Letters to the Editor

Strategically placed ADUs are the answer to RHNA requirements

Newport Beach is planning for 2021, so while we are considering our General Plan Update, we should be concerned specifically about the Housing Element and our Regional Housing Needs Assessment, referred to as RHNA. Newport Beach needs to zone for approximately 4,800 housing units in this RHNA cycle which is an eight-year cycle. Half of these units need to be in the low or very low-income category. 

The state Housing & Community Development Department (HCD) has issued guidelines for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). The California legislature has passed laws that allow nearly every single family or multifamily residence in the city (including apartments) to build an ADU or convert a portion of their home to a Junior ADU. 

Once homeowners realize they can build or modify their existing residences to include one of these, we will undoubtedly have many of them in our city. We probably have many “granny units” now, that aren’t permitted, that can easily be permitted to become an ADU. It will be a source of income for the homeowner and provide low-income housing for our children and grandchildren, and workforce housing for those with limited incomes who work in our city. 

It may not be a popular trend with many Newport Beach residents, but there is literally nothing any of us can do to prevent it. Homeowner’s associations throughout the state will be unable to stop their homeowners from building ADUs. Cities are very limited in what constraints they can put on these units.

HCD has issued a handbook that outlines what is required for an ADU to qualify for inclusion in our RHNA allocation. It does not limit the number of ADUs that we can count in our housing element. 

Because the trend is accelerating rapidly in cities throughout the state and we can’t limit the number of ADUs that will be built in Newport Beach, I believe that we should maximize the number of ADUs that we include in our RHNA allocation. 

According to HCD, in 2019, California permitted 9,000 ADUs; in 2020 we permitted 15,000 ADUs. This is happening without publicity or outreach, so many people were not aware that this is an available choice for them. 

With 35,000 residential units in Newport Beach, if only 10 percent of them added an ADU over the next eight years, we would have 3,500 ADUs; at a rate of 5 percent, we would have 1,750 ADUs. Whether we are happy about it or not, we are going to see a steep increase in the number of ADUs in our city. 

Because this is the reality, we should capture all of the possible ADUs to fulfill our low and very low-income RHNA allocation. We can estimate high on ADUs and monitor the rate of permits. We can adjust in a future year, which will allow us time to research and more thoughtfully plan for the alternative…high-density housing units, if it is required. 

High-density developments can only provide a low percentage of low-income units. If we zone for these high-density developments now, as a part of our housing element, we will be unable to reverse this zoning easily. I have heard developers say that if you zone for high-density developments in Newport Beach, they will be built. And…developers have at least eight years for the economy to gain momentum to make this type of high-density development pencil out. Developers are making plans for this right now! 

I believe the residents of Newport Beach, when faced with the choice of zoning for tens of thousands of housing units or for 2,400 ADUs, would prefer to have 2,400 ADUs, scattered throughout the city. It is a more “place based” strategy for housing, which is what the state and HCD have said is their goal. 

Nancy Scarbrough

Newport Beach

48,000 new apartments is not the answer to meet the state mandate of 2,400 low-income units

I would like to talk about the General Plan update and specifically the circulation and housing elements. First, the General Plan update has been hijacked by COVID-19 and my observation is that the circulation element is largely being advanced by a consultant and staff. 

As our new Mayor, I challenge Mr. Brad Avery to refocus this effort with real citizen involvement. All we hear at the few Zoom meetings for the circulation element is how West Coast Highway must be widened through Mariner’s Mile. Adding traffic lanes, building pedestrian bridges and removing pedestrian crosswalks to speed up traffic are not the answers that residents or local businesses are seeking. 

Another death, surely due to excessive speed on West Coast Highway, occurred just last week.

The housing element has a council-appointed committee that is solely focused on finding landowners who are willing to rezone their property for high-density housing where 95 percent are market rate apartments and 5 percent are very low-income apartments. Last Tuesday’s approval of the 4400 Von Karmen project proves this argument. Without government subsidy landowners can only make this work at this 5 percent ratio.

Newport Beach residents do not want 48,000 new apartments to meet the state mandate of 2,400 low to very low-income units. Yet that is the strategy being advanced. The 2,400 figure is roughly half the state requirement for 4,834 total but we can probably meet the higher income 2,400 number without changing anything. This should be the biggest issue in Newport Beach.

Unfortunately, everyone is focused on staying alive and getting their kids back to school. I understand.

Under previous laws the state is forcing cities to allow Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs, and Junior Accessory Dwelling, or JADUs, on nearly every residential property in Newport Beach. The state laws that allow this have been in effect for only a few years. There is little permitted track record in Newport Beach, but they are taking off in many areas of the state. 

The former Coronado apartments at 880 Irvine Ave. between Sherington Place and 15th Street have 10 units permitted so far. And this is already a notoriously under-parked project.

I am not advocating for more ADUs, but I believe they are inevitable in many neighborhoods. According to the state Housing & Community Development Department ADU handbook dated September 2020, they are required to be considered to meet the Newport Beach RHNA allocation. Yet our city staff rejects the notion of using them to meet the bulk, if not all, of this mandate. 

Advantages of this approach include spreading the additional units all over the city, existing housing is already served by local services, residents and not outside developers will likely benefit from building these on their own property and getting credit towards our RHNA mandate for something that will happen anyway. And there won’t be 95 percent market rate apartments to support 5 percent affordable units. Staff continues to argue that this approach will not work but I cannot find any documentation from HCD supporting that argument. 

Mayor Avery and City Council, please direct staff to fully explore this approach. You may find some success following the current approach, but you will only comply by zoning for 48,000 new apartments in Newport Beach. That will get the residents’ attention. 

I urge you to write to the City Council and advocate this approach. This will be discussed at the February 9th City Council study Session.

Charles Klobe

Newport Beach