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Council agrees to wait 30 days to submit draft Housing Element update to state


Following City Council direction from a study session last week, the city will wait 30 days before submitting the draft Housing Element update to the state.

Council heard a presentation on July 13 of recent revisions and additions to the document.

The study session was an overview of what they’ve been working on over the last 18 months, explained Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis. They incorporated the feedback from council and the community, he said.

“This is not the final version,” Jurjis emphasized. “This is just a new draft version.”

Discussion mostly revolved around delaying the submittal, accessory dwelling units and the inclusionary policy. A number of locals spoke up during public comment at the meeting.

Mayor Brad Avery thanked the residents for their input and hoped more would get involved.

“Everyone in this room understands how important this is to our future,” Avery said. “We may not agree on things, certain elements of this, but we all are in agreement of what we’re trying to do: Protect as much as we can, our city, from the impacts of what is, essentially, a total takeover by the state in this realm. It’s a frightening thing to see.”

Councilmember Will O’Neill suggested submitting the draft in 30 days, noting that the council could call a special meeting in the meantime to review something, if needed, if staff finds something that “dramatically alters” their analysis. They can keep rolling forward once they get feedback from HCD. 

“That doesn’t mean we have to adopt it exactly as it is, and we can continue to have this discussion and debate, and we 100 percent will,” O’Neill said. 

Nobody likes this process or being put in this position by the state, he added. 

“But, at some point, we need to get to a point where we’re not studying and we’re submitting and, at least on a draft side, putting it in,” O’Neill said. “I think we’re at that point where we should probably be putting this in, in about 30 days, (and) holding our nose the whole time.”

There was unanimous agreement on the dais with O’Neill’s suggestion. 

He was also inclined to include the inclusionary zoning reference. It should be kept in, studied, and likely later adopted.

“It’s a matter of timing on it,” and a decision would likely need to be made before adopting the Housing Element, he said.

But increasing the ADUs to 1,500 (as suggested during public comment) is unrealistic and might get rejected. The assumption of 1,000 ADUs is already a stretch, considering the average number of ADUs currently submitted to the city is closer to a couple dozen. If they try for 1,500 and it’s rejected, they’ll have to come back down to where it’s at now, O’Neill said. 

Council agrees houses

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Photo by Sara Hall

The city will submit the draft Housing Element update to the state in 30 days

The Housing Element is a mandatory element of the City of Newport Beach General Plan that requires periodic review and updating. It is a comprehensive statement of housing goals and policies that are closely correlated with other elements of the General Plan. 

The Housing Element describes how the city will provide for policies and programs to accommodate the city’s 4,845-unit allocation of the 6th Cycle of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment. RHNA is a state mandate which identifies the forecasted growth need for housing units in the city for the 2021-29 planning period.

The 2021-29 Housing Element Update is statutorily required to be adopted by October 15. State law provides for a 120-day grace period, requiring the Housing Element to be adopted no later than Feb. 15, 2022 without facing penalties. 

For the past 18 months, city staff has worked alongside the Housing Element Update Advisory Committee, the consultant team, the community, Planning Commission and City Council to prepare the draft document.

An initial draft was released in March for community review. It was presented to the Planning Commission and twice to City Council for review. The city also hosted virtual community workshops to discuss the updated housing scenarios to accommodate RHNA growth need and possible policy solutions. 

Based on all feedback provided, staff returned last week with an updated draft Housing Element, which includes a revised housing production scenario, updated inclusionary housing policy, and a new policy regarding senior housing. Additional editorial changes to the document address a variety of statutory requirements necessary to comply with state law. 

At the June 8 study session, staff presented three updated housing production options for consideration and feedback. Based on direction received at this study session, staff returned to council on June 22 to present a revised housing production scenario. This new scenario meets the following directives provided by council:

–Includes an increased assumption of 1,000 accessory dwelling units;

–Increases assumed housing unit yields at Banning Ranch and Coyote Canyon;

–Deconcentrates affordable housing units from the Airport Area and presents a more equitable distribution into the various focus areas citywide;

–Includes or excludes properties where letters of interest or disinterest were received from property owners;

–Provides a revised assumed buffer to accommodate no net loss considerations; and

–Reduces the overall planning assumptions.

Since they also discussed the inclusionary housing policies, the updated draft includes an interim inclusionary policy at 15 percent, but they would study that and follow it up with a more robust ordinance within 36 months of adoption, said Deputy Director of Community Development Jim Campbell.

In policy action 1K, an inclusionary housing program is proposed to require the production of affordable housing for new residential development projects. This policy is seen as imperative to meeting the higher affordability required in the RHNA allocation, according to the staff report. 

The inclusionary zoning policy needs to be in place immediately, several public speakers emphasized. 

Resident Nancy Scarborough, representing Good Neighbor Newport, said the density bonuses and the incentives for developers who want to take advantage of the legislative entitlements for building affordable housing has been largely ignored. State law details exactly what percentage of additional market rate units a developer is entitled to build if they provide the prescribed number of affordable units. 

Sharing her own chart based on the Housing Element data and recent provisions, Scarborough said the numbers are daunting, thousands of units if all projects used the same inclusionary rate and density bonus. According to her calculations, the “worst case scenario” could be as many as 39,764 units if all projects in the city were built at the lowest proportion needed to require for a density bonus, at 5 percent affordable and 95 percent market rate, with no inclusionary requirement.

“Obviously we do not have enough land in Newport Beach to build 40,000 apartments in the next eight years, even if we started converting office buildings and hotels to high-density mixed-income apartments,” she said. 

The point is, Scarborough concluded, if the city doesn’t get in front of this with an immediate interim inclusionary policy, they could be overwhelmed with a lot of high-density luxury apartments and still not enough affordable housing.

They need to fully understand the density bonuses allowed by state law and design the policies in the city’s Housing Element accordingly before they “stamp the envelope and mail it to HCD.”

“This is our collective legacy,” Scarborough said. “Residents may not know this is coming, but they will certainly notice when these projects start to be entitled and be built.

Overall, the majority of council members agreed on the inclusionary policy.

There’s no way to get to the affordable housing numbers required unless there is an inclusionary policy, said Councilmember Joy Brenner. 

“It’s sort of critical, not that we like it,” she said. 

Council agrees Back Bay and Newport Center

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Photo by Sara Hall

The city is working on updating its Housing Element to accommodate state mandates for affordable housing

There was also a lot of discussion about ADUs.

A new appendix was also added to the draft document related to Accessory Dwelling Units.

The new “appendix D” provides expanded discussion in support of the city’s desire to assume 1,000 accessory dwelling units, which is well above the “Safe Harbor” provisions described in the HCD’s guidance document. It describes ADU legislation and regional actions and an overview of local factors to increase ADU production over the next eight years. 

Staff, in general, isn’t in favor of an overlay idea that has different requirements in different neighborhoods because it’s difficult to enforce. The city already has an adopted ADU policy, the update is meant to be more permissive, he said. 

But they can have the different requirements if council so chooses and can discuss the idea with the Planning Commission at a study session.

“It seems like some places in our community can handle much larger ADUs than other areas can,” Brenner said. “It seems like we can’t do a blanket approach to the ADUs in Newport Beach.”

The size of the ADUs could be adjusted depending on the area, Brenner said, explaining her suggestion for the city to consider overlays.

It’s a good point, O’Neill agreed, although an overlay regarding the sizing may not need to be included in the Housing Element.

A few residents suggested increasing the ADU count to 1,500. That’s an opportunity for affordable housing they shouldn’t overlook, said longtime resident Nancy Skinner.

Housing Element Update Committee member Susan DeSantis said there is a “good chance” the increased ADU suggestion would be approved. 

The council was split on whether increasing the ADUs would realistically be approved. 

Ultimately, O’Neill said in his suggested direction for city staff that the 1,500 number would be a stretch and recommended keeping it at 1,000.

DeSantis also commented that the inclusionary policy is appropriate and agreed with the other speakers about waiting to submit to HCD a little longer.

“There can be a delay in submitting,” she said. “We don’t need to be the first ones in the door.”

DeSantis said the policies and strategies in the latest draft will go a significant way to addressing the concerns of HCD. There’s been a lot of hard work put into the document and they revised according to feedback from the council and community, she added, but it still needs some final revisions.

“I do think that we would all agree that there are very real housing needs that members of our community have,” DeSantis said. “I would like to see us succeed and think that the draft that you have in front of you is almost there, there are just some tweaks that need to be made before it can be submitted.”

A few new policies staff added more recently reflect the council policy K-4 adopted in March, including policy actions to “review mixed-use zones” and “establish mixed-use resort opportunities.”

Although this new policy wasn’t adopted without some concern from the community.

Policy K-4, “Reducing the Barriers to the Creation of Housing,” includes “interpreting ambiguities” in the city’s General Plan, as well as other local regulating plans and code, and “directs city staff to develop, modify as necessary, and aggressively implement various strategies and action plans that are designed to accelerate housing production consistent with the policy, including encouraging and incentivizing the development of mixed-use hotels.”

Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis issued a determination on April 30 that residential uses are allowable as an “accessory use” to resort hotels under certain parameters. 

Still Protecting Our Newport (aka Stop Polluting Our Newport), a nonprofit public education organization, filed an appeal on May 14 to the Planning Commission of the director’s determination. 

In the group’s appeal, SPON does not oppose or support the conversion of hotel rooms to dwelling units in general, but objects specifically to the process, which organization officials argue would essentially allow “a staff person to effectively amend the city’s general plan ahead of the larger update to meet RHNA [Regional Housing Needs Allocation] that is in progress, and improperly avoid the Greenlight tracking required by our voter-enacted city charter.”

On July 8, the commission unanimously denied SPON’s appeal.

There is also a new policy to encourage senior housing, which would collaborate with local seniors and senior service organizations, he added. It’s fairly flexible and allows for implementation in a variety of ways. It’s also reflective of Newport Beach’s aging population, Campbell noted. 

Other concerns from public speakers included the site plan ordinance, objective design standards impact on affordable housing, public review and availability, some contradictory language, focusing on more affordable housing and ADUs, traffic impacts, and the assumption in the document that development projects will actually build a high percentage of affordable units.

The public comments are indicative of why the state’s housing policies are bad, O’Neill said, and encouraged residents to speak to their district representatives as well.

Several speakers commented that they shouldn’t rush this though and that it should be put in as late as possible. 

“The bottom line is, I really think we do need to take as much time as we possibly can for a number of unanswered questions,” said Debra Allen, president of the Harbor Hills Community Association.


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

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