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CP&DR News Briefs June 4, 2019: Tejon Ranch Lawsuit; Google Funds Diridon Station Planning; Copper Bluff Superfund Site; and More

Brett Simpson on
Jun 2, 2019
Environmentalists Sue to Block Development of Tejon Ranch
Environmental groups are suing the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for approving the controversial 12,000-acre Centennial Tejon Ranch development in Antelope Valley. The Center for Biological Diversity and the California Native Plant Society filed a lawsuit accusing county officials of mishandling the environmental review process when it approved the development of nearly 20,000 new homes. The groups ask to halt construction pending further analysis of the project’s impact on auto use in the area, as well as its susceptibility to wildfire damage. Additionally, critics of the project expressed concerns that building large a development so far from major city centers will drive up greenhouse gas emissions. After receiving approval for the project, the Tejon Ranch Company announced that 18 percent of the 19,333 planned homes would be set aside as affordable housing. Additionally, about 90 percent of the 240,000 acres around the project site will be conserved as open space. In a recent statement, the company argued that the lawsuit unnecessarily blocked “an approved development that will bring thousands of much-needed price-attainable homes to Southern California families who are struggling to find housing they can afford.” (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Google Makes Major Planning Grant to San Jose for Diridon Station and Environs
In Google’s latest massive investment in west San Jose, the tech giant agreed to pay the city $4.5 million to help fund projects related to the planning of its new 20,000-worker mixed-use development near Diridon Station. Pending city council approval, the also city plans to contribute approximately $1.1 million to the project. All funding will contribute to an overhaul of Diridon Station: the city is planning a BART connection and eventual link to high-speed rail. Critics of Google's grant to the city say that it will give the tech giant undue planning influence; this payment will also help fund a review of Google’s own proposed massive campus near the station. But Google has funded planning efforts before: last year, it paid $1.33 million for community meetings that led to the eventual sale of city property to the company. “Rest assured Google has to follow the same processes that every other applicant has to follow,” Nanci Klein, the assistant director of economic development and director of real estate told the Mercury News. “There’s no difference and, in fact, Google will undergo and is undergoing more scrutiny than other projects.” (See prior CP&DR coverage.) 

Copper Bluff Mine Named Superfund Site
The EPA added the Copper Bluff Mine in Hoopa to the Superfund National Priorities list – the only named site in California. The list, which named seven sites this year, includes the most serious or abandoned releases of contamination nationwide. EPA officials prioritized these sites to begin restoring the nation’s most contaminated areas for productive reuse, and to protect the health of local communities. Copper Bluff Mine operated from 1924 to 1964 as a copper and zinc resource. In the decades since its closure, it has consistently leaked acid drainage into the neighboring Trinity River – anywhere from three to 500 gallons of contaminants per minute. Identifying the site as Superfund will open it up for tens of millions in funding, according to EPA officials. Though it may take a few years before a cleanup begins, but the Superfund recognition will likely expedite the process. “The Hoopa Valley Tribe and the tribal fishery are still affected by this mine, despite its closure decades ago,” EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Adminstrator Mike Stoker told the Eureka Times-Standard. “Adding the site to the National Priorities List is an important step toward cleaning up this toxic legacy.” 

Report Urges Equitable Transition to Low-Carbon Economy
Researchers at the University of Southern California and Occidental College developed a roadmap to transition low-income communities to a green economy. The report, titled “A Roadmap to an Equitable Low-Carbon Future: Four Pillars for a Just Transition,” summarizes research showing that pollution and other environmental hazards disproportionately affect low-income communities. The authors stress the need for strategies to bring these communities the benefits of a low-carbon economy to avoid “replicat[ing] the mistakes and inequalities of the extractive past and present.” To achieve this, the report proposes “four pillars” for an equitable future: strong governmental support, dedicated funding streams, diverse and strong coalitions, and economic diversification. Its authors expressed hope that these pillars can inform the development of Los Angeles's recently announced "Green New Deal” plan. "As we move away from extraction and a carbon economy, we need to ensure that not only are those workers and communities protected in the transition,” lead author J. Mijin Cha told the California Health Report, "but that we’re also acknowledging this historic burden that they have had to bear.”

Nine California Cites Named Top 50 for Biking
Southern California cities placed highly recently released rankings of City Ratings’ "best places for bikes." Nine California cities made the ranking’s top 50: Santa Barbara (12), Santa Monica (17), San Diego (25), Ventura (31), Lompoc (32), Goleta (35), Long Beach (39), Santa Maria (42), and Carpenteria (49). Using their own community surveys and analysis as well as publicly available U.S. Census data, the study scored cities according to five major metrics: ridership, safety, reach, network, and acceleration. “Ridership” counted the number of riders in a community, “safety” considered fatalities and injuries of people on bikes, and “network” considered how well routes connect local destinations. “Reach” determined how well that network served all community members, and “acceleration” assessed how fast the city was improving its biking infrastructure and encouragement programs.

Quick Hits & Updates 

A California Department of Finance report shows that Los Angeles produced more housing in 2018 than any other California city. According to the report, the city's 16,525 units built more than triples the amount built by any other city, and puts the city on track to exceed its 2021 production goals. But experts say the city still has a lot of catching up to do: in 2018, population growth hit its slowest-recorded rates citywide, largely due to the affordable housing shortage.

Sacramento built more housing than any other California city north of Los Angeles in 2018, according to the same Department of Finance report. The city added 2,400 new units last year, most of them detached single-family units. It topped San Francisco’s production, despite its smaller size. Statewide, 97,000 new units were built, but only 77,000 net new units, minus homes destroyed by wildfire or otherwise demolished.
For the second time in four years, Ohlone College and its development partner abandoned plans to build 275 residential rental units and 6,500 square feet of retail space on its frontage property. Located in Fremont, the college hoped that leasing the 15-acre property to a developer would generate needed revenue for educational services. However, students and community members claimed the project included too much housing, and would thus bring overdevelopment and traffic issues to the area.
Santa Barbara is set to launch a three-year bikeshare pilot program after a unanimous approval from the city council. The pilot will allow operator HOPR Bikeshare, which has successful programs in Santa Monica and at UCLA and UCSB, to operate self-service rental bicycles in the city. After the 3-year period, city staff and the Transportation and Circulation Committee will evaluate the success of the program.

Los Angeles County Metro initiated an environmental study for a new bus rapid transit line between North Hollywood and Pasadena. The long-awaited 18-mile BRT project, which will serve an area that currently sees over 700,000 trips, was formalized with the passing of Measure M in 2016. Metro will study multiple alignments for the BRT line, including one running within the 134 Freeway, and one more-promising street-running alternative. The street-running line would have 18 to 21 stops, attracting 30,000 weekday passengers with an end-to-end travel time of 65 minutes, according to Metro estimates. The environmental study will be ready for public review by fall 2020.

The Livermore City Council unanimously approved amendments to its Downtown Specific Plan. The proposed amendments, some of which were repealed in 2018, target improving parking access downtown: they remove the city's height limited exception and delineate public and private parking facilities as a permitted use in a portion of the downtown. 

Landlords in Long Beach will have to compensate tenants forced to relocate due to steep rent hikes under an ordinance finalized by the city council. In a 6-3 vote, the city council passed a tenant relocation ordinance that requires landlords who increase rent by more than ten percent to compensate tenants $2,706 to $4,500, depending on the number of bedrooms in the unit. The ordinance intends to both discourage landlords from evicting low-paying tenants, and to protect those who are forced to leave.

Construction of Los Angeles's Purple Line subway moved forward after the Metro board approved a builder contract. The much-anticipated $9-billion twin tunnel project between Century City and West L.A. will be built by a joint venture led by Tutor Perini Corporation. Metro expects to finish the project and add 78,000 daily trips to the city’s most-traveled line by 2027, in time for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.