The Superior Court rejected San Diego County’s most recent climate action plan to control greenhouse gas emissions. The court ruled that the climate action plan did not fulfill the county’s pledge to meet the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals laid out by the Air Resources Board. The court tentatively ruled that San Diego County’s Climate Action Plan (“CAP”) was invalid and ordered the county to stop using Mitigation Measure M-GHG-1, which required the county to effectively reduce emissions to achieve a target of either “no net increase” or “net zero.” The superior court CAP invalid because the plan partially relied on offsetting greenhouse gas emissions from developments by relying on offset carbon credits bought outside the County and the State of California. The judge ruled that the county’s out-of-county carbon offset provision conflicted with the County’s General Plan and that the plan allowed out-of-county offsets without adequate analysis, violating the California Environmental Quality Act. This judge also issued a permanent injunction that prohibits development projects relying on the program set forth in the M-GHG-1 mitigation measure. The ruling stalls nearly 10,000 units of county-approved projects that rely on carbon credits to reach emission targets, including the Newland Sierra, Warner Hills Ranch, and Lilac Hills Ranch developments. “It’s going to be massively curtailed because those projects that have already been approved now have a permanent injunction,” Sierra Club president Peter Andersen told KPBS. “The Board of Supervisors have to get serious about a real climate action plan that conforms with California law.” The ruling marks the third time that San Diego’s climate action plan has been rejected by courts. The county can appeal the ruling.
Bay Area Leaders Recommend Housing Fixes and New Agency
San Francisco Bay Area leaders, including mayors, developers, and transit officials, have drafted an aggressive plan to address the Bay Area’s housing crisis with a series of tax and legal initiatives. The group, the Committee to House the Bay Area (CASA) has proposed combining a regional rent cap, new property taxes, laws against arbitrary evictions, and loose zoning near transit centers. CASA also recommends creating a new agency with taxing authority to implement their recommendations. CASA is promoting the development of 35,000 homes a year, mostly intended for low- to moderate-income families. It also supports the preservation of 30,000 existing affordable housing units and 300,000 low-income households currently a risk of displacement. Public sentiment regarding CASA’s recommendations was more divisive: while some speakers at the Dec. 11 meeting entirely supported the plan, others criticized the committee for favoring big cities, developers, and tech companies. Some policymakers have expressed confidence that the CASA plan will inspire legislation in Sacramento this year.
Water Boards Release Plan to Counter Possible Weakening of Clean Water Act
The State Water Resources Control Board released a final draft of the State Wetland Definition and Procedures for Discharges of Dredged or Fill Material to Waters of the State intended to address environmentally sensitive undeveloped areas such as wetlands, streams and rivers, as well as bays and estuaries. The draft procedures contain important enhancements designed to protect and enhance ecologically sensitive areas where water exists and bring consistency to regulatory efforts by the State Water Board and nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards, while providing a common framework for monitoring and reporting water quality of remaining wetlands in California. As drafted, these Procedures clarify what is considered a wetland – and what is not. Because of past land development, the state has lost nearly 90 percent of state wetlands, with as much as 95 percent of historic coastal wetlands now gone. These draft Procedures provide much needed protection for California’s remaining wetlands. The draft Procedures are based in large part on the scientific documentation and conclusions supporting the existing US Army Corp of Engineers’ definition of a wetland. In arid portions of the state, the State Water Board’s proposed definition would protect non-vegetated wetlands (mudflats, playas, etc.) that otherwise would not be covered under federal jurisdiction. The State Water Board’s proposed definition clarifies that vegetated and unvegetated wetlands be regulated in the same manner. Waters of the state, are by definition, broader than water of the U.S. These draft procedures do not change that. The procedures are designed to ensure that the water of the state will continue to be protected if the federal waters of the U.S. protections are limited.
Los Angeles Metro to Recommend Congestion Pricing
Los Angeles Metro CEO Phil Washington announced plans to recommend “some form” of congestion pricing to the agency’s board of directors. This announcement to the agency’s congestion, highways, and roads committee followed his mid-December endorsement of congestion pricing. Washington argued that charging drivers during peak periods would both ease traffic and reduce the city’s carbon emissions. Washington also recommended reallocating toll funds to accelerate public transportation projects and subsidize free fare on Metro public transit. Committee chair John Pasana highlighted the popularity risks of charging commuters new fees. UCLA urban planning professor Michael Manville endorsed the plan, citing the historical success of congestion pricing in cities like London, Stockholm, and Singapore. Addressing criticisms that the policy unfairly benefits wealthy drivers, Manville suggested setting aside revenue to assist poorer commuters. No United States urban area has yet attempted congestion pricing, though New York Governor Andrew Cuomo suggested that a similar plan may be approved for New York City this year.
Quick Hits & Updates
Los Angeles Metro announced it has a signed letter of intent with Aerial Rapid Transit Technologies to build an aerial tram running between Union Station and the Dodger stadium. The letter will now allow the agency and company to negotiate in order to allow the proposal to move forward. ARTT estimated it would cost approximately $125 million to build and would have the capacity to move thousands of people every hour. The project is on track to open by 2022.
The Sacramento City Council approved a procedural vote that would allow the Kings to pay off the remainder of a 20-year-old loan for the development of its their former venue, Sleep Train Arena, in the coming weeks. The final $30 million payment will give the Kings formal title to the Sleep Train Arena site and allow the team to move forward with their plans to subdivide the 185-acre site for redevelopment.
San Francisco has created the world’s first transgender cultural district, Compton’s Transgender Cultural District. Originally a 12-story project was proposed in the area which activists pushed to stop. After reaching an agreement, the developer agreed to pay $300,000 to establish the district which includes a community center. In November, the city passed a proposition for a percentage of existing hotel tax to go to arts, with $3 million specifically designated for cultural districts.
The Department of Transportation announced a $15 million grant to the City of San Francisco for its Better Market Street, a $604 million project that will bring pedestrian, bicycle, and public transportation improvements to 2.2 miles of Market Street. Phase 1 of the project will cost $71.5 million and focus on the stretch between Sixth and Eighth streets. Improvements will include roadway resurfacing, streetcar track replacement, new and upgraded traffic signals, and a new F-line streetcar turnaround loop at McAllister and Seventh streets.
The City of San Jose City Council passed an ordinance that requires electric scooter providers to implement geofencing, or a similar traffic safety technology, by July 1 in order to continue operating in the City. Geofencing would create a virtual boundary that either slows e-scooters down to 5 mph or halts them on certain pedestrian-dense sidewalks downtown and near transit stops.
San Francisco Supervisors delayed voting on whether to charge tolls up to $3.50 to enter and exit Treasure Island. The plan was opposed by residents and merchants, although transit officials say it is necessary to prevent gridlock on the Bay Bridge. A development project broke ground two years ago is expected to bring 8,000 new homes to the island, along with shops, sports complexes, and a ferry terminal. The project would raise the population from 1,800 residents to 24,000 by 2035.
California Coastal Commission approved, 6-3, a controversial land swap that would eventually restore 150-acre Long Beach oil fields to its natural state as part of the Los Cerritos Wetlands. Synergy Oil would eventually stop operations and hand over the land, but won permission with Beach Oil Minerals to replace 74 old wells on the land with 120 new wells at two nearby plots totaling 12 acres. Despite a smaller location, oil production could increase 80-fold. Three more state and federal permits are needed for the project to proceed, but Coastal Commission approval has been considered the highest hurdle.
El Dorado County Judge Thomas A. Smith issued a temporary block on a South Lake Tahoe ballot measure that would put restrictions on the number of people who could stay in vacation rentals. The Measure T passed narrowly in November and would limit vacation rentals to two people for every room with a cap of 12 people total. The block prevents the city from enforcing the measure for the next 30 days.
BART estimates an approximate $4 million loss in fares and a 10 percent drop in rides to and from SFO in the past year. BART attributes some of the decline to the use of transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft. In response, BART has launched the yearlong trial of an app that includes a 25 percent discount for groups of at least two.
The San Jose City Council approved a proposal to construct 80 tiny homes at two locations to serve as temporary shelters for homeless people. The pilot program would run through at least January 2022. The tiny homes would have 80 square-feet of interior space (although some have 120 square-feet for those with disabilities) with a twin bed, storage, light, power outlet, and a lockable door. The nonprofit organization HomeFirst will operate the communities with a variety of services such as budgeting tips and career advice. The cost of renting the two sites is expected to be $30,000 through 2022 and development and construction for the sites is expected to run about $4.3 million.