Following up on his failed Senate Bill 827 from last year, Senator Scott Wiener introduced Senate Bill 50, the More HOMES (Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity, and Stability) Act. Supported by California YIMBY, non-profit housing organization, SB 50 includes reform of zoning codes and incentives to allow different types of housing for the growing economy and population. Other components of the bill includes ability for cities to approve new, infill housing near transit stations; aggressive protections for existing renters against displacement and eviction; special consideration for communities of concern; incentives for developers to build more mixed market-rate and affordable housing; and elimination of outdated parking requirements. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
Final Draft of CEQA Guidelines Submitted to Office of Administrative Law
The California Natural Resources Agency submitted proposed final amendments to the CEQA Guidelines to the Office of Administrative Law. Some of the revisions are related to SB 743 while others amend and clarify the guidelines to align with recent court decisions. The most substantive change deals with traffic analyses and the disposition of level of service (LOS) and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as thresholds of significance. The change is encouraged to provide more compact, infill, and transit-oriented development. Other notable changes include a separate topic within Appendix G for wildfire and energy. Additionally, the topic of new, expanded, or relocated natural gas, electric power, and telecommunications facilities has been added as a checklist question addressing construction of new infrastructure. Section 15182 has been expanded to include an exemption for residential, commercial, and mixed-use projects that are located near transit. The CEQA Guidelines will be presented at the CLE CEQA Conference December 13 and 14 in San Francisco and will be featured in upcoming AEP 2019 Advanced CEQA Workshops.
San Jose Finalizes Sale of Parcels for Downtown Google Campus
The San Jose City Council unanimously approved the sale of six parcels of land west of downtown to Google for a corporate campus of 25,000 workers and accompanying housing. Mayor Sam Liccardo called the sale an important “first step” toward achieving a vibrant mixed-use development in a region dominated by parking lots and vacant industrial buildings. The tech company is planning to develop approximately 50 acres into offices, residential units, shops, restaurants, and parks. The complete plan is not yet clear, as there are still issues related to building height limits, rezoning, and finding substitute parking for lots used during SAP Center events. Liccardo told reporters he shares concerns about the availability of housing but thinks Google can play a role in solving the city’s “affordable housing crisis”. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
Federal Legislation Would Continue Water Transfers from North to South
Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield are leading efforts to include an extension of expiring provisions in the 2016 Water Infrastructure for Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act into the spending bill that Congress must pass this month. The proposal would be designed to extend the delivery through 2028 of more Northern California water to Southern California, and help settle contentious negotiations underway in Sacramento on Delta water flows. The legislation would make $670 million in federal funding available for California water storage projects as well as desalination and water recycling programs. The WIIN Act also gives the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project more operational flexibility to increase water deliveries at certain times of year, leaving less water in the system for Chinook salmon and other endangered species.
Ballot Measure Would Terminate Prop. 13 Benefits for Heirs
State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) is proposing a ballot measure to end a tax break for children who inherit their parents’ homes and continue to pay low property taxes under Proposition 13. The provision has allowed celebrities, out-of-state professionals, and other wealthy heirs to collect large sums in rental income from their parents’ homes while paying small property tax bills. In the proposed measure, only children who live in their parents’ home would be able to receive the state’s property inheritance tax break. If the children do not move into their parents’ homes within a year, the property would be reassessed at its current market value, resulting in larger property tax bills.
Activists Sue to Block Greenfield Developments in San Diego County
Two lawsuits challenging the Newland Sierra housing project in San Diego County have been filed in Superior Court. Both lawsuits claim the 2,135-unit development poses a threat to the community and wildlife. One lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Endangered Habitats League and the other includes the Buena Creek Action Group, the California Native Plant Society, the Twin Oaks Valley Action Group, the Friends of the Hidden Valley Zen Center, the Deer Springs Oaks Action Group, Golden Door Properties, LLC, and 25 individual community members. The Board of Supervisors approved the project by a 4-0 vote. The Registrar of Voters is still verifying the more than 117,000 signatures on petitions calling for a countywide vote in 2020 to overturn the supervisors’ approval.
Pollution Credit Auction Nets $813 Million
The California Air Resources Board will receive more than $813 million from the Nov. 14 auction of the state’s air pollution credits to industrial and commercial buyers. This is the 17th quarterly cap-and-trade auction since the fall of 2012. Money from the auction is used by CARB for projects and programs that promise short- and long-term improvement in air pollution and carbon emissions. In California, 25 percent of the proceeds from the auction go to the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority. That means the authority should receive approximately $203 million from the latest auction. The cap-and-trade program has been extended through 2030 which has resolved concerns about the program’s future.
Quick Hits & Updates
Stockton City Council approved, 6-1, the Envision Stockton General Plan 2040. The plan includes primarily redevelopment of infill properties but also the potential development of 3,800 acres of undeveloped land north of Eight Mile Road. Former Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston opposed the Economic Education Enterprise portion of the general plan saying there was as steady push to keep building northward since the 1970s, which has been detrimental for the rest of the city. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
The League of California Cities announced four main strategic goals for 2019: providing cities additional funding and tools to preserve local authority to address housing production, affordability, and homelessness challenges; improving disaster preparedness, recovery, and climate resiliency; promoting sustainability of public pension and retirement health benefits; and addressing public safety concerns.
Assembly Transportation Chairman Jim Frazier has called for High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard to step down after a hearing on the audit, which asserts the state wasted billions of dollars due to poor management. The state financial review last month faulted the agency for issuing construction contracts before it owned land, failed to document the work it paid for was actually completed correctly, and relied too heavily on costly outside consultants.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris are asking Congress for $9 billion in disaster aid to recover from this fall’s wildfires. Congress is focused on an end-of-year spending package to fund the Department of Homeland Security and several other major agencies. The senators’ requested amount is the same amount Gov. Jerry Brown said is needed to help Californians recover.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff announced he is donating $6.1 million to turn a vacant Tenderloin hotel into housing for formerly homeless people. The Bristol Hotel would include 58 refurbished room. The new occupants had to have lived at least three years inside one of the City’s supportive housing facilities and have shown that they have become financially independent to get a good recommendation from their housing managers. Rents would range from $500 to $650 a month.
The Department of Housing and Community Development has released a revised 2018 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) Application forms. The revised forms, instructions, and workbooks were updated to eliminate redundancies and be more user-friendly. The applications must be submitted by February 5, 2019. The HCD will make available “office hours” to discuss existing projects and/or applications. The dates are December 4 and 5 in El Centro, December 13 in Sacramento, and December 19 in Hanford.
Santa Cruz City Council voted unanimously to pass a resolution to reduce citywide emissions and draw down carbon from the atmosphere as quickly as possible. The declaration claims, “corrective and preventive actions requires mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II”. Santa Cruz joins Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond in declaring climate change an emergency. The resolution is based on an early version submitted by nonprofit Santa Cruz Climate Action Network based on those passed by other Bay Area cities.
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to decline grant funding for the 80-year-old Reid-Hillview Airport. This “no” vote means no FAA grants for another twenty years leaving the airport vulnerable to closure by a future board. FAA rules currently require the airport to remain open for another 12 years, so officials will not begin discussing the reuse of the site immediately. However, the board did vote to ask the FAA to lift restriction on airport property use when the rule expires in 2031.
Senators Jim Beall (D-San Jose) and Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) introduced legislation that would help develop comprehensive policy and funding legislation focused on affordable housing for seniors, nurses, teachers, veterans and low and middle income Californians. The first bill, SB5, focused on funding that would build affordable housing for working families and seniors and revitalize neighborhoods throughout the state.
San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors approved a plan that would generate millions of dollars to build workforce housing. The plan calls for fees on new homes over 2,200 square feet to help fund low-income housing and to reform the environmental permitting process to streamline projects and get more housing to market. Another goal set by the board is a three-year pilot program to set aside between $2 and $4 million a year in local dollars to leverage outside funding for construction of low-income and workforce housing. The deal was recommended by a coalition of community organizations as a way to generate more homes for all levels of income.
Fresno City Council unanimously voted to establish a task force to tackle gentrification in the City. City planning documents adopted in 2016 and 2017, such as the Downtown Neighborhoods Community Plan and the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan also call for the task force. The resolution authorized the mayor to appoint the task force members and require Councilmember approval.
LA Metro CEO Phil Washington endorsed congestion pricing, telling the board of directors that rush-hour tolls on drivers could fund free fares on public transit. Washington suggested that a congestion pricing system would encourage more drivers to take public transit, while cutting down on traffic throughout the city. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti suggested the agency should consider the option but it could be a political risk by charging new fees on drivers in such a car-dependent city. Board Director Sheila Kuehl pointed out that residents in areas served poorly by public transit would be forced to pay more to drive without being able to benefit from free trains and bus rides.
Las Vegas Xpress Inc., the company that is developing passenger rail service between Southern California and Las Vegas and operator of X Wine Railroad, selected First Transit Group to operate the X Train. First Group operates globally and includes five rail and bus divisions, including Greyhound Lines, the largest motorcoach service in the U.S. and Canada. The plan is to begin operations of the X Train in mid-2019.