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CP&DR News Briefs December 4, 2017: L.A. Transit Projects; Palo Alto General Plan; Prop. 13 Ballot Measure, and More

Noemi Wyss on
Dec 4, 2017
At the urging of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, L.A. County Metro has assembled a list of its top 28 new transportation projects that must be completed in time for the 2028 Olympics. The “28 by 28” plan includes the Crenshaw light rail line to LAX, the Purple Line Wilshire subway to Westwood, and the Regional Connector in downtown LA. More than half the projects are scheduled for completion using revenues from the Measure M sale tax increase approved by LA County voters last year. Other projects include a subway under the Sepulveda Pass, light rail between Artesia and downtown LA, and an expansion of freeway toll lanes. Metro is hoping to work with private companies to fill some of the funding gaps of accelerating projects and adding new ones. The Metro board will vote on the final, prioritize list of 28 projects at its next meeting in January.

New Palo Alto General Plan Envisions 4,420 New Housing Units
The Palo Alto City Council adopted a new comprehensive plan which outlines the city’s vision for housing, transportation, parks and other quality of life issues. The plan will guide development through 2030. New non-residential development will be capped at a total of 1.7 million square feet citywide (not including the 1.3 million square feet already approved for the Stanford University Medical Center). The plan preserves ground-floor retail, ensures coordination with the local school district over land use and development, and guides operation and improvements at Palo Alto Airport. The council directed staff to support the production of new housing and preservation of existing units through incentives for small units, protecting cottage clusters, and implementing minimum density in multifamily zoning districts. The plan envisions an additional 8,435 to 10,455 residents over the next 13 years and 4,420 new housing units will be added.

Realtors to Seek Ballot Initiative to Expand Prop. 13 Provisions
The California Association of Realtors has launched a signature drive to put a new proposition on the November 2018 ballot that would expand Prop. 13 to give tax breaks to homeowners age 55 and older or those who are disabled. The new measure would allow seniors and disabled homeowners to transfer their low, existing Prop. 13 tax assessment to a new home anywhere in the state. Realtors say the provision would help older owners buy a new residence, because many are reluctant to give up low Prop. 13 tax assessments. The group maintains that at least 70 percent of seniors have not moved in 17 years. This will free up the homes for new homeowners.

Newport Beach Sends Banning Ranch Back to Drawing Board
In keeping with a court order, the Newport Beach City Council unanimously voted to rescind approvals for proposed development on the historic Banning Ranch oil field. Environmental group Banning Ranch Conservancy is asking the council to partner with the nonprofit to purchase and turn the 401-acre property into an open-space amenity. Senior project manager for developer Newport Banning Ranch, Michael Mohler, is willing to sit down with the council and nonprofit to discuss potential options. The developer is looking at a scaled-down project from the 895 homes, hotel, hostel and 80 percent open space that was approved last year; that rendition was far smaller than original proposals, dating back to the late 1990s. 

Environmental Groups Sue over Cadiz Approvals
The Center for Biological Diversity along with the Center for Food Safety is suing the Bureau of Land Management for allowing Cadiz Inc. to build a 43-mile pipeline to transfer water from its Mojave Desert wells into the Colorado River Aqueduct to be sold to water districts. The BLM during the Obama administration had released guidelines to block construction of the pipeline along an existing federal railroad right-of-way, but the Trump administration reversed them this year and putting the project on a priority infrastructure list. According to the lawsuit, Cadiz could draw billions of gallons of water from fragile desert aquifers that would dry up streams that are important for plants and wildlife. Critics have lost several previous court battles to halt the project.

California Transportation and Planning Agencies Protest Federal Tax Plan
A coalition of transportation agencies from Southern California issued a joint letter to Congressional leadership raising concerns that the current tax reform proposal poses a threat to the current transportation system and consequently the health of the regional economy. The tax plan would hurt by eliminating advance refunding bonds, revocation of employer deduction for transportation benefits, and failure to renew alternative fuel benefits. The letter is signed by SCAG, Imperial County Transportation Commission, LA Metro, Metrolink, OCTA, Riverside County Transportation Commission, San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, SANDAG and Ventura County Transportation Commission.
Quick Hits & Updates
San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved, 10-1, new regulations on cannabis dispensaries in the city. One new rule is the reduction of school buffer zone from 1,000 to 600 feet. The board also approved an amendment requiring half the city’s dispensaries to qualify for an equity program that benefits low-income residents, people displaced from their homes and people with marijuana convictions. The board also unanimously passed an amendment allowing existing medical dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana beginning Jan. 5. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Two LA City Councilmembers, representing Arts District and Venice, have proposed creating an affordable housing program for those in creative arts. An estimated 65 to 70 percent of artists that were in the Arts District 15 years ago are gone. However, the city’s Housing Department said it would run into legal challenges by giving preferential treatment to certain groups. A deputy city attorney suggested that officials commission a study to determine whether artists deserve special consideration.

San Francisco City Hall and the Port of San Francisco have started a $40 million 10-year contract with a team of 21 consultants to remake the Embarcadero in case of earthquake and sea-level rise. The schedule set by the port is for the designs and environmental studies to be completed by 2022, with construction to follow. Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors will most likely be placing a $350 million seawall bond on the November 2018 ballot.

The City of Sacramento was named one of the four finalists by Major League Soccer for the two expansion spots in the nation’s top professional soccer league. The other expansion finalists include Detroit, Nashville, and Cincinnati. MLS is expected to announce its decision Dec. 14.

Assemblyman Jim Patterson requested an emergency audit of the California High Speed Rail. The chair of the joint audit committee, Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, denied the request saying it would deny the legislature and public an opportunity to review and discuss the issue in public. The state auditor last reported on the $64 billion bullet train five years ago.

The Hollywood Central Park, a linear 44-acre green space covering a one-mile segment of the US-101 freeway between Hollywood and Santa Monica Boulevards, needs more funds to complete the EIR and associated technical studies. Last week, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell introduced a motion, which would direct $1.53 million in CRA/LA excess bonds to fill the funding gap. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

After a decade of planning, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District opened the 6,142-acre La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve. The area has been a Mexican land grant, dairy farm, hideout for members of Jesse James’ outlaw gang, oil field, redwood logging mill, cattle ranch, and retreat for heirs to the Weyerhaeuser lumber and Folgers coffee fortunes. The open space district is funded by property taxes, has come under criticism for buying land but keeping roughly half closed to the public.

Last week, four California Public Utilities Commissions joined administrative law judge Peter V. Allen to hear final oral arguments in PG&E’s request to retire California’s last nuclear power plant, San Luis Obispo County’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant. In a preliminary ruling Judge Allen, approved PG&E’s request to close the plant, and allow the company to increase customer rates enough to recover over $190 million to pay for closure costs (salaries over the next eight years, retraining workers, and license renewal costs). The final decision from Judge Allen will go for a vote by the complete five-member commission which is scheduled for Dec. 14.

Robert Half employment agency released a study with the major U.S. metro areas with the longest commutes and most anxiety-inducing trips to work and found Southern California tops the list for the most stressful commute. The region is just eighth in the nation on the longest average trip list with 53.7 minutes. The study suggests mass transit options in a region can lower anxiety created by traveling to and from work. For instance, San Francisco had the second longest commute (59.2 minutes), but the BART and Caltrain system put it 5th on the list for stressful commutes. 

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz is seeking to add the 20,000 square-foot Playboy Mansion to the city’s historic-cultural monument designation list. Hugh Hefner owned the mansion from 1971 until last year, when he sold the property for $100 million. The designation would put limits on what alterations could be made to the property and prevent the mansion from being demolished without review. 

San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted, 7-4, to overturn the $90,000 sale of a private street, Presidio Terrace, in the Richmond district The exclusive street was sold to a San Jose couple when its residents failed to pay $994 in back taxes because the bill was being mailed to an accountant who hadn’t worked for the Presidio Terrace Homeowner Association in years. The property was erroneously classified as a vacant lot and put up for auction in 2015.

Developers seeking to build a 1,130-room hotel across from LA Convention Center could receive $103.3 million in public financial assistance over 25 years under a proposal heading to the City Council. Under the 25-year agreement the project, Fig + Pico, would have blocks of rooms reserved for future conventions and the 2028 Olympics. The financial aid package was endorsed unanimously by the council’s three-member Economic Development Committee but now must go to the City Council. The developer claims a $67.4-million financial gap, in part because of higher construction costs.

The City of Port Hueneme City Council agreed to pay former Housing Authority director Joseph Gately $1.5 million to a settle a whistleblower suit against the city. Gately sued the city after he alleged he was fired in 2015 for alerting officials the city had been mismanaging federal housing dollars. US HUD investigated Gately’s claims and found the city had been improperly charging the authority for services. The agreement does not admit fault.

Los Angeles housing advocates contend that a downtown apartment buildings advertised as a “Level Furnished Living” is being run as a hotel in violation of city law. The group of housing and labor advocates have sent a “request to investigate” to the City Planning Department. Onni Group, the operator of the 303-unit building offers immediate booking unless customers are seeking 30+ nights of accommodation. Onni Group says the use is permitted under the zoning. The groups say if the structure was anything other than residential it should pay city hotel taxes.

The City of Los Angeles is considering plans to place a giant inflatable dam and 70-foot waterwheel to move water into a stream landscaped with trees adjacent to the Los Angeles River. The city is expecting the final permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers by the end of the year, which could mean construction begins in January. The $10 million project will be operated by the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation.