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Public debates Greenlight II

Council candidates hear views on development proposal key to November ballot.

August 10, 2006|By Alicia Robinson

NEWPORT BEACH — This November, the most important political question in Newport Beach may be who should control development: the City Council or voters.

People on both sides of the issue fired their first public salvos at a forum Wednesday before an audience of about 70 residents, including nine of 13 prospective City Council candidates. Community group Speak Up Newport organized the event at the Newport Beach Yacht Club.

Speakers debated the November ballot measure known as Greenlight II, but they also discussed the city's general plan update.

The Greenlight initiative is a follow-up to Measure S, which Newport Beach voters approved in 2000. Proposed by the Greenlight residents group, Measure S requires a public vote on development projects that would add more than 100 homes, 100 peak-hour car trips or 40,000 square feet beyond what the city's general plan allows.

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The new measure would set the public vote threshold at 40,000 square feet or 100 homes or car trips beyond existing development.

Greenlight spokesman Phil Arst said the new ballot issue is needed to control traffic in the city and give residents more say in how their community grows. The city's general plan update, also on the November ballot, would emasculate the controls of Measure S, he said.

"It gives you the right to vote, and you can control the destiny of the city in terms of traffic and high density," he said. "The city hasn't leveled with you. Some might call their traffic estimated half-truths or worse."

While city officials have said the updated general plan would reduce traffic, Arst argued that they're comparing it to the old general plan — including development that was never built — rather than reality. He said the new city plan would increase population by more than 30% and pack city streets with more than 125,000 new car trips.

But Dennis O'Neil, a former Newport mayor and city attorney who is leading the opposition to Greenlight II, said a major cause of traffic is neighboring cities, like Irvine, over which Newport has no control.

Taking into account state requirements, city traffic impact fees and other remedies, O'Neil said: "We think that we do have adequate controls in place right now without having Greenlight II."

He said the measure's provisions are "fatally flawed" and could embroil the city in expensive court battles, particularly because some 65% of residential properties aren't exempt from the measure.

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