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Newport Beach Passes Measure to Require Voter OK of Developments

Slow growth: The Greenlight Initiative will put major projects to a city vote. Two other bids to control growth in Orange County failed, however.


Developers got a rude wake-up call from Newport Beach's resounding approval of the Greenlight Initiative, which will force project-by-project approval by voters.

Greenlight, officially known as Measure S, was approved 63% to 37% Tuesday, despite money poured into the opposition from national and state home builders, Realtors and others. A similarly worded, competing initiative, Measure T, didn't confuse voters: 65% rejected it.

"The bad guys were winning for a long time," said Tom Hyans, a Greenlight proponent. "Now, it's time for the good guys to win."

Opponents say perceptions of special interests wielding influence may have tipped the scale. Greenlight opponents raised $405,061, including $187,000 from the Irvine Co. Supporters raised $62,562.

"We played into their picture of developers running the city, which I don't think is the case," said former Mayor Tom Edwards, who led the Greenlight opposition. "I almost wonder if we had run no campaign, would we have done better?"

The grass-roots Greenlight effort included scores of volunteers walking door to door, writing personal letters and using phone chains. The wealthy, largely Republican city has a history of trying to slow development at the expense of large property owners. Since 1986, residents have voted on six local land-use ballots, with slow growth supporters winning three.

In the future, voters in Newport Beach will be pondering many more ballot measures. The one thing both sides agree on is that voters will have homework.

"As each individual project under Measure S comes before the voters, it will be incumbent upon all of us . . . to carefully examine all the relevant planning studies and documents . . . in order to make an informed vote," said Gary Hunt, Irvine Co. executive vice president and a Corona del Mar resident, in a written statement.

In two other land-use battles in Orange County, however, election day yielded different results.

Slow-growth initiatives in Brea and San Clemente that once seemed like sure bets were defeated by slim margins.

In Brea, an initiative that would have required citywide votes on many major developments in the hills north and the east of the city and near Carbon Canyon was rejected 51% to 49%.

A few months ago, the measure was ahead 68%-16%, said Rick Manter of NCG Porter Novelli, a public relations firm that managed campaigns opposing slow growth in Newport Beach, Brea, San Clemente and elsewhere. In Brea, focus groups showed that residents were unaware of existing hillside protection, and an ensuing campaign apparently changed many people's minds.

The opposition raised $327,186, while the supporters raised $20,119.

Measure N organizer Claire Schlotterbeck said, "The incredible amount of money that developers put into the campaign . . . proves our point that money influences the approval process."

In San Clemente, a measure that would have stopped the city from issuing building permits until a key road segment is built was defeated 53% to 47%.

Until early October, Manter said, support for Measure U had been polling at 63%. In the month before the election, opponents formed a coalition and raised $177,755, including $55,000 each from three major landowners. In contrast, supporters raised $12,786.

Proponents argued that already congested Interstate 5 is the only north-south route into the city. By 2010, they noted, San Clemente is expected to see 6,500 more homes and 80,000 more daily car trips. Proponents worried that if there was a major fire, earthquake or accident at the San Onofre nuclear power plant, gridlock could result.

But through concerted last-minute full-page newspaper ads and mailers, the opposition was able to persuade voters that the measure was unconstitutional and might lead to costly lawsuits.

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