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Council adopts revised housing element update

By SARA HALL

City Council adopted a revised update to the 2021-2029 6th cycle housing element this week, concluding several years of work. 

At the Tuesday (Sept. 13) meeting, councilmembers voted 7-0 in support of amending and re-adopting the revised document.

The update of the 2021-2029 housing element is required by the California Department of Housing and Community Development in response to the 6th Cycle Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation of 4,845 new housing units assigned to the city.

Councilmembers praised the staff for their work during the update process. 

The staff members working on this have been incredible, said Councilmember Joy Brenner.

“When this first hit, we were all dumbstruck and…eyes in the headlights because we couldn’t believe this was being force upon us,” Brenner said. 

The team figured it out as they went along and made it work. They went “above and beyond,” she added. 

“It took us a long time to figure out what we were doing too because none of us are housing experts,” Brenner said. 

It’s been a long haul, Councilmember Diane Dixon agreed, thanking and congratulating the staff for their work on the item. 

It was an exhaustive effort, said Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis.

Newport Beach has been working on the RHNA process for a few years, trying to come up with a Housing Element that complies with the state mandates, he said. 

“We’ve done a lot of heavy lifting on this item,” Jurjis said. “We’re happy we’re at the finish line now.”

Council adopts rooftops

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Photo by Sara Hall

Council approved amending and re-adopting the 2021-2029 6th cycle Housing Element at this week’s meeting

The Housing Element Update Advisory Committee initially reviewed a draft of the update last year. Last July, council heard a presentation about revisions before submitting it to the state. 

During a study session on April 26, City Council heard a presentation on the Housing Element update and accepted staff’s direction of moving forward to include more than a handful of new potential housing sites for future planning purposes.

The new housing units for Newport Beach is “unprecedentedly high and has presented unique challenges for demonstrating compliance,” city staff wrote in the report for the agenda item

“Especially with recent changes in state legislation and a lack of guidance from the state,” the report reads. 

At the time the staff report was written, only 25 out of 197 Southern California Association of Governments jurisdictions are in compliance with a certified Housing Element. 

Only four jurisdictions in Orange County have been certified, Jurjis said. 

“We’re now going to be, hopefully, the fifth – fingers crossed,” he said.

The Final Housing Element includes revisions made since the council’s adoption on February 8. 

The State Department of Housing and Community Development issued a review letter on April 11, which identified three areas of concern to address:

–The city must demonstrate the 6th Cycle Housing Element affirmatively furthers fair housing. The city’s assessment of fair housing in Newport Beach is deficient with respect to providing local data and knowledge, assuring the proposed opportunity sites inventory does not exacerbate fair housing conditions, and providing meaningful goals, actions, metrics and milestones as part of the policy program.

–The city must demonstrate that including housing in mixed-use land use designations is a viable opportunity and should address the likelihood of 100 percent nonresidential development.

–The city must analyze the Conditional Use Permit requirement for residential care facilities with seven or more beds as a constraint to providing housing for persons with disabilities. Policy Action 3P must be revised to commit to addressing the constraint.

City staff prepared responsive revisions and resubmitted the document to HCD on June 28. 

On August 24, HCD issued a letter indicating the City of Newport Beach’s revisions meet statutory requirements and the city has adequate sites planned for more than 2,700 affordable housing units, Jurjis explained.

“We have made all the amendments to the housing element, we have met with the community members,” and revised the document, he said.

Some of the key revisions:

–Provided an expanded narrative that ties into the Policy Program and elaborates on trends and issues that were identified during the city’s community outreach. It also incorporates information from the city’s Code Enforcement Division and Recreation & Senior Services Department. 

–Created a new section that discusses the city’s site evaluation and selection process and provides additional contextual information to justify the various focus areas. 

–Reformatted Policy Action 4A as a table to clearly identify the fair housing issue, local contributing factors, the geographic target areas, the city’s actions, and timelines and metrics for implementation.

–Provided additional narrative that describes the city’s rationale for including mixed-use zoned properties as housing opportunity sites and further details previous projects that substantiate the approach.

–Provided an expanded narrative that specifically discusses the Conditional Use Permit requirement for residential care facilities for seven or more persons. 

–Collaborated with HCD staff on June 1, 2022, and revised Policy Action 3P to review and amend the permitting procedures, application requirements, and development standards applicable to residential care facilities for seven or more persons to ensure consistency with state and federal laws and to promote objectivity and greater approval certainty.

The final Housing Element will comply with state law once it has been adopted. After council adoption, city staff will transmit the adopted Housing Element to HCD for a statutory 60-day certification review.

Council adopts aerial

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Photo by Kevin Pellon (Instagram @socalsnapz) 

An aerial view of the city and harbor

Now that the housing element is complete, they’ll pivot back and continue work on the General Plan update, Jurjis said. Council previously created a steering committee to head up the task.

The circulation element is scheduled to be presented to council at the next study session. 

From a staff standpoint, their priority and schedule are driven by updating the land use element. It needs to be updated quickly and placed to a Greenlight vote of the electorate, he said. The special election will be on the land use element which incorporates the newly planned housing units, Jurjis explained. 

All the remaining elements can go on their own pace, he added. 

During public comment, city watchdog and council candidate Jim Mosher suggested there should be a more engaged discussion regarding Greenlight. 

He also noted that the document wasn’t written by the community and the policies reflect that. 

“Amid these congratulations I think we should acknowledge that the document you would be adopting tonight and approving contains many policies that are not written, reviewed, or recommended by the public of Newport Beach,” Mosher said. “They appear to be staff and state written policies.”

Also during public comment, Vice President of the Banning Ranch Conservancy Suzanne Forster pointed out an issue regarding the notable property.

During a study session on January 25, council agreed to keep Banning Ranch in the housing inventory – despite HCD rejecting it – as an additional option to pursue, but not include in the city’s mandated housing numbers. 

In an earlier draft version of the document, the city indicated a potential for 591 affordable units and 1,475 total units on Banning Ranch. The January staff presentation included input received in a comment letter from the HCD. The primary takeaway was that HCD is not going to accept the proposed units at Banning Ranch.

So, council decided to proportionately distribute the units to the other housing study areas (Airport area, Coyote Canyon, Newport Center, Dover-Westcliff and West Newport-Mesa), but keep Banning Ranch in the inventory as an option to pursue as a possible back up, just in case they can get any housing opportunity sites approved, but not count it towards RHNA.

This week, Forster confirmed that the acquisition of Banning Ranch is now fully funded and all approvals have been secured. They expect that the property will be in public ownership by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority by the end of the month.

The acquisition was made possible primarily from a local donation and state funding, Forster noted. 

“The issue here for us is the reference to Banning Ranch as a housing opportunity,” Forster said. 

The state funding does not come without constraints, she said, it comes with grant restrictions that do not allow housing on the property.  They’ll go into effect upon closing and will follow the land in perpetuity. The grant restrictions preclude the possibility of Banning Ranch as an opportunity for future residential development, Forster said.

“Realistically, the city should not expect to create housing opportunities on the property,” she said. 

Because of the acquisition, the land should be designated in the general plan as open space, she suggested. 

However, in the housing element, Banning Ranch is listed as an “option the city desires to preserve, as it is consistent with existing land use policy in the Newport Beach general plan.” 

Although units assigned to the Banning Ranch Focus Area are not used to accommodate any portion of the 6th cycle RHNA, the document notes that, “to the extent the city is successful in creating housing opportunities at Banning Ranch, those opportunities may be used to satisfy a portion of the city’s 6th cycle RHNA need.”

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

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