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CP&DR News Briefs September 4, 2017: S.F. Housing Dept. Audit; SMART Rail Opens; Delta Tunnels Suit; and More

Noemi Wyss on
Sep 4, 2017
An audit by the San Francisco Controller’s Office reveals that the San Francisco Housing Authority has serious problems managing its funds. Based on nearly two years’ worth of financial documents, the audit found that the authority has frequently failed to reconcile its funds on a monthly basis and has kept records with numerous inaccuracies. It also found that the authority failed to properly keep track of funds from different sources, and it found frequent absenteeism among staff. The audit makes numerous recommendations, including higher salaries for key positions and the adoption of some electronic accounting systems. Any recommendations must be implemented by the authority itself. 

Commuter Rail Line Opens in Marin, Sonoma
After nearly a decade of planning, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) trains began rail service between Sonoma County and San Rafael Aug. 25. The current service begins at Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa and ends in downtown San Rafael with eight stops in-between. Eventually the line will be extended to reach Cloverdale and Larkspur. One-way fares range from $3.50 to $11.50 with 34 trains running each weekday and 10 on weekends. Nine years ago, voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax to build SMART. The $500 million line is intended to provide an alternative to traffic-clogged Route 101. There has not been commuter rail service in the North Bay for nearly 60 years.

Coalition of Environmental Groups, Governments Sue over Delta Tunnels
Several dozen environmental groups, local governments, and others are suing the state over the proposed Delta water tunnels project. The legal deadline for lawsuits was in mid-August. One of the groups argues that the $17 billion tunnels project would take valuable Delta land out of production and create other problems for the county. All of the lawsuits say the tunnels represent a violation of the state’s strict environmental law. Experts on CEQA say the lawsuits won’t force Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration to get rid of the project, instead the courts will require developers to redo some of their EIRs which will delay but not outright cancel the project. Even with the CEQA lawsuits, the project is still facing a vote by south-of-Delta water agencies that will have to pay for the project. Westlands Water District, which serves farmers in Fresno and Kings counties, has already indicated the project might be too expensive.

Report Calls for Regional Housing Strategy in Bay Area
The Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California released a report (pdf) “On Track Together: Housing And Transportation”. NPH conducted indicating that voters believe affordable housing should be a top priority for local, state, and regional policymakers. Their report highlights opportunities and the urgency for building a regional strategy for housing and transportation solutions in the Bay Area. In the Bay Area their have been trends favoring office and commercial development over homes, inadequate densities and zoning, out-of-control “local control” and aggressive use of CEQA to block projects, and a general significant decline in affordable housing investment from state and federal sources. The solutions will include "three P’s” of housing production, preservation, and (tenant) protections.
Los Angeles Completes Massive School Construction Program
The $160- million Maywood Center for Enriched Studies in the LA Unified School District opened in southeast LA County was the final construction project in the modernization of 131 LAUSD campuses. The country’s largest new school construction project cost $10 billion and took 20 years. In 2000, 77,000 students attended classes on calendars staggered throughout the year and 12,000 were involuntary bused from their local schools. Every student is now able to attend a neighborhood school, and the schools are no longer overcrowded with enrollment shrinking. There is still $5 billion left over in construction funding, which is not enough to renovate older campuses or maintain the new schools. However, school opening were seen as a major achievement by district officials throughout the school district.

Analysis Shows Only 14 of 58 California Counties Are Affordable
Mapping company Esri released a set of affordable-housing maps showing all but 14 of the state’s 58 counties have been hit by the housing crisis. The maps highlight housing affordability nationally, as well as California’s high home prices and comparatively low household incomes. In Alameda County, data shows some zip codes command 51.8 percent of the region’s average income for monthly mortgage payments. Marin County reaches 75 percent and Los Angeles County sometimes more than 100 percent of a resident’s monthly income. Since the 2008 recession, income levels have not kept pace with the recovery of the housing market. In California, this has led governments to intervene with emergency rent control policies and housing legislation.

Quick Hits & Updates 

A group of Playa del Rey and Manhattan Beach residents sued the City of Los Angeles saying the transportation officials broke state law by removing traffic lanes without conducting an environmental review. The lawsuit seeks to restore all travel lanes that were removed over the summer and require a thorough environmental review. These backlashes over “road diets” are common, and will continue as L.A. has bold plans to eliminate traffic fatalities and shift people away from cars to other modes of transportation.

A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled, 3-0, that billionaire Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, must unlock the gate to Martins Beach Road while the legal fight continues. While the ruling does not settle the litigation over public entry to the beach, it does require the landowner to stop blocking the only road to the beach.

A new report by Redfin analyzed 75 housing markets across the U.S. and found that the San Francisco Bay Area (including San Jose and Oakland) tops the list for having the most online searchers considering moving away from the metro area where they live. New York is second on the list, followed by Los Angeles and Washington D.C. This report adds to the growing evidence indicating that many Bay Area residents have had enough. The Bay Area Council released a poll earlier this year showing 40 percent of the region’s residents said they want to move away in the next few years. Redfin reports that San Francisco house hunters mostly look to Sacramento and Seattle.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe introduced bicycle-sharing system LimeBike to South Lake Tahoe this summer. According to the group, ridership at Tahoe is similar to programs in much larger cities like Seattle. While there are some locals that use the bikes to commute to and from work as their primary source of transportation, there is heavy use in visitor areas. The bikes are embedded with GPS tracking and therefore don’t have to be returned to a docking station like most bike-share programs. An app on a smartphone can help locate users on the nearest free bicycle. The pilot program will run through October.

Los Angeles Metro has released a new EIR for the overhaul of downtown’s Union Station, which will add a pedestrian-friendly forecourt and esplanade along Alameda Street, to better integrate the station with the surrounding community. The space for the new plaza will come from removing 60 short-term parking spaces. Construction is expected to take seven months and begin in 2020. Other plans for the historic station include run-through tracks, gastropub, and potentially an above-ground concourse. 

According to a new study led by University of New Hampshire statistician Chris Glynn and Zillow, San Diego County may have 50 percent more homeless people than previously thought. The group factored the relationship of housing costs to homelessness. The usual point-in-time count includes a head count of homeless people in shelters one January night and counting outside shortly before dawn. The biggest difference, according to Zillow, is the difference between those living unsheltered. This means the funding received from the federal government for housing programs is much lower than needed.

To start the academic year, the University of Southern California opened its $700 million USC Village, a 2,700-bed mixed-use residential and retail complex just north of its main campus in South Los Angeles. This test of public-private partnership is an attempt to remake a historically underserved neighborhood. The 15-acre addition is part of the university’s effort to increase student housing and the amount of academic space. The project also includes 15 restaurants, a pharmacy, Trader Joe’s grocery store, and a Target. USC also committed to build a $16 million fire station on university land, pledged $20 million to Los Angeles’ Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and promised 30 percent of workers employed would be from the local area.

San Gabriel City Council adopted a historic preservation ordinance, updating the original 1965 ordinance. One of the most significant updates is the creation of Historic Preservation Commission comprised of experts in the field. The ordinance also creates a historic context statement and citywide surveys of historical resources. San Gabriel currently has a “B” grade on the Preservation Report Card created by the LA Conservancy.

The Santa Barbara City Council approved, 5-2, an ordinance to cap the number of Average Unit-Size Density units at 125 per year, require units with three or more bedrooms to provide two parking spaces, ban AUD units from being converted to vacation rentals, and exclude mobile-home parks from the program’s zoning map. Critics of the program say it is not providing the affordable workforce housing it was meant to.