Newport Slows Its Commissioner Appointment

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The Newport Beach City Council backed away Tuesday from a proposal to immediately appoint a replacement for departing Planning Commissioner Charles Unsworth to insure that the review of the Banning Ranch development stays on schedule.

But the council still wants to fast track the appointment, which will require a waiver of city policy.

The application period for the position was extended until Dec. 7 with an appointment scheduled for the Dec. 13 meeting. City policy requires that a council subcommittee review applications and recommend a small number of applicants for appointment.

“I think it’s important that we get a planning commissioner as soon as possible to fill this vacancy,” said Councilman Edward Selich.

At last week’s council meeting, Mayor Michael Henn suggested shortening the time for appointing a replacement for Unsworth, who resigned as planning commission chairman two weeks ago.

Henn wanted to speed up the process so the new commissioner will have more time to prepare for the Banning Ranch review. The development — 1,375 homes and 75,000 square feet of retail space — is planned for 402 acres of ocean view property.

The council had set an application deadline for Monday, with a vote scheduled for Tuesday, but Henn said at Tuesday’s meeting that the “time frame was too accelerated for purposes of state law.”

Several residents and council members opposed any acceleration in the timeframe.

“A waiver without a public review process violates the spirit of public commitment … and the duty to open government,” said Laura Curran, a resident of Corona del Mar.

“There’s just no justification to shortcut this,” said Councilwoman Leslie Daigle. “I think we need to have a process that serves the public.”

The new commissioner will serve the remainder of Unsworth’s term, which expires at the end of June. The council may then re-appoint that commissioner for an additional four-year term.

Officials expect the planning commission’s evaluation of Banning Ranch to begin in January.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council also added a $2-million pedestrian bridge over San Miguel Drive to the future civic center and park. As of the end of October, 30 percent of the $104-million civic center construction had been completed, according to a staff report.

— NICK GERDA

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