Community forum highlights housing element implementation process


A city official this week commented on how the city is tackling the state housing mandates and the process of implementing the plan identified in the updated housing element.

During Speak Up Newport’s monthly meeting on Tuesday (March 19), Assistant City Manager and Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis explained that Newport Beach is working on implementing the state-certified housing element by updating the land use element, creating zoning overlays to allow housing, developing objective design standards and drafting an environmental impact report. About 80 people gathered in the community room at the Newport Beach Civic Center and more watched the live stream on local TV or Zoom.

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Courtesy of City of Newport Beach

Assistant City Manager and Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis

In 2019, the state aimed to build 3.5 million housing units by 2025 to address the housing crisis. Only a fraction of the units have actually been constructed, “nowhere close” to the goal, Jurjis said. Housing is typically dependent on supply and demand, but in the past few years interest rates, supply chain issues and the COVID-19 pandemic have all factored in to the lack of residential development.

“It’s really, really challenging,” he said.

In September 2022, the city adopted the 6th cycle housing element. The effort to update the document was in response to the Regional Housing Needs Assessment assigning 4,845 new housing units to Newport Beach. The document outlines the plan for how the city is going to provide these housing opportunities within the city, Jurjis explained. This is the highest number Newport Beach has ever been allocated in the history of the city, he pointed out.

In the housing element, the focus areas identify housing opportunity sites in the Airport Area, Coyote Canyon, Newport Center, Dover-Westcliff, and West Newport-Mesa and Banning Ranch (despite HCD rejecting it).

It’s also important to note where the housing opportunities are not located, Jurjis said, they aren’t on Balboa Peninsula, Balboa Island, or Corona del Mar. They’re more focused on the commercial areas of town, he explained. Newport Center, for example, has a number of office buildings on properties that could be developed as residential.

Although the state certified Newport Beach’s housing element, there are a number of Orange County cities that aren’t, Jurjis pointed out, sharing a list of 10 cities and the county as the non-compliant jurisdictions.

“I was actually shocked to see that the County of Orange still doesn’t have a certified housing element,” he said. “That’s going to be a problem for the county.”

He noted that the “builder’s remedy” law essentially allows developers to bypass local zoning and general plan requirements when the jurisdiction doesn’t have a state-compliant housing plan. It gives a lot of authority to the developers and allows developers to ignore city’s density limits, height limits and design standards, he explained.

“A developer could come in and almost build anything they want,” Jurjis said. “Builder’s remedy is not better for us, it’s worse for us.”

Since Newport Beach has a compliant housing document, the city is focusing on the next step of implementation, Jurjis explained. In order to do that, there are four additional documents that need to be created and approved by City Council: Update to the land use element, zoning overlays to allow housing, objective design standards to maintain quality and an environmental impact report.

“All this we have to be get done by February 2025, that’s our drop-dead date, and there are penalties if we’re not compliant by that date,” he added.

The land use element is going to dictate the density of housing units in the focus areas. It sets a limit to the maximum allocation for each area, he explained. The majority of the units are planned in the Airport Area, which has a development limit is 2,577 units. The maximum for Newport Center is 2,439 units, while Coyote Canyon is 1,530 units, West Newport-Mesa is 1,107 units and Dover-Westcliff is 521 units.

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This also triggers charter section 423, also known as the Greenlight initiative, which states that adding 100 units or more in a statistical area requires a vote of the people. Since the development limit for all five areas is more than 100, the proposed amendment to the land use element will be headed to the ballot in November.

The ballot measure will essentially ask voters if they are willing to accept the change to the land use element and accept the planned housing units for these areas, Jurjis said.

Jurjis encouraged everyone to vote, and although he didn’t advocate for either side, he did mention what it could mean for the city if the measure doesn’t pass.

“It’s not going to be good for the city if the vote fails, unfortunately,” he said. “I’m deeply hoping that it passes because if it passes, we have more control. We have control with our designs, we have control with the housing opportunities.”

If it doesn’t pass, the city might have to go to court to determine the next step, he said. That might be an order to amend the plan again and go out to another public vote, Juris pointed out, or the court could decide that the city has made the best effort and allow it to move forward. There’s no case law on an issue like this, he said. It’s not black and white, a lot of this is in the gray area, Jurjis commented.

“We’ve never been in this position before where you have conflicting mandates: A charter and a state mandate,” he said.

They are also creating a new housing opportunities (HO) overlay zone, which will set the specific development standards for the new zoning area.

They need to develop code language that defines the zoning for these housing opportunities. It’s consistent with the housing element and it defines the specifics like setbacks and height limits.

The other part of this process is creating design standards, Jurjis noted.

“If somebody’s going to build medium- to high-density residential projects in Newport, what’s the design going to look like?” he asked.

Looking ahead to what the potential projects could look like, they’ve developed guidelines that cover everything on the design side, including parking lots, private streets and driveways, and residential fronts. It can always be modified in the future, he added, it’s not set in stone.

“We can always fine tune it as we go forward,” he said.

Regarding the environmental impact report and CEQA, the draft EIR is available on the city’s website for review. The public comment period ends on March 26.

For the report, they studied the number of vehicle trips for the existing property, an office building for example, compared to what the housing project might bring (either in addition to the office or replacing it). The “significant and unavoidable” impacts were found to be related to aesthetics, air quality, cultural resources, greenhouse gas emissions, noise, and utilities and service systems.

The item is scheduled to be heard by the Planning Commission on April 18 and then by the Airport Land Use Commission on May 16.


Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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