Headline Story

SGC Confirms Recipients of $122 Million in Grants

Following the recommendations of its staff, the Strategic Growth Council formally approved $122 million in grants for 28 projects designed to provide affordable housing and reduce carbon emissions throughout the state.

Santa Monica Backs Off Density, Centers in LUCE

In 2010, the City of Santa Monica adopted a Land Use and Circulation Element to its General Plan that was hailed as a model of progressive planning. The LUCE foretold a denser but, possibly, less trafficked and more pleasant city and was one of the first such elements to achieve the goals of SB 375. Cities across the state looked to the LUCE as a model. It won "Outstanding Comprehensive Planning Award, Small Jurisdiction" from the California Chapter of the American Planning Association http://www.cp-dr.com/node/2773.

The LUCE was designed to generate zero net new car trips in the city by 2025 and to reduce the city’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 200,000 metric tons compared to 2010 levels. It also provided a bookend to the 1984 General Plan update. Back then, the city sought to increase its employment base but did not promote housing accordingly. 

Five years later, Santa Monica has plenty of jobs – 74,000 in a city of 92,000, with pressures increased with the recent rise of “Silicon Beach tech firms – but has taken a step back from the LUCE, eliminating a density bonus “tier” and four of five “activity centers” identified in the LUCE. And if a slow-growth group gets its way, a full repudiation of the goals of 2010 may be in the offing. The situation sets a politically sensitive table for the new city manager, urban planning legend Rick Cole, who started work on June 29. 

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Ninth Circuit Blows Hole in Habitat Conservation Plans

Punching a hole in the faith local governments and developers in California have placed in habitat conservation plans, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that federal wildlife agencies retain the discretion to designate additional land as critical habitat even after an HCP has been approved.

The case is important because local governments and developers in California have relied heavily on the HCPs adopted in the 1990s for certainly in planning future development. The Ninth Circuit ruling reinforces the idea that the HCPs are not iron-clad and wildlife agencies can put protect additional land at their discretion, thus diminishing the certainty HCPs are designed to create. Adopted in 1999, the Western Riverside plan was one of the largest and most comprehensive HCPs.

Ruling in a case involving the Santa Ana sucker, a small fish that lives in the Santa Ana River, the Ninth Circuit upheld the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s 2010 decision to add some 1,400 acres (and possibly another 5,000 acres) to the fish’s critical habitat pursuant to the federal Endangered Species Act. The court rejected the claim from a variety of local government agencies that the habitat designation was “arbitrary” because the wildlife agency should have waited for implementation of the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan before designating additional habitat.

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CP&DR News Briefs June 29, 2015: 710 Tunnel Gains Support; Tribes Sue over Solar; L.A. Pursues Manufacturers; and More

Plans to build a $5 billion, 6.3-mile tunnel to close the "gap" of the 710 freeway are gaining headway as both the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments and the California Transportation Commission recommended that project as the best option.

CP&DR News Briefs, June 22, 2015: NEPA Suit Filed over Fracking; Chargers Slipping Away from S.D.; Santa Ana ‘Welness District,’ and More

Two environmental groups have sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Secretary of the Interior for opening up 400,000 acres of public land in Southern California for fracking, which they claim violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

Was Supreme Court's Ruling on Sign Ordinance Over-Broad?

Cities' ability to control their streets' aesthetics may be affected by a June 18 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on content-based regulation of signage, but perhaps not as drastically as they had feared. 

In Reed v. Town of Gilbert, a six-justice majority of the high court applied strict scrutiny to a local "sign code" that restricted "temporary directional signs" based on their content. However, as the American Planning Association noted, a partly overlapping group of six justices joined in more cautious concurrences that sought to moderate the effects of the main ruling. And even the majority opinion offered reassurance that "Our decision today will not prevent governments from enacting effective sign laws." 

The case concerned a church that held services at varying borrowed locations in the town of Gilbert, Arizona. The church would post signs early each Saturday pointing out the site of the next Sunday service. Town officials regulated these signs under a special legal category for "temporary directional signs" specific to events of religious or nonprofit groups. The category limited the size and frequency of such signs and allowed them to be posted for only 12 hours before each event and one hour after it. 

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SCAG Wins In AHSC Grant Funding Recommendations

For the moment, equilibrium has been more or less restored in rivalry between Northern California and Southern California — at least as far as urban planning goes. 

Recommended awards have been announced in the competition for $120 million in planning assistance monies from the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities grant program, the state’s largest funding program for planning. Of the 28 projects selected, 11 are from the Bay Area and 10 are from Southern California. That's a big shift from the semifinal count, when the 54 finalists included twice as many from the Bay Area as from Southern California.

Put simply, 10 of the 12 semifinalists from the Southern California Association of Governments region were selected, compared to only 11 of 21 from the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission. SCAG officials had complained mightily about the semifinal counts.

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Papacy Comes Down to Earth on Climate Change

It turns out that two of the world's biggest proponents of smart growth are Catholic. One of them is California Governor Jerry Brown, who once studied to be a Jesuit priest and, more recently, has promoted earthly initiatives like high-speed rail, the adoption of vehicle miles traveled metrics, and the most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals in the western hemisphere. 

The other is the Pope. 

There Was No Way the Builders Were Going to Win the San Jose Case

Yesterday’s landmark ruling by the California Supreme Court upholding San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance was rightly hailed as a huge victory for affordable housing advocates. But the truth is that the ruling shouldn’t be viewed as a surprise. It was a very difficult case for the building industry to win – at least the way the industry’s lawyers has set the case up. 

And along the way, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye plowed some very powerful ground. She hoisted Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on his own petard by quoting his opinion in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, 483 U.S. 825 (1987), to support her conclusion. And she basically invalidated a key portion of Building Industry Assn. of Central California v. City of Patterson (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 886, which struck down Patterson’s inclusionary ordinance

Ruling for a unanimous court, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye concluded that the San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance is not an exaction imposed on housing developers but rather a land-use restriction no different than a zoning ordinance – or, for that matter, rent control. “This condition does not require the developer to dedicate any portion of its property to the public or to pay any money to the public.  Instead, like many other land use regulations, this condition simply places a restriction on the way the developer may use its property by limiting the price for which the developer may offer some of its units for sale,” she wrote. 

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CEQA Bills Stall, GHG Bill Moves Forward

With the year’s legislative session in full gear, attempts to reform – or end-run – the California Environmental Quality Act don’t seem to be doing so well. But Sen. Fran Pavley’s effort to codify an 80% greenhouse gas reduction target by 2050 – which would moot some major legal challenges – appears to be sailing through.

Legislation items are listed, by category and in numerical order, according to bill number, bill name, sponsor, description, and status as of press time. This list will be updated periodically to reflect new developments.


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CP&DR News Briefs, June 15, 2015: High Speed Rail Faces Opposition in L.A.; EPA Environmental Risk Database; Sacramento's Push for Housing; and More

California's $68-billion high speed rail is facing setbacks in its construction throughout the proposed route from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Local elected officials and homeowners groups in suburban Santa Clarita as well as blue-collar San Fernando, Pacoima, and other communities are demanding the state abandon a proposed route that woul

Los Angeles Metro Tackles First Mile, Last Mile Problem

As almost any transportation planner in Los Angeles County will attest, the car capital of the world is well on its way to becoming a transit capital as well. With tens of billions of dollars invested in recently opened and anticipated mass transit lines, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has transformed the county. Even so, Metro can’t be everywhere. 

Let the Sun Set on Ballot Measures

Allow me to laud something about California’s state and local ballot initiative system. No, really. 

Voting schemes for electing human beings to office are inevitably flawed. Whether a jurisdiction uses party primaries, open primaries, ranked choices, multiple votes, pluralities, majorities, voice votes, or anything else, no system can capture the true passions and preferences of all voters as they relate to all candidates. 

CP&DR News Briefs, June 8, 2015: Island Land Transferred to S.F.; High Speed Rail Considers Eminent Domain; Sacramento Rejects Streetcar

In the first phase of a landmark redevelopment deal many years in the making, the U.S. Navy transferred nearly 300 acres of its old Treasure Island/Yerba Buena Island naval base to the City of San Francisco to redevelop the campus into 8,000 homes in exchange for $55 million to the Navy. The city has approved plans to build 2,000 affordable units, along with 300 acres of parks and open space on the campus, and will create a new ferry service to become a cornerstone of the island's transportation program. “It’s taken almost two decades to get to this point, and we’re eager to transform this former naval base into a vibrant community with more housing, jobs and economic opportunities for our residents," Mayor Ed Lee announced.

High Speed Rail Identifies Properties for Eminent Domain

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has listed over 200 properties in the Central Valley for possible eminent domain proceedings to accommodate construction of the first two segments of its network. The State Public Works Board, made up of the heads of the state's Transportation, General Services, and Finance departments, recently voted to adopt 23 resolutions declaring a public need and authorizing the acquisition of properties in Fresno, Madera, Kings, and Tulare Counties. Since December 2013, the Public Works Board has adopted 230 such resolutions covering more than 625 acres of land in the four counties in anticipation of the $68 billion project planned to be fully operational by 2028. Now a Superior Court judge will decide if the agency is entitled to the property, and, if the judge rules in the train's favor, a trail will determine the fair market value due to the owner.

Valencia Water Company’s Status Becomes a Newhall Ranch Football

This article was corrected on June 2, 2015.

The longtime battle over Newhall Ranch has spilled into unusual legal territory with a fight over the status of the private water company that would likely serve the development project.

Uniquely, the Valencia Water Company (VWC) may be California's only active large-scale water provider that is neither public, nor mutual, nor regulated as a private entity by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

VWC still supplies water day by day to some 31,000 existing hookups serving about 120,000 people in the Santa Clarita Valley of Los Angeles County. But legally VWC has been in an odd state of existence for a little over a year.  Opinions differ whether VWC is public or private, what rules apply to its continued operation, and even by what right it operates at all.

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CP&DR News Briefs, June 1, 2015: Greenbelt for San Fernando Valley; Complete Streets Alternative to 710 Freeway Tunnel; Marijuana Zoning, and More

More than four decades after a graduate student proposed adding a “green belt” of wildlife habitats, parks, and recreational areas in a rim circling the San Fernando Valley, Rep. Adam Schiff is pushing to add as much land as possible "Rim of the Valley Corridor" to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in the Los Angeles area. Backed by a broad coalition including the National Park Service, the designation would protect of the 1,000-square-mile area from future development and preserve puma and bobcat habitats, along with forests and fossil beds. "For us, it's a complete and utter enhancement,” Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation president Kim Lamorie told the LA Times. "Our [residents] are always competing to get the National Park Service … to purchase land in and around our homeowners associations and rural villages.... Property values go up when you're surrounded by open space.” 

Group Proposes Complete Streets Alternative to 710 Freeway Tunnel

An opposition group to an underground 710 freeway extension from Alhambra to South Pasadena presented its plan for an alternative to a tunnel proposed to close the 710 freeway gap through South Pasadena. Beyond the 710, a coalition of community organizations, environmental attorneys and five San Gabriel Valley cities, is advancing a plan that would expand bus service, improve surface streets, and develop more walkable communities to better address traffic congestion, pollution, and transportation needs of the area, all with a price tag for $875 million, much less than the $5.6 billion price tag of the tunnel, which is one of five alternatives analyzed in an environmental impact report released in March. “We are hoping to move beyond the old, tired 710 Freeway debate, which is wasting lots of time, money and resources,” South Pasadena City Councilwoman Marina Khubesrian, vice chair of the Beyond the 710 coalition, told the Los Angeles Times. Supporters of the estimated $5.6 billion tunnel, contend that the group is just trying to gum up an environmental review that is underway and undermine growing support for the tunnel project.

Balboa Park Bridge Plan Upheld by Appellate Court

In reviewing a project’s consistency as part of an environmental review, a city need not comply with every single general plan policy so long as it concludes that most general plan policies are being followed, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.

In a case involving a proposed bridge and parking garage in Balboa Park, the appellate court also overruled a trial judge’s ruling that the City of San Diego violated its own municipal code by concluding that there would be “no reasonable beneficial use” of the famed Plaza de Panama if the bridge project were not built.

The case involves a proposal to remove automobiles from the Plaza de Panama in order to avoid conflicts between pedestrians and automobiles. The proposal would include construction of a new bridge, the Centennial Bridge, that would connect the historic Cabrillo Bridge to a new underground parking garage south of the Plaza. 

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