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CP&DR News Briefs May 23, 2018: Affordable Housing; SoMA Upzoning; San Diego RHNA Targets; and More

Noemi Wyss on
May 20, 2018
The California Housing Partnership and Southern California Association of Non Profit Housing released three reports that outline how the elimination of the redevelopment agencies and public sector support for affordable housing has affected Southern California. Riverside County and San Bernardino County have a nearly 137,000-unit shortfall in affordable rental housing.The San Bernardino County report explains that renters in the county need to earn $30.96 per hours (or 2.8 times the state minimum wage) to afford the median monthly rent of $1,610. The report found the county needs 72,032 more affordable rental homes to meet current demand. The Riverside County report found an 11 percent increase in homelessness between 2016 and 2017. Riverside County’s lowest-income renters spend 66 percent of income on rent. The final report focuses on Los Angeles County and found the county needs 548,255 more affordable rental homes to meet current demand. The LIHTC housing production declined 54 percent in 2017 in L.A. County. The reports propose an “aggressive campaign” in support of a $4 billion housing bond that has qualified to appear on the November ballot. Other recommendations include bringing back redevelopment funding for affordable housing and reducing the threshold for voter approval of local funding of affordable housing and infrastructure from 67 to 55 percent.

Plan to Upzone SoMA Moves Forward
The San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously approved a massive neighborhood rezoning plan for the South of Market (SoMA) neighborhood that includes more potential housing than the original plan. The Centra SoMA Plan is projected to bring up to 33,000 new jobs and 8,300 homes to the neighborhood over the next 30 years as opposed to the 40,000 jobs and 7,000 homes proposed in the original plan. The plan calls for 33 percent of the homes to be affordable. Through fees and taxes levied on the new development, the plan is expected to generate roughly $2 billion in public benefits that would be funneled back into neighborhood improvements such as transit, streets, and facilities needs. The plan must still be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

SANDAG Requests Reduction in Housing Targets
The San Diego Association of Governments board voted to ask state officials to reduce the county’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment targets for housing production in the county. The state has asked SANDAG, through RHNA, to plan for more than 171,000 new homes between 2021 and 2029. SANDAG staff has recommended asking the state to lower housing production goals “to better reflect realistic condition in the region.” The housing goals are rarely met in any region of California, and every city in San Diego County except Lemon Grove, is failing them. The county has permitted less than a third of the homes allowed for in the current 2020 plans.

Nine Proposals Unveiled in Resilient by Design Challenge
The nine teams that participated in the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge over the past year presented their final designs to the public. While some include lofty language and no concrete plans, all projects have helped raise awareness around flood risks and come up with unique ideas. Each team worked on a different site in the Bay Area. One plan is to raise State Highway 37 twenty feet off the ground to create a “Grand Bayway” that would speed traffic and allow tidal flows to restore the marshlands underneath. Another group has planned a network of flourishing greenways that would provide recreation and ecological benefits, as well as a buffer against raising bay water, in San Leandro. Now the projects will have to find funding to begin construction and implementation. Resilient by Design is intended to develop innovative solutions to address the effects of sea level rise, severe storms, flooding, and earthquakes in communities around the San Francisco Bay.

Study Identifies Undeveloped Parcels in Big-City Downtowns
CommercialCafe released a study on vacant developable parcels in central business districts in 25 cities across the country. Parcels of at least 0.5 acres were identified, with 584 acres total identified in the study’s 25 cities. The study also looked at the amount of construction that had taken place in each city since 2013. The California cities that were analyzed were Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Jose — all of which ranked in the bottom half. The study found Los Angeles had 12.61 vacant acres and almost 5 million square feet of CBD construction since 2013, of which 3.3 million square feet was housing. Sacramento was found to be one of the densest urban cores with only 6.54 vacant land — the smallest amount except for Tampa. San Jose almost 15 acres of vacant developable land. Survey respondents in San Jose also showed stronger preference for expanded coverage of subway transport. Dallas had the most undeveloped land, with 86 acres. The study revealed little correlation between amount of vacant land and amount of development. 

Los Angeles Groups Sue to Block Homeless Housing
Amid cries to solve Los Angeles's homelessness crisis, the Oxford Triangle Association and Fight Back, Venice filed identical lawsuits against the City of Los Angeles over a pair of recently passed laws that are intended to ease requirements for sheltering homeless people. The Venice group alleges that the city failed to fully consider the environmental impacts of the two laws. The ordinances being challenged make it easier to build permanent supportive housing and to convert motels to units for homeless people. The plaintiffs want full environmental review completed for the projects to provide opportunity for comment or feedback. The law slashes parking requirements and allows permanent supportive housing projects to be built taller or denser than otherwise allowed.

Quick Hits & Updates
According to a new report from commercial realty brokerage CBRE, the office market in downtown Oakland and San Francisco are the tightest in the nation with lower office vacancy levels than those in Manhattan or Boston. During the first quarter of 2018, office vacancy rate in downtown Oakland was 5.3 percent, downtown San Francisco was 5.7 percent, and 6.5 percent in Manhattan Midtown South. Downtown San Jose has an office vacancy rate of 11.9 percent, which CBRE reports is a healthy level. However, with tech giants such as Google, Adobe Systems, Facebook, and Apple buying or leasing properties for major campus expansions in Silicon Valley, vacancy rates could dwindle in San Jose as well.

Oakland City Council approved an “exclusive negotiating agreement” with the Oakland A’s, allowing the two to begin talks about constructing a ballpark at the Coliseum. The nine-month agreement will allow the team President Dave Kaval to study whether the 112 acre East Oakland site is the right fit. Last month, the A’s and the Port of Oakland agreed to study Howard Terminal as a potential site.

The opening of San Francisco Muni’s Central Subway from Caltrain to Chinatown is already a year behind schedule, but it could be pushed into 2022 after discovery that a contractor installed 3.2 miles of the wrong grade of rail. In mid April, Muni told contractor Tutor Perini that it would reject the standard-strength rails as not meeting the specifications of the contract, and called for them to be removed and replaced with high-strength rails at the contractor’s expense. The difference in rail is not a safety issue, but rather life expectancy.

A second Metrolink stop has opened near Burbank Airport. The new station at Hollywood Way and San Fernando Road on the Antelope Valley Line will run from downtown LA through the San Fernando Valley and up to Lancaster. The trains will run to the airport on weekends, although only every 2.5 hours. The new station is about a mile from the Burbank airport terminal and a free shuttle will meet every train, until a new terminal is built so travelers can walk.

A new study from real estate website Trulia, found millennials are disproportionately affected by the housing crisis in the Bay Area. Millenials, ages 20 to 36, are the largest prospective home buying generation, but 98 percent of those hoping to become homeowners in the next year have encountered obstacles such as starter homes in San Jose starting at $700,000 (an increase of 12 percent from a year ago).   
Sonoma County leaders are moving forward with plans to move out of their sprawling north Santa Rosa government campus and free up the space for at least 1,400 housing units. The government buildings have a maintenance backlog of $258 million and county officials think building a newer, denser office complex elsewhere and freeing up land for homes would be a better use of space. The new locations for the government center include an existing site centered in the area around Administration Drive, downtown Santa Rosa, the county airport business park, or another location proposed by a developer. If the county moves downtown, it could opt to share a site with the Santa Rosa city government. The Board of Supervisors will consider the options this month.

Thousand Oaks City Council approved amendments to the land use element of the city’s general plan that would allow the construction of 1,088 new residential units. The amendments would zone change seven residential neighborhoods to adjust their density downward to match their existing density. The adjustment resulted in 1,088 potential new residential units to be added into Measure E’s “Bank” for possible development elsewhere in the city.

Los Angeles Metro has amended its proposed budget to include $500,000 to begin the environmental study of the Crenshaw Line Northern Extension. Metro could start the draft EIR review by next summer, if directors can agree on a set of alternatives to study. WeHo’s advocacy had a letter-writing campaign to Metro exhorting the transit agency to “fund and commence an EIR… as promised” in preparation for a desired construction start date of 2020.  The project is expected to receive $2.2 billion under Measure M’s expenditure plan with an expected opening date in the late 2040s. The City of West Hollywood enthusiastically supports the extension. 

A Fresno Superior Court judge ordered the city of Fresno to rescind an ordinance that would have shut down a majority of local recycling centers by restricting where they could operate as a way to deal with homeless people and crime. The ordinance unanimously approved in September by the City Council was set to go into effect this week. The ordinance was a response to complaints from businesses and residents who said the city’s 22 California Redemption Value recycling centers attract homeless people and drug addicts into their neighborhoods.  Judge Jane Cadoza granted a mandate, sought by the California Grocers Association, which argued the law violated CEQA and conflicted with the state Recycling Act.

The city of West Sacramento launched a yearlong citywide microtransit pilot this week. The pilot includes a fleet of 10 six-passenger Mercedes vans in response to the strain that ride-sharing services have put on the finances of traditional mass transit systems like buses and trains. West Sacramento partnered with Via, a New York City-based microtransit company that partners with cities around the world and also operates its service independently in some places. For a flat fee of $3.50 ($1.75 for seniors), anyone can hail a van from anywhere in the city, by smartphone app or regular phone call. The vans will not go exactly where the rider wants, but will drop passengers off within a block or a block and a half at most.  

U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert of Riverside County has included a provision in a budget bill that would prohibit state or federal lawsuits against “the Final Environmental Impact Report/ Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan/ California Water Fix… and any resulting agency decision, record of decision, or similar determination.” Calvert said after more than a decade of studies and more than 50,000 pages of environmental documents, all project stakeholders have had opportunities to express their thoughts and concerns. MWD, the state’s largest water district, agreed to contribute $10.8 billion to help pay for construction of the two tunnels.

Los Angeles City Council approved, 13-1, a new levy system that would allow developers, businesses and homeowners who are required by the city to replace or plant trees to instead pay a fee to get out of the obligation. City officials say the new fee will raise money to fund tree planting in nearby areas. Other California cities such as San Francisco have similar fees to pay for trees. Large developers will be charged $2,612 for a tree while smaller developers and homeowners $267.

The board of the California High Speed Rail Authority approved a new business plan. Board chairman Dan Richards said, “we are going to deliver high-speed rail for the people of California.” The goal is to build the train between LA and San Francisco by 2033 at an estimated price of $77 billion. The business plan is required every two years. CEO Brian Kelly wants the Legislature by 2021 to approve a financing plan that would allow the authority to borrow money for construction against revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program that charges polluters to release greenhouse gases. Kelly is also asking lawmakers to extend cap-and-trade to 2050, beyod its current expiration date of 2030.

The measure to allow homeowners 55 and older to take a portion of their Prop. 13 property tax benefits with them when they move within the state is eligible for the statewide ballot in November. The measure is sponsored by the California Association of Realtors and has exceeded the 585,407 valid petition signatures it needed to qualify.
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