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CP&DR News Briefs February 12, 2018: Desert Mining; Split-Roll Prop. 13; L.A. County TOD; and More

Noemi Wyss on
Feb 11, 2018
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke indicated that the agency will allow mining on 1.3 million acres of formerly protected California desert following Pres. Trump’s decision to dramatically reduce the size of national monuments. Under the Obama administration, these environmentally sensitive lands were placed on the National Conservation Lands list thus banning new mining activity. However, the new administration found that after reviewing mineral exploration levels and mining data in the desert, the agency concluded that mining operations, subject to existing environmental regulations, “do not pose a significant threat to the protection of cultural, biological, and scientific values.” In California, these areas include the low desert lands bordering Joshua Tree National Park, high desert areas north of Pioneertown in San Bernardino County, lands adjacent to Death Valley National Park in Inyo County, and huge areas of eastern Imperial County. Starting March 9, mining companies prospecting for rare-earth metals, gold, sand and other minerals can stake claim to those areas. Nationally, there are about 36 million acres in the National Conservation Lands program, designed to “offer the American people exceptional opportunities for hunting, solitude, wildlife viewing, fishing, history exploration, scientific research, and a wide range of traditional uses.”

LAO Calculates Impact of Split-Roll Prop. 13
New analysis by the Legislative Analyst’s Office finds that a new ballot initiative aimed at how commercial properties are taxed under Prop. 13 could raise $6 to $10 billion more each year for schools and other programs and services. The initiative would change the constitution so that commercial and industrial properties- land not intended for housing development- would be taxed based on their current market value. This idea is called a “split roll” since it would not affect protections for residential properties. Additionally, commercial properties valued below $2 million would be exempt. Another Prop.13 related ballot initiative would expand protections for homeowners over 55, allowing them to take their tax base with them anywhere in the state as often as they move.

Los Angeles County Considers TOD Strategy
As Los Angeles Metro is planning for new rail lines across Los Angeles County, supervisors Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis have introduced a motion which calls for the county to “align planning efforts across both regional plans and infrastructure plans to best position the County to implement transit-oriented development” surrounding new rail stations. This action is prompted by language in Measure M, which requires any jurisdiction located within half-mile of a new transit stop to pay three percent of total project costs. This requirement can be satisfied by investment in active transportation and other first-last mile projects that are included in the project costs. Metro’s expansion plans could result in as many as ten new stations in unincorporated communities whose land use policies are determined at the county level. The county has imposed “Transit Orented Development” specific plans along the Blue and Green Lines, including West Athens, Willowbrook, and Florence communities.

Fresno Plan Would Double Park Space
Fresno City Council unanimously adopted a new Parks Master Plan that will serve as a guide to more than double park space, primarily in underserved neighborhoods. The city has 1,023 acres of parks, about half of what the plan suggests is needed to adequately serve the current population of more than half a million people. The plan finds that “Fresno’s park and open space system is dominated by parks in poor condition that suffer from lack of investment, lack of adequate maintenance, and public safety concerns due to inappropriate activities.” Half of the city’s current parks are considered to be in fair condition, while almost one-third are in poor condition. This means the city as at least $110 to $112 million of deferred maintenance according to the interim Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd. The Parks Master Plan identified a potential 2018 state bond as a possible source for repairs and improvements to existing parks; reliance on volunteers, foundations, private donations to help raise money; partnerships between the city and other agencies; corporate sponsorships; selling naming rights; increases to sales, property or hotel taxes; advertising sales; crowdfunding; user fees; permit fees for commercial sue of parks; and concession agreements.

Four California Cities Recruited for Study of Downtowns
The International Downtown Association (IDA) released a study, “The Value of U.S. Downtowns and Center Cities” which examined the value of downtown areas for citizens. The study analyzed more than 100 data points from 13 pilot cities, within five key principles: economy, inclusion, vibrancy, identity, and resilience. Four of the cities were located in California: Lancaster, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Santa Monica. In the study, the average downtown area was only three percent of the city’s total area but generated 13 percent of income tax revenue, 14 percent of sales tax revenue, 45 percent of hotel tax revenue, and accounted for 40 percent of the city’s total office space and nearly one-third of total jobs. The IDA’s data analysis found that every dollar invested in a downtown district has the potential to produce a greater return on investment than less economically-productive areas.

Cities Submit SB 1 Project Lists
More than 99 percent of the 482 cities in California submitted their Senate Bill 1 project lists to the California Transportation Commission. This action establishes eligibility to receive SB 1 funds for FY 2017-2018. The transportation funding will begin to flow to cities this month. In FY 2018-19, approximately $600 million will go directly to cities for road maintenance and rehabilitation projects to help improve street and road conditions. May 1 will be the deadline for FY 2018-19 project lists and October 1 for expenditure reports.

Quick Hits & Updates
According a recent Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll, 46 percent of respondents agree with the plan to split tax rolls under Prop. 13 while 43 percent are opposed. Most political observers argue a ballot measure should top 60 percent before opposition campaigns cut down the margin before an election.

More than 99 percent of the 482 cities in California submitted SB 1 project lists to the California Transportation Commission. This action establishes eligibility to receive SB 1 funds for FY 2017-2018. The transportation funding will begin to flow to cities this month. In FY 2018-19, approximately $600 million will go directly to cities for road maintenance and rehabilitation projects to help improve street and road conditions. May 1 will be the deadline for FY 2018-19 project lists and October 1 for expenditure reports.

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) has managed to meet or exceed ridership and revenue projects in is first six months of operation. It will start on the Larkspur extension, which will bring the train’s riders to within a short walk to the Golden Gate Ferry to San Francisco. The SMART’s trains currently make 17 round trips between San Rafael and Santa Rosa on weekdays and five each way on weekends and holidays. SMART has carried more than 310,000 passengers since its start six months ago and collected an average of $76,000 in fares each week, $8,000 more than predicted. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

The City of Cupertino and lead-planning consultant, Opticos Design, are holdingcommunity meetings on the future of Vallco shopping mall- an almost entirely derelict 1970s-era shopping center. Development company Sand Hill would like to put forward a new project with millions of square feet of office space and hundreds of new homes. In 2016, Cupertino voters rejected on ballot measure that would have allowed the developers to construct their plans but also rejected the competing measure that would have thrown out the plan entirely. 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a new partnership with Occidental College to accelerate LA’s pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations to end poverty, protect the planet, and broaden prosperity. Occidental College will provide brainpower, research, and data collection that will help keep the city on target for reaching the goals.

Fresno City Council approved, 7-0, plans for a controversial 110-acre industrial park in South Fresno despite concerns by social justice advocates about the potential effects it could have on traffic and air quality in the area.City Attorney Doug Sloan said the property has been zoned for industrial uses for more than 30 years and the city can rely on the EIR that was done for the General Plan adopted in 2014 that included analysis for the project site. The project is expected to bring jobs to an area that has a high poverty rate.

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows officials have been in talks with Caltrans, CHP, and Placer County about creatinga third traffic lane on Highway 89 between I-80 in Truckee and the Squaw turnoff for a BRT lane. This would help Squaw, which saw its 5,000 parking spots filled on busy days. However, a preliminary analysis found the existing highway shoulder is not wide enough the entire way from Truckee to allow continuous usage. Sierra Watch plan to publish a report this week saying these expansion plans would bring more traffic and environmental degradation to the Tahoe area, including pollution that would further reduce the lake’s famous water clarity.

A team of scientists hired by Cadiz Inc. concluded that a proposed water transfer project in the San Bernardino County desert would not harm one of the largest wildlife water sources in the Mojave Desert- Bonanza Springs. The study found the aquifer in the Fenner Valley, where Cadiz plans to mine groundwater, and the aquifer that supports Bonanza Springs are independent. Environmental groups are skeptical about the Cadiz-sponsored findings.

California Water Officials have approved $34.4 million in grants to eight desalination projects across the state including one in the City of Antioch, six brackish desalination plants, and a proposal for research at USC. Other projects that received funding are Doheny Ocean Desalination Plant in Dana Point, North Pleasant Valley Desalter Project, and a brackish water project in Camarillo. The funding comes from Prop. 1. 

Analysis by the lodging analytics firm STR, found San Diego suffered a much bigger financial impact on its hotels than St. Louis did after the cities’ football teams defected to Los Angeles. San Diego saw room revenues fall nearly 16 percent last year whereas St. Louis showed a 0.2 percent increase after the Rams left in 2016. While STR researcher Raquel Ortiz acknowledged there are multiple factors that influence hotel performance, she believes the Chargers’ departure was clearly one of them.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is considering redevelopment of the Moscone Convention Center parking garage into a 320-foot tower with at least 650 hotel rooms and 100 affordable housing units. San Francisco saw citywide hotel occupancy rates around 85 percent last July, well above the national average of 66 percent. Having a mega hotel next to the convention center is desperately needed according to San Francisco Travel.

Santa Monica officials are suing the company Bird, which operates deckles electric scooters in the city. While demand is high, with more than 30,000 users in the first four months, the city says it must make sure the sidewalks and streets are safe spaces for all people. While the company has a business license for the office, it doesn't apply to scooters being parked, used, and rented all over the city streets. Deputy City Manager Anuj Gupta says many young unlicensed teenagers are operating the motorized scooters.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter issued an order to the cities of Anaheim, Orange, Costa Mesa, and Orange County into court and plans to ask them to show that local anti-camping ordinances aren’t being used to criminalize homelessness among the hundreds of people being evicted from encampments along the Santa Ana River. Sheriff’s deputies and county workers began clearing the county’s largest encampment Jan. 22, and efforts have continued to ramp up since then. Homeless advocates and attorneys assert that there isn’t enough affordable housing or shelters for the estimated 500 to 1,000 homeless people being displaced.

A report by INRIX analytics found Los Angeles region topped the list of metro areas with the worst traffic congestion for the sixth year in a row. Drivers in and around Los Angeles spent 102 hours battling traffic traffic congestion during peak hours in 2017. New York City motorists spent 91 hours and were third on the list, Moscow was second.
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