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CP&DR News Briefs June 11, 2019: Support for Upzoning; Homelessness in L.A. County; S.F. Budget; and More

Brett Simpson on
Jun 10, 2019
Poll Finds Broad Support for Upzoning Near Transit
Sixty-two percent of Californians are in favor of forcing cities to permit apartments in areas currently zoned for single-family homes near transit, according to a recent survey from the Public Policy Institute of California. The survey, which paraphrased goals outlined in the recently-shelved Senate Bill 50, asked voters statewide whether they would support a bill requiring cities and counties to permit apartment construction in communities that now comprise only single-family homes if they’re near rail stations or in job-dense areas. Every region in the state reported at least 60 percent support of the bill. And, surprisingly, 51 percent of homeowners were in support of the bill – despite vocal opposition from homeowner interest groups. This suggests that these interest groups don’t necessarily represent majority interests. “This really demonstrates that housing is truly a crisis today,” Mark Baldassare, the institute’s president, told the Los Angeles Times. “Every survey we’ve done this year, something comes out that just points to the fact that Californians are deeply concerned about housing. These findings say that they want something to get done and they want the Legislature to go boldly.” (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Homelessness Surges in Los Angeles County
Homelessness in Los Angeles County is on the rise, according to a recent count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). LAHSA's three-day annual count of homeless people living in shelters, in vehicles, and on the street found that nearly 59,000 people go homeless on any given night – a 12 percent increase from the 2018 count. The authority also found that since last year, nearly 55,000 people living in the county became newly homeless. Experts attribute the increase to the housing affordability crisis: research from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found that approximately one-third of all the renting households in Los Angeles and Orange counties pay more than half of their income on housing. And the problem is escalating. LAHSA also found that about a quarter of the people on the street today became homeless for the first time in their lives in the past year, and about half of those people cite economic hardship as the primary cause. Since Los Angeles County passed the 2017 Measure M sales tax increase toward homelessness services, $400 million annually has been committed to bring people into housing. Still, LAHSA argues that these services cannot support the increase in homelessness: last year, LAHSA and other public programs housed only 21,631 people.

Breed to Dedicate Much of S.F. Budget Windfall to Housing, Homelessness
San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced a 10 percent increase in city budget to $12.3 billion this year – the largest budget in city history. City officials claim extra funds came from a county education fund and “better than expected” gains from property-transfer and business taxes. In her announcement, the mayor made it clear that the increased funds will prioritize supporting homeless services and affordable housing. Breed’s proposed budget sets aside over $100 million in additional funding to increase homeless services over two years, helping her meet her campaign goal of 1,000 new shelter beds by 2020. Breed also proposed over $118 million to buy land and build 100 percent affordable housing, as well as $10.5 million to fund a five-year rent subsidy program for 350 low income households and seniors. “It’s all about housing,” Breed said in her announcement, according to reporting from the San Francisco Chronicle. “We all know the cost of housing is too high. We all know the problem did not happen overnight and will not be solved overnight. ”Breed’s plan also increases funding to mental health services, equity programs, transportation, small businesses, and street cleaning. It will head to the Board of Supervisors for a two-month review, and will be approved and signed by August 1st.

Santa Monica Climate Plan Seeks to Go Carbon-Neutral, Mitigate Sea Level Rise
Joining a growing trend of cities setting climate goals absent federal standards, the Santa Monica City Council passed an $800 million climate action plan to reach net carbon neutral by 2020. The Climate Action and Adaptation plan, unanimously approved by the council, priorities buildings and transportation through eight main objectives. These objectives include converting 50 percent of vehicles to electric or zero emission cars and converting 50 percent of local mobility to trips taken on foot, bike, scooter or skateboard. The plan also calls on the city to achieve 100 percent renewable grid electricity, install 100 megawatts of local solar energy and reduce fossil fuel use in existing buildings by 20 percent. The plan also addresses mitigating future threats from climate change: including extreme weather, sea level rise, drought and wildfire, and worsening air quality. The plan will keep Santa Monica on track to meet the goals of the United Nations Paris climate change agreement. "We can talk about the absolute amount of money it's going to cost us to do this,” said Santa Monica chief sustainability officer Dean Kubani during the council meeting. "It's going to cost an awful lot more if we don't do this."

District Attorney Faults Inglewood City Council over Clippers Arena Negotiations
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office found that the Inglewood City Council violated state law by failing to report a June 2017 special meeting with a Clippers-controlled company to explore building an arena. The D.A. sent a letter finding that the council violated the state’s open meetings law by not providing sufficient description of the meeting’s events. The June 2017 special meeting with Murphy Brown LLC, which is controlled by the Clippers, resulted in a unanimous city council vote approving a three-year agreement to lease a 22-acre property to the team. However, the complaint finds that the lone agenda item for the meeting does not mention the Clippers team. “It should be noted that the deficiency of the agenda description appears to have been part of concerted efforts between representatives of the city and the Murphy’s Bowl LLC to limit the notice given to the public,” the letter said. “Furthermore, the generic name of Murphy’s Bowl LLC was used intentionally to obfuscate the identity of the proposed project and those associated with it.” Still, the D.A.’s office failed to take any action on this finding.


Quick Hits & Updates

The proposed Oakland A’s stadium at Howard Terminal could generate over $7.3 billion in economic benefits over ten years and create more than 6,100 permanent jobs, according to a recently released report by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. The report, commissioned by the A's, expands upon a 2017 estimate that projected $3 billion in benefits. The new report includes economic benefits of the greater commercial and housing project beyond the proposed 35,000-seat waterfront park, and breaks down the estimate into $902 million per year for the next ten years. Critics of the stadium expressed fears that a large ask for public funding will soon follow the report.

California senators urged the federal Department of Transportation to take immediate action on a $1.25 billion grant request to increase BART capacity. In a recent letter, the senators cited a recent crash on the Bay Bridge that added 10,000 unexpected passengers to the rail line, and asked federal officials to expedite the eighteen-month-old request. Currently, the BART system runs 23 trains for 27,000 total passengers. The proposed expansion adds new rail cars, lines, and a new train-control system to increase capacity to 39,000 passengers.

Caltrans executive director Laurie Berman will step down following a 36-year tenure at the agency and one year as its chief. Berman is leaving during a transitional period for transportation statewide: the state is grappling with a $137 million road maintenance backlog, and Governor Gavin Newsom recently downsized the state’s high-speed rail project to focus on a Merced-Bakersfield segment of the high-speed rail project. As part of his new transportation agenda, the governor also recently appointed David Kim secretary of the California State Transportation Agency, and appointed Brian Annis chief financial officer of the California High Speed Rail Authority. Berman’s replacement has not yet been named.

San Jose city officials are considering a new property transfer tax to help solve the city’s affordable housing and homelessness crises. Such a tax is paid by either the buyer, the seller, or split when a property is sold or ownership transfers – excepting inherited property. Unlike a bond measure – which city officials have also considered – this tax will only need a simple majority to pass, rather than a two-thirds majority. If it passes, San Jose will join several East Bay cities to approve or amend new property taxes in the past year.

A new House of Representatives bill would accelerate the expansion of Riverside County protected land under the 2004 Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan. At the time of the plan's passage, 347,000 acres were already set aside, with hopes that state and federal money would help acquire the remaining 153,000. But the rate of land acquisition slowed in recent years and only 61,000 have yet been preserved. The new bill, HR 2956, would open another federal funding source to buy more land.

Oakland’s Planning Commission will review plans for a massive development near the West Oakland BART – the largest development project that the area has seen in decades. Approval of the plans would greenlight the development of more than 1,000 apartments, eighty-five of which are affordable housing units for families earning less than 50 percent of the area’s median income. Plans also include 59 parking spaces, as well as space for retail, parks and offices. The plans face little opposition from city residents, in part because developer Panoramic Interests fielded community input, and plans to revitalize the area’s jazz scene and accommodate small businesses.