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A Closer Look

February 21, 2000

Noaki Schwartz

To residents here, Newport Center fits that old saying: They can't live

with it, and they can't live without it.

The retail and office-space giant is the single largest revenue-generator

for the city, contributing to the basic services on which residents rely

daily.

It houses many of Orange County's most powerful business-world players --

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the Irvine Co., Pacific Life Insurance, Pimco -- as well as beloved,

home-grown businesses such as Ruby's Restaurants and Steinberg and Moorad

sports attorneys.

But it is also a large generator of traffic -- the latest buzzword in

Newport Beach politics.

This dichotomy has been achieved through the years, as Fashion Island and

Newport Center have grown. Environmental activists and concerned

residents have kept close watch over that growth. In the early 1980s,

opponents threatened a ballot initiative, and in 1986, 58% of voters

defeated a measure to add 1.28 million square feet of commercial space to

the center.But the upcoming Greenlight initiative is an entirely new

animal because it has the potential to forever freeze Newport Center in

its present state.

Three of four Newport Center property owners who had submitted plans for

expansion have pulled out. If Greenlight passes, chances are they will

not reapply.

Trying to stay competitive

Groundbreaking for Newport Center was in 1965 and the retail and office

mecca has grown ever since. More than three decades later, the outdoor

shopping experience of Fashion Island provides 30% of the city's sales

tax revenue -- a whopping $4.4 million a year.

However, contrary to popular belief, the financial benefits do not come

from Fashion Island alone.

Though many -- including Greenlight proponents -- have argued that office

buildings only cause traffic, Newport Center has a symbiotic relationship

with its commercial half. Nearly 20%, or $700,000, of the retail sales at

Fashion Island come from nearby office workers, according to market

research. Moreover, conferences, events and clients at hotels also bring

in revenue for the city.

The Greenlight measure would require public votes on any new project that

triggers certain thresholds over what the city's General Plan allows for

traffic, homes and office space. It takes into account changes that have

been made in the past 10 years, which means an area such as Newport

Center that has grown over the years would require public votes for

almost everything.For developers, this extra vote tacked on to an already

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