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Rent Control Gains Traction Amid Housing Crisis in Bay Area

Like a monster that’s been hiding in the basement for decades, rent control is rearing its head in the Bay Area. Whether it is an ugly countenance or a smiling face is a matter of perspective.
While the Bay Area has struggled with housing shortages and rising rents for the past decade or so, it has become evident that no amount of development will, in the near term, bring rents back down to manageable levels for residents earning median incomes and below. As tech jobs have made Bay Area residents more wealthy, and attracted newcomers flush with cash, landlords in unregulated cities have tried to cash in by raising rents and even evicting incumbent tenants. 

Therefore, over the past year, cities have again turned to what is, in many ways, the tool of last resort to preserve affordable housing.
“A year ago we had the wild west,” said Eric Strimling, spokesperson for the Alameda Renters Coalition, of Alameda’s rental market. “There were pretty much no regulation at all. Evict at will, raise rents at will.”

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Insight: California Needs More Housing -- But It's Not As Simple As Supply and Demand

Amid all the alarming news about housing in California, here’s the one piece of information that really stands out for me: 

The average home price in the United States is about $180,000. The average home price in California is about $440,000. Not just in San Francisco, or Oakland, or Los Angeles, or Orange County, or San Diego. The entire state.

As the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported last year, California has always been somewhat more expensive that the rest of the country. In trying to understand the housing price gap, the LAO’s office took a very long view – charting the increase over the past 75 years. And the gap’s been getting worse for decades. In 1970 – the year, incidentally, that the California Environmental Quality Act passed – California housing was about 35% more expensive than the nation. By 2000, that gap had doubled, to about 76% more. And now it has doubled again, to about 144%.

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Simplicity Triumphs in Pershing Square Design Competition

Rarely does anything with a lawn, a photovoltaic canopy, a “great lawn," no fewer than 13 design collaborators, and an estimated $50 million budget, qualify as simple. But, relative to its competitors, that’s exactly what the winning design in the Pershing Square Renew competition is.

If all goes according to plan, by 2020 Pershing Square will be flattened, scraped clean, and reintroduced to a public that has long crossed the street to avoid it.

Located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, Pershing Square has aspired to be one of the country’s great public spaces — and failed miserably. Twin forces of urban decay and atrocious, unwelcoming design have conspired to drive away would-be visitors for decades, leaving the square a notable exception in downtown’s steady revitalization. Nonprofit Pershing Square Renew was founded two years ago when by developers and other stakeholders, including City Council Member Jose Huizar, decided that enough was enough.

Renters vs. Tenants: A Distinction with a Difference

Like 45 percent of other Californians and 52 percent of other Angelenos, I live in a home owned by a stranger. It’s not quite the American dream. Nationwide, 65 percent of households own the units they occupy. But it suits me fine.

The question I’ve asked myself lately, though, is, am I a renter or am I a tenant? I happen to be both, so the point is moot. For renters and who aren’t yet tenants, or who want to be someone else’s tenant, the difference is more important than you might think.

A few months ago I spoke on a panel on affordable housing, sponsored by Enterprise Community Partners. The panel included Larry Gross, the executive director of the grimly named Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) and longtime Los Angeles-area housing advocate. I contended, based on study and anecdote, that relief from the city’s crushing rental rates will come only from increased housing production – for residents of all socioeconomic strata.

CP&DR News Briefs, May 23, 2016: Rail to Santa Monica; Loss of Natural Lands; High-Speed Rail Delay; and More

Marking a major expansion of Los Angeles’ rail network, Phase II of the Exposition Light Rail Line, from Culver City to Santa Monica, officially opened Friday, May 20. The extension realizes a long-sought goal of connecting downtown Los Angeles to the beach; the two combined phrases make the trip in 46 minutes. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and other backers hope that the line will attract commuters who would otherwise travel on the heavily congested Interstate 10. It is also hoped that by reaching into the region’s affluent Westside the line will attract discretionary riders. Metro estimates that 64,000 riders will use the line daily by 2030. Built at a cost of $1.5 billion, Expo Line Phase II is one of several rail projects underway in Metro’s current construction plan. the design of the line has drawn criticism for having too many at-grade street crossings – 29 – and for not having signal priority in the City of Los Angeles. With the opening of Expo Phase II, Metro now operates over 100 miles of subway and light rail lines. (See prior CP&DR coverage here and here.)

Elimination of Minimum Housing Densities Not Exempt From CEQA

Overturning the decision of a trial judge, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled that the City of Palm Springs’s decision to eliminate minimum residential densities from its general plan is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act.

“The City’s claim that the [General Plan] Amendment is exempt from CEQA analysis begs the question:  Is the City able to accommodate its share of the regional housing needs if there is no minimum (and a lower average) density for residential areas as originally identified and required in the General Plan?” wrote Justice Thomas E. Hollenhorst for the unanimous three-judge panel. The case was issued in April but the court ordered partial publication in late May.

In 2007, the city approved a new general plan that included maximum and minimum densities for all residential land uses. In 2013, the city approved a general plan amendment that removed minimum densities. In the staff report and presentation before the city council in 2013 [http://palmsprings.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1644], the city’s planning staff said that in the wake of the 2008 real estate market downturn, developers began to request densities below the minimums, especially on planned development projects. 

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Pro-Environment Ruling Overturned In San Bernardino Groundwater Pumping Case

Overturning a trial judge, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled that the private water company Cadiz Inc. and two public agencies did not violate the California Environmental Quality Act in moving forward a groundwater pumping and restoration project in San Bernardino County.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups had argued that the project’s environmental review violated CEQA on two major points: First, by making the Santa Margarita Water District the lead agency rather than San Bernardino County; and second, by writing the project description in such a way that the project was characterized as a water conservation project even though it will result in a net loss of water. 

Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Andrea Andler ruled in favor of the environmental plaintiffs. But the Fourth District overturned her on all of the plaintiffs’ claims. 

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CP&DR News Briefs, May 16, 2016: Budget Revise Addresses Housing; Coastal Commission Politicking; Prop 84 Parks Spending Analyzed; and More

Gov. Jerry Brown’s “May revise” (pdf) of the $122 billion 2017 state budget includes significant provisions meant to address homelessness and promote the production of housing. It calls for a $2 billion bond, supported by Prop 63, to proving up to 14,000 units of housing for mentally ill homeless people, plus support for the CalWORKS jobs program.

Moore Gets National Recognition for Leading San Diego Port Master Plan

Ann MoorePorts can sometimes seems like neither fish nor fowl from a planning perspective. Though they often operate as a world apart, they are as big and complex as many cities are. Planning them therefore poses a challenge. It’s a challenge that San Diego Port Commissioner Ann Moore took on enthusiastically. 

A former city attorney for Chula Vista, where she led the Chula Vista Bayfront planning process, Moore is leading the effort to revise the master plan for the 6,000-acre Port of San Diego, which traces the shoreline of Coronado Bay, for the first time in 35 years. Under the brand name “Port for All,” the Vision Statement and Guiding Principles was adopted in August 2014 and the Framework Report in November 2015. A full master plan is expected in 2018. The Framework Report envisions a radically re-planned port, with emphasis on parks and de-emphasis on development, which will constitute no more than 55 percent of the port's land area, down from 70 percent. 

Moore received the American Planning Association’s National Planning Excellence Award for a Planning Advocate at its conference in April; “excellence” is the APA’s highest category for annual awards. CP&DR’s Josh Stephens spoke with Moore about her award, the port, and her perspective on planning in the San Diego region. 

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CP&DR News Briefs, May 9, 2016: Coastal Commission to Vote on Banning Ranch; Feds May Aid Salton Sea; Housing Group 'Sues the Suburbs;' and More

In a reversal of a previous recommendation, the staff of the Coastal Commission has recommended approval, with conditions, of a controversial development for Banning Ranch, a 401-acre parcel in Newport Beach. The new staff recommendation increases the amount of developable land from 19 ares to 55 acres, with most of the remaining land set aside as a nature preserve.

Google Boss Sees Housing Crisis Through 3-D Glasses

BEVERLY HILLS, May 2, 2016 – As the saying goes, when you’re holding a hammer, the world looks like a nail. What if you have a 3-D printer instead of a hammer?

If you’re Eric Schmidt, you build houses. 

CP&DR News Briefs, May 2, 2016: HSR Business Plan; San Diego Stadium Initiative; Federal Inquiry into Water Tunnels, and More

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) has approved a new two-year business plan. It includes an agreement to add more than $1 billion in costs to connect the City of Merced to the initial operating segment and to invest $2 billion to improve existing rail services in Southern California.

Thomas, Kennedy Seek to Revisit San Remo Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court declined on April 25 to take a case from Connecticut that would have overturned the 1985 case Williamson County Regional Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U. S. 172, a pre-First English case in which the court ruled that property owners seeking to a regulatory taking case in federal court have to first ensure that all administrative remedies at the local or state level are exhausted and then seek compensation through whatever mechanism is provided by the state.

However, Justices Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy dissented from the denial of certiorari in Arrigoni Enterprises v. Town of Durham, saying they wanted to use the case to revisit the questions about Williamson County raised in the dissent in the 2005 Supreme Court case, San Remo Hotel v. San Francisco, 545 U.S. 323. That case involving a dispute going back decades over payment of an in-lieu fee or provision of replacement units when a hotel is converted from residential to tourist use. 

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CP&DR News Briefs, April 25, 2016: San Jose Rent Freeze; San Joaquin River Endangered; L.A. 'Megadevelopment' Lawsuit, and More

The San Jose city council voted, 6-5, to reduce annual rent hikes in a third of apartments, which is a move to stabilize rent in one of the nation’s most expensive cities. The city has 44,000 rent-controlled units that can raise rents only 5 percent per year instead of 8. The city’s housing department suggested tying annual rent to inflation like other CA cities while Councilman Peralez pushed for only 4 percent increase annually. The council approved another housing item: an anti-retaliation ordinance that would protect renters against requesting repairs and being evicted. The Council also approved, 7-4, to eliminate a program that allowed landlords to pass debt off to renters unless they were “major improvement costs.”

Insight: Will Medical Marijuana Cases Drive Land Use Law From Now On?

Medical marijuana in California may be a pretty intense battleground, but at the same time, to mix metaphors, it usually looks like a policy cul-de-sac. Advocates of access to medical marijuana are generally single-issue folks who don’t care much about any other local issue. And advocates of strict regulation – who include a vast number of local elected officials throughout the state – don’t break down along traditional ideological grounds.

But the fact of the matter is that the controversy over access to medical marijuana could soon become a driving force in shaping policy around the state on land use and ballot measures. The reason is goes something like this: Because most local medical marijuana regulation amounts to zoning, that means most medical marijuana disputes are land-use disputes. And because the battle is so intense, neither side gives up easily, so the disputes are more likely to go to the ballot and wind up in appellate court.

Just in the last month, appellate courts in California have issued four different published rulings having to do with medical marijuana. Curiously, all four came from inland California, including three from the Inland Empire and one from Kern County.

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San Diego Considers Dueling Plans to Finance Stadium, Convention Center

What do touchdowns, trade shows, room service, rivers, and dorm rooms have in common? In San Diego, quite a bit.

Spooked by the possible relocation of the San Diego Chargers football team, the city is doubling down on opportunities not only to retain the Chargers but also to pursue a host of other initiatives related to tourism and economic development. The matters may be resolved through one of two competing measures that are expected to appear on upcoming ballots.

"The Citizens Plan" could appear on the citywide ballot as early as November. Proposed by Cory Briggs, an environmental attorney famous instead for halting city projects, it would raise hotel taxes and allow the city to expand its convention center, build a new Chargers stadium, secure long-term funding to promote the city to tourists, create a new San Diego River park and hand San Diego State University an expansion opportunity. It would make way for a joint-use convention center-stadium built on 10 downtown acres, next to the Padres ballpark and across the street from the city’s existing convention center.

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California Needs ‘Minimum Housing’ to Go Along with Minimum Wage

Sexy-sporty clothing brand American Apparel has long been one of the Los Angeles’ most beloved, and most controversial, corporate citizens. It is known for paying decent wages and treating its workers well.
When it easily could have outsourced jobs to Asia, it has also resolutely kept its main factory in Los Angeles, occupying a muscular, seven-story industrial building on the southeast edge of downtown since 2000. American Apparel has proudly championed social-justice causes, including immigration reform and gay rights, and assured consumers that they are buying “sweatshop-free” garments made by well treated workers.
They’re just the sort of workers who might – might – benefit from the forthcoming increase in California’s minimum wage. If only they – and every other low-wage worker in Los Angeles – had decent roofs over their heads.