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CP&DR News Briefs March 26, 2019: LAO Skewers Active Transport Plan; S.F. Civic Center; Need for Affordable Units; and More

Brett Simpson on
Mar 24, 2019
As part of a possible push to restructure the state’s Active Transportation Plan (ATP) budget, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) released the first comprehensive review of the ATP since its inception in 2013. The ATP, established and administered by the California Transportation Commission and the California Department of Transportation, provides $220 million of funding to infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects to increase citizen walking and biking statewide. First, the review explains that it’s impossible to accurately track the ATP’s progress on its goal: the state lacks sufficient data collection to assess the success of ATP programs. Additionally, the LAO raises questions about the kinds of projects the ATP funds. The review notes that most current funding supports similar types of infrastructure projects: such as sidewalks, bike lanes, and crossing signals. The LAO points out that the plan’s original inception was to support larger, more transformational projects beyond infrastructure updates – and recommends that the ATP reallocate future funding accordingly.
 
San Francisco Considers Overhaul of Civic Center 
The San Francisco Planning Center proposed a sweeping redesign of the Civic Center, in what could become its biggest project since last year's Transbay Transit Terminal. The planned update, helmed by CMG Landscape Architecture, will revamp three areas: Civic Center Plaza, United Nations, Plaza, and the Fulton Street block that connects them. For decades, these public spaces surrounding City Hall have been beleaguered by high vehicular traffic, vandalism, and crime. Proposed changes include a permanent Fulton Street block closure, new lawns, and a revamp of the controversial, poorly-maintained, and currently waterless 1973 United Nations Plaza fountain – which has since informally become a public toilet. One highlight of the plan is the proposed “Fulton Mall”: a series of lawn terraces between the Main Library and Asian Art Museum framed by benches, gardens, pavilions, and new bathrooms. Further improvements incorporate a dog park, fitness park, youth soccer lawns, and artwork into the area. The redesign also aims to reduce congestion with a possible traffic lane reduction. However, any proposed street changes require approval pending from city traffic and design analysis.The plan still needs community input, political and monetary support, and a two-year environmental review before it can commence. 
 
1.4 Million Affordable Units Needed Statewide 
Two years after California passed legislation to expedite affordable housing construction, the California Housing Partnership (CHP) found that the state is leaving renters far behind. CHP’s report found that the state needs 1.4 million rental homes to fill its current demand, and that it currently spends 14 times more on homeowners than renters, in the form of mortgage tax deductions and other tax breaks. For low-income families, rental costs impinge on basic living expenses: CHP calculated that of more than two million very low-income renter households in California, roughly two-thirds spend more than half their income on rent. Yet the report also found that low-income housing development funded by the statewide tax credit has declined by 23 percent since 2016. CHP blames the federal tax reform for this decline. The report recommends that the state give more $1 billion annually to cities and counties to build housing, and to offer more tax breaks to renters. The California Housing Partnership is a nonprofit comprised of charitable organizations, including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Wells Fargo Foundation.

Low-Income Californians Suffer from Poor Air Quality
A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists published has found that vehicular air pollution  disproportionately affects Californians of color and low-income communities. The study quantified and compared the exposure of racial and economic demographics to particulate matter from on-road sources. It found that Latino, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and low-income communities are exposed to substantially more air pollution. Notably, it found that African American Californians are exposed to pollution that is 43 percent higher than that for white Californians, and Latinos are exposed to 39 percent higher pollution levels than whites. Additionally, it found that the lowest-income households in the state live where pollution is 10 percent higher than the state average, while the highest-income households live where pollution is 13 percent below the state average. The report outlines steps that the state can take to reduce this disproportionate pollution impact. These include more efficient conventional vehicles, incentivizing decreased driving, and targeted actions to reduce emissions in low-income communities and communities of color––like clean vehicle incentive programs for lower-income households.

Rent Control Resurfaces in Legislature 
Following last year's failed ballot for statewide rent control, Democratic lawmakers proposed a rental housing legislation package to increase tenant protections. The legislation includes Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco)’s AB 1482, a measure to cap rent increases statewide. Additionally, Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) AB 36 expands rent control: allowing local governments to apply rent control to single-family homes and 10-year-old construction. In 2018, California voters rejected a measure to repeal limitations on rent control. Still, California renter vulnerability continues: according to a UC Berkeley study, 9.5 million tenants spend at least a third of their income on rent. This latest rent control legislation package is the first proposed response to Governor Gavin Newsom’s call in his February State of the State address: “Here is my promise to you: Get me a good package on rent stability this year and I will sign it."

Quick Hits & Updates 
Following a week of six serious traffic collisions, San Francisco Mayor London Breed demanded that three city agencies create policies to accelerate safety projects and increase traffic law enforcement. Breed directed the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency to expedite the installation of measures like safety posts and temporary sidewalks, ordered the Police Department to crack down on speeders, and asked the Public Utilities Commission to add staff to the city’s “Vision Zero” goal of eliminating traffic fatalities by 2024.

A Ventura County Superior Court judge ruled that the City of Santa Barbara must resume allowing vacation rentals in coastal zones. The ruling claimed that the city’s 2015 ban of short-term vacation rentals was illegal and in violation of the California Coastal Act, which requires that the public must have affordable accommodations within and access to coastal zone.

Cal State University Dominguez Hills is pursuing a new master plan for its Carson campus in efforts to double its full-time equivalent student population to 20,000 by 2035. The proposed plan will add 1.28 million square feet of new development to the 346-acre campus. This includes housing for up to 988 student housing beds, 2,149 market-rate housing units, 100,000 square feet of retail space, and 720,000 square feet of office space.

Pending San Jose City Council approval, Silicon Valley will conduct an international design competition for a universally-recognizable area landmark. The San Jose Light Tower Corporation has raised $1 million so far toward the competition, and expect tens of millions more in funds. Proposed projects will face review by Light Tower’s board, and the winning idea could be erected as early as 2021.

Developers revised a proposed San Jose urban village plan to create a more pedestrian-friendly, nature-oriented complex. Plans to develop 22.6 acres of agriculture and open space include one million square feet of offices, 2,000 homes, 320,000 square feet of retail, an amphitheater, and a 150-room hotel. The updated plans scale back both home and retail square footage, and include five acres of open space area. 

Two developments signal Bakersfield’s reluctance to support the downsized High-Speed Rail Project: the Kern County board of supervisors approved a resolution, 4-1, to completely abandon the project, and Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) introduced legislation to repurpose the funds to water infrastructure projects. McCarthy’s proposal, dubbed the Repurposing Assets to Increase Long-Term Water Availability and Yield (RAILWAY), would repurpose up to $3.5 billion toward water storage statewide.

The Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) proposed temporary train service from Los Angeles to Indio County to carry hundreds of thousands of festival goers on special Amtrak trains. The $8.6 million project, which has received a $5.9 million grant from the California State Transportation Agency, attempts to solve the extreme traffic problems in and around Indio County during the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals. The temporary train could arrive as early as 2020. 

The San Jose City Council will consider a unique “offset fund” solution to gain support to build taller buildings near the San Jose International Airport. Raising height caps downtown will require the alteration of flight paths and, therefore, cut into airline revenue, forcing a reduction in plane cargo and passenger load to avoid tall buildings. To offset these losses, the city proposed a fund of up to $1.5 million raised by airline stakeholders and property developers, to which qualifying airlines could submit claims.

In the wake of California’s biggest wildfire year in state history, the San Diego County board of supervisors is asking for measures to strengthen the county’s wildfire-prevention program.Their goals include initiatives to improve vegetation management, expand the network of fire safe councils, upgrade emergency planning technologies, and create stricter building codes for fire-resistant materials and ventilation. 

The Environmental Protection Agency ruled that property in Redwood City owned by Cargill Salt is not bound by the federal Clean Water Act, potentially greenlighting future development or sale to the government. In 2009, Cargill Salt and Arizona developer CMG Associates proposed building 12,000 homes on the San Francisco Bay-side area, but withdrew the project amid opposition from environmentalists. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Oakland city officials reported that though they’re set to exceed their goal to build 17,000 new homes by 2024, they’re lagging far behind their low-income housing targets. When Mayor Libby Scharff set the targets three years ago, she pledged that 28 percent of new units developed would accommodate low-income families – but so far, only 7 percent of building permits issued include low-income unit allocations.

As the Salton Sea dries and recedes, the California Resources Agency is working to keep dust particles from the exposed floor out of the air. This dust, once airborne, represents a potential public health crisis: not only does floating particulate matter increase asthma rates, but this matter likely contains toxic substances from the long-polluted Sea. The agency plans to dig trenches to slow winds that disturb and carry lake dust. (See prior CP&DR coverage.) 

Voting on Sacramento's “Waterfront Idea Makers” redesign competition has officially opened to the public. In January, the city invited five professional design teams and the public to submit concepts that reimagine the “Old Sacramento” riverside stretch. Proposals include concepts such as art installations, transportation projects, and public space redesign. 

The Caltrain board of directors approved a proposal to sell Caltrain station naming rights. The approval, which will likely offer branding opportunities to local Silicon Valley players, comes in response to Caltrain funding challenges as the rail system expands.

The Ventura County board of supervisors narrowly passed a measure to establish wildlife corridors, marking the most comprehensive effort in the state yet to protect common paths for local roaming animals. The measure requires reductions of nighttime outdoor lighting, curtails development, restricts fencing, and protects native vegetation around designated wildlife corridor areas in unincorporated areas throughout the county. 

LA Metro’s Board of Directors unanimously approved an increased budget for the third and final segment of the Purple Line extension, bringing the total cost of the 2.6-mile rail segment from less than $1.4 million to $3.2 billion. Metro predicts the line will produce 75,000 daily trips to Westwood by 2026.
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