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Newport May Add Coastal Duties

Plan would let small projects get initial OKs from City Hall instead of state commission.

June 02, 2004|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

Coastal homeowners and developers in Newport Beach will go to the city instead of the state Coastal Commission for initial approval of improvement and construction projects, according to a plan awaiting the state's blessing.

The shift means that those seeking Coastal Commission approval for projects in Newport Beach can submit and pursue their applications first at City Hall rather than having to attend commission meetings as far away as Eureka or San Diego to answer questions.

That time-consuming process occurred about 40 to 50 times a year for Newport Beach residents, said Patrick Alford, a senior city planner.

A so-called Local Coastal Plan, required of all California cities and counties but which Newport Beach and others have stalled in getting, will allow the city to determine whether applications conform to the state Coastal Act and process them on the Coastal Commission's behalf.

The city will add fees for that service, and applications will still go to the state agency for final approval.

Once the Coastal Commission approves the administrative shift, "processing projects in the coastal zone should be simpler and, hopefully, faster," said Assistant City Manager David Kiff.

Major projects that have yet to be approved, such as Lido Marina Village -- a proposal for time shares, boutique hotels and restaurants -- can now be reviewed and shaped by the city, said Mayor Tod Ridgeway.

A proposal to reconfigure the docks at that site is still subject to more direct control by the Coastal Commission because they are on the water.

Newport Beach's long-awaited Local Coastal Plan comes after 17 public meetings and four public hearings to draft a 200-plus-page document that delegates some commission authority to the city.

The Coastal Act, passed in 1976, called for the Local Coastal Plans to help address land use, habitat protection and beach access.

The act covers any zone from the water's edge inland to the first major road or other geographic feature. The act called for municipalities to adopt plans that would guide development in their coastal zones.

The Coastal Act said that "every locality along the coast should have a local coastal plan," Kiff said.

"So up and down the state, each locality has either been working or not been working on developing an LCP."

The city had struggled -- some say resisted -- before approving a Local Coastal Plan.

"Some communities decided not to work on LCPs because they didn't like the fact that there was a state agency in essence telling them what to do with their land uses," Kiff said.

But the city's plans to annex the exclusive Newport Coast community, which already had a Local Coastal Plan, spotlighted the city's lack of one.

"How can a city that doesn't have an LCP annex an area that does have an LCP?" was a question not easily answered, Kiff said.

As part of an agreement with the state Legislature, Coastal Commission, and the Irvine Co., which developed Newport Coast, the annexation was allowed, but the city was given a June 30, 2003, deadline to adopt an LCP.

The city, however, failed to meet the deadline and was fined $1,000 a month.

"[The plan] was so complex and so comprehensive, we were not prepared to submit it a year ago," said Ridgeway, who was chairman of the LCP committee for two years.

Kiff said the city did not want to have the Coastal Commission draft a local plan for the city, as it did for Malibu.

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