Los Angeles Board of Building and Safety Commissioners tentatively signed off on a proof of concept tunnel for The Boring Company, a tunneling company based in the Los Angeles area and founded by engineer-entrepreneur Elon Musk. The proposed initial segment for the rapid transit tunnel to be built with the company’s highly touted tunneling technology will run 2.7 miles down Sepulveda Boulevard, north of Pico Boulevard until the intersection with Washington Boulevard in Culver City. City Councilmember Paul Koretz has introduced a motion, which was unanimously approved by the City Council’s public works committee, that would exempt the proof of concept tunnel is from CEQA and therefore the Bureau of Engineering could begin issuing permits. However, the public works committee recommended that the Boring Co. seek approval from Metro before digging can start. A memo from Metro CEO Phil Washington expresses skepticism about the project and asserts Metro’s jurisdiction over any such project. Construction of the proof of concept tunnel is expected to take nine months. A Boring Co. spokesperson said the tunnel would only be used for testing and would complete and EIR and secure all necessary permits before any passenger service begins. (See prior CP&DR commentary.)
San Francisco Groups May Invoke SB 35 in Tenderloin
Mission Economic Development Agency and the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. submitted an application to invoke Senate Bill 35, which allows developers to skip expensive and lengthy environmental review in exchange for building a certain amount of affordable apartments. The proposed project is a 130-unit family housing project on 681 Florida Street, a site that was donated to the city as part of the community benefits package for a 195-unit, market rate development at 2000 Bryant Street. The developers must commit to at least 50 percent affordable units. Additionally, under HOME-SF passed last year, the developer will be able to build two extra stories in exchange for 44 additional units. This will be the third project in California to seek to invoke SB 35. (See prior CP&DR coverage here and here.)
Report Analyzes Mobility and Environmental Impacts of Shared-Mobility Technologies
NRDC and Nutter Consulting released a report and recommendations “Los Angeles Shared-Mobility Climate and Equity Action Plan,” which studies whether technology-enabled shared mobility options, such as Uber, Zipcar and shared bikes and scooters are helping the environment while providing more accessible mobility options or adding more traffic and worsening air pollution and urban sprawl. The report presents a policy framework for how shared mobility can help cities reach their climate and equity goals. The research has six recommendations: (1) design shared-mobility programs and policies with and for underserved low-income communities; (2) manage city assets to prioritize walking, biking, public transit, and shared mobility over private vehicles; (3) electrify shared-mobility fleets and install ubiquitous charging infrastructure; (4) create seamless and widely accessible transit rider information systems, including payments and real-time transit data; (5) require that shared-mobility providers and the city exchange data; and (6) design system-wide shared-mobility policies and programs to enable the best environmental and social performance from all shared-mobility modes. For each of the recommendations is an action item such as eliminating minimum parking, creating an equity advisory committee, incentives, data gathering, and piloting a "Go Zone."
Court Strikes Down S.F. Eviction Ordinance
The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco struck down a San Francisco ordinance that requires landlords who evict their tenants and go out of the rental business to wait 10 years before rebuilding or renovating any of the formerly rented units, under the Ellis Act. This local law was enacted in December 2013 but the court said it penalizes property owners for exercising their rights under the Ellis Act and thus conflicts with California law. The lawyer who represented owners in the case said, “we’re hopeful that San Francisco will take heed of the decision… and be more respectful of the rights of small property owners.”
Palo Alto Adopts Zoning to Facilitate Affordable Housing
Palo Alto City Council approved, 7-2, the creation of an “Affordable Housing Combining District”, a new zoning designation that will loosen development standards for affordable-housing projects, granting them greater density, higher heights, and less stringent parking regulations. These new developments would be located near transit. The Council also voted to go with the broader definition for affordable that would apply to residents who make up to 120 percent of area median income ($102,000 for a two-person household) instead of the more restrictive 60 percent AMI. Each affordable housing project would still need to be reviewed by the City Council on an individual basis before receiving approval. According to a citizen group focused on expanding housing and transportation options, Palo Alto Forward, the city has not approved any affordable housing since 2009. The ordinance currently only applies to commercial zones where 100-percent affordable housing were not allowed in the past.
San Francisco Starts to Regulate Scooters
San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance that requires motorized scooters to obtain a permit to be parked on a sidewalk. The ordinance created by Sup. Aaron Peskin allows SFMTA to create rules for the stand-up vehicles unceremoniously dropped in the city last month by LimeBike, Bird and Spin. While some people praised the scooters as environmentally conscious alternatives to cars, others have said they are dangerous, clutter the sidewalks, and that tech companies are unfairly using public roadways to run a business. Earlier this month, the city’s Department of Public Works impounded dozens of scooters in response to complaints that they were blocking sidewalks and building entrances, and creating a hazard for pedestrians, especially those in wheelchairs. City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent a cease-and-desist letter to each of the companies, calling their scooters a “public nuisance.” (See prior CP&DR commentary.)
Hunters Point to Become ‘Incubation Zone’ for New Tech Businesses
San Francisco’s Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure unanimously approved a comprehensive reimaging of the 400-acre former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard project as an “incubation zone” with a hotel, schools, and maker spaces. The city commission assumed oversight of the property in 2011 after Gov. Jerry Brown abolished local redevelopment agencies. The new plan will make the shipyard more diverse and eclectic neighborhood than originally envisioned. The plan by developer FivePoint would increase housing from 10,500 to 10,672 units and would add a 120-room hotel, two or three educational institutions, a building for micro manufacturers, and would preserve several historic buildings that had been slated for demolition. The vote took place even as the U.S. Navy has admitted that the $1 billion clean up of the Superfund site was done incorrectly with widespread fraud and cheating. The proposal still needs approval from the Board of Supervisors, who will most likely consider it this fall. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
Feds Tie $1.4 Billion in Rail Funds to Safety
The Federal Transit Administration took the unusual step of issuing a public warning to California and 29 other states of a looming deadline for those states to prove they have complete programs to oversee and promote rail safety. Without meeting the safety requirements, California is at risk of losing at least $1.4 billion in federal train funds next year. Several national Amtrak crashes recently have highlighted the push for more safety. Officials with the State Public Utilities Commission, which oversees train safety in California, says they are finalizing the application and hope to submit to the federal government next month. California is second behind New York with the most to lose funding-wise. The deadline for meeting the safety requirements is April 15, 2019.
SPUR Launches Regional Planning Initiative in Bay Area
San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR) is launching a major new project: the development of a regional strategy for the Bay Area. The organization is working with groups such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Facebook, Genentech, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Sage Foundation, and Stanford University to “ask an important set of questions, engage the civic community and propose bold ideas that will define the public conversation over the coming years.” SPUR will develop a Regional Strategy for the Bay Area over the next three years through research, scenario planning, and analysis from SPUR policy staff and a team of consultants. The final product will attempt to advance a coherent vision of what the Bay Area can be in 2050 and a set of strategies to realize that vision.
Quick Hits & Updates
California Association of Realtors announced it has submitted almost a million signatures for a stationwide initiative aimed at expanding Prop. 13 for senior homeowners to qualify for November’s ballot. Election officials must verify the petitions to make sure they contain the required 585,000 voter signatures required. If approved, the Prop. 13 “portability” measure would allow homeowners over 55 to take their low property tax base with them after selling their home and buying a new home anywhere in the state. There would be no limit on how many times they can use the provision and no limit on home prices (although buying a more expensive home would result in a slightly higher “blended” tax assessment).
Bay Area venture capitalist Tim Draper says he has received enough signatures to qualify dividing California into three states on the November ballot. The CAL 3 campaign plans to deliver the 600,000 plus signatures, which Draper says represents all 58 counties, next week. Only 365,880 signatures are required by state law to get the initiative on the ballot. The Northern California state would be the entire northern portion north of Monterey, California would include Monterey County to the Orange County border, Southern California would include central California and the counties surrounding LA County.
Officials from nonprofits and public agencies met for the first time recently to begin updating the LA River Master Plan from 1996. However, some people are wondering why an update is required. The goal would be to have one unified plan for the whole river. The committee will meet seven more times and hold nearly two dozen subcommittee meetings to focus on specific aspects of the river from now to December 2019, when a draft review of the master plan update is expected to be made public.
The California Association of Counties selected one of its own key staff members to serve as its new Executive Director. Graham Knaus served as Deputy Executive Director or Operations and Member Services for the past three years. CSAC is the voice of California’s 58 counties at the state and federal level.
The High Desert Corridor Joint Powers Authority, in charge of multimodal transportation links between Victor and Antelope valleys, has been studying extending Metrolink service from Palmdale to Victorville. Potentially, stations would be built in Adelanto and Victorville. Currently, an ambitious 63-mile connection between the two adjacent valleys with a four lane in each direction toll freeway is under construction. However, XpressWest, the privately funded high-speed rail would bridge Las Vegas and Victorville, and later Los Angeles. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
The California Coastal Commissions supported Santa Cruz’s cap on short-term rentals, 8-2. The new rules would cap hosted rentals at 250 and phase out non-hosted rentals for vacationers in the city. Santa Cruz currently has about 330 short-term rentals with permits, half hosted with the owner on the premises and half non-hosted. An AirDNA report prepared for the city estimates 1,000 units have been listed on Airbnb at some point, with the state agency estimating “roughly 600” short-term rentals in the city. California Coastal Commission staff called the proposal a ban, and recommended the commissioners reject the proposal.
UC Davis has released an updated Long Range Development Plan and Draft EIR. The DEIR assess the potential environmental impacts of the proposed plan along with new housing projects and is available for public comment through end of May. Since 2015, the university has had extensive public outreach through forums, events and the “Campus Tomorrow” website. A public hearing to take comments about the report will be held May 3. The plan creates capacity for an additional 8,500 students, with two million square feet of additional classrooms, research labs, administrative and support space, as well as two new housing projects with approximately 5,200 beds.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inspector General has announced it will audit the $3.5 billion in federal grant money awarded to California’s high-speed rail project. State auditors are currently conducting a review on the $77 billion project. The inspector general’s office did not provide a timeline for when the federal audit will be completed. The federal money awarded to the state comes with specific conditions that the Authority’s new CEO Brian Kelly has promised to meet. These include completing a 119-mile segment of track now under construction in the Central Valley and finishing environmental reviews for the full line by 2022.
San Luis Obispo City Council began reviewing proposed new zoning laws currently under draft by city staffers with input from the Planning Commission. The vision for SLO is a denser city with smaller-sized and tiny homes, rooftop decks and more bikers and walkers. The city is concerting new development to its interior areas while preserving green spaces on the outskirts. The new policy would be the city’s first zoning update in 15 years as it moves towards its estimated population of about 57,000 by 2035. The city currently has about 46,000 people.
Union City and county officials are voting to divert $75 million in funds earmarked for a new BART station to build a new, wider road instead. The complex 3-mile roadway project is expected to cost upwards of $320 million and comes as city officials contemplate declaring a fiscal emergency and asking residents to raise their taxes to cover basic city services. City officials say the new road is critical for the station- and the proposed development around it- to thrive.
San Francisco’s Capital Planning Committee voted unanimously to put a $425 million bond measure to kick-start vital repairs to the city's seawall on the November ballot. The proposed general-obligation bond measure needs to be approved y the Board of Supervisors before going before voters. If the bond measure wins a two-thirds approval from voters, the money raised would fund the majority of the first round of planning, construction and repair work on the seawall. A poll conducted earlier this year found that 73 percent of voters would support a bond for seawall improvement.
The owner of the Mall of America is negotiating to acquire the 47-acre site of the former rocket-engine manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne in LA’s West Valley. The property is expected to sell for approximately $150 million and would be developed as an urban neighborhood with 3,950 residential units, office space, shops, restaurants, and a 210-room hotel.
The California Coastal Commission wrote two letters to the City of Del Mar emphasizing that "managed retreat" must be one of the tools in the toolbox in dealing with sea-level rise. The city has decided to include “managed retreat” as a last-resort option despite widespread objections from homeowners. Managed retreat is a term that describes planning for ways to remove homes, roads, public buildings, and other structures from the path of the rising sea. The idea is controversial in Del Mar, where hundreds of multimillion-dollar homes are built near sea level on the northern end of town near the beach and San Dieguito River. Residents of the city prefer a combination of beach replenishment, sand retention, and flood management projects.
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed $91 million to fund Vision Zero, an initiative to eliminate traffic-related deaths in the city by 2025. Garcetti is releasing the budget this week, but revealed during a City Hall news conference that he has tripled the amount that was budgeted for the program last year. (See prior CP&DR commentary here and here.)