Tag Archives: Land Use Element

General Plan update

General Plan Update . . . as of March 2018

Action Opportunity:

March 27, 2018: City staff’s Annual Status Report (Planning Activity PA2007-195) on the state of the City’s compliance with its General Plan Implementation Program, and its progress on the Housing Element goals, is expected to be presented to the City Council, most likely on their “consent calendar.”

  • 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, Museum House, to name a few) has been the result of a bad plan or bad execution of it.
  • This year’s report to the Planning Commission is here.  The Commission showed little interest in it.
  • Last year’s report to the City Council is here (note that it’s mostly the same).
  • For those interested in the history of these reports, and 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 limits not correctly representing the development that has been approved, and thus short-circuiting our Greenlight protections, SPON has prepared some background information and some possible talking points.
  • You may also find of interest 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.

Latest News:  With the February 13 adoption of a modified resolution of “strategies” for calendar year 2018, the City Council decisively put the brakes on the already much-delayed General Plan Update process.  No further City activity is expected until 2019.  Nonetheless, SPON is continuing its efforts to press for improvements to the present General Plan, which include the SPON GPAC meetings, the next scheduled for Saturday, March 31 (see “Upcoming,” below), and featuring guests speaking about the importance of “open data” in city planning.   Meanwhile, City staff will be providing its Annual General Plan Status Report (about the existing plan) to the Planning Commission on March 8 and to the City Council on March 27. This is another opportunity to show public interest and engagement in the General Plan (see “Action Opportunity,” above).

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

Project Overview:  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.

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.


March 27, 2018: The City Council is expected to be asked (likely on their Consent Calendar) to authorize submittal of the Annual General Plan Status Report to state agencies,  It is due there by April 1.

March 31, 2018: Fifth SPON GPAC meeting. All are welcome, but due to limited seating, those interested in participating should RSVP here for time and location.

  • The main segment of the March 31 meeting will focus on the importance of cities having “open data,” with fascinating guest speakers.

Recent Events:

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, 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.”