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CP&DR News Briefs May 7, 2019: Fracking; SANDAG Transportation Plan; L.A. Green New Deal; and More

Brett Simpson on
May 5, 2019
The Trump administration released plans to open more than five million acres of public and private land in California to fracking. The Bureau of Land Management's move ends a five-year moratorium, imposed on the Obama administration by a federal judge, on leasing federal California land to oil and gas developers. The plan targets land across eight central counties: eastern Fresno, western Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura. It also encompasses more than one million acres of federal mineral rights. Environmentalists object to the move, claiming that fracking would worsen air pollutants in an already highly polluted part of the state. Parks representatives echo these criticisms, raising concerns about pollutants released from drilling adjacent to major national parks like Sequoia and Yosemite. Additionally, the Army has raised concerns because the plan would open some National Guard facilities to fracking and drilling. “This plan is going to wind up in court unless the BLM makes some hard decisions about what is appropriate and not appropriate [to lease],” Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch told the Los Angeles Times. “They should look at it by parcel-by-parcel impact.”

Supervisors Fail to Support SANDAG Transit Overhaul 
The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) revealed a proposal for a multi-billion-dollar transportation overhaul that would prioritize transit over roads, but failed to gain majority support from the city’s board of supervisors. The proposal radically shifts transportation priorities away from highway expansions and improvements, and toward public transit. Their ambitious transit plans promises alternative routes to congested highways, raising transit trips from 1.5 percent to 10 percent of total vehicle rides citywide. However, in a 3-2 vote, the board expressed concerns about SANDAG’s plans to abandon long-promised highway expansions – which voters have counted on since approving a half-cent sales tax increase in 2004. Supervisors who voted against the proposal doubted that SANDAG could win public trust for future taxation without following through on promised past projects. “I’m not really opposed to the new vision,” Supervisor Jim Desmond told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “However, I think it should be in addition to and not replace the projects that have already been promised by TransNet.”

Los Angeles "Green New Deal” Seeks Reductions in Driving, Energy Use 
Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti hopes Los Angeles will reach carbon neutral status by 2050 through an ambitious "Green New Deal” plan released last week. The plan largely echoes the city’s 2015 sustainability roadmap, but it adds ambitious new housing and transportation targets. The plan proposes that all new buildings will reach "net-zero” carbon emissions by 2030, and all buildings will reach net-zero by 2050. It proposes building a zero carbon electricity grid that will bring LA to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. The plan also calls for a dramatic increase in the percentage of electric or zero-emission vehicles in the city: from 1.4 percent last year to 25 percent by 2025, 80 percent by 2035, and 100 percent by 2050. Garcetti also aims to reduce the distance that residents drive by 2,000 miles per year. Experts claim that these targets are unrealistic, but that they send a clear message of a region wide shift toward renewables. In the plan, Garcetti called on citizens with a sense of urgency. “With flames on our hillsides and floods in our streets, cities cannot wait another moment to confront the climate crisis with everything we’ve got,” Garcetti wrote in a statement. "L.A. is leading the charge, with a clear vision for protecting the environment and making our economy work for everyone.” 

Housing Crisis Hits Low-Income Households Hardest
A California Policy and Budget Center Report revealed that the state’s housing affordability crisis disproportionately impacts renters and the lowest-incomes households. It classifies affordable housing according to relative income: “cost-burdened” households pay more than 30 percent of income toward housing, while “severely cost-burdened” households pay over half of their income toward housing. The study that 81 percent of low-income households in California are cost-burdened, and nearly 60 percent are severely cost-burdened. By contrast, 48 percent of middle-income households are cost-burdened, and 15 percent are severely cost-burdened. High income households are the least affected: only 15 percent are cost burdened, and two percent severely so. The study concluded that high housing costs drive a vicious cycle of poverty – contributing to California’s highest poverty rates in the nation.

Report Calls for Natural Methods to Combat Sea-Level Rise in Bay Area
A project of the San Francisco Estuary Institute and SPUR, the San Francisco Bay Shoreline Adaptation Atlas provides a comprehensive blueprint for bayside communities to battle rising sea levels, recommending a range of resiliency strategies aimed at reducing what could be catastrophic losses. The recently released 255-page report, the first-ever regional plan to protect Bay Area cities, comes on the heels of a U.S. Geological Survey report that sea level rise could cause over $100 billion in property damage throughout the Bay Area this century. The report proposes a series of natural alternatives to existing seawalls, culverts, and crude fortifications that experts say won’t withstand damage. Instead, it suggests more resilient features to absorb the rising tide, including a ring of reefs, rocky beaches, and graded marshland. “The Bay Area is ground zero for sea level rise,” Warner Chabot, executive director of the Estuary Institute, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We have a trifecta threat of sea level rise, groundwater rising and lowland flooding from extreme weather patterns, and that guarantees a soupy future for the Bay Area.”

California Cities Land near Top of ‘Best Performing Cities'
California cities earned top spots in the Milken Institute’s best-performing cities rankings. The Milken assessment measures a "metro area’s economic performance using outcomes-based metrics such as job creation, wage gains, and technological developments to evaluate relative growth.” The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area took second place in the nation after Provo, Utah. The area jumped from last year's 11th-place ranking. San Francisco landed at number four. Other California cities in the top 25 included Oakland-Berkeley at 14, Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario at 15, and Santa Rosa at 18. The Milken Institute’s assessment also notes that fast-growing industries like tech can create costs like housing prices and taxes that ultimately inhibit a city’s growth in diversity. “Employers have to pay more to recruit and retain talent, which then puts more pressure on housing demand and costs,” Kevin Klowden, executive director of the Milken Institute for Regional Economics and California Center noted to Fox & Hounds Daily. "It’s not a deterrent for many of the top people. Instead the combined cost of living and doing business creates a larger split between the haves and have-nots.” Milken's full ranking covers 200 large metro areas and 201 smaller cities.

Quick Hits & Updates 
Citing a critical need for affordable housing, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors gave final approval to a 19,333-home development on 12,300 acres in the Antelope Valley. The Centennial project at Tejon Ranch has stirred public outcry over concerns that the development will damage sensitive habitats and increase commuter traffic and greenhouse gas emissions. In 2008, Tejon Ranch Co. struck a deal with environmental groups committing to develop only 10 percent of their 270,000 acres, and to preserve nearly half of developed acres as open space. In addition to housing, he project will also include 10 million square feet of commercial space, schools, fire stations, a police station, and a library. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

The California High Speed Rail Authority released a report revealing a $1.8 million increase in estimated costs to build a high speed rail link in the Central Valley. This is the first cost update for the project since Governor Gavin Newsom announced limiting current building to a 119-mile segment of rail from Bakersfield to Merced in February. Total estimates now bring building costs to a total of $12.4 billion – over double the initial $6 billion estimates. 

The California Business Roundtable, the California Business Properties Association, and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association have filed court documents against San Francisco’s Proposition C, a November ballot measure that taxes the city’s largest corporations to fund housing and homeless services. The two business interest groups and the anti-tax organization argue that the measure shouldn’t have passed with a simple majority vote, and claim the city’s methods violate the state constitution.

The California Natural Resources Agency released draft guidelines for the Trails and Greenways grant program. The Trails and Greenways grant program, funded by Proposition 68, will fund projects that provide non-motorized infrastructure development and enhancements promoting access to parks, waterways, outdoor recreational pursuits, and forested or other natural environments. These projects should encourage health-related active transportation and opportunities for Californians to reconnect with nature. Grants will be awarded on a competitive basis. Draft guidelines can be downloaded at http://resources.ca.gov/grants/trailsandgreenways/. The public comment period began April 16 and ends May 31. Written comments may be submitted by e-mail to bondsandgrants@resources.ca.gov or by U.S. mail to the Trails and Greenways Grant Program.

A complaint filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court claims that a solar project developer siphoned public funds for personal use. The complaint, filed by the City of Industry, follows its $20 million lease agreement with San Gabriel Valley Water and Power LLC to build a solar farm on the 2,500-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch. Industry alleges that the solar company used funds for the project to pay for work on other projects, and for unrelated personal and business expenditures. Industry also claims that the company has continued to send them invoices even after they terminated the lease agreement in May 2018, amounting to an additional $20 million.

Five California cities received top rankings from Redfin’s annual TransitScore report, which rates locations based on how convenient they are to public transportation. San Francisco came in at number three, while Los Angeles County cities Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Beverley Hills, and Florence-Graham nabbed numbers 18, 21, 23, and 35, respectively. Los Angeles cities have risen in the rankings in recent years, following countywide efforts to expand and improve public transportation.

The Long Beach Arena faces possible demolition should the Angels move from Anaheim to Long Beach, according to reporting from the Los Angeles Times. The Long Beach City Council is negotiating an expansive stadium site with the Los Angeles baseball team, which may encompass an area currently occupied by the city’s arena. The Angels are negotiating both a stadium renovation in Anaheim and a move to Long Beach, and expect to make a decision by the end of the year.

San Francisco mayor London Breed has picked Steve Heminger as the new board director of the troubled Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Heminger, the recently retired head of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, will replace the outgoing director Lee Hsui. The board will need to tackle myriad issues beleaguering the agency – including equipment problems, allegations of bullying and sexual harassment, a contract standoff with its drivers’ union, and the step-down of Muni chief Ed Reiskin. 

The Bay Area Council announced the launch of its “Casitas Coalition”: a statewide volunteer coalition to expand construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs). The coalition – comprised of nonprofit organizations, builders, architects, city planners, homeowners, and more – hopes to raise awareness, pass legislation, and advance new technologies that will make it easier, faster, and cheaper to build new ADUs. 

The Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a partnership with the City of Placentia to form a Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (EIFD). Last November, Governor Newsom passed statewide legislation making EIFDs – programs that use anticipated increases in future property taxes to finance infrastructure projects – easier to form. This is only the fourth EIFD in the state, and the first-ever partnership between a city and county. Placentia’s EIFD, supported by the county, will help finance public projects that promise to produce 1,600 new housing units, create 3,900 construction jobs, and provide over 1,100 permanent jobs once completed.

LA Metro will move forward with the environmental review process for a privately-funded aerial gondola between Union Station and Dodger Stadium. This is the first time the Metro has proposed to be a CEQA lead agency reviewing a private transit developer; such projects are usually handled by cities or counties. As part of the agreement, no Metro funds will be used in the design, construction, or operation of the $125 million project.

UC Riverside’s Center of Economic Forecasting and Development released a report showing that halfway toward its eight-year goal, Southern California cities have already fallen far behind the state’s Regional Housing Needs assessment targets. The center’s analysis showed that in 2017, local governments had only approved 26 percent of the targeted 400,000 new home permits needed by 2021. The report found the greatest shortfall in new moderate- and low-income housing: 77 percent of homes approved so far are affordable only to upper-income households. 

A federal judged dismissed portions of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ 2013 lawsuit against the Coachella Valley water districts to gain greater control of groundwater storage capacity under tribal land. Other parts of the lawsuit have already ruled in the tribe’s for: the tribe gained federally reserved rights to groundwater in the Coachella Valley. In the most recent development, however, the judge ruled that the tribe’s access to water had not been sufficiently harmed to justify claiming greater control of groundwater storage.

In a victory for Inglewood residents attempting to halt construction of a new Los Angeles Clippers arena, a Los Angeles County Superior Judge ruled in favor of hearing a case against the planned 22-acre project. Residents argue that under the California Surplus Act, the city council should never have approved the deal with the basketball team without shopping the city-owned lot to affordable housing developers. In response, Inglewood Mayor James Butts has argued that the lot was never viable for housing development because it falls under the LAX flight path.

The Stockton City Council approved the Envision General Plan 2040, greenlighting long-debated development of 3,800 acres in the northern section of the city as part of an Economic Education Enterprise zone. Critics of the plan claim that community members asked for infill and reinvestment in underdeveloped areas downtown, rather than the development of open space far from the city’s center. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

California’s Strategic Growth Council Climate Change Research Program staff released a schedule for their Research Roundtables and Listening Sessions at several California universities in early May. Staff want to hear from researchers, non-traditional research partners, and stakeholders about what the program should consider when investing in climate research that engages and benefits communities in California. The schedule, which runs from May 1 to May 10, includes UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, UCLA, and San Diego State University. 

A state labor report found that the Bay Area added 31,300 new jobs in the first three months of 2019, making up 61 percent of jobs added statewide. Experts attribute this year’s staggering job growth in the area, which has accelerated with each month, to recent hiring booms in the technology industry.