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CP&DR News Briefs, April 13, 2015: L.A. Sustainabilty Plan; S.D. Rescinds Embattled Climate Plan; Californians Win National APA Awards; and More

Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles announced his new "Sustainable City pLAn," a far-reaching decree that seeks to make Los Angeles sustainable in ways ranging from water to solar energy to waste. Among other things, the plan seeks to reduce daily Vehicle Miles Traveled by 5 percent by 2025, to implement the Vision Zero policy to reduce traffic fatalities, to have zero days in which air pollution reaches unhealthy levels by 2025, and to complete 32 miles of Los Angeles River public access by 2025. The plan defines sustainability broadly, to include not only ecological goals but also broad goals of social and economic sustainability.

The plan seeks to reduce driving and pollution, increase walkability within neighborhoods (using WalkScore), improve pedestrian safety, promote development of affordable housing and transit-oriented development, support the re:codeLA initiative to update the city’s zoning code, revitalize the L.A. River, and support environmental justice, among other goals. Garcetti also signed a mayoral directive that requires all city departments to incorporate pLAn goals into their programs, and establishes sustainability officers in applicable departments and bureaus. At a signing event, he pledged that this "is not a plan for the shelves."

Los Angeles’ Slow-Growthers Have Gotten What They Wanted

Los Angeles’ housing crisis has been building for long enough that just about anyone who rents an apartment here could have told you about it years ago. But it wasn’t until last summer that UCLA released a report confirming what many of us already know: as a function of average rents (high) and average incomes (low, especially compared to those in San Francisco and New York) Los Angeles is the least-affordable rental market in the country. 

Circulating around the blogosphere now is a single graph that illustrates why: 

California Cities and the Innovation Economy: Q&A With Enrico Moretti

It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that every business today wants to be innovative. Entrepreneurs are motivated by the likes of Apple, Google, Twitter and many others are based in California cities. This is no accident. In his recent book The New Geography of Jobs, Enrico Moretti, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, explains how cities promote innovation (defined not just as technology, but also as medicine, media, manufacturing and other sections that rely on constant improvement of products and services) and, importantly, how innovation affects cities’ economies. As it turns out, the cities of Moretti’s adopted home state have some of the biggest beneficiaries of the innovation economy—and some that have been left behind. 

Morretti spoke with CP&DR Contributing Editor Josh Stephens about how California became innovative and how it can stay that way.

A Forest of High Rises Grows in Los Angeles

Until the mid-2000s, the South Park neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles had exactly one high-rise tower: the looming, vaguely Stalinist Transamerica Building (now the AT&T Center). It most famously supplied the rooftop where Guns 'n Roses shot the video for "Don't Cry." The area—which occupies the southern portion of downtown Los Angeles, between the Financial District and Interstate 10—otherwise consisted of dilapidated retail, low-rent residential buildings and acres of surface parking lots. 

The area was avoided by businesses, developers, and rock stars alike. 

Today, the AT&T Center is but the tallest tree in a rapidly growing forest. No fewer than 20 high-rise and medium-rise projects are under construction or in development in the roughly 40 square-block area. At least that many projects are in earlier stages of development. 

It is, say planners, the next phase in the resurgence of downtown Los Angeles. 

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A Vivid Warning for Coastal Cities

Currently on display at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, Sink or Swim: Designing for a Sea Change is an arresting exhibition depicting consequences of, and solutions to, rising sea levels. It includes photographs by artists and journalists of disasters, like Hurricane Katrina and the Japanese tsunami, and responses, like floating schools in Bangladesh, sculpted sea walls in the Netherlands, and the restoration of the Malibu Lagoon, just a few miles away. Sink or Swim celebrates, and issues a charge to engineers, designers, and public officials to acknowledge rising seas and start embracing ways to build resiliency.

Sink or Swim was curated by Frances Anderton, known locally for hosting KCRW public radio’s DnA: Design & Architecture show. She spoke with CP&DR’s Josh Stephens.

Pasadena Ushers in Era of VMT Metrics

Perhaps fittingly, one of the state’s oldest, stateliest cities will be the first to institute one of the most sophisticated advances in planning tools since the slide rule. Not long ago, the City of Pasadena implemented metrics that measure projects’ impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act in terms of vehicle miles traveled rather than level of service. 

Pasadena is not only the first city in the state to adopt VMT metrics but may also be the first in the nation. 

Pasadena’s switch both responds to and precedes the adoption of Senate Bill 743. Passed in 2013 as an amendment to the California Environmental Quality Act, SB 743 will require cities to evaluate traffic impacts according to vehicle miles traveled, not to traditional level-of-service thresholds.

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CP&DR News Briefs, April 6, 2015: MPO's Question Grant Program; L.A. Adopts Ambitious Health Element; O.C. Told to Build More Housing, and more

Following the announcement two weeks ago of the finalists for $120 million worth of grants through the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities grant program, two metropolitan planning organizations in southern California are calling foul. The five-county region covered by the Southern California Association of Governments, by far the largest metropolitan planning organization in the state, had only 12 of 54 finalists. By contrast, Alameda County alone had eight finalists.

Failure and Success in Michael Graves' Architecture

With their startling colors, jarring juxtaposition of architectural styles and emphasis on simple geometry, Michael Graves’ colored-pencil drawings fixed his reputation as the highbrow jokester who built a bridge between academic architecture and pop culture.

 Joe Wolf  https://www.flickr.com/photos/joebehr/5062915887/in/photolist-bPDU1n-bPDTNZ-bAwFYQ-bPrk7H-bPJcji-bPDTKt-aR248K-amHLVt-amHHmX-amLcMU-amHCLV-amHAFX-bXw1dh-bXw225-k4QoD-itxs5-itxG5-6kTZp3-itv95-8HoLve-dTC7JS-bAKeW1-bPDU3V-bPDTJp-bPDTZ4-bAKfmA-bPDTGP-bPDTUZ-4bx2Lv-c7aJjS-bPJbZT-c7dXYY-c7dXLo-bAwFZU-bAwFXj-bAKf3U-bAKf7W-bAMdqs-bAKf6Q-bAKfcE-bAPwKu-bAPxnw-bAPxjJ-bAPxtN-bAPxoY-bAPwSb-bAPwX1-bAPwLY-bPJceT-4AGZD

Bristling with energy and invention, those early drawings, from the 1970s and 1980s, were expertly tossed salads of different historical styles—bulgy pillars from Revolutionary France, round-headed castles from German Romanticism, the rigid axis of the 19th Century Beaux arts—all rendered in acid colors and pushed to comic extremes. The drawings were intentional, calculated slaps in the face: The message, that Modernism was wrong headed and played out, was the war cry of the period. 

Graves passed away last week at age 80. 

Santa Clara Water Pump Charge Didn't Violate Prop. 218, Court Rules

In a case that would appear on its face to conflict with a different appellate ruling filed just two weeks ago, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled that a groundwater pump charge is a property-related charge subject to Proposition 218. 

However, the court also ruled that the pump charge issued by the Santa Clara Valley Water District is also a fee and therefore is exempt from some of Proposition 218’s  requirements. The facts are very case-specific and the underlying statute is different from the one considered in City of San Buenaventura v. United Water Conservation District, which ruled that a groundwater pump charge is a fee and not a property-related charge.

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CP&DR News Briefs, March 30, 2015: San Jose General Plan Lawsuit; L.A. 'McMansion' Moratorium; Sacramento Backyard Farming; Shoup to Retire; and More

The City of San Jose's 2011 general plan, known as Envision 2040 and designed to focus growth in urban nodes and balance the city's job and housing mix, is now facing a lawsuit from a Davis-based environmental group for allegedly causing sprawl. The nonprofit California Clean Energy Committee claims that the plan improperly prioritizes economic development over housing and is short by 109,000 housing units, and that the shortage will push development to other cities and cause more traffic as workers drive to their jobs.

CEQA: The Cause of All Problems in California

This week brought yet another critique from the right of the California Environmental Quality Act. Unlike most, this one isn’t confined to concerns over land use, unnecessary regulation, and high housing cost. Rather, CEQA’s ills have grown so vast that, apparently, it now deserves blame for California’s low educational attainment, lousy job growth, extreme wealth inequality, and significant domestic out-migration. 

Jennifer Hernandez and David Friedman are attorneys with the firm of Holland & Knight, which has been an astute observer of, and enthusiastic participant in, the evolution of CEQA caselaw. (See for example the firm’s analysis of CEQA lawsuits over infill projects.) They are the authors of “California’s Social Priorities," a new report published by Chapman University’s Center for Demographics and Policy, whose director is that well-known free-market critic of regulation, Joel Kotkin.

The report (and it is a report, not a study) offers some compelling—dare I say original—claims about California’s decline and its misplaced “social priorities.” 

Bias Councilmember Should Not Have Been Permitted to Appeal Permit Decision, Court Rules

The City of Newport Beach improperly permitted a councilmember who was openly opposed to a bar’s permit to appeal the planning commission’s decision granting the permit and to vote on the permit appeal, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled. The appellate court also ruled that the trial court should not have granted the city a preliminary injunction to block the bar from operating under the permit approved by the planning commission.

On the question of whether the councilmember should have been permitted to appeal the permit, the appellate court wrote sharply: “The city council violated the rules laid down in the city’s own municipal code, then purported to exempt itself from that code by invoking some previously undocumented custom of ignoring those rules when it comes to council members themselves.”

Regarding the preliminary injunction, the court wrote: “It is hard to maintain the city’s actions were likely to be upheld when it had no authority to act in the first place.”

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CEQA Baseline May Include Previously Exempted Emergency Work, Court Rules

The City of San Diego did not violate the California Environmental Quality Act when it used as a baseline situation conditions that existed after emergency repairs were made under a CEQA exemption, the Fourth District Court of Appeal. The plaintiffs had argued that the city used the post-emergency baseline as a way to avoid CEQA review of a larger project.

The ruling overturned a trial court’s ruling, and was a defeat for perpetual plaintiffs’ attorney Cory Briggs, who frequently files CEQA lawsuits against the City of San Diego. The only victory Briggs got on appeal was a refund of his client’s $100 appeal fee charged by the city.

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CPD&R News Briefs March 23, 2015: Housing Costs Drag Down State Economy; Caltrans Proposes 710 Freeway Fixes,

A report issued by the Legislative Analyst's Office shows that California's high housing costs are stifling the state's economy and making it difficult to create affordable housing. The report says that the state "probably would have to build as many as 100,000 additional units annually...to seriously mitigate its problems with housing affordability." But housing construction has fallen behind population and job growth, with builders only getting authorization to start 37,000 single-family homes and 49,000 multifamily units statewide last year.

Oil Drilling Measures Rise to the Surface Again

A couple of weeks ago, CP&DR reported on two land use measures on local ballots in California related to oil drilling – one in Hermosa Beach that would have allowed it, which failed, and one in La Habra Heights that would have restricted it, which also failed.

We dutifully recorded it as a split decision, but I think the biggest news isn’t how these ballot measures turned out. The biggest news is that oil drilling is back on the ballot in California at all.

The Santa Barbara oil spill was the event that birthed the modern environmental movement. But it’s been 30 years since we’ve seen much ballot activity related to oil. 

Now that the fracking boom has hit California, local anti-oil activists are increasingly pushing to get fracking bans passed – and place broader oil-related measures on local ballots. And it’s clear that the oil industry is willing to spend enormous sums of money to try to influence these local elections.

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Groundwater Pump Charges Not Subject To Propositions 13 and 26, Court Rules

United Water Conservation District may charge urban water users higher groundwater pumping fees than agricultural users, the Second District Court of Appeal has ruled. The court concluded that the fees are not property-based and therefore not subject to Proposition 13. In addition, the court concluded that the pumping fees fall under one of Proposition 26’s exceptions, saying that the pump fees represent “payor-specific benefits” not subject to Prop. 26’s requirements. 

The City of Ventura sued United over the fact that the district charges the city fees that are three to five times that of agricultural users, as permitted in the state Water Code. United manages groundwater in a large area in western Ventura County. Historically, United relied on property tax revenue water delivery charges. But after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, United began charging customers for pumping the groundwater. Pump charges are governed by Water Code Section 75522, which permits United to charge different rates for agricultural and non-agricultural users and also permits United to separate its service area into different zones. 

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Bay Area Big Winner as SGC Greenlights 54 Projects for Full Proposals

The Strategic Growth Council has given the green light to 54 potential projects to prepare full applications for funding under the newly created Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program. The 54 projects are seeking $301 million in funding -- about 2 1/2 times as much as the $120 million program has to dole out.

Final applications must be completed by April 20 and SGC plans to select the winners by July. Only the 54 applicants on the finalists' list will be given access to the online application.

Of the 54 applications going forward, 44 (worth $235 million) have affordable housing setasides and 37 (worth $229 million) are located in disadvantaged Census tracts -- the definition of which was the subject of considerable debate last year.The finalists represent a diverse array of communities in 22 counties.