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CP&DR News Briefs March 5, 2018: SoMa Upzoning; Bureau of Environmental Justice; Wealth Inequality; and More

Noemi Wyss on
Mar 5, 2018
The San Francisco Planning Department, with support from Mayor Mark Farrell, introduced a zoning ordinance to significantly up-zone a 17-block portion of the South of Market Neighborhood to take advantage of the new Central Subway. The ordinance comes after seven years of study. It would add up to 7,000 housing units and 1 million square feet of tech-related office space. It is estimated that the plan could support 40,000 jobs and $2 billion in public benefits in part through developers fees. The city sees the plan, known as Central SoMa, as a way to maintain the growth of the city’s tech sector when many other areas of the city are built-out or resistent to growth. “It’s a plan that directs jobs growth to the part of the city where it can be best managed,” Planning Director John Rahaim told the S.F. Chronicle. “The original intent of the plan was to find a new location for a certain type of job growth that is not possible in 90 percent of the city.”

Becerra Forms Bureau of Environmental Justice
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra appointed four lawyers to create a new Bureau of Environmental Justice to focus on low-income Californians and people of color who suffer a “disproportionate share of environmental pollution and public health hazards”. The group will handle legal cases such as the one Becerra recently joined opposing the storage and handling of coal at the Port of Oakland. Becerra has filed 30 lawsuits against the federal government, nearly half of which were attempts to enforce laws ensuring that children have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. The office has said it has won favorable rulings in seven lawsuits. “The harsh reality is that some communities in California — particularly low-income communities and communities of color — continue to bear the brunt of pollution from industrial development, poor land-use decisions, transportation, and trade corridors,” Becerra said in a statement. 

Report Finds High Inequality in California Cities
The Brookings Institution has released a report on city and metropolitan income inequality data that shows the trends in household income inequality in the 100 largest US metropolitan areas from 2014 to 2016. The report found big cities like Atlanta, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Boston, New York had the highest rates of income inequality. Newer, more geographically expansive cities such as Riverside and Oxnard had the lowest levels of income inequality. Metropolitan areas with high inequality are San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Fresno. In general, more cities experienced declines in income inequality from 2014 to 2016 than saw increases. Household incomes increased in San Jose and Los Angeles between the two years.

Silicon Valley Experiments with Agricultural Preservation
Farm preservationists are pursuing an innovative agricultural conservation easement for a 115-acre property in Santa Clara Valley in order to preserve one of the last agricultural parcels in the area. The Santa Clara County Planning and Development Department and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority and were interested in using cap-and-trade funds earmarked for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and loss of land to high-speed-rail to keep farmers farming. The statewide program called the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Project has committed $76 million and high-speed rail $20 million to be disbursed through the Department of Conservation. The Santa Clara Valley Ag Plan is the first of its kind to merge protection of farmlands with California’s climate strategies by replacing the incentive for growers to cash out to land speculators. The first deal, Fountain Oaks Ranch, a 70-acre bell pepper and sweet corn farm in Morgan Hill was purchased for $7 million and is probably the most expensive agricultural easement ever purchased by a public entity in the state.

San Diego Adopts Carbon Offset Scheme
San Diego Board of Supervisors have unanimously supported a carbon credit scheme that would allow developers to pay for offsite credits instead of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks that would result from proposed housing and commercial projects in unincorporated parts of the county. The Board of Supervisors argues that efforts to limit human-induced warming should be balanced with the need to address California’s on-going housing crisis. However, environmental groups are opposed to credits, which can apply to projects anywhere in the world. They argue offsetting tailpipe emissions wouldn't be necessary if the county contained new development within urbanized areas. The county currently has about a dozen development projects awaiting approval by county authorities that could require carbon credits to offset their GHG emissions.

Ride-Hailing Detracts from Transit, Active Transportation
A consensus among outside researchers is that ride-hailing companies are pulling riders off buses, subways, bicycles, and their own feet and putting them in cars instead. One study surveyed 944 ride-hailing users over four weeks in 2017 and found nearly 60 percent said they would have used public transportation, walked, biked or skipped the trip if the ride-hailing apps  weren’t available. The study from Northeastern also found that “ride sharing is pulling from and not complementing public transportation.” A study in Manhattan’s central business district found the increase in the number of taxis and ride-sharing vehicles waiting for their next trip request are contributing to slow traffic. In San Francisco is was found that on a typical weekday, ride-hailing drivers make more than 170,000 vehicle trips, about 12 times the number of taxi trips.

Quick Hits & Updates
BART officials are starting to study a second Transbay Tube which would be the biggest Bay Area infrastructure project since the BART system was build more than 50 years ago. It would most likely cost between $12 and $15 billion at a minimum. Several routes are being considered, including Alameda and emerging in Mission Bay, paralleling the existing tube but heading up Mission Street on the west side of the bay instead of Market, or between Alameda and AT&T Park.

Last week the city of San Jose became the fourth, and largest city in the state to adopt VMT metrics. The city implemented the change end of 2017 as part of a larger effort to realign how we measure transportation impacts with the kinds of transportation investments they encourage. While traditionally, the city measured vehicle delay at intersections the city is moving towards new measurements and tools to enhance mobility and help realized the General Plan’s vision of a vibrant and livable city. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board of directors unanimously agreed to support rebuilding some intersections and ramps along the 19-mile 710 Freeway but stopped short of adding a new lane in each direction. The Directors asked Metro to prepare a list of improvements that could be built quickly with an analysis of the benefits for safety, transportation and air quality and also requested an analysis of ways to separate freight and commuter traffic, including reserving toll lanes for zero-and low-emission trucks.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) announced they had released a request for information from local developers who could build 1,000 “efficiency homes” to help shelter the city’s growing homeless population. Steinberg and housing officials are offering more than $200 million in Section 8 housing vouchers that would provide guaranteed rental income for tiny home projects and help developers attain financing as well as 4.5 million square feet of vacant land.

Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) latest Long Range Transportation Plan includes a $237 million proposal to extend carpool lanes on I-5 from Avenida Pico to the San Diego County line. The project is on the “proposed” instead of “conceptual” list and has a cost estimate attached to it. OCTA is also accepting application for $12 million in grants to help Orange County cities provide summer trolleys that offer free rides to the public.

Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Khosla filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that he should not be required to allow public access to Martins Beach in San Mateo County. Khosla argues the California Coastal Commission violated his property rights by requiring him to obtain a permit to padlock the gates to a shoreline that families used back to the 1920s after he purchased 89 acres surrounding the beach. If the Supreme Court takes up the question, it could turn into a fight over the future of California’s coastal laws.

Bay Area Council released a poll on Uber, Lyft, and Chariot and found San Franciscans view these services in a positive light (64 percent) and 66 percent had a good opinion on Muni. The survey showed almost half of respondents (48 percent) opposed limiting the number of ride-hailing vehicles on the roads while 44 percent said they support such limits. Overall those surveyed said regulating tech was a low priority with only 27 percent saying it was very important compared to addressing homelessness (73 percent), affordable housing (56 percent) and neighborhood crime (50 percent).

The second phase of Los Angeles Metro’s Purple Line subway extension is officially underway in Century City. The 2.59-mile extension final destination is the Veterans Affairs West LA campus. The project has a $2.53 billion budget including $1.5 billion from a federal grant and loan, and the project is expected to be completed by 2025. It will run west from Wilshire Boulevard and La Cienega Avenue to Century City, passing underneath Beverly Hills High School along the way.

The Department of Motor vehicles announced it will allow fully autonomous cars without safety drivers to test on public roads. The DMV outlined a permitting process for companies wishing to deploy driverless vehicles without anyone behind the wheel. The state’s Office of Administrative Law approved the regulations and public notice will go on the DMVs website March 2, which starts a 30-day clock before the first permits can be issued April 2. Companies will be able to apply for three types of permits: testing with a safety driver, driverless testing, and deployment.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office released a report "California Losing Residents Via Domestic Migration," which found that between 2007 and 2016, about five million people moved to California from other states while six million left. Migration into the state was primarily from New York, Illinois, and New Jersey while Californians leaving the state left for Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon. The article also includes information on income, education, and age.

A court hearing in San Diego Superior Court began last week to determine whether members of the California Coastal Commission failed to properly disclose private meetings, known as ex-parte communications, as required under the Coastal Act. The commissioners being charged could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

The California Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment and the city of Visalia’s final EIR for its 2030 General Plan Update. The court determined an EIR does not need to study urban decay unless a fair argument can be made that the potential economic consequences of a project are such a magnitude so as to cause physical changes in the environment, court cannot disturb a general plan for internal inconsistency, and when a local agency holds one properly noticed public hearing additional meetings are not subject to the California Planning and Zoning Law’s 10 days’ notice requirement.

Sacramento County is leading a lawsuit accusing state officials of holding secret illegal meetings about the controversial Delta tunnels project. The city of Stockton, several Delta water agencies, and a group of environmental organizations joined the lawsuit against the State Water Resources Control Board. The suit alleges officials with the Water Resources Control Board met privately with DWR and US Bureau of Reclamation representatives as far back as 2015. The plaintiffs said the secret meetings provide evidence of “deliberate obstruction, and possible collusion”.

The High Speed Rail Authority’s new CEO Brian Kelly said the HSR will take longer to build and cost more than previously estimated under the soon-to-be-released business plan, but plans to begin the project by linking the Bay Area to the Central Valley remain intact. The new 2018 business plan with new cost estimates will be released March 9.