The Newport Beach City Council has spent the past few years grappling with how it will reach state-mandated affordable housing goals.

Now it’s unclear where much of that housing will go, as the council is planning to halve the number of affordable housing units going into a proposed development plan near John Wayne Airport.

“It’s not ideally what we wanted in terms of generating more affordable units, but the market is just telling us it’s not really feasible in terms of what’s going on out there with property prices,” Councilmember Brad Avery said at the meeting.

The coastal city has challenged state mandates in the past and argued that high real estate prices make it difficult to create affordable housing.

Newport Beach resident Jim Mosher questioned how the city will meet affordable housing goals by decreasing the number of units in this proposed development.

“I don’t know where we think the affordable units are going to go if they can’t go here,” Mosher said during the meeting. “This seems intuitively where the most affordable things would be built.”

Avery said that the city probably won’t be able to ever meet the state’s affordable housing goals.

“It’s maddening to be given such a mandate to build so many units when clearly for this town it’s extremely challenging given the price of real estate. I think it’s biased against coastal cities — the whole RHNA (mandated housing) plan in the state of California. It’s not right… It’s not going to happen. We’re not going to meet that number.”

According to the city’s 2021-2029 housing element, the city is looking to build 1,456 units for residents classified as very low-income and 930 units for low-income residents.

State housing requirements also include another 2,500 units for residents with moderate and above-moderate income.

One of the largest focuses for affordable housing in Newport Beach is planned developments in the airport area.

[Read: As OC Cities Spur Affordable Housing Near Airport, County Commission Expresses Safety Concerns]

Newport Place is a 145-acre plot of land near John Wayne Airport that was identified as a potential site for housing development in the future. Of the housing in this area, 30% was required to be set aside for affordable housing units.

But the city council is looking to decrease the affordable housing in this project to 15% due to the price of real estate in the city.

In 2022, a study from a city consultant concluded that required affordable housing percentages higher than 15% would likely render most residential projects financially unfeasible.

On Tuesday, the council voted 5-0 to approve cutting down affordable units near John Wayne Airport, but it will return to the council on August 22 for a second vote and adoption. 

Councilmembers Will O’Neill and Joe Stapleton recused themselves from the discussion due to conflicts of interest.

The council has spoken out and challenged these state mandates in the past, claiming that the city can’t create thousands of affordable housing units in a coastal city like Newport Beach, where much of the land is regulated by county, state or federal agencies.

[Read: Newport Beach Opposes State Affordable Housing Quotas]

The Newport Place development would be limited to a minimum of 30 units per acre and a maximum of 50 units per acre. The land is bound by Jamboree Road, Bristol Street North and Birch Street and currently consists of industrial and commercial structures.

The change in affordable housing minimum was approved by the Airport Land Use Commission and the Planning Commission before it appeared before the council.

The council meets again on August 22 at 4 p.m. when this item is expected to return for another vote.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at ahicks@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.

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