Tag Archives: Greenlight

Images of Four Newport Beach Resort Hotels subject to Determination

SPON Appeal of Director’s Determination Regarding Resort Hotels

Appeal of “Director’s Determination” Allowing Construction of Residences in Place of Hotel Rooms — hearing expected on August 24

Latest news: 

The appeal described on this page was noticed for a hearing before the City Planning Commission on July 8. At that hearing, the Planning Commission denied the appeal. SPON has appealed that denial to the City Council. It has been noticed for a hearing on August 24.

Why We Appealed
Recent Events
News Coverage
Helpful Links


On April 30, 2021, City Planning Division staff posted a  “Director’s Determination”  by which the Community Development Director purports to have discovered that, without any need to amend the City’s General Plan, 30% of the current General Plan hotel room limits at four resort hotels can be used alternatively to build permanent dwellings units. The addition of this potential for new dwelling units without counting the newly-allowed units toward the Greenlight thresholds for voter approval, which this claims to do, is a clear evasion of our City Charter.

SPON appealed this “Determination” to the Planning Commission. But, at a July 8 hearing, the Planning Commission denied the appeal, leaving the Determination standingA further appeal to the City Council has been filed.

Why We Appealed:

SPON does not yet have a opinion about the value of hotel to residential conversions in general or as part of the solution to the City’s state-mandated RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) obligation to provide for 4,845 new homes in the next 10 years.

SPON does object to the process, which allowed a staff person to effectively amend the City’s General Plan ahead of the larger update to meet RHNA that is in progress, and improperly avoid the Greenlight tracking required by our voter-enacted City Charter. In particular, the increase in General Plan housing capacity declared by the Community Development Department’s Director, if properly enacted by the City Council as a General Plan amendment, is, for the Newport Center statistical area, well in excess of the amount that requires voter approval under Charter Section 423 (Greenlight).

Additionally, for hotel conversions to be part of the RHNA solution, there would have to be an assurance that they would lead to construction of affordable units, which is the primary category of housing Newport Beach is struggling with. The staff Determination creates flawed policy in that respect since it contains no obvious requirement that any of the newly allowed resort living units would be in the affordable categories.

City staff’s finding that its Determination is consistent with its state-certified Local Coastal Program is equally flawed. The portion of the City subject to the LCP is divided into an area in which City decisions can be appealed to the California Coastal Commission for further consideration of their consistency with state coastal policy, and an area where they cannot. The Determination is said to apply only to hotels outside the appeal area. It is very difficult to see how what is good and consistent policy outside the appeal area would not also be good and consistent policy inside the appeal area. Especially since the Determination excludes from eligibility the two coastal zone hotels (The Resort at Pelican Hill and the Marriot’s Newport Coast Villas) that seem most readily adaptable to residential resort living, while the single coastal zone hotel it includes (the Newport Beach Marriot at Newport Center) seems much less suitable for residential construction.


The citizens of charter cities are supposed to be able to control what their city government can and cannot do.

Newport Beach citizens adopted a charter in 1954 and in 2000 amended it to include the Greenlight provision, limiting the Council’s ability to add growth potential to the City’s General Plan.  Greenlight counts hotel rooms separately from residential units.

In 2006, a slim majority of voters approved specific General Plan limits for the allowable number of hotel rooms and residences in each of the City’s 50, or so, statistical areas. Any subsequent increases to allowed number of hotel rooms or residences are supposed to counted toward the Greenlight thresholds for what the City Council is permitted to add without voter approval.

This “Determination,” effectively allowing hundreds of new dwelling units to be added to the General Plan without counting any of them toward the Greenlight thresholds, is a clear evasion of Greenlight.

The Determination is particularly problematic with regard to the Newport Center statistical area, because the voter-approved allotment for dwelling units has all been built, and the City Council recently increased that limit by 90 units. Since Greenlight allows the Council to add only 100 units in 10 years without voter approval, should they add a policy allowing previously-approved hotel rooms provide entitlements to build residences it would have to be limited to creating around 10 new units. Any more would have to be placed on a ballot for voters to decide.

Yet, through this Determination, staff is claiming it can add the potential for something like 250 new residential units in the Newport Center statistical area without the Council having to do anything and with no need for voter approval.

As the SPON appeal says, there is something fundamentally wrong with this notion that City staff has greater authority than the Council to make changes to land use policy in Newport Beach.


August 24: date tentatively scheduled for appeal of Planning Commission decision to City Council.

Recent Events

  • July 8, 2021: The City Planning Commission heard SPON’s appeal of the Community Development Department Director’s Determination regarding hotel room to residences conversion, and denied the appeal on a 6:0 vote, with one Commissioner absent. See meeting materials, archived here.
  • May 14, 2021: SPON appealed the Determination to the Planning Commission for an independent decision regarding it.
  • May 6, 2021: Although not legally required, City staff presented the Determination to the Planning Commission as a “receive and file” item at their May 6 meeting.
  • April 30, 2021: Director posted his Determination.

News Coverage

Helpful Links


Newport’s “Greenlight” City Charter Provision

Latest news: 

SPON has appealed a “Directors Determination” issued by City staff on April 30, 2021, and purporting to have discovered that without amending the City’s General Plan, 30% of the current General Plan hotel room limits at four resort hotels can be used alternatively to build permanent dwellings units. SPON believes this is an evasion of Greenlight, for Greenlight treats dwelling units (a residential use) separately from hotel rooms (a non-residential use), and if the City Council had amended the General Plan to incorporate such a policy, the newly-added allowance for dwelling units would count toward the thresholds of what the Council can add without voter approval.  SPON does not believe the Council can avoid this Greenlight counting by asking staff to effectively amend the General Plan for them, while claiming the Council has not actually amended it.

The appeal has been set for a hearing before the Planning Commission on July 8. Should they support staff’s “Determination,” it can be further appealed to the City Council.

Helpful Links


City charters, if adopted, allow the citizens of California cities to define the structure of their city government and what it can do.

California cities are also required by the state to adopt and maintain what are called “general plans.” A general plan is a legally-binding vision of the city’s future, typically looking out 20 to 30 years and stating development limits.  The Newport Beach General Plan divides the city into some 50 geographic sub-areas (called “statistical areas”) and sets limits on the development in each, sometimes on a parcel-by-parcel basis.

Greenlight” refers to a citizen-initiated charter amendment adopted by Newport Beach voters at the November 2000 election, where it appeared as “Measure S.” It is now codified as City Charter Section 423 and supplemented by the City Council’s subsequently-adopted Policy A-18 (Guidelines for Implementing Charter Section 423 (Measure S Guidelines)).

Greenlight is a “slow growth” measure, restricting the amounts by which the city council can increase those general plan development limits over a ten-year period without seeking voter approval. It sets separate limits for how much the Council is free to add, in 10 years, to a statistical area in terms of dwelling units (100), non-residential floor area (40,000 square feet) and traffic increases anticipated as a result of newly allowed development of either type (100 peak hour trips).


Coming soon.

Helpful Links

    • Mailer sent to voters by Greenlight proponents prior to November 2000 election.
    • Pages from November 2000 sample ballot describing Greenlight and providing arguments for and against it.
    • City staff’s Greenlight tracking tables showing General Plan amendments in the last ten years, the amount of potential development added by the amendment, and the remaining amount the Council could add without voter approval.

Tennis Club (Newport Center)

Tennis Club (Newport Center) . . . as of November 2018
Coastal Development Permit & Tract Maps approved by Zoning Administrator on Nov. 20

Project Overview: This Watch List item refers to a proposal, approved by the City Council in 2012, to convert the Tennis Club in Newport Center (abutting the eastern end of the Newport Beach Country Club golf course, and not to be confused with the similarly-named Tennis Club in Eastbluff) into a tennis resort, with homes, rental bungalows and an event center.  The existing 24 tennis courts would be reduced to 7, but the 3,725 square foot clubhouse expanded, plus 5 homes and 27 hotel room like bungalows would be added, In all, the non-residential development would expand to 38,000 sf, adding 34,275 sf of development that is not in the General Plan and was never approved by voters.

Why We’re Watching:  The property owner’s wish to “upgrade” the entire Newport Beach Country Club site, including building a new stadium tennis resort, was long known to the City. And the original proposal seems to have been designed to fit within the General Plan development limits approved by voters in 2006.  The golf clubhouse would be rebuilt at its existing size, the 5 dwelling units would come from a floating pool of 450 units in Newport Center approved in 2006, and the 27 rental bungalows would be transferred from unbuilt hotel room entitlements approved elsewhere in Newport Center, adding no net development that had not previously been approved, and hence not needing a Greenlight vote and, arguably, not even a General Plan amendment.

The proposal hit two snags.  First, a competing proposal by the golf course lessee emerged, requesting a massive expansion of the golf clubhouse (which would require a General Plan amendment).  And second, the corporate owner of the nearby Marriott Hotel objected to the transfer of unused hotel room allocations from elsewhere in Newport Center (most of which had been, perhaps improperly, converted to office entitlements for the benefit of The Irvine Company).

To “solve” the latter problem, and despite City staff’s objections, the Planning Commission recommended, and the City Council accepted, the idea of creating entitlements for the 27 rental bungalows by “converting” the entitlement for 17 existing tennis courts being removed in the plan, finding that “consistent” with the General Plan (with no need, according to the Planning Commission) to formally amend it.

The problem is that the combination of the square footage created by the General Plan amendment for the enlarged golf clubhouse combined with the new hotel room square footage (created by “conversion” rather than transfer of previous approvals) adds non-voter-approved development to Newport Center far in excess of the 10 year limit allowed by Greenlight (City Charter Section 423) — not even counting other development added to Newport Center in the last 10 years, including the Central Library expansion and the 100,000 sf. new City Hall.

Although approved in 2012, the Tennis Club project now needs a Coastal Development Permit to proceed to construction.  Whoever is responsible for the earlier mix up, SPON strongly objects to allowing construction that exceeds the amounts allowed in the currently published General Plan by an amount that, if acknowledged as an amendment to that Plan, would have triggered the need for a Greenlight vote.


No upcoming events currently scheduled.

Recent Events:

November 20, 2018:  The City held a special Zoning Administrator hearing at which the Administrator approved a Coastal Development Permit for the construction and for a Tentative Parcel Map for the consolidation of 11 parcels and a Vesting Tentative Tract Map.

June 28, 2018:  A tentative agenda published by the Community Development Department indicated the Coastal Development Permit application could be considered by the Zoning Administrator as early as the June 28, 2018, meeting.

May 1, 2017:  City receives planning application PA2017-091 for a new Coastal Development Permit to replace the expired one allowing construction of the Golf Realty proposal for the Tennis Club resort.

April 27, 2017: As Item 4 on his agenda, the City’s Zoning Administrator reviewed the Development Agreement for the Tennis Club renovation, DA2008-001.  As the staff report indicates, the Coastal Development Permit for the Tennis Club, previously approved by the Coastal Commission, had been allowed to expire, and a new one would be needed before any construction could take place.

Prior Time Line:

April 25, 2014:  “CDD Director” approves eliminating frontage road from golf club improvements (Staff Approval No. SA2014-003)

April 10, 2013:  As Item W18b, the California Coastal Commission approves a Coastal Development Permit for the Golf Realty Tennis Club proposal.  The approval does not mention or appear to include the Development Agreement, despite the Gov. Code Sec. 65869 requirement for CCC approval of agreements made in jurisdictions not having a fully certified Local Coastal Program.

December 12, 2012:  As Item W11a (postponed from Item W7b on September 12, 2012, and Item Th20c on October 11, 2012), the California Coastal Commission approves a Coastal Development Permit for a new 69,088 sq. ft. golf facility (this did not include consideration of the Tennis Club proposal).

March 27, 2012:  As Item 3 on their consent calendar,Council completes second reading of ordinances approving Golf Realty application, with Mayor Nancy Gardner voting “no.”

March 13, 2012:  As Item 14 on their agenda, after considerable discussion, the Council adopts some resolutions and re-introduces various ordinances related to the Golf Realty application.  Mayor Nancy Gardner was the sole “no” vote.

February 28, 2012: Council continues second readings of Golf Realty matters to March 13 (see Item 8).

February 14, 2012: Council completes second reading of ordinance approving IBC Development Agreement and amendments to the Planned Community text increasing the size of the golf clubhouse from 35,000 to 56,000 square feet, but continues Golf Realty second readings to February 28 (see agenda Item 5 and Item 6).   Mayor Nancy Gardner voted “no” on the IBC approvals.

January 24, 2012:  City Council conditionally accepts Planning Commission recommendation from November 17, 2011, adopting Resolution No. 2012-10 approving a conversion of 17 tennis courts to 27 hotel rooms.  The earlier staff memo to the Planning Commission explaining this would require a General Plan amendment was include as Attachment CC15 to the Item 14 staff report.  Resolution No. 2012-10 is said to include approval of a Vesting Tentative Map, but the rights it might convey are unknown since the map is is not attached to the resolution and the page where the map was supposed to appear in the Clerk’s archive of Item 14 seems to be blank, as well.

November 17, 2011: Planning Commission recommends Council approve IBC plan for golf clubhouse and Golf Realty plan for Tennis Club (see agenda Item 2 and Item 3).

  • A major point of contention, and major reason for selecting the club’s proposal for the new Golf Clubhouse over the O Hill plan (see Planning Commission action report submitted to the City Council as Item 14 on November 22, 2011) was the retention of the frontage road to the Armstrong Nursery along Pacific Coast Highway.  Months after the club’s plan was approved by the Council (and by the Coastal Commission), the frontage road was quietly deleted by a “staff approval” (see April 25, 2014).
  • Regarding the Golf Realty proposal, City staff argued (see page 3 of the Item 2 staff report and Attachment PC4) that conversion of voter-approved tennis courts to hotel rooms required a General Plan amendment.  The Planning Commission rejected staff’s analysis and recommended the conversion as a creative workaround to the applicant’s inability to move voter-approved hotel room allocations from elsewhere in Newport Center.

October 20, 2011: Planning Commission continues to hear the competing plans, again as Item 2 and Item 3.

August 4, 2011: As Item 2 and Item 3, Planning Commission hears Golf Realty plan for Tennis Club renovation and competing plan from International Bay Clubs for golf clubhouse rebuild.

August 11, 2009: City Council, as Item 27 on agenda, adopts Resolution No. 2009-60 rescinding Resolution 2009-2 (which had initiated a General Plan amendment for the proposed tennis and golf club expansions), saying the competing applicants would need to make separate requests to initiate General Plan amendments.

January 27, 2009:  City Council, as Item 6 on agenda, adopts Resolution No. 2009-2 initiating a General Plan amendment for the proposed tennis and golf club expansions.

July 28, 2008:  City receives planning application PA2008-152 from golf course lessee, International Bay Clubs (the operator of the Balboa Bay Club), for General Plan amendment to allow larger clubhouse.

May 8, 2007:  City Council, as Item 21 on agenda, adopts Resolution No. 2007-32 appointing committee of Mayor Rosansky and Mayor Pro Tem Selich to negotiate development agreement allowing construction of “32 dwelling units (5 single-family dwelling units and 27 short-term rental units) that would be drawn from the 450 dwelling units allocated for Newport Center in the General Plan.”

March 13, 2007:  The Daily Pilot reports City staff  told Mr. O Hill he will need an additional General Plan Amendment to add the MU-H3 hotel rooms to his Tennis Club site.

November 7, 2006: By approving Measure V (Resolution No. 2006-77), Newport Beach voters give the “Greenlight” to new General Plan development limits (see Resolution No. 2006-103).  The Tennis Club portion of the Country Club property is given a land use designation (MU-H3/PR) making it eligible for a portion of a floating allocation, made to similarly designated portions of Newport Center, of 450 new residential units and 65 hotel rooms.

June 20, 2005:  City receives planning application PA2005-140 for renovation of Newport Beach Country Club, including construction of a new tennis club resort and a rebuild of the golf clubhouse.

November 1992:  The Irvine Company sells 132 acre golf and tennis club properties to investors headed by Robert O Hill, retaining long-term lease for golf portion to International Bay Clubs (owner/operator of the Balboa Bay Club).

News Coverage

Helpful Links

  • City’s case log for CDP application (PA2017-091, not always accurate or up to date)