The U.S. Senate passed a massive public lands package to protect and promote wilderness, recreation, national parks, and national monument areas, including major expansions of California national parks. The measure, which combines more than 100 public-lands bills, permanently reauthorizes the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired last fall. It will also create 700,000 acres of new conservation and recreation area nationwide. In California, the package includes Sen. Dianne Feinstein's landmark Desert Protection and Recreation Act, which expands both Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks, adding 4,518 and 35,292 acres to each respectively. This is a particular victory for supporters of Joshua Tree, which vandals damaged during the 35-day government shutdown. Another key measure designates six new Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Areas. Further provisions in the bill include designating Inyo County Bureau of Land Management Land as the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, adding eight new Bureau of Land Management wilderness areas, expanding the San Gorgonio Wilderness, and protecting 81,800 acres of Imperial County wilderness.
BART, Amtrak Consider Partnership to Expand Bay Area Rail
BART and Amtrak announced joint plans to consider a new $15 billion transbay line from Sacramento to San Francisco, including a new Transbay Tube with separate tracks for both Amtrak and BART services. The project would add a second San Francisco-bound regional line to Amtrak’s existing Capitol Corridor service, which runs through Oakland and Hayward to San Jose. The current trip from Sacramento to San Francisco Capitol Corridor passengers to transfer to a bus or BART at Oakland stations. But, according to David Kutrosky, managing director of the Capitol Corridor, that hasn’t diminished demand for the ride. “Even with these transfers in the East Bay, the Sacramento-to-San Francisco trip is the most popular on the line, averaging about 750,000 trips per year,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. Bart and Amtrak are considering two endpoints for the proposed line: either at the San Francisco Transbay Transit Center, or at a location further south, such as the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets. As part of initial planning, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has commissioned a study to assess the viability of a potential high-speed rail line, and to compare the merits of a cross-bay tunnel or bridge. In November, BART submitted a $50 million bid to fund the line.
CARB Releases Draft Climate Change Implementation Plan
The California Air Resources Board released its January 2019 Draft California 2030 Natural and Working Lands Climate Change Implementation Plan. The plan, a multi-agency collaboration, outlines several key objectives to improve air and water quality, wildlife habitat, and recreation on working and natural lands. Objectives include integrating climate goals into state-funded land programs; increasing conservation, restoration, and management of these lands through State programs; and identifying future policy to use natural and working land to meet long-term climate objectives of net zero or negative carbon emissions. The agencies committed to implementing the plan include CARB, the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Environmental Protection Agency, and the Strategic Growth Council. To track progress toward 2030 goals, CARB also released a Natural and Working Lands Inventory that quantitatively estimates existing carbon levels stored in the state’s land base.
Water Boards Approves New Protections for Wetlands, Waterways
The State Water Board released and adopted its final draft of the State Wetland Definition and Procedures for Discharges of Dredged or Fill Material to Waters of the State. The draft intends to increase protection and restoration of the state’s fragile undeveloped areas, including wetlands, rivers, bays, and estuaries. Overall, the new policy aims to prevent net loss in the quality, quantity, and sustainability of waters of the state. Notably, the draft broadens the state’s definition of wetland to include non-vegetated areas in more arid regions, like mudflats and playas. The expanded definition ensures that waters of the state will remain protected even where the federal definition of waters is limited. The draft also strengthens regulations on discharging dredged or fill materials, and provides a consistent framework for monitoring wetland water quality. The Definition and Procedures provide much-needed protection to what remains of undeveloped wetland areas: land development has erased nearly 90 percent of state wetlands, including 95 percent of coastal wetlands. The State Water Board adopted the procedures in Sacramento Feb. 5.
State Accepts Applications for $40 Million in Affordable Housing Support
The California Housing Finance Agency is accepting applications for its Multifamily Mixed-Income Program. The program, created as part of 2017’s Senate Bill 2, offers $40 million in funding to statewide developers of multifamily, mixed-income housing projects. For many developers, $40 million would cover only a fraction of construction costs. But representatives of the state’s housing authority claim that the reward should supplement other funding sources, including state loans and tax credits. Additionally, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a one-time $500 million addition to the program in his 2019-20 state budget proposal. The state estimates that the project would produce 750 to 1,124 homes annually. Applications are due April 30, and state officials will announce rewards this summer. Projects with the lowest subsidy requests will receive preference, as well as projects that designate at least 10 percent of the units for “missing middle” incomes of 80 to 120 percent of area median income.
Quick Hits & Updates
The California Air Resources Board released a plan to reduce air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley. The plan increases emission regulations and offers $5 billion in incentives to residents and business owners to replace their high-emission vehicles and equipment. Air quality in San Joaquin Valley cities consistently rank among the worst in the nation, and most fail to meet federal air regulations. Under the plan, Valley officials hope to meet federal standards by 2024.
The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a plan, 13-0, to open a 154-bed homeless shelter on Sunset Avenue in the heart of Venice. The $5 million facility would be temporary with a modular tent structure holding 100 beds, and nine trailers for youths. The shelter is part of Mayor Garcetti’s Bridge Home program, which aims to place at least one homeless shelter in each of the 15 council districts. The project is exempt from CEQA but does need approval from the California Coastal Commission.
Caltrans released a report, Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments, which highlights the negative effects of climate change on the state’s highway system and infrastructure. The report primarily discusses areas in Northern California and the Central Valley that were impacted by extreme temperatures and frequent wildfires recently. Caltrans plans to issue a total of 12 reports for each region in the state.
According to data from San Francisco Planning Department analysis, the city loses more than one existing affordable housing unit for every two it creates. On average between 2008 and 2018, the city lost more than 400 rent-controlled units while an average of 650 new affordable units were built each year. The report also found that less than 18 percent of all new units created in the last 10 years were considered affordable.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti invited community organizations to apply for $2.5 million in street improvements and community outreach to reimagine public spaces in their own neighborhoods. The Great Streets Challenge, now in its third round, is designed to transform streets and urban corridors across Los Angeles into vibrant, walkable spaces that reflect the unique character of their communities.
The Santa Clara City Council approved the Bay Area’s first farm-centered housing community in a 361-home, 1.7-acre project dubbed the “Agrihood". The project, which sets aside 165 of its apartments for low-income seniors, is the long-sought compromise between officials seeking affordable housing development and residents pushing to preserve the site’s agricultural legacy. It follows in the model of a similar 2015 project in Davis dubbed The Cannery.
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority is considering a reservation-and-pricing system to drive down the 1000 Lombard Street block. Currently, the iconically crooked stretch of road draws two million visitors per year, and 27,000 cars on an average weekend day. Residents will vote on either a five dollar fee at all times, or five dollar weekday and ten dollar weekend fees. With spaced reservations, the SFCTA expects only eight cars on the block at a time.
A recent CoreLogic report showed that the Bay Area housing market surged in early 2018, but downshifted significantly in the last three months of the year. According to the data, the median home rate increased by 17 percent and hit an all-time high in June at $875,00, but fell by 10 percent in the following six months. Further, home sales bottomed out in December 2018, hitting their lowest rates in 11 years.
The California Imperial Irrigation District (IID) asked for $200 million in federal funding to restore the Salton Sea as part of multi-state negotiations for Colorado Drought Contingency Plans. California Senator Dianne Feinstein expressed support for the IID’s request to restore the badly polluted and depleting inland lake, urging Trump officials to use funds from the recently-passed Farm Bill to fund the restoration. The federal government set a January 31 deadline to reach an agreement to reduce dependency on the Colorado River for water.
Santa Rosa city officials received more requests to build secondary home “granny units" in the last year than the previous decade combined. This change results from the City Council’s 2017 decision to ease regulations on building and leasing secondary homes in the wake of the 2017 Santa Rosa fires.
New data released by the Federal Housing Finance Agency shows that the value of an acre of Sacramento County land for single-family housing has increased by 135 percent since 2012. The land value increase in Sacramento County overshadows its home value increase, which rose by 85 percent in the same period.
A California Department of Water Resources survey of Sacramento County found that areas in Yolo County have sunk significantly since 2008. Most notably, the town of Arbuckle has sunk 2.14 feet compared with baseline measurements. The County’s Subsidence Report assesses that these changes can be attributed to aggressive groundwater pumping throughout the years of the statewide drought, during which groundwater levels reached all-time lows.
Borre Winckel, President and CEO of the Building Industry Association of San Diego, condemned the city for its failure to meet goals for housing production, citing a recent report showing that San Diego housing production slowed in 2018. Winckel also noted that the city has only built about 7700 new units annually, which is about half of the new units required to meet the housing production goal for 2020.