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Newport Beach

Letter to the Editor:

California Coastal Committee Public Meeting should have been better attended

On December 12, in the Newport Beach Civic Center, a decision was made by the California Coastal Commission that will no doubt come back to haunt the residents of Newport Beach for many years to come. If you entered the room and saw the audience scattered sparsely around the large area, you would think that something very inconsequential was taking place. Yet at the dais, the Coastal Commission was represented by a large crew-staff and commissioners, supported by a group of technicians. The audience was greatly outnumbered.

Only the night before, a huge crowd of residents had filled the room to swear in the new City Council. Did the residents of Newport Beach who had a 70 percent plus turnout rate of voters for the election care more about the Council than the outcome of the Coastal Commission meeting the very next day? In reality “no.” But the public meeting on the Newport Beach LCP (Local Coastal Program) amendment which took place on the 12th required interest and at least minimal knowledge of what seemed like a very complex issue.

Following a many-years-long process, the City finally obtained certification of its Local Coastal Program in January 2017 from the California Coastal Commission. This was much to the chagrin of a few bystanders who knew it would become an ominous decision. That was because they had been working with a City Council that wanted to run around the Coastal Act as much as possible, and enact rules that seemed to say one thing, but that later could be read to mean something different. The city has been using its certified LCP ever since to issue Coastal Development Permits for projects proposed within the Coastal Zone. Almost immediately after certification, the City began requesting changes to the LCP.

Not surprisingly the “public” meeting on the 12th requested by the City was to amend their approved LCP to include “a new provision allowing for modifications and variances, add exceptions to the Shoreline Height Limit and revise IP (Implementation Plan) sections to allow additions to nonconforming structures and revise IP sections regarding the waiver of future protection in shoreline hazardous areas.” In other words, the LCP that had been adopted only a few years back was already under major changes by the City, all of which over time will change its very character.

Residents aware of the new relationship between the CCC and Newport Beach by means of the LCP, immediately responded to the words that were constantly on their radar when dealing with the City: additions, variances, height exceptions, waivers, deviations, Shoreline Height Limits and revisions to the IP.

Why wasn’t more attention given to this important meeting? The technical nature of the meeting itself required education on the part of the residents. The staff report was fragmented and confusing. Also, the public meeting was held at a time that people were overburdened with public and personal events: the recent election, the recount, the selection and swearing in of new Council Members and officers, and the holiday season. Some people also may have felt that the California Coastal Commission which had gone through a “cleansing” period itself, would protect them from the power grasp of the City.

A few brave and faithful souls got up to comment on this attempted move by the City, nearly begging for the protection of the Coastal Commission. Time for presentations was cut short as if the Commission had already made up its mind and was just going through the motions. The basic results of what the City got approved by a sizable majority of the commissioners that fateful day was the City’s right to deviate from the Commission’s certified development standards if it felt that the deviations were consistent with the CCC’s standards. And even more distressing was the decision that the City’s arbiter was to rule on that, not the Coastal Commission, not the Planning Commission, but the sole Zoning Administrator. The only course of action a resident might take to fight any objectional rulings is to appeal to the City (at a cost of over $1,600) for Planning Commission review, and if that fails, appeal to the Coastal Commission.

One of the Commissioners, Erik Howell, who ruled against the CCC’s adoption of the revised new standards of Newport Beach’s LCP, summarized so aptly what had just taken place. He said that he was “not super comfortable with this whole thing.” He went on to say that this was in part due to the City’s failed attempt earlier in the year to “declare” Newport Beach a Port “to avoid oversight by the Commission.” Commissioner Howell concluded by saying, “I think that the intent of things coming out of Newport is to avoid oversight by the Commission on any projects in the City.”

As citizens, we must familiarize ourselves with the modifications or variances that challenge the California Coastal Commission’s seven “findings” or protections. Findings must be verified by the Zoning Administrator before approval of a Coastal Development Permit can be granted. “Findings” include that the modification or variance will not result in development that significantly impedes public access along the sea or shoreline, will not block or significantly impair public views to and along the sea or shoreline, and other scenic coastal areas, and will not have an adverse effect, either individually or cumulatively, on coastal resources.

We will no doubt pay a high price for not having better attendance at the meeting on December 12th. And so we will add still another page to our playbook of why we as residents must remain constantly vigilant of what is taking place around us. 

Dorothy Kraus and Lynn Lorenz

Newport Beach

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