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CP&DR News Briefs January 22, 2018: High Speed Rail Cost Increases; Salton Sea Plan; San Jose-Santa Clara Truce; and More

Noemi Wyss on
Jan 22, 2018
The estimated cost of constructing 119 miles of high-speed rail track in the Central Valley has increased by $2.8 billion to a total of $10.6 billion, possibly threatening the viability of the segment and the entire project. The estimate was provided by the main consulting firm on the project, WSP, who said the cost increases were driven by higher costs for land acquisition, issues relocating utility systems, need for safety barriers near freight lines, and demand by stakeholders for mitigation for various issues. The board also voted to name Brian Kelly as its new CEO. Kelly was secretary of the California Transportation Agency and said HSR remains crucial to the future transportation and economic needs of the state. The 77 percent increase above the original estimate for the segment, suggests the authority and its consultants underestimated the difficulties of buying land, obtaining environmental approvals, and much else. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Riverside Supervisor Proposes New Salton Sea Plan
Riverside County Supervisor Manuel Perez released the North Lake Vision which would seek to remedy some of the issues: high salinity levels, fish die-offs, fewer birds, odors, and the shrinking the Salton Sea. The $400 million plan includes the creation of an in-lake barrier, or dam, on the north end of the sea which would be filled with flows from the White Water River to create a healthy lake inside a “not-so-healthy one”. The plan would be subsidized with taxes generated by a bond measure that may be presented to voters within a year. The Riverside County Board of Supervisors is expected to decide whether to create an enhanced infrastructure finance district to fund the North Lake proposal.

San Jose and Santa Clara Reach Truce Over Megadevelopment
The cities of San Jose and Santa Clara have settled suits over two multibillion dollar projects: CityPlace and Santana West. The projects are designed to bring office parks, retail, and tens of thousands of jobs to the region, along with some new homes. Officials from both cities are concerned about impacts to schools, traffic, taxes, and housing supply. The mayors from the two cities issued a joint statement saying they would work together to provide additional funding from development fees for traffic improvements and affordable housing. Mayor of Santa Clara Lisa Gillmor said the settlement would allow development of CityPlace to get back on track after an 18-month delay. CityPlace developers will pay San Jose $4.5 million for traffic improvements near Levi's Stadium during the first construction phase, and up to $10 million as the second phase begins. San Jose, in return, agreed to drop its appeal of a judge’s ruling that validated Santa Clara’s environmental report for the project. The Santana West settlement calls for $3.7 million for traffic improvements around both cities, with Santa Clara receiving $5 million for transportation and affordable housing. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

S.F. Voters to Consider $100 Million Annually for Housing 
Five San Francisco supervisors are placing a measure on the June 5 ballot that would raise about $100 million annually to pay for 10,000 low-and middle-income housing units and shelter accommodations for the city’s homeless population over the next ten years. The “Housing for All” ballot measure would ask voters to raise the tax levied on commercial property owners to 2 percent, a 1.7 percent increase, to raise the funds. Supervisor Ahsha Safaí said he has been in contact with the city’s business community and they have been “neutral or supportive” of the measure.

Sacramento to Experiment with ‘Microtransit'
Sacramento’s Regional Transit agency is developing plans to experiment with “microtransit” in its Citrus Heights neighborhood in February. The new service will rely on shuttle buses or vans that riders request via smartphone that can then pick up and drop them off where they want to go. It’s a brand new type of transportation service offered in some cities across the country by private startups, mass transit agencies, or a partnernship between the two. The driver will have an iPad on the dashboard showing the shortest route to get passengers to their individual destinations. The goal is to keep costs similar to the existing $2.75 for a bus or light-rail ride. The pilot program will cost about $25,000. The vision for microtransit service would be to ride to light rail or larger bus stations that would continue to run main routes to key population-dense areas such as downtown.

Visualizing SB 827 TOD Housing Bill
Sen. Scott Wiener announced a series of proposed housing bills, includes Senate Bill 827, which would override many local zoning controls on height, density, parking minimums, and design review within a certain distance of major public transit infrastructure in order to increase housing. A supporter of SB 827, Sasha Aickin, made a map depicting the effects the proposed bill would have on various cities throughout California. Aickin says nearly all of San Francisco would be upzoned to allow up to 85 feet on wider streets and 55 feet on narrower streets as would significant portions of Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego, Oakland, Berkeley, and to a lesser extent, Sacramento. Other cities like Bakersfield, Santa Cruz and San Bernardino would not see much impact from the bill.

Brown Includes $3 Million for Housing in Budget, Takes Shot at Prop. 13
Gov. Jerry Brown released his initial budgetfor the 2018-2019 fiscal year. He’s proposing $190 billion in spending and putting $5 billion into the state’s "Rainy Day Fund." The budget includes $3 million from the General Fund to the California Housing and Community Development Department to implement his housing package. Gov. Brown mentioned during his budget press conference that budget volatility in the state stems from the 1978 passage of Prop. 13, which would take voters to fix it. According to Housing California, securing the passage of the Housing Bond and implementing the housing package is a top priority this year.


Quick Hits & Updates
Amazon announced 20 finalists for the $5 billion second North American headquarters for the company. Los Angeles was the only city west of the Rocky Mountains. The other California cities such as San Diego, Irvine, the Bay Area, and others were eliminated. Amazon will work with the finalists on diving deeper into their proposals, requesting additional information, and evaluating the feasibility of each potential partnership before making the final decision this year. (See prior CP&DR commentary.)

After a seven-year delay, the master-planned redevelopment of San Francisco’s Parkmerced neighborhood is finally set to break groundthis year. The 152-acre project is expected to bring 5,679 new residential units, 230,000 square feet of retail space, 80,000 square feet of offices, and 60,000 square feet of parks to the neighborhood.

The League of California Cities recently updated its SB 1 toolkit for cities to use to announce their funded projects and ensure residents have information on how their city will be investing in their local infrastructure. SB 1 includes approximately $750 million annually that will go directly to cities for street maintenance and rehabilitation projects.

The California Department of Finance has highlighted the migration of Californians moving inland from coastal regions. Its research finds that inland counties are growing faster than that of urban coastal counties. Cities like Sacramento are attractive because of the region’s thriving job market and ample supply of affordable housing.

The San Diego Association of Governments has spent $61 million on a program to accelerate high-priority bike projects but has delivered less than four miles, according to figures released in a staff report last week. A SANDAG principal planner said much of the $61 million has been spent on projects that are still in the design phase. 

Adobe Systems recently paid $68 million for a lot in downtown San Jose that will become the fourth tower for the campus. The company estimates the tower would allow an additional 3,000 workers. The site is already approved for a large office development and construction equipment spent several days in December clearing small buildings and other debris. Google is also pushing ahead with plans for a transit-oriented village with between 6-8 million square feet of office space for 15,000 to 20,000 employees. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Granum Partners, a Los Gatos property management company, applied to build a roughly 3,600 square foot, single-story office building for 15 employees on a former gas station site in Menlo Park. However, residents sent letters to City Council eliciting concern because of its close proximity to Willow Road and potential for a “traffic nightmare”. Because of existing construction on Caltrans’ shifting of Highway 101 access ramps, traffic has spilled onto the residents’ streets and made it impossible to get out of their driveways during the evening commute.

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission advanced four of six possible scenarios for further analysis for the county’s proposed rail corridor. The debate is what to do with the county’s existing rail with some wanting a bike/pedestrian trail with no rail and the other wants both. The four scenarios that will receive further study are: (1) only a trail; (2) trail plus passenger train; (3) trail, bus rapid transit and Watsonville freight service; and (4) trail, passenger train and county-wide freight service.