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Pismo Beach Councilmember Newton criticized for coastal plan amendment

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A Pismo Beach City Councilmember is under fire for requesting to amend the local coastal plan (LCP) in order to personally benefit from the changes.

Councilmember Scott Newton sought Planning Commission and City Council approvals for a coastal development permit to construct a single-family residence at 171 Naomi Ave. But the move catalyzed a separate request for a general plan update to eliminate development restrictions such as being situated on an irregularly shaped lot that could hamper the proposed construction project. Though the majority of the City Council greenlit both requests at the April 19 meeting—with Newton recusing himself prior to the hearings—Councilmember Sheila Blake voted against the requests.

DWELLING DEBATE A photorealistic design of the proposed home at 171 Naomi Ave. shows what Pismo Beach City Councilmember Scott Newton's contentious project could look like. - SCREENSHOT FROM PISMO BEACH CITY COUNCIL MEETING
  • Screenshot From Pismo Beach City Council Meeting
  • DWELLING DEBATE A photorealistic design of the proposed home at 171 Naomi Ave. shows what Pismo Beach City Councilmember Scott Newton's contentious project could look like.

"I don't understand why we're going through this now when we're already supposed to be reviewing the LCP [local coastal plan]," Blake said at the meeting. "I don't like the appearance of this. For me, it doesn't pass the smell test."

Blake added that she didn't want to amend the LCP for a single applicant, especially when it's supposed to be reviewed by the California Coastal Commission first. She dismissed the notion that waiting for the general plan update instead would leave the applicant with escalating construction costs.

In January, Newton sought advice from the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) about his involvement in his family's trust and that he planned to purchase the Naomi Avenue property from the trust. The FPPC recommended that he recuse himself and abstain from participating in any decision pertaining to the trust's application for new construction and general plan amendment.

On April 18, New Times received a letter written by former Pismo Beach Planning Commissioner Adam Werner. In it, Werner stated that he was planning to submit a timeline of events to the FPPC detailing Newton's actions related to the Naomi Avenue construction.

"Upon reading Councilman Scott Newton's own words, I feel even the most naïve individual would find it difficult to find there is no appearance of impropriety in this matter regardless of Mr. Newton's intentions," Werner's letter stated.

Werner said that his timeline elaborated on events that the FPPC wasn't fully made aware of.

One such event is Newton's December 2021 vote to suspend now-former Planning Commissioner Stacy Inman for 30 days regarding her recusal from a separate development project. An attorney, Inman represented the project owner and refused to elaborate on her reason for recusal in order to uphold client confidentiality. Werner's letter stated that while Newton brought his application forward for Planning Commission discussion when Inman was away, he didn't do so when she returned in February.

Inman's term on the Planning Commission expired at the end of February, and the application went back before commissioners after her replacement took over in March. Werner resigned from the Planning Commission in protest of Inman's suspension.

"Asking for a change to the general plan is not illegal, it is just unusual and taken within the entire fact pattern, contributes to the possible appearance of impropriety," Werner's letter read. "Even if their decision to remove the project from [a Planning Commission] meeting is innocuous, this decision, as well as their previous and subsequent actions, contribute to the appearance that Mr. Newton did not want Ms. Inman to vote on this project. As to why that might be the case, one is left only to speculate."

Newton told New Times that he didn't want to comment on the issue. Δ

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