” which may or may not have been preserved for posterity.
  • The next major revision of the General Plan came in 1988, with adoption of a new Land Use Element with Resolution 88-100 and a new Circulation Element with Resolution 88-101.  In this case, the full documents have been posted with the resolutions, and can be viewed at these links.  The new Land Use Element defined, described allowable development in, and set limits for each of a large number of “statistical areas” — which became the conceptual basis for controlling future growth in the citizens’ Greenlight initiative of 2000 (adopting City Charter Section 423).
  • The current General Plan followed on the heels of Greenlight, and in its initial form was adopted by the City Council with Resolution 2006-76 on July 25, 2006, contingent on voters giving the Greenlight to the new development limit tables, which they did the following November 7, by a narrow 53.6% margin (see Resolution 2006-103).
  • Several of General Plan elements have been amended or replaced in subsequent years, resulting in the plan currently presented on-line.

Prehistory of General Plans in Newport Beach

In 1923, Newport Beach adopted a cryptic Ordinance 247 creating a City Planning Commission, although the group does not appear to have actually been empaneled and functional until May 1926 (per the first minutes, the initial body agreeing to discuss business over dinner at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club shortly before the Monday evening City Council meetings).  As new state laws were adopted, the existing Planning Commission was reaffirmed as the relevant review body in Newport Beach — Ordinance 349 (1928) and Ordinance 430 (1935) — the latter being in response to the “Planning Act” of 1929, which called for “establishment of official master plans.”

The City’s first master plan in the 1929 sense was duly adopted in January 1936 by Ordinance 440, created with the assistance of consultant E. Deming Tilton.  It established land classifications and “districts,” and is essentially equivalent to what would today be called a Zoning Code.  The stated reasons for adopting it were: “(1) to secure for the citizens of the City of Newport Beach the social and economical advantages resulting from an orderly, planned use of Its land resources, (2) to provide a definite, official land-use plan  for the City of Newport Beach and 3) to guide, control and regulate the future growth and development of said City in accordance with said plan.”

A new Zoning Code was adopted with Ordinance 635 in 1950.

Non-City Links

  • General Plan Guidelines (2017) : recently revised version of the definitive guide to requirements for General Plan elements from the California State Office of Planning and Research (the agency that oversees General Plans in California)
  • General Plans and Zoning (2007) : a very useful and readable “outsiders” overview of California land use regulation, including General Plans and Zoning Codes, prepared by the California Department of Health Services, specifically for those interested in pursuing healthy living initiatives.
  • Orange County General Plan Resource Directory (2011) : publication from Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks highlighting desirable policies from General Plans in Orange County (and other parts of California).  Includes more general information on General Plans and planning in general, with a focus on creating sustainable communities.
  • Land Use 101 (2015) :  detailed citations to the legal authority (and limitations) of California land use planning, prepared by the  of the San Luis Obispo City Attorney.
  • Land Use and Planning (2010) : useful overview publication from California’s Institute for Local Government.
  • 150 Years of Land Use (A Brief History of Land Use Regulation, 1999) : a private attorney’s view of the tug-of-war between development and regulation in California, and its status circa 2000.
  • General Plan Overview :  FAQ handout about General Plans from the December 2, 2017, SPON GPAC meeting.

Other Helpful Links

SPON letter to City Council urging General Plan Update (December 11, 2017).

Links to videos of comments on 2006 General Plan Update process

  • July 25, 2006 City Council meeting (where the Council voted to approve the GPU as Item 18 and put the Greenlight tables on the ballot as Item 21).
    • Allan Beek speaks at 2:17:50.
    • Dolores Otting supports Allan about the GPU circumventing Greenlight at 2:23:40
    • Larry Porter speaks about the City’s failure to address water and climate change starting at 2:26:50, saying with regard to the EIR, “don’t certify this false document” at 2:31.
    • Elaine Linhoff talks at 2:31:15 about moving housing from Banning Ranch, where it won’t happen, to Mariner’s Mile, where it will.
    • Sandy Genis comments on (with regard the EIR numbers) “that’s magic” at 2:36:55, about the “special qualities of Newport Beach” at 2:37:45, and “why change that?” at 2:38:30.
    • Jan Vandersloot notes his 4 years on GPAC at 2:38:45, that the measure being proposed is a “developer’s wish list” at 2:43:20, and recommends keeping the old plan at 2:43:20.
    • Nancy Gardner (chair of the Council-appointed GPAC) rebuts the other public speakers at 2:43:50, proclaiming the GPU is good because it will add “workforce housing” to the Airport Area.
    • Phil Arst starts at 2:45:40 and returns at 5:06:15 (for Item 21, where he accuses last minute changes to the ballot wording as changing it into a “marketing message” — which the opponents weren’t allowed in their Greenlight II).
    • At 2:47:20 he charges the ballot measure is a violation of the Charter because it claims it will given voter approval to all previous non-voter-approved amendments — but Charter Section 423 requires each amendment to be voted on separately. At 2:48:45 he attributes the purported “reductions” to comparing the projections to “phantom trips” that would never have happened under the existing plan.
  • June 13, 2006 City Council meeting.
    • Phil Arst speaks starting at 3:38:20 and ticks off a litany of problems with it. It assumes a 19th St bridge when there will be none (3:40:50), the measure would arbitrarily increase the allowable floor area ratio in CdM (possibly allowing the present mansionization?, 3:41:20), it adds sloped parts of a lot to the “buildable area” (even though it’s not buildable) thereby increasing the development allowed (3:42:50), it introduces new, out-of-character extremely dense housing categories for no apparent reason (3:43:15) and it is a fatally flawed EIR (3:44:10).
  • May 9, 2006 City Council meeting.
    • Jan Vandersloot comes to the podium at 3:23:30 to comment on Item 17, despite Mayor Don Webb giving him condescending looks.
    • Jan argues there is no way the proposal to add mixed use housing to the harbor side of Mariner’s Mile could decrease traffic, and their action to allow it will be completely contrary to what the residents of Newport Heights want.
    • At 3:23:30, Councilman Rosansky agrees with Jan, saying the GPU will make Newport Beach like the housing being added in Costa Mesa, and offers an amendment to remove the housing. He can’t get a second, but warns Webb his constituents will be mad.
    • Jan is allowed a rejoinder at 3:28:45, accusing the analysis of the GPU to be based on “sleight of hand,” and at 3:29:40 that if they do this, they “will have a fight.”

2607 Ocean Blvd

2607 Ocean Blvd as of August 2018:

Coastal Commission finds “substantial issue” — hearing to be scheduled

Latest News:  A modified project was approved by the Planning Commission on December 7, 2017.  After fruitless attempts to get the City Council to review the compliance of the Planning Commission’s decision with the City’s Local Coastal Program (LCP), a free appeal was submitted to the California Coastal Commission on January 21, 2018.  A CCC determination of whether the City’s approval raised “substantial issues” of statewide significance was originally scheduled for the CCC’s March 7 meeting in the Oxnard Harbor District offices, Port Hueneme, but was postponed at the last minute.  The determination was finally made as Item F22a at the August 10, 2018, meeting in Redondo Beach, where, in response to a new staff report, supporting exhibits and correspondence, the twelve commissioners voted unanimously to find “substantial issue” and directed staff to schedule a full hearing on the application at future meeting (date to be determined) .

Project Overview:  This proposal for a multi-story replacement, with rooftop pool and living area, of the small existing single family residence on the bluff face adjacent to the China Cove Ramp in Corona del Mar has drawn considerable public interest.

Why We Are Watching: This is the first time the Planning Commission has been asked to review an application for a Coastal Development Permit.  This particular application requests numerous “variances” from the City’s normal development standards (none of which are currently allowed for CDP’s) and, as approved, would cause a permanent loss of public views from the ramp, which are supposed to be protected by the City’s Local Coastal Program, as well as permanently destroy a currently undeveloped portion of the China Cove bluff face and fence off public access to the City land at the top of the property, between it and Ocean Blvd, which would otherwise have potential as a public view spot.  Aside from these Coastal Act issues (the Coastal Act, though the local LCP, is supposed to protect, for all Californians, coastal views, coastal landforms and public access to them), it is regarded by many as an example of a disturbing trend toward “mansionization,” out of tune with the City’s existing character.  It is also an example of people buying properties and expecting to get an easy approval from the City to build something on it not allowed by the existing City codes and policies.


  • Based on the outcome of the August 10, 2018, Coastal Commission meeting (see “Recent Events,” below) a full hearing on the application will be held before the CCC on a date to be announced.

Recent Events

  • September 17, 2018: CCC staff issues official notice that “substantial issue” was found at August 10 meeting.  At the time of the notice, a hearing date for the appeal had not been set.
  • August 10, 2018:  As Item F22a on the agenda for the CCC’s Friday meeting in Redondo Beach, the Commission voted 12:0 to find the appeal raised sufficient issues of statewide significance to merit the holding of a full hearing on the proposed development.
    • The hearing was confined to the question of whether the appeal raises sufficient “substantial issues” with Local Coastal Program compliance to require the scheduling of a full re-hearing of the project before the CCC at a future meeting.  CCC staff recommended the Commission make that finding.
    • A new staff report, supporting exhibits and correspondence (an odd hodgepodge of old and new letters) were posted for public review.
      • Comments to the CCC on them were invited by clicking the “Submit Comment” button following the Item 22a listing on the CCC agenda page, or by sending an email to with the subject line “Public Comment on August 2018 Agenda Item Friday 22a – Appeal No. A-5-NPB-18-0006 (Nicholson Construction, Newport Beach)“.
  • March 14, 2018:  The “story poles (see December 7, 2018, below) have been re-installed.  The reason for this is unknown.
  • March 7, 2018: A hearing on the January 22 appeal of the City’s approval of the Coastal Development Permit for 2607 Ocean Blvd was scheduled as Wednesday Item 11a (“W11a”) during the California Coastal Commission’s March 2018 meeting in Port Hueneme. As explained in the CCC’s Appeals FAQ, that hearing was to have focused on whether the appeal raises “substantial issues” of compliance with the City’s certified LCP. However, that hearing was postponed to a future date.
    • The CCC posting for March 7 consisted of a staff report recommending a finding of substantial issue, and supporting exhibits including a letter from the applicant’s representative opposing the appeal. If the Commissioners agree with CCC staff, the actual hearing on the modifications that would be necessary to bring the project into compliance with the LCP would occur at a later meeting. CCC staff also posted correspondence received in connection with the expected hearing, including a five-page letter from the City attempting to rebut each of the contentions raised in the appeal.
    • The online agenda includes a button to view the meeting remotely, by live stream.
    • It is important to understand that the postponed Item 11a on March 7 was a procedural hearing to accept for future hearing, or deny, the appeal of the City’s approval of the permit for the development.
    • As such, the only issues under consideration on March 7 will be whether there is reason to doubt the City’s approval could be justified under its certified Local Coastal Program, and if there is a question of compliance, whether there is reason to believe the lack of consistency had detrimental effects of enough statewide significance to warrant review by the Coastal Commission.
    • Comments were invited to be submitted to the CCC by email using the “Submit Comment” button following the Item 11a listing on the CCC agenda page, or by sending an email to with subject line “Public Comment on March 2018 Agenda Item Wednesday 11a – Appeal No. A-5-NPB-18-0006 (Nicholson Construction, Newport Beach)“.
    • To be most helpful, comments should be based on an understanding of the CCC staff report, and focus on Coastal Act consistency issues, not local zoning ones (purely local issues being things like whether the design or size matches that of nearby homes, or a statement residents don’t like it). For reference, the overarching goals of the Coastal Act are that all development in the Coastal Zone will, for the benefit of all Californians, and our visitors, be sized and sited to minimize impacts to public coastal views (from and to the ocean), coastal landforms and the public’s ability to freely access them. In reviewing the Newport Beach Planning Commissions decision on 2607 Ocean Blvd, CCC staff found possible issues of inconsistency with all three of these, and comments in support of those findings of inconsistency are especially helpful.
    • As an example, moving the LCP-required setback lines to allow the home to be built lower down the slope, closer to Way Lane (as the present one is), might be consistent with the Coastal Act goal of minimizing impacts to treasured public views. Relaxing the setback requirements to permit construction of home larger than the LCP allows, as the Planning Commission did, is not consistent, since it maximizes impacts to views and landforms.
    • To reach the Coastal Commissioners as part of the posted agenda item, emailed comments had to be sent by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, March 2.
  • February 23, 2018:  With a hearing on the validity of the appeal scheduled for March 7 in Oxnard/Port Hueneme, CCC staff posts a report recommending a finding of “substantial issue.”
  • January 23, 2018: Notice of Appeal mailed by Coastal Commission staff, ordering the City to forward to them the materials on which the City’s decision was based.
  • January 21, 2018: appeal of City approval filed with California Coastal Commission.
  • January 9, 2018:  City returns December 21 CDP appeal and the appeal of the City’s challenge to it, saying it will take no action on either.
  • January 6, 2018:  City sends a “Notice of Final Action” to the Coastal Commission, triggering the opportunity for an appeal to them, since the project site is within the LCP appeal area (City approvals within that area can be appealed directly to the Coastal Commission if the City charges for local appeals, as it now appears it does).
  • January 5, 2018:  Appellant challenges City threat to reject appeal.
  • January 2, 2018:  City challenges and threatens to reject the December 21 appeal for refusal to pay a $1,536 filing fee, which was claimed due even though it was not mentioned in the notice of the hearing and (unlike for Zoning Code appeals, pursuant to NBMC Sec. 20.64.030.B.2) is not called out in the City’s LCP code.  The claim was the CDP had to be appealed along with any other matters approved at the same hearing, under any other codes, again something not called out in the LCP code, nor even logical since the Coastal Commission routinely rules on the compliance of CDP approvals with an LCP independent of all other local approvals.  The City’s offer to allow the appellant to add an appeal of the variance approval under Title 20 by January 6 was arguably itself illegal, since the original appeal made clear it was not appealing that, and the publicly announced time for filing a Title 20 appeal had ended on December 21.
  • December 21, 2017:  After unsuccessful efforts to get a City Council member to call the Planning Commission’s December 7 decisions up for review, a private citizen filed an Appeal Application for the Coastal Development Permit portion of the approval, only, with the City Clerk, as allowed under Section 4.3 of Resolution 2075.
  • December 7, 2017: The application was heard as Item 5 at the Planning Commission’s December 7 meeting, for which a new staff report was posted. According to the staff report, by eliminating the elevator stop on the roof, the applicant is no longer asking for a deviation from the City and coastal height standards, but still seeks variances to reduce the required setbacks and increase the allowed floor area. It might be noted that heights in Newport Beach are measured from the underlying land, so even though it may not technically be a height variance, allowing the land owner to reduce the setback from Ocean Blvd allows him to build farther up the bluff face, and hence higher. Reducing the setbacks also, in staff’s view, increases the buildable area and allows the land owner to build bigger (that is, allowing more floor area, even without a variance). Also according to the staff report, as suggested by the Planning Commission on Nov. 9, the applicant installed “story poles” (connected by strings and flags representing various key rooflines) on the property from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, illustrating how the proposed construction would impact views. Although the staff report continues to say the poles will disappear on Dec. 1, a later email from the applicant’s representative said the poles will be left in place through Dec. 8. Equally disturbingly, even though view impacts is a major concern with this project, the staff report contains no photos showing what the poles look like from various vantage points, and absolutely no computer simulations of how the actual building will affect existing views.Regarding the Coastal Development Permit issue, City staff clearly knows the City has no authority to grant variances from the recently adopted Local Coastal Program development standards, since they have asked the Coastal Commission for permission to add variance provisions to the LCP Implementation Plan. Coastal Commission staff has informed the City that adding those provisions would constitute a major amendment to the authority granted the City under the IP. To date, no hearings on the matter have yet been scheduled. Until language allowing variances from the LCP is certified, it seems the height of impudence for the City to be exercising an authority it has been clearly notified it has not been granted. At the hearing, staff said the Community Development Director has the authority to interpret the IP, and hence could “interpret” that it allows variances even if it doesn’t say so.  After hearing testimony from the applicant and public, on a motion by Commissioner Bill Dunlap, the Planning Commission voted 4:2 (with Commissioners Weigand and Lowrey voting “no” and Vice Chair Zak absent) to approve the application, provided the “public view obstruction problems” could be solved, apparently largely by using clear glass for the screening around the rooftop pool deck.  The final approval (PC Resolution No. 2075) was for 4,500 total square feet of floor area (including the garage, but not counting the livable roof area) on a lot where the maximum floor area allowed with the code-required setbacks would be 2,865 sf.
  • November 9, 2017:  The application began to be heard as Item 2 at the Newport Beach Planning Commission’s November 9, 2017, meeting (see video), but was continued to December 7.  Commissioners Kramer and Kleiman were inclined to grant the variance requests provided the elevator was moved back to the Ocean Blvd side of the property (where, although reaching exactly the same top elevation, it is technically less tall since its “height” is measured from a higher point on the slope.   The remaining Commissioners appeared to have problems with the project and asked the applicant to come back with something better.  Vice Chair Zak expressed the opinion that relaxing setback requirements should not serve as an excuse to use the resulting larger buildable area to justify a corresponding increase in floor area .

News Coverage

Helpful Links

3200 Ocean Blvd

3200 Ocean Blvd as of September 2018:
Council hearing, expected Sept. 25, has been CANCELLED

Latest news:  Although this project was approved 5:2 by the Planning Commission (see video), that decision has been “called up for review” by City Council member Jeff Herdman.  A new hearing before the Council was placed on their September 25 agenda (see notice here), where was Item 18.  However, according to a last minute posting, it is being “continued to a date uncertain.”  In other words, the September 25 hearing has been CANCELLED.

Project Overview
Why We’re Watching
The Issues
Recent Events
News Coverage
Helpful Links

Project Overview:  Application to replace the existing 2,904 square foot single family residence at the corner of Larkspur and Ocean with a new 5,216 sq. ft. home (with a 2,748 sq. ft. basement not included in that total), on a lot where the both the City’s Zoning Code and its Local Coastal Program allow at most a 4,234 sq. ft. home.

Why We’re Watching:  Many SPON members, and other residents, have expressed concern about the increasing “mansionization” of our community. Much of that change in character has been accomplished simply by filling lots to the very limits of the building envelope allowed by the City’s current zoning codes.

But in this case, the City was presented with a request to build something even larger than than the mansion-like maximum allowed by the code.  To justify the proposed size at this address, the Planning Commission had to approve both increasing the building footprint by allowing construction 5 feet into a code-required 10 foot setback, and then multiplying even that larger than code-allowed building footprint by a floor area limit multiplier greater than the code allows for any other homes in Corona del Mar.

In addition to granting these deviations from the Zoning Code, this was the second time the Planning Commission had been asked to review an application for a Coastal Development Permit. Over the objections of the two Planning Commissioners who voted “no,” it again granted variances from the identical development standards about setbacks and floor area certified by the Coastal Commission in the Local Coastal Program for Newport Beach — but with no clear written authority to do so, and with the question of whether it has an implied authority currently on appeal.


Newport Beach has different standards for the amount of development allowed on commercial and residential lots.  The maximum amount of floor area that can be built on a commercial lot is regulated by the Floor Area Ratio (FAR), which is the ratio of the floor area to the total area of the lot.  On residential lots, construction is limited by the smaller “buildable” area determined by required setbacks from the property lines.  The maximum floor area that can be built on a residential lot is set by the Floor Area Limit (FAL), which is the ratio of the floor area to the  “buildable” area defined by the required setbacks.  This both limits the bulk of the structures and ensures open space between them, both for fire access and to ensure homes have usable yards.

The Floor Area Limit in Corona del Mar (and on Balboa Island) is 1.5 times the buildable area.

The normal setbacks that determine the buildable area for single-family residential lots throughout Newport Beach are 20 feet in the front, 10 feet in the rear and 3 or 4 feet on the sides (depending on lot width).  This lot, like all those along Ocean Boulevard, is required to maintain a slightly larger than normal 24 foot front setback.  The 10 foot required rear setback is completely normal in size for Newport Beach, although because this is a corner lot, the rear yard is partially visible from the Larkspur “side” street, rather than being at a completely hidden interior position.

Variances to the development standards (per NBMC Sec. 20.52.090) are supposed to be difficult to obtain, and are supposed to be allowed only when due to some unusual physical peculiarity of the property not properly anticipated in the code, a strict application of the standards would deprive the owner of a right enjoyed by other property owners not suffering from that peculiarity.

In the present case, the only thing unusual about the property is that it is part of what was originally two long skinny lots paralleling Larkspur and spanning from Ocean Boulevard to an alley in the rear, as illustrated with the dashed red line in the diagram at left.

At some time in the past (the City doesn’t seem to have the map showing when!), the original lots were resubdivided into two squarer shaped lots, yielding the blue configuration, with the present property having a larger-than-normal frontage along Ocean Boulevard (at bottom) and a second lot facing Larkspur (at top).


Staff points out that as a result of the “realignment,” the code-required setbacks fill a relatively large fraction of the overall lot area, limiting (as the code is supposed to do) the size of the home that could be built on the lot.

To allow a larger home, City staff asked for the 10 foot rear setback to be effectively reduced to 5 feet (technically, the Planning Commission was not asked to actually change the setback, but rather to allow future construction to encroach 5 feet into the 10 foot setback required by the Council-enacted Zoning Code).  This was said to be match the rear setback required of neighboring property owners. However, those neighbors have lots that back up to a 15 foot alley, which provides open space between the homes and reduces their need for a rear setback from 10 to 5 feet.  That logic does not apply to 3200 Ocean Blvd, whose rear property line does not abut an alley.

Although the code-required setbacks would not really be changed by the Planning Commission action, City staff seems to treat them as if they were, as shown in the following Table 3 from the staff report, which shows how a reduction of the rear setback from 10 feet to 5 feet would increase the buildable area at 3200 Ocean Blvd. from 2,823 sf to 3,108 sf.

But even then, the column labeled “Max Floor Area (Buildable SF x 1.5) (SF)” is particularly misleading.  For every line other than “3200 Ocean Blvd (Proposed)” the number listed in that column is 1.5 times the buildable area listed in the preceding column — which is the maximum allowed floor area (note: it doesn’t mean those lots are actually occupied by homes that large).  But for “3200 Ocean Blvd (Proposed)” it is a larger number pulled out of the air.

The table makes it appear that if the new buildable area of 3,108 sf is multiplied by the standard maximum FAL of 1.5, the result is the owner’s proposed floor area of 5,216 sf.   However, 3,108 x 1.5 = 4,662 sf — an increase of just 428 sf over the amount allowed with the normal setbacks .

It is not clear the Planning Commission understood they were approving an FAL of 1.7 (or 1.9 compared to the original buildable area) when all other properties in the vicinity are allowed a maximum of 1.5.

The only justification for approving 5,216 sf is that it provided the owner with an FAR similar to other homes in the area.  But the size of homes is supposed to be limited by FAL, not FAR, and the FAL is supposed to limit lots with smaller buildable areas to a smaller FAR.

Deviating from the FAL to achieve a certain FAR makes no sense when FAL, rather than FAR, is the thing intended to be regulated by the code.

The Issues
In summary, the issues associated with the 3200 Ocean Blvd application include the following:

  • The Planning Commission approval is counter to resident concerns about a trend toward larger homes in older neighborhoods.
  • In this case, the approved size goes not just to the maximum allowed by the Council-enacted codes, but significantly beyond it.
  • Variances are supposed to be granted only when there is something physically peculiar about a property — yet there is very little unusual about this lot.
  • The heirs’ understandable wish to maximize their property’s resale value by getting entitlements to build an oversized home on it has never been recognized as a valid reason for granting variances to the Council-enacted development standards.  Nonetheless, to accommodate that wish:
    • A perfectly standard 10 foot rear setback — required throughout Newport Beach — was reduced to 5 feet even though there is nothing physically unusual about the property, other than it being a corner lot.
    • The applicant was then allowed to compute the permissible floor area by multiplying the resulting increased buildable area by a factor (1.7) arbitrarily and significantly larger than the factor (1.5) applied to all other properties in Corona del Mar.
    • This was justified by saying the relaxation of development standards was necessary to allow the property owners to achieve a ratio of floor area to lot size similar to their neighbors.  However, FAR (floor area ratio) is a commercial standard that is supposed to be irrelevant to residential properties.  The Council has purposefully regulated residential development based not lot size, but rather on the buildable area remaining after the code-required setbacks have been considered.  Because the setbacks impact different lots in different ways, there is no reason to expect all residential lots to have the same, or even similar, FAR.
  • Although it is a problem common to corner lots in Newport Beach, despite the Ocean Blvd address, the “front” of this home — both existing and proposed — is actually along Larkspur, which per the City codes is regarded as a “side,” requiring (as seen in the setback diagram above) only a 4 foot setback from the sidewalk.
    • This allows the “front” of this home to be built without the normal front yard, breaking the line of home fronts on the rest of Larkspur and for those coming down Larkspur toward Ocean intruding into the public views of the sea — and at the corner where the preservation of the views would be most valuable.
    • Rather than reducing the code-required setbacks, to retain the character of the neighborhood the City codes could have required a 20 foot setback from both Ocean and Larkspur (since both act as “fronts”).
    • Thankfully, most of the proposed building would no be quite as close to Larkspur as the code allows, but much of it (including in the area near Ocean, most critical to public views) is close.
  • Since permanently changing setbacks would require a Council-approved amendment to the setback maps in the Zoning Code, it could be argued the Planning Commission didn’t technically change the setbacks, but only allowed the proposed building to encroach into the required 10 foot rear setback.  If the setbacks didn’t change, then neither did the buildable area, and the ratio of the proposed above-ground floor area (5,216 sf) to the unchanged original buildable area (2,823 sf) becomes 1.85 — even farther above the maximum code-allowed FAL of 1.5.
  • The approval of this oversized home sets a worrisome precedent for other homeowners who might similarly seek to maximize the value of their property by obtaining approval to build an oversized home with reduced setbacks and a larger-than-allowed Floor Area Limit on lots, like this, with nothing particularly unusual about them.
  • In addition to raising concerns about deviations from the Council-imposed zoning standards, this property is in the Coastal Zone and the proposed construction required the City to approve a Coastal Development Permit under its state-certified Local Coastal Program, which promises strict adherence to the same development standards.
    • The City has asked for, but not yet received, permission to use “modifications” and “variances” to deviate from the standards it promised the Coastal Commission. At present, its authority to approve a CDP for development not adhering to those standards cannot be found in the LCP.
    • At an August 10, 2018, hearing, the Coastal Commission unanimously found concern about a similar action (involving the same builder) using variances to justify the granting of a CDP at 2607 Ocean Blvd.


September 25, 2018:  As Item 18 on their agenda, the City Council was scheduled to reconsider the Planning Commission’s August 9 approval (see “Recent Events,” below). However, a last minute posting indicates the hearing will be “continued” to a future date, as yet unknown.  The notice implies City staff and the applicant have finally decided it’s unwise to approve deviations from the standards stated in the Local Coastal Plan until the City has clear authority to grant such things.  Exactly when they expect to get that authority, and how great its scope might be, remain unclear.

  • The new hearing is the result of a “call for review” by Council member Jeff Herdman, and the project should not be able to proceed until the hearing is held.
  • It is expected to be conducted in the same format as the PC hearing, of which a video is available.
    • In other words, City staff and the developer will be allowed a lengthy presentation after which members of the public will be invited to offer 3-minute comments pro or con.
    • Extended comments may be submitted in writing, prior to the hearing.  They can be emailed to referencing Item 18.
  • Should the City approve the Coastal Development Permit, a free appeal to the Coastal Commission by anyone who participated in the hearing, in person or in writing, is possible once the City notifies them of their final action on that portion of the approval — the main argument likely being that the City lacks authority to deviate from the development standards it promised in the LCP.
    • Construction cannot proceed without a CDP.
    • A denial of the CDP is not appealable.

Recent Events

  • September 11, 2018:  City posts Notice of Hearing to be conducted before the City Council on September 25.
  • August 20, 2018:  City Council member Jeff Herdman filed a “call for review” of the Planning Commission’s August 9 decision.  A “call for review” requires City staff (pursuant to NBMC Chapters 20.64 and 21.64) to schedule a new hearing before the Council, and which the Council will render its own decision based on the same facts.
  • August 9, 2018:  The application was heard as Item 3 at the Planning Commission’s August 9 meeting (see video).  The Commission voted 5:2 to accept staff’s recommendation to approve the variances to the code and issue a Coastal Development Permit.  Chair Peter Zak and Commissioner Lauren Kleiman appeared to vote “no” primarily out of concern that the City should not be approving CDP’s requiring deviations from the state-certified development standards of the City’s Local Coastal Program until the City’s authority to grant such deviations (a question raised in the 2607 Ocean Blvd appeal) had been resolved.

News Coverage

  • none yet

Helpful Links

Newport Village

Newport Village — as of October 2018
Application submitted for large project on Mariner’s Mile

Latest news:  The application filed on December 4, 2017, remains “incomplete,” but the property owner erected “story poles” (poles between which strings representing edges of a planned building are hung and draped with flags) from May 21 through 24, to illustrate, for the benefit of Newport Heights neighbors, the size of part of the proposed construction. Since then the applicant has been conferring with a coalition of area residents and business owners calling itself Protect Mariner’s Mile. Meanwhile, on October 18 — despite promises that none of the existing uses would be changing prior to approval of the redevelopment — the Planning Commission heard an application to convert the existing office building at 2244 West PCH into a luxury automobile showroom.  A decision on that application has been deferred to their November 8 meeting.

Project Overview: This is a proposal for a major “mixed use” development on the former “Ardell” properties (11.05 acres) along Mariner’s Mile (at the present Duffy Boats through A’maree’s sites and the boat sales/storage yard across PCH from them).  As presented, it would consist of 175 residential units, 240,650 square feet of office, retail and restaurant uses, and a new 75-boat marina.  All existing buildings and uses are to be demolished, and a new signalized intersection on Coast Highway would be created to serve the project.

Why We’re Watching:  In 2016-2017 the City spent considerable money on a “Mariner’s Mile Revitalization” planning effort, which was officially withdrawn pending a possible General Plan Update (which now also seems to be in an uncertain state).

Although the official purpose of the 2016-2017 effort was to solicit public input on the future of Mariner’s Mile, and develop a plan for future development consistent with that, many felt, at the time, that it’s purpose was geared more toward forcing a vision on the public to justify  this redevelopment project, now known as Newport Village. In that connection, many felt the the existing Mariner’s Mile Strategic Vision and Design Framework, adopted in 2000, stated the public’s vision better than anything coming out the the new workshops.

Given public reaction to the 2016-2017 Mariner’s Mile Revitalization workshops, as well as City staff’s endorsement in 2016 of the rejected AutoNation proposal for a large new auto dealership cutting into the bluffs along Mariner’s Mile, SPON will be keeping a close eye on “Newport Village” as further details of the project emerge.


November 8, 2018, at 6:30 pm:  The Planning Commission is expected to make a decision on the request for a luxury car showroom at 2244 West PCH (one of the properties proposed for eventual redevelopment).  See “Recent Events” for October 18, 2018.

No City-sponsored meetings are currently scheduled on the Newport Village application proper (which City staff regards as incomplete), but an Environmental Impact Report will almost certainly be required. The Scoping Meeting for that will likely be the first “official” presentation of a definite proposal to the public.

Recent Events:

October 18, 2018: As Item 6 on its agenda, the Planning Commission heard a proposal to convert the existing 15,823-square-foot office building at 2244 West Coast Highway into a pre-owned luxury automobile sales showroom.  The property is outside the areas designated for auto-related uses in the Mariners’ Mile Strategic Vision and Design Framework.  The Planning Commission is expected to make a decision on the application at their November 8 meeting.

May 21, 2018:  The property owner erected “story poles” (poles between which strings representing edges of a planned building are hung and draped with flags) on May 21, to illustrate, for the benefit of Newport Heights neighbors, the size of part of the proposed construction.  They were reportedly removed on May 24.

February 26, 2018:  As reported at the Community Development Department’s Open House/Forum, the application remains “incomplete.”

December 4, 2017Application submitted to City.

Trivia:  Perhaps unknown to the applicants, “Newport Village” has been in use since 1983 as the official name of the 33(?) acre planned community in Newport Center lying between Avocado and MacArthur — originally from PCH to San Miguel, but later extended to San Joaquin Hills Road.  That “other” Newport Village is home to the City Hall, Central Library, Civic Center Park, OCTA Transportation Center and the Corona del Mar Plaza Shopping Center (containing Bristol Farms Market and many other shops).

News Coverage

  • pending

Helpful Links

Newport Dunes Hotel

Newport Dunes Hotel . . . as of July 2018
Contract for EIR expected, but not yet signed

Latest News: As Item 10 on its July 10, 2018, consent calendar, the City Council was expected to award a contract to Environmental Services Associates for preparation of environmental studies for the project.  The scope of services includes a detailed timeline, showing an Environmental Impact Report tentatively scheduled for public review from February 21 to April 8, with final hearings before the Council expected in August or September of 2019.  However, Item 10 was taken off the agenda at the last moment by staff with no explanation. It would appear changes in the contract terms are being negotiated.  When and if the Council approves development at the site, it would then additionally need a Coastal Development Permit approved by the California Coastal Commission (which would apparently be regarded as an amendment to the development previously approved by the CCC).

Project Overview: On September 29, 2016, the City received an application to build “a 275-room, 201,498-square-foot hotel with amenities including a coffee shop, gift/sundry shop, business center, event function rooms, spa/fitness facilities, restaurant, pool, tennis courts, sand volleyball courts and picnic area” on the west side of the Newport Dunes Lagoon, in a 14.3 acre area currently used mostly for boat/RV storage and summer camps.

Why We’re Watching: The Newport Dunes is in theory a county park (per NBMC Sec. 11.08.055 it is officially named the “Harry Welch Memorial Park,” as dedicated in May 1958), but for many years it has been leased by the County to a private operator with an eye toward recreation-related commercial development. Conceptual entitlement for a project similar to what is currently being proposed at this site was granted as part of a settlement agreement decades ago. In 2000, the initial City approval of a former leaseholder’s plans to build a project significantly larger than what had been agreed to was one of the forces that propelled the slow-growth “Greenlight” City Charter amendment to success that Fall.

Subsequent to 2000, plans to build on the site appeared nearly dead, but were given new life in 2008 and again in 2016 when the county Board of Supervisors renegotiated the terms of the lease to accommodate interested hotel developers. On Sept. 29, 2016, an application was submitted to the City.

SPON is concerned not only about the impacts of this project, by itself, but also how they will combine with prior City approvals for significant development at the nearby Back Bay Landing and Balboa Marina sites — all of which will affect both the appearance of the area and the already busy intersection of Bayside Drive and PCH.

Conceptual rendering presented to OC Board of Supervisors in Jan. 26, 2016, agenda packet

Upcoming:  Approval of a contract to prepare an Environmental Impact Report is expected to come to the Council, but the date at which that might happen is currently unknown.

Recent Events:

July 10, 2018:  As Item 10 on its consent calendar, the City Council was expected to award a contract to prepare the Environmental Impact Report for the project.  The following tentative dates were identified in the scope of services of that contract, but these may change sicne instead of being approved, the item was taken “off calendar”:

    • September 6, 2018:  Initial Study released for public review.
    • September 25, 2018: Public scoping meeting for EIR.
    • October 8, 2018: Public review of Initial Study ends.
    • February 21, 2019:  Draft EIR posted for public review.
    • April 8, 2019: Public review of Draft EIR ends.
    • July/August 2019:  Planning Commission hearings
    • August/September 2019:  City Council hearings.

May 18, 2018:  City selects Low Cost Overnight Visitor Accommodations consultant.

February 1, 2018:  City advertises for environmental consultant.

September 29, 2016:  City receives application for development (per case log“).

January 26, 2016:  Facing lease options set to expire in August 2017, as Item 34 on its agenda, the Orange County Board of Supervisors amends the lease to  accommodate a new two-hotel proposal.

    • Per the staff report, “Newport Dunes is a 102-acre recreation facility on County-owned tidelands in Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach and is currently leased to Waterfront Resort Properties, L.P. and Newport Dunes Marina, LLC (Newport Dunes) through 2039.”
    • The amendments allow Brighton Management LLC to develop a Holiday Inn Resort and a Staybridge Hotel on Parcel C, totaling 275 rooms, provided it can obtain entitlements to begin construction by December 2023 and complete it in 2025.

July 10, 2012: As Item 15, the Council agrees to amendments to the Settlement Agreement.

Earlier Timeline:

September 12, 2000: With the Greenlight initiative having qualified for the November ballot, a City Council hearing on the project, set as Item 17, was taken off calendar at the applicant’s request.

June 27, 2000:  Testimony to City Council continues as Item 30, with Council deciding to continue hearing to September 12.  A new staff report consists of 718 pages of correspondence received since the June 13 meeting.

June 13, 2000:  As Item 28, City Council receives extensive testimony on the application (staff report), including future Councilman/Mayor and then Planning Commission Chair Ed Selich’s project summary in the minutes.

April 20, 2000:  After multiple study sessions and hearings, Newport Beach Planning Commission adopts Resolution No. 1519 recommending approval of 370 room hotel (companion Resolutions No. 1518 and 1520 recommended approval of the EIR and Traffic Study).  Although scaled back from the 1998 proposal, the Commission’s approval galvanized support for the slow-growth “Greenlight” initiative on the November 2000 ballot.

September 28, 1998:  As Item 13 on its agenda, the City Council awards contract C-3235 for preparation of an Environmental Impact Report regarding the Newport Dunes Hotel proposal.

1997:  Newport Dunes “owner” approaches City with a proposal for a destination resort including 600 rentable rooms (400 hotel rooms plus 100 two-bedroom time-share units) plus a 55,000 square foot conference center, apparently to be accompanied by the removal of 150 existing Recreational Vehicle stalls.  See Item 3 in the October 21, 1999, Planning Commission minutes for a description.  General Plan Amendment 97-3, including exploration of changes for the Dunes property, was initiated as Item 8 at the October 9, 1997, Planning Commission meeting, and Item 13 at the October 27, 1997, City Council meeting.

1983:  The City, the County of Orange, and Newport Dunes, Inc. ( predecessor to Waterfront Resort Properties, L.P. and Newport Dunes Marina L.L.C.) signed a settlement agreement to resolve jurisdictional and entitlement disputes relating to the development of the Newport Dunes. See City Resolution No. 83-49, approving the Agreement, and the minutes of the meeting at which it was adopted.  The Agreement, archived as contract C-2394, was amended in 1984, 1987, 1988, 1990 and most recently 2012. See page 367 for the Resolution No. 83-49 with a draft of the original Agreement, which limited the hotel to 275 rooms, attached.

February 1981: According to City Resolution No. 83-49 and the 1986 staff report to the State Lands Commission, the City of Newport Beach filed suit to overturn the environmental documentation for the project approved by the County in 1980.

1980: According to City Resolution No. 83-49 and a 1986 staff report to the State Lands Commission, the County approved a redevelopment plan for the Newport Dunes.  As Detailed in Resolution No. 83-49, it included plans for a 350 room motel or family inn.

1976:  According to City Resolution No. 83-49, the County and Newport Dunes, Inc. (predecessor to Waterfront Resort Properties, L.P. and Newport Dunes Marina L.L.C.) began negotiating a plan to redevelop the 72 acre Newport Dunes site.

News Coverage

Helpful Links

  • City’s case log for Planning Application PA2016-175 (not always accurate or up to date)

Port Master Plan

Coastal Commission opposes AB-1196; Council withdraws support

Latest News
Project Overview
Why We’re Watching
Recent Events
A few of the problems with AB-2464 and AB-1196
News Coverage
Helpful Links

Latest News: At their April 12 meeting in Redondo Beach, the California Coastal Commission voted 9:3 to take a formal position opposing AB-1196, the City’s bill proposing to amend the Coastal Act to add Newport Beach to the list of specially privileged coastal ports.  See the video of the meeting, starting at 1:41:20.  With the CCC opposition in mind, the City Council considered its next steps as Item 10 on its April 24 agenda.  The Council chose to terminate the contract the it had with an outside consultant to promote the bill.  As a result the effort to promote a Port Master Plan for Newport Beach appears to be dead for the moment.

Project Overview: This is a proposal to amend the state’s Coastal Act to add Newport Beach to the list of coastal deepwater industrial “ports” authorized to locally approve permits for activities over which the California Coastal Commission would normally have “original jurisdiction,” including, it is claimed, harbor dredging and and the construction and modification of piers over public waters.  This would be accomplished via adherence to a detailed “Port Master Plan” — a document each commercial seaport named in the Act is required to prepare and have certified by the Commission.

Why We’re Watching:  Whether or not seeking local control of matters the state legislature has placed in the hands of the Coastal Commission is a laudable goal, or not, this proposal raises serious concerns as to both substance and style.  The legislation, how it would function, and its costs and consequences do not seem to have been well thought out, and the bill itself (AB-2464, now AB-1196) seems to have been developed privately by unknown authors and introduced without any review by the Council.

And bringing the City under an umbrella intended for major commercial seaports seems at best a very awkward fit for Newport Beach.

In contrast to our City, the four entities presently authorized to operate under Port Master Plans were all active state-recognized deep-water shipping centers prior to the Coastal Act and were allowed to continue under somewhat relaxed permitting rules precisely to confine such heavy industrial activity to limited areas along the coast. The kind of commercial activity Port Master Plans were created to control simply doesn’t happen here.

1917 harbor plan

1917 plan for Newport Beach to become a port for Orange County

Since (aside from the Catalina Flyer) there is little, if any, port-like activity in Newport Beach, the proposal to obtain local control of permitting by adding Newport Beach to the list of California’s major seaports seems fanciful.  But whether intentionally or not, it does hark back to an earlier drive, a century ago, to promote Newport as the shipping center for Orange County, which led to the successful 1919 countywide bond issue portrayed in the handbill at the top of the page (intended to implement the 1917 plan, shown at left, to, among other things, dredge a channel to what were expected to be bustling new County wharves and warehouses at the terminus of a rail line coming down what is now Newport Boulevard).


The motion adopted by the City Council on April 24, 2018, directed City staff to “to report back at a future date with alternatives to a Port Master Plan for Newport Harbor that may achieve similar general goals, including a Public Works Plan or a Master CDP for various in-Harbor activities and projects; and … conduct a study session to engage the community and see what can be designed that would be approved by the Coastal Commission.”

To date, nothing more has been heard of the matter, and no funds appear to have budgeted for the effort in Fiscal Year 2018-2019.

The two Assembly bills appear to have “died in committee.”

Recent Events:

April 24, 2018: As Item 10 on its agenda, the City Council was asked to select from a range of options for its contract with Schmitz and Associates for advocacy of AB-1196.  With Council member Herdman absent, Mayor Duffield recused and Council member Peotter opposed, the Council approved a motion by Council member Dixon directing the City Manager to terminate the advocacy contract with lobbyist Don Schmitz and promising to revisit options for the harbor at a future time.

  • The “history” section of the state legislature’s website for AB-2464 originally predicted the bill might be heard by the Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee on March 17, but their next meeting was April 9, and AB-2464 didn’t appear to be on the agenda.
  • Meanwhile, AB-2464 appeared to have been abandoned, and the City was now promoting AB-1196, a nearly identical bill created by “gutting and amending” one already before the Senate.
  • AB-1196 had been assigned to the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee. Per their schedule, assembly bills will be reviewed on June 12 and June 26. Comments may be sent to the committee and its members. See directions here.

April 19, 2018:  The California Senate Rules Committee referred the new AB-1196 to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water.

April 12, 2018:  After receiving the April 9 staff analysis and hearing public comment on it at their meeting in Redondo Beach, the California Coastal Commission voted 9:3 to oppose AB-1196 .  The vote occurred as part of Item W6c, the Legislative Report trailed from the Wednesday agenda. The Commission’s discussion of AB-1196 (which at several points drew audible laughter from the audience) can be reviewed in the video of the meeting, starting at 1:41:20.  Paid Newport Beach lobbyist Don Schmitz and Council member Scott Peotter asked, unsuccessfully, for a 30 day delay in the Commission’s vote.

April 9, 2018:  California Coastal Commission staff posted an analysis opposing AB-1196 as part of their April Legislative Report, Item W6c, which the agenda said would be “trailed” to April 12.

April 3 @ 5:30 – 6:30 pm: The City’s coastal consultant, Don Schmitz, gave a talk about the proposed Port Master Plan and his prior accomplishments for “our” City to the Marine Committee of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce. The presentation was at Marina Park, with a Parking Code of 170434.

April 2, 2018:  AB-1196, as gutted and replaced, was withdrawn from the Government and Finance Committee and sent back to the Senate Rules Committee for assignment to the proper committee for review.

March 27, 2018:  There seems to have been a private reversal of the March 13 direction for Council members Dixon and Peotter to flesh out the details of what the City might expect to accomplish, while City staff issued a Request For Qualifications for a lobbyist, other than Sean Henschel, to promote AB-2464 in Sacramento. As Item 12 on its March 27 agenda (see video), the City Council (by 6:1 with Mayor Pro Tem O’Neill casting the NO vote) approved a six month $120,000 contract with consultant Don Schmitz ($16,000 per month, including $32,000 on signing for work already performed) to promote legislation adding a still-to-be-defined “Port of Newport Beach” to the list of commercial seaports required to create a Port Master Plan under the Coastal Act. Mr. Schmitz was present and provided clarifications of the proposal “we” would be promoting. He said that although called a “port plan” it would apply only to the water portions of Newport Harbor, and that the principal reason for wanting it is that it would ensure local approvals for development in the harbor could not be appealed to the Coastal Commission.  At the meeting, it was also announced that the City is now promoting AB-1196 which seems to have replaced the earlier AB-2464, although the status of AB-2464 is unclear, since it does not seem to have been formally withdrawn. As to AB-1196, Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silva is an additional co-author, along with Assembly Member Harper and State Senator Moorlach.

March 22, 2018:  An earlier, failed bill by Assemblyman Harper, AB-1196 having to do with the allowable duration of school bonds, stuck in the state Senate Government and Finance Committee, was subjected to the “gut and amend” process, whereby the original text was replaced by something similar, but not identical, to the text of AB-2464.  As explained at the March 27 City Council, this apparently moves the item forward at a faster pace through the legislative review process, since AB-1196 was already in the Senate.

March 16, 2018: City Manager Kiff appears to have arranged a meeting of Herdman with himself, Dixon and former Council member Selich (see email here).

March 15, 2018:  Council member Herdman sent a long email (here) to Council members Peotter and Dixon expressing multiple concerns about the City’s goal and the lack of groundwork leading up to the introduction of the bill.

March 13, 2018:  As Item 16 on the March 13, 2018, agenda (see video), a somewhat befuddled Council (with Mayor Duffield recusing himself) wondered how the legislation got introduced and whether it was something the City wanted, was asked to appropriate $120,000 to fund the first six months, or so, of staff’s effort, the money to go to coastal lobbyist Don Schmitz, and a friend of his, legislative lobbyist Sean Henschel.  The Council as a whole had not previously seen the measure text, but in the staff report, and during the discussion, it was revealed that Schmitz had been working with the City Manager and unidentified Council members (presumably Duffield and Peotter) on this without contract since late 2017. As on February 13, Item 16 was listed on the agenda in such a way that even the most attentive would not have known anything related to the proposal for a Port Master Plan was on it.  The Council did not approve the contract, but instead appointed Council members Dixon and Peotter to act as an ad hoc committee fleshing out what the City wanted to accomplish, while City staff published a Request for Qualifications for a legislative consultant other than Mr. Henschel.

March 9, 2018:  An email (here) from Don Schmitz’ Sacramento associate Sean Henschel updates recipients on a visit by himself and Council member Peotter with Assemblymembers Harper, Quirk-Silva (who agreed to be listed as a co-author), and O’Donnell, and the staff of Assembly Natural Resources Committee,Chairman Muratsuchi and Senator Newman.  Henschel also indicates that “The current version of AB 2464 will be inserted into AB 1196” to delay the date of the legislation’s first committee hearing, which will “allow for additional time to gather co-authors and resolve any policy or political concerns that may arise.”

March 7, 2018: Although the California Coastal Commission’s consent is not required to amend the Coastal Act, their position is often influential. On the first day of each of their monthly meetings, the CCC receives a rstaff report on pending legislation.  The March 7, 2018, Legislative Report, noted the introduction of AB-2464, but did not suggest a position on it.

March 5, 2018:  Don Schmitz reports lobbying Coastal Commissioner Ryan Sundberg by phone (see email here).  He says he told Sundberg “The PMP would result in taking 80 to 90 CDP’s off the workload for the CCC staff on an annual basis.”  The basis of that claim, also made at public meetings in Newport Beach, is unknown.

February 27, 2018:   Council member Dixon appears to have asked for an update on the Port Master Plan, which the City Manager’s Office promises he will do on March 13 (see email here).

February 14, 2018:  Assemblyman Matthew Harper, with coauthor State Senator John Moorlach, introduced Assembly Bill 2464, “An act to amend Section 30700 of the Public Resources Code, relating to ports,” proposing to amend the California Coastal Act of 1976 to add “Newport Beach” to the list of ports in the stated section.

February 13, 2018:  True to the City Manager’s word, as Item 7 on the Consent Calendar at its February 13 meeting, the Council, knowingly or not, adopted an amended Resolution 2018-7 enumerating a list of “strategies” for 2018 including, among other things, that “City staff shall interface with members of the California State Legislature to encourage the introduction and support of legislation that would permit the creation of a  Port Master Plan ( or similar device) and allow the City to manage Newport Harbor’s infrastructure and activities under the California Coastal Act.”  Taken literally, Resolution 2018-7 took the matter out of the Council’s hands and tasked City staff with formulating and promoting, as it saw fit and without further Council direction, the enactment of state legislation enabling the create of a Port Master Plan, or something similar, for Newport Harbor.

  • Per the video, and minutes, the City Attorney confirmed that Mayor Duffield, who had apparently introduced the idea, would need to recuse himself from this and all future discussion of the Port Master Plan.

February 13, 2018: Prior to the Council meeting, City Manager Kiff sends Council member Peotter by email (here) a “Fact Sheet” that he has edited, describing Assemblyman Harper’s bill.

February 11, 2018:  An email (here) from Council member Will O’Neill to City Manager Kiff mentions O’Neill spoke to former Council member Selich about the Port Master Plan and Selich thinks its a great idea.

January 29, 2018:  As Slide 8 in a presentation about “The Year of the Harbor” at the Council’s  special annual Planning Session, the City Manager mentioned that Mayor Duffield and Councilman Peotter had brought to his attention the fact that the Coastal Act provides for something called a Port Master Plan acting in some ways like a “Water LCP” [Local Coastal Program], that might allow local control of capital efforts in Newport Harbor, although it would likely require state legislation, and a lobbyist for that, and be expensive.  Duffield and Peotter spoke in favor of pursuing the idea, without identifying where they had gotten it.  There was no in depth discussion, and no suggestion that before continuing, a second opinion of some sort, such as a recommendation from the Harbor Commission, might be needed.  Mayor Duffield did explain that the current requirement to obtain permits from the Coastal Commission was cumbersome, time consuming and expensive, depressing the value of waterfront property, and that a Port Master Plan would fix that problem.  At 1:18:25 in the  video, the City Manager says that because they are facing “a legislative deadline” he will bring something back to the Council “on the 13th” authorizing the introduction of a bill, which he believes Assemblyman Matthew Harper will be willing to “carry.”

January 24, 2018: City Manager Dave Kiff forwards to Peotter and Duffield a January 23 email (here) from an employee in Assemblyman Harper’s office apparently expressing concern about a “briefing” memo that seems to have been prepared by Schmitz and Associates noting Coastal Act language saying the four ports listed in the Act should not need to be added to.  Kiff says he’ll be finalizing direction with the Council at their January 29 Planning Session.

January 22, 2018: An email (here) from City Manager Dave Kiff to Council member Peotter asks Peotter to bring the Port Plan up at the Council’s January 29 Saturday Planning Session as part of the “Year of the Harbor,” with an understanding that funds would be freed up if the Council decided not to go ahead with the $1 million General Plan Update, but with uncertainty if Assemblyman Harper still had an opportunity to introduce legislation.

January 10, 2018:  An email (here) from Council member Peotter to the City Manager says Don Schmitz was asking about the status of the “Port Plan.”

Late 2017:  According to page 2 of the staff report presented to the City Council on March 13, 2018, (Item 16) “In late 2017, Council members began working directly with Don Schmitz of Schmitz and Associates to advocate for the Port Master Plan concept and a bill before the Coastal Commission and its staff. ”  The Council members involved appear to have been Duffield and Peotter, and their activities appear to have been unknown and unauthorized by the remainder of the Council.  There has never been an explanation of who first suggested amending the Coastal Act would be good for Newport Beach.

November 28, 2017: City Manager Dave Kiff reports in an email (here) that a contract has been signed with Don Schmitz for Schmitz to assist the City in preparing a Coastal Development Permit for private encroachments onto the the beach at Peninsula Point (the contract in question is C-7217-1).


In 1972, California voters approved Proposition 20, an initiative enacting the California Coastal Zone Conservation Act, dealing the state’s coastal areas outside San Francisco Bay, and creating a statewide commission and six regional California Coastal Zone Conservation Commissions, tasked with development permitting authority through 1976 as well as the primary task of developing, by the end of 1975, a comprehensive coastal plan for adoption by the state legislature.

The result was the California Coastal Plan of 1975, with some 162 policy recommendations and a systematic mapping of coastal resources. 

Newport Beach lies in Subareas 10 and 11 of the South Coast District as illustrated at left, for which an extensive descriptive text is provided at the link.

The recommendations for the future of the state’s coastal seaports are found in the Water Transportation section.

The Plan concluded that “No new general port areas are required in California for the foreseeable future” provided existing ports are utilized to their full potential.  Hence Policy 116 declares “No new port areas shall be developed outside existing port cities except for possible specialized facilities such as petroleum or liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker terminals and naval facilities.”  The regional terminal facilities recognized in the Plan (Policy 118b) are San Diego, Los Angeles-Long Beach, Port Hueneme, San Francisco Bay-Stockton-Sacramento, Humboldt Bay, and Crescent City.

Although it appears never to have been formally adopted by the legislature, the 1975 Coastal Plan provided guidance for the Coastal Act adopted in 1976.  The 1976 act includes a Chapter 8 giving somewhat relaxed permitting standards (through preparation of a Port Master Plan) to four of the coastal ports.  According to the 1983 book by Sabatier and Mazmanian this seems to have been one of the compromises necessary to get an act passed at all, in this case to reassure the longshoremen’s unions.

A few of the problems with AB-2464 and AB-1196:

  • As introduced, AB-2464 simply adds the two words “Newport Beach” to a list of major seaports in California Public Resources Code Section 30700 (and also seeks a review of whether the City would be eligible for reimbursement of expenses incurred in implementing the new code).  AB-1196 adds four words, but apparently with the same intent.
  • The entities currently listed in Section 30700 (and 30112) are “the Ports of Hueneme, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and San Diego Unified Port District,” all of which names refer to recognized deepwater shipping port or harbor districts created and empowered by state law prior to the existence of the Coastal Act (which this passage is within).
  • AB-2464 adds a reference to a (at present) mythical “Port of Newport Beach” whose boundaries and governance structure are undefined.
  • Among other problems, the addition of a new port contradicts the legislative finding from 1976 (found in the following Section 30701(b)) that to limit the impacts of maritime commerce to a restricted number of sites “Coastal planning requires no change in the number or location of the established commercial port districts.”  Newport Beach appears to be saying there is a need to create a new commercial port district.
  • The authors also apparently did not notice Section 30112, which explains that “Port governing body — a term used in the Port Master Plan sections —  “means the Board of Harbor Commissioners or Board of Port Commissioners which has authority over the Ports of Hueneme, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and San Diego Unified Port District.”  That would also have to amended to define exactly who the “port governing body” for the “Port of Newport Beach” is.
  • However, also possibly not understood by the authors of AB-2464, adding a name to the list of ports recognized in the Coastal Act does not by itself create a port or a distinct port (or harbor) district.  Doing so appears to require following one of the mechanisms provided in Division 8 of the state’s Harbors and Navigation Code.  All involve drawing a definite boundary (which generally includes land as well as water) and then, before proceeding, obtaining voter approval from those who would reside in the proposed district. In most cases, extensive additional special state legislation appears to have been required as well (to transfer ownership and other matters).
  • It is unclear if the City, in introducing AB-2464, and now AB-1196, believes such steps would not be needed for a “Port of Newport Beach.”  If the normal steps do apply, adding a port that has not yet been created seems problematic.
  • The authors also seem to have missed Section 30114 of the Coastal Act which says that, other than the four named ports (currently the same list as in Chapter 8), all ports and harbors serving as public transportation facilities are to be treated as “public works.”  If Newport Beach (or Harbor?) wants the same privileges as the big four, it would presumably need to be mentioned in this section.  Otherwise the bill would create an internal conflict within the Act, with Newport named as one kind of port in Chapter 8 and as a different kind in Section 30114.
  • Even the harbors that are merely “public works” are allowed by Section 30605 to pre-submit bundled lists of future projects for certification in a Public Works Plan, after which the Commission’s role is limited to adding additional conditions of approval to the individual projects.
  • Since the Coastal Development Permitting burden on dredging the harbor’s channels is cited as one of the reasons for needing AB-1196, the authors seem also to have missed Section 30610(c), which says that to the extent approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, no Coastal permit is required for “Maintenance dredging of existing navigation channels or moving dredged material from those channels to a disposal area outside the coastal zone,”

SPON posted the following cautions in advance of the March 27, 2018, City Council meeting:

  • This effort, which was offered as a reason for delaying for a year the previously-promised community workshops on the General Plan, would supposedly give the City greater ability to approve development on harbor waters. However, it would require, at a minimum, significant amendments to the state’s Coastal Act and possibly creation of a port district.
  • SPON has concerns about the proposal, the process by which it has been advanced and the suggested consultant.
    • Adding the words “Newport Beach” to the list of ports in Chapter 8 of the Coastal Act does not, by itself, create a “port.”
    • The bill adding Newport Beach to the list, AB-2464, was suggested by unknown parties and introduced in the state legislature with no review by the Council.
    • The ports currently listed in Chapter 8 are listed there, and given special permitting privileges, expressly to confine future heavy maritime commercial activity, such as container terminals, to a limited set of locations along the coast.  Newport Harbor does not fit that description, and the Council has stated it has no intention of the harbor becoming such a site — yet the Council wants “Newport Beach” added to the list.
    • It is disturbing that idea of promoting a Port Master Plan been advanced without any public study or as much as a recommendation from the Council’s own Harbor Commission.
    • It is equally disturbing that the words “Port Master Plan” have never appeared on a City Council agenda.  All Council discussions, including the present one, have been buried under some other heading.
    • The present action contradicts the action taken by the Council at its last meeting, on March 13, where as Item 16 it asked staff to publish a Request for Qualifications for a legislative consultant other than the one now being recommended.
    • Item 12 includes an appropriation of $32,000 to compensate Mr. Schmitz for work he supposedly already performed without contract, although what that work was is not spelled out.
      • That proposal to provide after-the-fact compensation is in questionable compliance with Article XI, Sec. 10(a) of the California Constitution, which suggests the public should be able to trust municipal services will be provided at a price agreed to before work is performed, not after.
        • Even if retroactive payments for non-contracted work were OK, $32,000 seems like a lot for suggesting adding two words to the Coastal Act and promoting the award of a contract for oneself related to that.
      • Although Mr. Schmitz has worked for the City before, many question his tactics and wonder why, if the Port Master Plan, is a good idea the City could not represent itself.
      • At least in promoting himself, Mr. Schmitz appears to have a tendency to exaggerate facts:  in his on-line resume he suggests that “prior to establishing his own consultancy,” he “served as a California Coastal Commission’s South Coast District principal planner on public and private development projects, and coordinator for access and wetlands matters.” Yet the “Education” and “Professional Experience” listed at the end of the same resume suggests he was nothing more than an entry level analyst, fresh out of college and working on a master’s degree at the local state university.
      • After leaving the Commission, in connection with the Sweetwater Mesa project in Malibu, Mr. Schmitz promoted what the then Director said was the most “environmentally devastating” proposal he had seen in 38 years.
      • As exposed by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez, Mr. Schmitz’ ethical radar may be as challenged as his environmental one: an unreported sleepover by a Coastal Commissioner at Mr. Schmitz’ Malibu villa and vineyard contributed to that Commissioner and four others having to stand trial in San Diego.
    • In a March 21 article in the Daily Pilot, Assemblyman Matthew Harper, who introduced the bill, is quoted as saying he expects his fellow Southern California legislators will support the idea of giving local control to the City because it is a recreational amenity of regional importance.  It seems to SPON that the harbor being an asset of regional or statewide importance would be precisely why most of the legislature would, instead, find it important to retain state control, making this whole effort most likely a great pipe dream and waste of money.

News Coverage

Helpful Links

Photo credit:  1919 OC Harbor bond measure handbill from the Special Collections of the UCI Library as reproduced in Ellen K. Lee’s Newport Bay: a pioneer history, page 83;  1917 harbor plan — same, page 82

Balboa Theater

Balboa Theater — as of March 2018

Project Overview:  An application is being processed for the renovation of the Balboa Theater building (at 707 E. Balboa Blvd) by a private developer.   Plans include adding a cafe (with full liquor service) and a rooftop dining area.

Why We’re Watching:   The rooftop expansion, which seems out of character with the historic building, is almost entirely over the 35-foot height limit the city expects in the Shoreline Height Limitation Area (with a proposed elevator tower extending to 47 feet 4 inches).  Although possibly allowed by local zoning rules, this is in apparent violation of the City’s recently certified Local Coastal Program. The LCP, unlike the Zoning Code, contains no exception for modifications to “landmark buildings.”

In addition, since the site has long been vacant and has no parking of its own, the re-emergence of this building as a 285-seat/312 person entertainment center raises potential conflicts with summertime parking in the nearby Balboa Pier lot.


  • Processing of this application is currently “off calendar,”  with City staff now claiming that based on prior approvals, no public review or approval is necessary — even though the current project differs substantially from what was previously approved and the Coastal Commission has since found any development over 35′ on the Peninsula inconsistent with the CIty’s Coastal Land Use Plan.  Coastal Commission staff initially disagreed saying the 2011 Coastal Development Permit (for an arguably even larger expansion extending to 55 feet) expired in 2013. City staff claims to have convinced Coastal staff that certain building permits taken out years ago make the 2011 CDP still effective.  Despite these claims, it is not yet clear Coastal staff agrees.

Recent Events:

February 5, 2018:  At a community forum at Marina Park, Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis announced City staff had determined the prior “entitlements” approved in 2004 (City Planning Commission Use Permit 1646) and 2011 (Coastal Commission CDP No. 5-11-073, preceded by CDP No. 5-05-235 in 2007) were still effective, so no further review was necessary.  The new development needed nothing more to proceed, he said, than getting building permits.

January 18, 2018: The application for this project first appeared as Item 5 on the Planning Commission’s January 18 agenda.  Apparently as a result of public comments questioning the handling of the coastal development issues, City staff announced the item “needed more work” and should be taken “off calendar.”  No further explanation was provided.

News Coverage

Helpful Links

John Wayne Airport

John Wayne Airport issues . . . as of November 2018
EIR for General Aviation “Improvement” proposal posted for review
Comments due November 6

Project Overview
Recent Events
Settlement Agreement related events
News Coverage
Helpful Links
Environmental Documentation

The City Manager continues to oversee a three-pronged approach to reducing JWA impacts — an approach that appears to have never been formally discussed, endorsed or budgeted by the full City Council (see October 10, 2017, entry under “Recent Events,” below).  The approach consists of promoting higher, quieter, less polluting flights through a combination  of: (1) collecting and analyzing technical data on existing versus potential noise levels, (2) lobbying legislators and air carriers in Washington, DC, and (3) placing public pressure for change on the air carriers through a coordinated public relations campaign.  Most recently, the City has mailed a printed newsletter describing its JWA efforts to some 45,000 households, and is conducting an on-line survey regarding resident knowledge of, and concerns about, the airport (see July 20, 2018, entry under “Recent Events,” below).

Meanwhile, JWA does not appear to be actively pursuing its efforts to get SPON to agree to an amendment to the Settlement Agreement that would allow larger commuter planes.

However, the draft Environmental Impact Report for JWA’s planned General Aviation Improvement Program was posted for public review on September 20, with the deadline for comments originally set as November 6, but extended to November 21.  A public presentation about the EIR, with an opportunity for public comment on it, was provided at the JWA Administration building on September 26 at 5:00 p.m.

Project Overview:  Orange County’s John Wayne Airport has long been cited as one of the greatest continuing threats to the quality of life in Newport Beach. Although a convenient travel option for residents and businesses, it brings unwanted noise and pollution.

Why We Were Watching:  SPON’s concern with the airport dates almost from our organization’s inception and is memorialized by SPON’s role as a signatory to the 1985 Settlement Agreement, and each of its extensions.  Since 2002, many of SPON’s concerns have been championed by AirFair, a regional political action committee focused on containing JWA’s impacts.

Although there is perennial concern in the community about flight paths, SPON tends to stay away from issues whose solution will benefit one area at the expense of another, and focuses instead on efforts benefiting all residents:  seeking fewer, higher, quieter and less polluting flights.

SPON is particularly concerned about the as-yet-to-be-finalized General Aviation Improvement Program, which could significantly alter the mix and number of small jets, unregulated by the Settlement Agreement, flying out of the airport.


November 21 @ 5:00 pm – deadline for submitting comments on General Aviation Improvement Program EIR

  • See Notice of Availability for details, and  Notice of Extension of deadline for comments.
  • JWA is required to respond in writing to comments received by the deadline.
  • Comments can continue to be submitted after that, but JWA does not have to respond to those.

December 19 @ 2:00-3:00 pm – Quarterly Noise Meeting
JWA Eddie Martin Admin. Bldg. (3160 Airway Avenue, Costa Mesa, CA 92626)

Recent Events

  • November 5, 2018: The City Aviation Committee met in the Central Library’s Friends Room to discuss John Wayne Airport issues.  The agenda is here. This was the first meeting since June 18, and the next meeting is expected in February, on a date yet to be announced.
  • September 26, 2018: JWA provided a public presentation about, and opportunity for the public to comment on, the recently released Draft Environmental Impact Report for the proposed General Aviation Improvement Program.
    • The proposal is likely to change the future mix and number of non-scheduled jets taking off over Newport Beach.
  • September 25, 2018: As Item 16 on its agenda, the City Council approved adding $30,000 to contract C-7292-2 with HMMH (see February 18, 2018, below).  This request to pay for additional analysis that had been performed by HMMH in studying the effects of alternative departure paths and procedures is the first time one of the airport-related contracts appeared publicly before the Council for approval, presumably because the new total contract cost exceeded the City Manager’s signing authority.  The payment for work already performed appears also to have been granted in violation of Article XI, Section 10 of the California Constitution.  The results of the departure studies have not been publicly released.
  • September 20 , 2018:  JWA posts Notice of Availability of draft Environmental Impact Report regarding their proposed General Aviation Improvement Program.  The GAIP offers several alternatives for reconfiguring the layout of planes and hangars on the airport property, in part to accommodate a larger number of unscheduled jet flights, unregulated by the Settlement Agreement.
  • September 12 , 2018:  JWA Quarterly Noise Meeting held at JWA headquarters with five members of the public from Tustin in attendance in addition to five from Newport Beach. Those living under the arrival path in Tustin were particularly vocal about the increased impacts of aircraft noise on their quality of life.
  • July 20, 2018:  City posts a News Splash announcing the mailing of a Community Newsletter regarding JWA issues, as well as an online survey polling recipients on a number of questions.
  • June 18, 2018: -The City’s Aviation Committee held one of its rare meetings in the Civic Center Community Room adjacent to the Council Chambers.  The agenda appeared to indicate the Committee would be hearing a report from the City’s consultant, HMMH, on the results of their analysis of the pros and cons of various departure procedures. This turned out to be only an update from outgoing City Manager Dave Kiff on the status of HMMH’s work on the contact items.  He said HMMH had completed its study of noise data from departures flown by Alaska, American, United and Southwest Airlines from October through January and had compared the data to an FAA noise model.  They would next be asking if any of the carriers were doing things that could be applied beneficially to the others, with a conclusion about that due by the end of July.  Finally, they would be asked if there is a beneficial new and currently unused procedure that could be suggested to the FAA as a replacement for one of two alternatives currently approved.  That conclusion is expected in August or September, to be followed by the “big ask” to the FAA and carriers to adopt it.  In the preceding, “departure procedure” refers not to the flight path or ground track, but rather to the height and speed with which the aircraft ascends over the ground track.
  • June 13, 2018:  JWA Quarterly Noise Meeting held at JWA headquarters with just four members of the public in attendance.  JWA staff called attention to the Metropolitan Washington (DC) Airports Authority’s noise reporting, which, since 2015, has posted for the public in spreadsheet form information from the noise sensors at the Reagan National and Dulles International Airports.  These provide both monthly summaries, giving various statistical measures (such as minimum, maximum, and mode), and detailed listings of every sound event at every monitor, identified by aircraft or as a “community” (non-aircraft) event, along with the background noise levels observed between events.  Equally importantly, the DC airports measure events with lower loudness levels and shorter durations than other airports (including JWA), which is important if they are to continue to accurately gauge aircraft impacts as planes become quieter but more numerous (JWA logs and reports only events that exceed 65 dB for 10 to 60 seconds).
  • June 13, 2018:  City posts HMMH report on side-by-side noise testing (conducted December 2017 through January 2018) on the Aviation Committee’s Special Reports page. HMMH took readings at two JWA noise monitor locations, and at three locations not normally monitored by JWA.
  • May 22, 2018:  As Item 15 on its agenda, the City Council approved an extension of its contract for airport consulting with former Council member and Mayor Tom Edwards.
  • May 4, 2018:  On short notice, the City held a Friday Aviation Forum in the City Council Chambers at which the delegation from the recent Washington, DC, trip debriefed the public on the results of their effort.  The City has posted the PowerPoint shown by the City Manager.
  • April 24-27, 2018:  A delegation consisting of City Manager Dave Kiff, Deputy City Manager/Public Information Manager Tara Finnigan, and Council Members Herdman, Dixon and Muldoon flew to Washington, D.C., to introduce themselves to the City’s lobbyist at Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney (see January 23, below), and visit various congressional and FAA offices.  It is unclear who appointed the delegation, or who authorized the travel, as there was no Council or Aviation Committee discussion of it.
  • April 19, 2018:  City Manager signs contract C-7391-1 with Probolsky Research to convene two 90-minute focus groups of 12 or more people each regarding outreach to FAA and air carriers relative to quieter departure paths.
  • March 29, 2018:  First “STAYY” departure using the FAA-approved curving path over the Upper Bay that the City had long lobbied for.  Preliminary results were provided in the City’s April 2018 Monthly Report.
  • March 14, 2018:  The JWA Quarterly Noise Meeting was held at JWA headquarters.
  • March 9, 2018:  The City held a Friday Airport Forum in the City Council Chambers.  As the third of three presentations from them, the JWA Access and Noise Office explained the process by which the limited commercial capacity at JWA is assigned, each year, to the various carriers under the Access Plan.
  • February 12, 2018:  The City Aviation Committee met (agenda), with Councilman Herdman (Chair) out sick and the JWA personnel on holiday. Results from the City’s independent noise monitoring (see December 1, below) are not yet available, but may be by the next meeting, likely in April. On the same day, the City Manager signed contract C-7330-1 with Dynamic Strategy Group for public relations/outreach assistance in approaching and influencing air carriers.
  • February 9, 2018:  A Friday Airport Forum was held with JWA Access and Noise Office staff providing the second of three presentations from them, this one about the Settlement Agreement and Access Plan.
  • February 8, 2018: City Manager signs contract C-7297-2 with HMMH for updated study of departure pattern alternatives (promised as part of Resolution 2017-63 from September 26; see also December 1, below).
  • January 26, 2018:  A Friday Airport Forum was held with JWA Access and Noise Office staff giving a “Noise 101” presentation detailing how aircraft noise is monitored and reported.
  • January 23, 2018:  City Manager Dave Kiff posted a Letter to the Community regarding airport issues.  On the same day, he signed contract C-7390-1 with Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney for lobbying the FAA and airlines(?) in Washington, D.C. (see, request #1 from October 10, below)
  • January 19, 2018:  US Department of Justice signs agreement concluding City’s lawsuit against the FAA’s NextGen/Metroplex Project.  The agreement has been posted and can be viewed as City Contract No. C-7291-1.  It encourages trials of an “S-curve” departure, and promises City and public review of any future changes to flight paths.
  • January 9, 2018:  The City has announced a tentative agreement with the FAA resulting from mediation over the FAA’s handling of their Environmental Impact Statement regarding the new GPS-controlled NextGen flight paths.  The settlement (the text of which has not yet been released) purportedly involves a number of deal points favorable to residents, as detailed in the City announcement.  SPON was supposedly invited to participate in the mediation, but to the best of its knowledge was not informed of that opportunity.
  • December 13, 2017: The JWA Quarterly Noise Meeting was held in a new format, with Noise Office staff giving PowerPoint presentations to the public in attendance on various topics of interest, followed by an open question and answer period.
  • December 11, 2017: the City Aviation Committee met. The announced topics (see agenda) included possible implementation of a “Fly Quiet” program, encouraging airlines to reduce noise impacts, although nothing concrete appeared to decided regarding that.
  • December 8, 2017: Aviation Committee Chair Jeff Herdman and City Manager Dave Kiff held their second informal community get-together regarding JWA issues in the City Council Chambers from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Mr. Herdman collected sets of four questions from members of the audience and Mr. Kiff attempted to answer them.
  • December 1, 2017:  City Manager signs contract C-7297-1 with Harris Miller Miller & Hanson, Inc. (“HMMH“) for independent monitoring and verification of aircraft noise levels (see October 10, request #2).
  • November 30, 2017: Council member Diane Dixon held a town hall on NexGen issues for Peninsula residents at Marina Park from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.
  • The City’s online calendar has twice listed a “Community Forum on John Wayne Airport,” apparently featuring work done by AWG.  It was first listed for November 15 and then for December 6.  Both times the listing disappeared without the event happening.
  • November 17, 2017: Council member (and Aviation Committee Chair) Jeff Herdman and City Manager Dave Kiff held the first of planned periodic opportunities for informal discussions about airport issues. The meeting, as will apparently be the pattern, was held in the City Council Chambers from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.
  • October 30, 2017: The City’s Aviation Committee held one of its rare meetings. There was some talk of the City instituting a “Fly Quiet” incentive program, but little concrete happened.
  • October 10, 2017: Under Item XIII, the City Council unanimously directed City staff to return with future agenda items regarding two matters proposed by Mayor Muldoon: (1) “Seeking the assistance of a federal advocate to work with the City on FAA and related aviation matters, including communication with major air carriers,” and (2) “Supporting additional review and verification of data accuracy from the County of Orange’s seven noise monitoring stations on the JWA departure corridors.”  Those items do not appear to have ever been placed on a Council agenda, yet contracts for executing them were signed by the City Manager on December 1, 2017, and January 23, 2018 (see those dates in this list).
  • October 6, 2017:  Following on the September 15 event, AirFair hosted a second, even better attended public forum. Mayor Kevin Muldoon, Council member Jeff Herdman, City Manager Dave Kiff and City Attorney Aaron Harp presented and fielded questions.
  • September 26, 2017: the City Council held a public study session at 4:00 p.m. regarding the City’s response to the new departure procedures at JWA, and at its evening meeting passed Resolution 2017-63 endorsing certain new and renewed actions with respect to the airport. Mayor Muldoon additionally (under Item XII) “Requested a future agenda item to hire a Washington DC lobbyist to help the City and Airport Consultant Tom Edwards work with the FAA and County; enter into direct communications with the major air carriers; and come up with a method to track sound levels to confirm that decibel readers are accurate. “
  • September 15, 2017:  AirFair hosted on a public forum on JWA issues at the Newport Beach Tennis Club in Eastbluff.

Settlement Agreement related events

  • In 2018, JWA again approached SPON inquiring whether its position regarding the commuter aircraft definition had changed, but seemed less aggressive about demanding an answer.
  • In 2017, JWA approached SPON and the other signatories with a second request to amend the recently-extended Settlement Agreement, this time to increase the allowed number of seats on “commuter” aircraft from 70 to 76.  Although the change seemed very small, SPON was not convinced of the airport’s claim that this would reduce noise, and was concerned that it would instead lead to the present Settlement Agreement limited number of passengers being placed on a larger number of planes, each as noisy as the present ones carrying more.  In addition, SPON was concerned about a rumored threat by Southwest Airlines to attempt to invalidate the Agreement in its entirety if the change was made. The airport tabled the matter after SPON requested indemnification, but it is likely to return in 2018.
  • In 2015, SPON reluctantly agreed to minor increases in the noise levels allowed by the Settlement Agreement at the airport’s seven automated monitoring stations in Newport Beach, supposedly necessitated by the installation of newer, “more sensitive” microphones.
  • In 2014, SPON completed negotiation of the second of two extensions of the historic JWA Settlement Agreement.  This one limits commercial jet operations through 2030.  The previous extension, signed in 2003, would have expired in 2015.
  • 2003:  Settlement Agreement extended, but allowing still more expansion of terminal facilities and jet flights.  Out of disappointment with the negotiations, in May 2002, AirFair was created as yet another issue-oriented outgrowth of SPON.
  • 1985: Settlement Agreement reached to resolve disputes over new 1985 Master Plan and related EIR 508, as well as EIR 232 (see “Helpful Links,” below).
  • 1981 or 1982: SPON joins City lawsuit challenging the February 18, 1981, certification of Environmental Impact Report (EIR 232) related to the County’s Master Plan for airport expansion (see “Environmental Documentation,” below).  The Airport Working Group was later formed as an issue-specific outgrowth of SPON, which joined the lawsuit and participated in the negotiations.
  • October 7, 1968:  First day of Air California 113 passenger Boeing 737 (“Sunjet”) service from Orange County Airport.
  • August or September, 1967:  Bonanza Airlines adds 72 passenger DC-9 “Funjets” (the first regularly scheduled jets, and probably the first jets of any kind to fly from JWA) to its existing Fairchild F-27 turbo-prop service. The City protested the overflights and tried to convince the County Board of Supervisors (which controls the airport) to look for a different location for commercial aircraft activity serving Orange County. Litigation over impact of jet flights begins in 1968.
  • 1952:  Bonanza Airlines initiates commercial airline service from Orange County airport with DC-3 (propeller) flights to Los Angeles, San Diego, El Centro-Yuma and Phoenix.

News Coverage

see also:  LA Times archive stories about Orange County Airport, JWA and John Wayne Airport

Helpful Links

  • JWA’s Noise and Access page, including:
  • JWA’s Settlement Agreement page, including key terms.
    • Many of the features of the Settlement Agreement, including the commercial aircraft curfew and general aviation noise restrictions (which both pre-existed but are protected by the Agreement) can be found in Title 2, Division 1, Article 3 (“Airport Noise”) of the County’s codes, collectively referred to by JWA administrators as the GANO.
    • The Agreement also limits changes to the Phase 2 Commercial Airline Access Plan and Regulation
  • JWA Historical Chronology of airport development and airport-related events.
  • Newport Beach City Council Airport Policy (Policy A-17) and archive of past versions (most recent includes Settlement Agreement as an attachment)
  • City Manager’s January 23, 2018, Letter to the Community regarding airport issues.
  • City complaint form (to be forwarded to FAA regarding NextGen/SoCal Metroplex flight issues)
  • City’s Aviation Committee page, including links to Monthly Reports prepared by the City’s JWA consultant (and one-time Mayor) Tom Edwards, which seem to be the City’s primary mechanism for disseminating JWA-related information
  • City’s JWA Special Reports page contains a growing list of airport-relevant documents arranged chronologically, with the oldest at the bottom.  These include the “ARTS” study of departure options prepared for the City in 2008 and the so-called “Spheres Agreement” with the County from 2006 which, if honored, contains promises limiting extension of the runway to the south (but not to the north).
  • City’s JWA issues page summarizes issues as of mid-2017(?).  It does not seem to have been systematically updated since, but it was supplemented by the similar City Manager’s January 23, 2018, “Letter to the Community” (see above).  For example, the Issues page mentions preparations for, but not implementation of the new curving-path STAAY procedure. The issues page contains links to “Related Items” at the bottom of the page.
  • Aviation Committee Chair, Councilman Jeff Herdman, maintains a blog on his campaign website that includes entries updating constituents on aviation-related matters
  • AirFair (citizens activist group affiliated with SPON, meetings open to public)
  • Airport Working Group (similar to AirFair, but an older outgrowth of SPON;  board meetings closed to public)

Environmental Documentation

  • Environmental Impact Statement (“Docket 33237”) adopted by Civilian Aeronautics Board in February 1981, containing comments and responses (this is related to, but not the same as the Environmental Impact Report for the County’s Master Plan for airport expansion — EIR 232/102 — which triggered the dispute leading to the 1985 Settlement Agreement) — online on Hathi Trust and Google Books
  • EIR 508 for 1985 Master Plan, all volumes available on Hathi Trust digital library, or Google books.  New litigation related to this EIR reportedly led to adoption of 1985 Settlement Agreement, resolving disputes over both EIR 508 and EIR 232:
  • EIR 546, from 1993, deals with “The Phase II Access Plan, Noise Limits and Noise Monitoring.”  It has been recently posted in four parts on the City’s JWA Special Reports page (see bottom of page).  It also seems to be available as a single 118 MB 660 page PDF via a link at the bottom of the City’s JWA Issues page.
  • EIR 573, from 2001, studied splitting aircraft operations in Orange County between JWA and a proposed Orange County International Airport at the site of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Part of it is available via a link on the Airport Working Group website. Much more was posted by opponents of the El Toro site, and remains available on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
  • EIR 582 for the 2003 Settlement Agreement extension (which allowed massive expansion of the terminal) is available in print at Newport Beach Public Library , including a 2004 Supplemental EIR for terminal construction.  A scanned copy of the latter (only) is available on the AWG website.
  • EIR 617 for the 2014 extension: draft online at JWA (with explanation here);  in print at Newport Beach Public Library (draft and final).  There is also an associated Mitigation Monitoring Program listing tasks to be accomplished after adoption of the extended Settlement Agreement. See also the County’s certification of this EIR with Resolution No. 14-084.