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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.

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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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.

CP&DR News Briefs, March 16, 2015: AHSC Grant Process Progresses; Calif. Transportation Plan Released; and More

Strategic Growth Council staff are currently finalizing the review of submitted concept proposals for Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities grand program. All AHSC applicants will be notified of the results of the concept proposal reviews by no later than Monday, March 16th. The full application will be posted on or before Wednesday, March 18th. The due date for the full applications will be extended to April 20, 2015. Applicants will be notified when the full application is available via email.

Another Legal Win For Redevelopment Agencies

The Third District Court of Appeal has ruled that two “re-entry agreements” between Sonoma County and its former redevelopment agency are valid under the redevelopment wind-down law. The case marks the second time this year that the Third District has upheld re-entry agreements, suggesting that local governments are beginning to get the upper hand against the state Department of Finance in post-redevelopment litigation.

The case involves the county’s desire to retain $14 million in tax-increment funds for two projects: street and sidewalk upgrades on Highway 12 north of Sonoma, and a mixed-use project on the site of an abandoned shopping center in the Roseland neighborhood of Santa Rosa. 

As with the other recent case from Emeryville, the case turned in part on whether AB 1484, a 2012 law which eliminated re-entry agreements, should somehow be used to invalidate reentry agreements made before the law took effect. In addition, DOF made a series of narrow legal arguments that the Third District did not buy.

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Sacramento Did Not Commit to Downtown Arena Ahead of EIR, Appellate Court Rules

In a ruling critical to moving forward Sacramento’s downtown basketball arena, the Third District Court of Appeal has given the City of Sacramento a clean win in a wide-ranging CEQA challenge brought by a group of individual environmentalists.

Most significantly, the appellate court found that the city did not violate the California Environmental Quality Act by committing itself to a downtown arena site prior to the completion of the environmental impact report and did not have to consider the site of the existing Sleep Train Arena in Natomas in its alternatives analysis.

SANDAG Case Accepted by California Supreme Court, SD County CAP Case Declined

The California Supreme Court has accepted Cleveland National Forest Association v. SANDAG, the controversial case that raises the question of whether a governor's executive order must be taken into consideration in CEQA analysis.

With Decline of Williamson Act, SALC Represents New Hope for Ag Preservation

The new Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation (SALC) program only has $5 million so far, but land preservation and farm groups greeted approval of its opening guidelines with enthusiasm – especially given the fact that the Williamson Act was defunded in 2009.

The California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) gushed: "Applause erupted yesterday in response to the unanimous vote of the Strategic Growth Council..." Then it quoted Natural Resources Secretary and SGC member John Laird: "All speakers essentially said yes to the program, only sooner and bigger."

Ag preservation optimists are looking past that opening $5 million at the strong possibility that SALC has permanent dibs on 1% of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which is expected to swell from new cap-and-trade auction proceeds.

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CP&DR News Briefs, March 10, 2015: L.A. Football Stadium Seeks Public Approval; Claremont Seeks Taking of Water Agency; Redlands Rail EIR Approved; and More

Proponents of a stadium that would jointly host the relocated Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers in Carson put together a ballot initiative to seek local approval for the project. The measure would approve the creation of a public authority in Carson, akin to the arrangement the 49ers used to build their new stadium, that would own the stadium and lease it back to the teams.

Split Decision on Oil Measures, Redondo Beach Development Plan Loses

Local voters in California gave oil a split decision on Tuesday. Voters in La Habra Heights shot down an anti-fracking ballot measure, while voters in Hermosa Beach rejected a ballot measure that would have permitted E&B Natural Resources to construct 34 onshore wells in the city. Meanwhile, Redondo Beach voters rejected a development plan that would have included razing the power plant that has long occupied a critical spot near the beach.

Cal Supremes Strengthen CEQA Categorical Exemptions in Ruling on Large Berkeley House

By a 5-2 vote, the California Supreme Court has issued a complex ruling that tends to support CEQA exemption for a large house in Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley (Logan)

Monday’s opinion is largely favorable to computer industry pioneer Mitch Kapor, founder of the Lotus software company, and Freada Kapor-Klein, who have been trying since 2009 to build a large house in the Berkeley hills. Their proposed single-family house and garage together would measure nearly 10,000 square feet, on a lot that is itself much larger, but that is situated on a steep slope reached by a small road. Berkeley applied two categorical exemptions from CEQA to the project: single-family and infill. Project opponents argued that the house was so big that it presented "unusual circumstances" and should be denied the safe harbor of a categorical exemption. Among other things, the issuance of the ruling will permit another CEQA “unusual circumstances” Supreme Court case to move forward.

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Stadium Foe Takes Page from Paranoia Playbook

I don’t like the idea of building an NFL stadium, presumably for the relocated St. Louis Rams, in Inglewood. You know who really doesn’t like he idea? Anschutz Entertainment Group. But do you know who does like it? ISIS. Or al-Qaeda. Or the Taliban. I’m not really sure, but, apparently, one of those groups hates the stadium so much that they're going to want to blow it up. 

CP&DR News Briefs, March 2, 2015: Google Presents Plan for New HQ; SF May Outsource Affordable Housing; Fresno Approves Water Plan; and More

Google unveiled a “whimsical" proposal for a massive new headquarters in Mountain View designed by architect Frank Ghery.