In the most visible symbol of his campaign to increase housing production in the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom met with dozens of California mayors from cities identified as having deficient housing plans at Long Beach City College to discuss policy solutions for meeting state housing goals. The meeting comes on the heels of the governor’s State of the State address, in which he called out major cities resisting compliance to the state's aggressive new affordable housing laws. The governor has already sued the city of Huntington Beach for its alleged failure to build affordable housing – and 47 other California cities have similarly failed to comply with statewide standards. However, his address struck a note of compromise: “I don’t want to sue 47 other cities,” he said after the meeting, according the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “Quite the contrary, I want to work and collaborate with all of the representatives in those communities, and I want to understand the challenges and struggles they face.” (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
Trump Administration Seeks to Cancel High Speed Rail Funds
The U.S. Department of Transportation may try to cancel $929 million awarded to California High Speed Rail, and asked the state to return $2.5 billion of already-spent funds. This announcement follows through on President Donald Trump’s recent Twitter threat to recall federal funding for the project awarded in 2010. Initial plans for the rail project, approved by voters in 2008, promised to link Los Angeles to San Francisco with a four-hour bullet train. However, lawsuits, delays, and a ballooning budget have since plagued the project. In his recent State of the State address, Governor Gavin Newsom announced plans to significantly downsize the initial project, refocusing on the short-term goal to complete one 171-mile segment of track in central California. On Twitter, Governor Newsom resisted Trump’s threats to revoke funding, writing, “This is California’s money, and we are going to fight for it.” However, the 2010 grant agreement outlines several possible scenarios to revoke a grant, including if the grantee “fails to make adequate progress” or “fails to complete the project or one of its tasks.” According to the Associated Press, the Department of Transportation said it was “actively exploring every option,” to get back the already-spent funds. (See prior CP&DR commentary.)
AIDS Healthcare Foundation Sues over Hollywood Development
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the organization that sponsored Los Angeles’ failed slow-growth ballot measure in 2017, filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles and the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles (CRA/LA) over their approval of a $1 billion residential project in Hollywood at the historic Crossroads of the World. The proposed project was one of the catalysts that inspired AHF’s slow-growth campaign. The Crossroads project, unanimously approved in January, includes plans for three high rises buildings with 905 new apartments, 308 hotel rooms, and 190,000 square feet of retail space. Though the project creates space for affordable apartments, it would demolish 84 rent-controlled apartments. AHF’s lawsuit claims that the project violates the California Environmental Quality Act, the Community Redevelopment Law, the Planning and Zoning Law, and the Los Angeles Municipal Code. “We believe that the city and the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles has shown deliberate indifference to the serious negative impacts and resulting gentrification that this enormous luxury project will have in Hollywood and along Sunset Boulevard,” Michael Weinstein, president of AHF, told the Associated Press. "To paraphrase famed actress Gloria Swanson: we hope they’re ready for their close-up.” (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
Delta WaterFix Could be Scaled Down to One Tunnel
Governor Gavin Newsom announced plans to downsize the Delta WaterFix project from two tunnels to one. WaterFix's initial $16.7 billion plans proposed a twin tunnel system diverting some of the Sacramento River near Courtland and piping it underground to the Delta pumps. The tunnel system aims to resolve the current pumping system's “reverse flow” inefficiencies that waste water and compromise the Delta’s endangered fish populations. The tunnels would also ensure that Southern California cities maintain access to drinking water in the event of an earthquake or rising sea levels. Environmentalists and government officials have long opposed WaterFix, arguing that diverting water would leave the estuary saltier and less conducive to growing crops. The system also faces funding challenges: it relies on the support of Southern California water agencies, and federal funding remains uncertain. Newsom's single-tunnel plans will likely save billions of dollars, and attempts a compromise between agricultural and environmental interests. According to the Sacramento Bee, Newsom said in his announcement, “We have to get past the old binaries, like farmers versus environmentalists, or North versus South." He also appointed Joaquin Esquivel as new chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, whom he hopes will “bring this balance."
Report: High Housing Costs Exacerbate Segregation in Bay Area
The California Housing Partnership published a report showing that the rising costs of Bay Area housing has dramatically increased racial segregation throughout the nine Bay Area counties. The report, co-authored with U.C. Berkeley researchers and funded by the San Francisco Foundation, analyzed census data from 2000 to 2015 in each of the counties. Researchers found that increased housing prices have disproportionately affected minorities: a 30 percent increase in median rent corresponded with a 28 percent decrease in low-income minority households, but no significant change in the number of white households. The data showed that low-income African-American and Latino populations have increasingly moved from historically ethnic neighborhoods in San Francisco and Oakland toward cities at the edges of the region, like Antioch, Fairfield, and Vallejo. For these populations, the move has often resulted in a decrease in quality of life: displaced families ended up paying a higher share of their income on rent, and had reduced access to resources like grocery stores and high-quality schools. “Rising housing prices have effectively reinforced and re-created long standing patterns of housing segregation,” Dan Rinzler, one of the report’s authors, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “There’s almost nowhere that’s actually affordable to low-income people of color.”
Quick Hits & Updates
Complementing the introduction of Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 50 to promote transit oriented housing development, Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) proposed an aggressive bill to that would prevent local jurisdictions from enacting certain limitations on the production of housing. Senate Bill 330 would block high-cost regions from placing limits on new housing construction, and prohibit limits on the number of new units for a given piece of land. Among other proposals, it would also prohibit parking requirements for new developments in these regions, eliminate local fees on low-income housing development, and prohibit demolition of rent controlled apartments.
The Oakland Raiders and the Oakland Coliseum are close to reaching an agreement to maintain their presence in the city through 2019 and possibly 2020, according to reporting from The San Francisco Chronicle. Under the deal, the Las Vegas-bound team would pay $7.5 million this year, with the rent rising to $10.5 million if their Las Vegas stadium isn’t ready for the 2020 season.
A federal appeals court rejected environmental objections to President Trump’s proposed border wall. The state of California and environmental advocacy groups sued the Department of Homeland Security, objecting to the construction of prototype walls and the replacement of fencing in San Diego and Imperial counties. However, the court overrode these objections, citing an immigration law that allows the Department to install additional physical barriers and roads near the border.
Petaluma officials plan to file a petition to the California Supreme Court to review its pleas to reclaim funds from a redevelopment agency dissolved in 2011 by former Governor Jerry Brown. These funds amount to $8.6 million in assets: about $6 million for economic development, and the rest for affordable housing. The city of Petaluma’s reclamation pleas have been twice-denied by lower courts.
The Oakland A’s are facing new opposition from two separate interest groups against its proposed waterfront ballpark at Howard Terminal. Save the Bay, a local environmental organization, has raised questions about environmental impacts of the development plans. The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association and the bar pilots association expressed concerns about land and water traffic around the terminal, as well as the effect of bright lights on pilots navigating the narrow estuary.
Voice of San Diego is threatening to sue San Diego State University for withholding public records outlining its plans for its proposed Mission Valley campus. The group is seeking substantive proof behind the university’s claims that costs of the expansive construction project – which includes a new stadium, river park, and student housing – would not impact student tuition.
The Los Angeles Ethics Commissioners voted to recommend that the city council enact limits on political contributions. Their recommended rules would restrict many developers and businesses from donating to LA officials, and would restrict money raised by politicians who request donations for preferred causes. The recommendations now face approval by the LA City Council Rules Committee.
A nonprofit advocacy group sued UC Berkeley, claiming that the university failed to analyze the environmental impacts of increasing student enrollment. According to the lawsuit from Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, the increase in student enrollment has worsened homelessness, traffic congestion, and violated the California Environmental Quality Act, among other charges. In 2005, UC Berkeley set a 2020 Long Range Development Plan, accounting for an increasing in 1,650 students. However, the actual increase over the past 13 years has been 8,302; a fivefold increase over planned numbers.
Gov. Gavin Newsom met with the mayors of Fresno, Merced, and Bakersfield to confirm his support of a high-speed rail between Merced and Bakersfield. This came just a day after the Governor’s State of the State address, during which he announced plans to scale back the state’s multi-billion dollar high-speed rail project. According to the mayors, Newson confirmed that the San Joaquin Valley line will still reach completion by 2027, and will eventually connect to Silicon Valley. (See prior CP&DR commentary.)
A study published in Nature Communications estimates that Northern California climates will feel closer to Southern California climates 60 years from now. The study examined 540 North American cities and illustrated their future climates with comparisons to towns today. The study equated future San Jose to today’s Pasadena, Santa Cruz to today’s North Hollywood, and San Francisco with Palos Verdes Estates in Southern California.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to downsize the Delta tunnels project in his first State of the State address. Newsom called to reduce the twin-tunnel project, designed to re-engineer the troubled estuary to a single tunnel. This reduction will save billions of dollars for the project but will need to re-enter environmental reviews before it moves forward. In his address, the governor also named a new chair of the state’s water board.
The California Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Justice Small Grants Program is open to community-based nonprofit groups and federally recognized tribal governments to support environmental justice-related projects in areas of the state that have been disproportionately affected by environmental pollution and hazards. Applications must be received by March 21.
Staff from California Climate Investments (CCI) administering agencies have released a best practices document generated from conversations that took place during the March 2018 Community Leadership Summit: Best Practices for Building Successful Projects. The document also incorporates some additional best practices and lessons learned throughout the implementation of CCI programs and projects. The identified best practices are organized into seven categories: Maintaining Relationships, Program and Project Design, Decision-Making, Community Preparedness and Partnerships, Running Community Meetings, Communication, and Confirming Support & Measuring Success.
The Central Sierra Environmental Resources Center (CSERC) sued Tuolumne County’s Board of Supervisors over recently-approved updates to its General Plan. The plan set long-range policies and goals for land-use planning and development through 2040. CSERC claims that aspects of the plan fail to meet requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, as well as state planning and zoning laws.
A Los Angeles Times investigation found a tie between a real estate company seeking to replace portions of the LA Times headquarters and a councilman voting on its status as a historic landmark. According to contribution records, Omni Contracting Inc, which bought portions of the downtown property in 2016, made a donation to Families for a Better Los Angeles just two months before a vote on the status of the property. Families for a Better Los Angeles is a campaign committee linked to Councilman Jose Huizar, who sided with Omni to oppose the headquarters’ designation as a historic site.
State officials told the City of Encinitas that it must “amend or invalidate” its anti-growth ordinance or risk violating California laws. Proposition A, which Encinitas passed in 2013, requires a public vote every time a developer proposes changes in zoning, and sets a citywide building height limit of 30 feet – the equivalent of two stories. This continues the State Department of Housing and Community Development’s recent efforts to push for more housing statewide. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
A Santa Barbara judge refused to approve a deal limiting Hollister Ranch beach access to a designated few. The deal, struck by Hollister Ranch and coastal officials last year, would have restricted beach access to landowners, their guests, visitors with guides, and those who could boat or paddle two miles into the access point. The judge’s ruling represents a victory for the coalition of advocates who challenged the deal last year and the larger public’s right to access state beaches.
A San Francisco Chamber of Commerce poll revealed growing support for expanding housing near transit hubs. According to the poll, 74 percent of the 500 respondents would support a state bill to prevent cities from restricting apartment construction within a half mile of a transit station. Notably, the poll did not mention the bill by name, but outlined details from SB50 proposed by Senator Scott Wiener. Wiener and advocates of the bill are encouraged by growing citywide support to increase housing options.
The San Diego City Council updated its placemaking law, giving community projects like pedestrian plazas or murals automatic approval, as long as they comply with city codes. The city chose to review its permitting process after a controversy in 2015, when the city fined community project organizers and forced them to remove their installation at a traffic intersection. Now, several community projects will install parklets, banners, and murals in vacant lots and crosswalks. The city will review the effects of the eased restrictions this coming April.
The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a $120 million program to incentivize improvements in the way publicly subsidized housing is built. The program draws funds from the Proposition HHH Homeless Housing bond, and seeks innovative, cost-effective development proposals for 1,000 new units of homeless-supportive housing. This is the city’s latest response to slow progress and inefficiencies in current uses of Proposition HHH funds.