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CP&DR News Briefs June 18, 2019: Bay Area Transportation Funding; Trump Admin. Eviction Plan; San Francisco Waterfront; and More

Brett Simpson on
Jun 17, 2019
Bay Area Groups Promote $100 Billion Transportation Tax
Bay Area transportation officials are considering a cross-regional transportation overhaul tax measure to raise over $100 billion over several decades. The plan, devised from a partnership between the Bay Area Council, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and SPUR, will raise money from all nine Bay Area counties to provide comprehensive transit improvements. Dubbed Faster Bay Area, the proposal follows similarly ambitious transportation tax measures passed in Seattle and Los Angeles in 2016. The need for such improvements is clear: data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission shows that vehicle congestion region-wide increased by 80 percent from 2010 to 2016. Details of the plan have yet to be determined, but will likely include overhauls of both the BART and Caltrain systems. Both systems were built as commuter trains, not urban rail systems – and both have trouble supporting growing demand. The plan may also focus on revamping highway toll lanes and an expansion of the region’s ferry network. Some officials and advocacy groups have also suggested adding affordable housing funds to the bill. “The farther people travel, the more demand there is for bigger solutions,” Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, told the Mercury News. “There is no question that this region has to address housing, but how we do that, that is still to be discussed.”

Trump Eviction Plan Could Displace 936,830 California Residents
The National Housing Law Project released data suggesting that a Trump Administration plan to evict undocumented family members from public housing could cause nearly one million people to lose their homes. In April, the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) released a proposal for a $327 million policy to systematically remove non-citizen family members from public housing. The federal government argues that this policy will help provide more affordable housing to citizens. However, the housing advocacy group found that such a policy would force either family separation or total eviction for residents nationwide, citizen and non-citizen. Their analysis found that California would be the second-most impacted state – after only New York – with approximately 936,830 people impacted by the law. Of those potentially impacted, 846,670 are citizens. The public has until July 9 to submit comments on HUD’s policy proposal. Local and statewide lawmakers alike object to the affect this will have on residents. “If finalized, this rule would effectively evict households with mixed immigration status or force families to choose between their housing and keeping their family together,” said Preston Prince, executive director and chief executive officer for the Fresno Housing Authority, according to reporting from the Sacramento Bee.

San Francisco Considers Overhaul of Waterfront
Concluding three years of planning, the Port of San Francisco unveiled its first waterfront plan update in 22 years. Key recommendations for the 7.5 mile stretch between Fisherman’s Wharf and Heron’s Head Park in Bayview include: offering the dilapidated Piers 30-32 to private developers; adding a privately-funded “true piazza” to the paved area behind the Ferry Building; continuing to seek a ship repair firm to reopen Pier 70 facilities and thus restore as many as 800 jobs; and shortening leases of historic waterfront buildings to as little as 11 years. One cited benefit of shortening property leases is that any restoration effort triggers necessary seismic upgrades for waterfront structures. Similarly, the plan acknowledges the need to rebuild much of the Embarcadero seawall to accommodate rising sea levels. The port will seek public comments on the new plan this summer, followed by an environmental impact study. The state’s Bay Conservation and Development Commission must also review and approve the plans. The 222-page plan deliberately omits the words “land use” from its title, aiming to take a more holistic approach and account for both urban demands and rising sea levels.

Coastal Commission Sued over Waivers for San Onofre Nuclear Plant
A San Diego lawyer is suing the Coastal Commission over alleged technicalities and breaches of policy related to the seawall at the now-decommissioned San Onofre nuclear power plant. In 2015, state regulators allowed Southern California Edison to temporarily store millions of pounds of spent fuel at the San Onofre nuclear site as long as the company agreed not extend or replace the sea barrier. However, records show that the commission has granted Edison two administrative waivers that allowed the company to protect the seawall from further erosion. The plaintiff claims that the commission is undermining its own rules, as well as refusing to release emails and other communications with Edison. It accuses the commission of concealing the waivers from the public. “The waiver was not placed on the commission’s public agenda,” the lawsuit writes. “The public was given no fair opportunity to oppose the issuance of the waiver." The suit asks the court to order the commission to immediately release records related to the $950,000 building project.

Long Beach Unveils Aggressive Climate Plan
The City of Long Beach released a draft of its Climate Action and Adaptation Plan for public comment, joining a trend of cities statewide planning to keep on pace with Paris Climate Agreement goals. The Long Beach plan cited research that found that transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions citywide, followed by energy and waste. Accordingly, the plan targets improvements in transportation and energy, including: more connected transit options, better bikeway infrastructure, access to renewable energy, access to community and solar microgrids, and compliance with recycling and organic waste diversion requirements. The plan also included scientific research projecting future effects of climate change on the area. In response, the city devised “adaptability actions," which aim to reduce the impact of climate change on communities. These action plans targeted four major “high vulnerability” sectors countywide particularly at risk for extreme heat, poor air quality, drought, and flooding.

Dept. of Conservation Offers Planning Grants for Agricultural Lands, Coastal Adaptation 
The Department of Conservation (DOC) has $950,000 for local and regional planning grants to support the integration of natural and working lands, specifically agricultural lands, into local and regional planning documents. – grant applications are due July 31. $17 million is also available through DOC's Agricultural Land Mitigation Program (ALMP) for the purchase of agricultural conservation easements on important farmland within Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties. ALMP has no match requirement and includes funding for direct acquisition costs, associated costs, and stewardship funds. Eligible applicants include counties, cities, nonprofit organizations, resource conservation districts, and regional park or open space districts. Similarly, the Coastal Conservancy’s Climate Ready Program is helping natural resources and human communities along California’s coast and San Francisco Bay adapt to the impacts of climate change. The Conservancy will support multi-benefit projects that use natural systems to assist communities in adapting to the impacts of climate change. It is accepting applications for the sixth round of Climate Ready grants until July 1.

Quick Hits & Updates

The California State Senate’s Housing Committee unanimously approved a State Constitutional Amendment of Article 34, a controversial measure that has slowed down affordable housing projects statewide since the 1950s. Article 34 mandates a local ballot referendum to approve any affordable housing project subsidized mostly by the public. The recently-approved bill has gained cross-factional support as a promising measure to drive down inflated costs for subsidized housing projects. The proposed repeal will now appear on the 2020 state ballot for voter approval.

Following the $41.2 million purchase of a fire training station from the San Jose Fire Department, Google's spending topped $350 million on downtown San Jose properties. These purchases, which began in 2016, come as part of its plans to build a mixed-use transit-oriented village near the Diridon train station. The proposed community will consist of office buildings, homes, restaurants, shops, and open spaces where 25,000 people would work – including 20,000 Google employees. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

The Department of Conservation has $950,000 for local and regional planning grants to support the integration of natural and working lands, specifically agricultural lands, into local and regional planning documents. Grant applications are due July 31. 

The City of Anaheim launched RideArt, a resort transportation system formed in a partnership between parks and the city. RideArt links major destinations in downtown Anaheim – including the Disneyland resort, the Angels Stadium, and the Anaheim Convention Center – with common destinations outside of the city. The service funnels buses from Los Angeles Union Station, the parks at Buena Vista, Costa Mesa, and Orange into Anaheim and between these destinations.

As San Francisco legislators consider a significant fee increases on tech building downtown, a new feasibility study suggests that drastic “jobs-housing linkage fee" increases will strain developers and slow down building. Such linkage fees are designed to provide funding for affordable housing for each square foot of office space built. The study responds to San Francisco affordable housing advocates who believe that developer fees should increase far beyond the current $28.57 per square foot. It finds that any fee increase above $10 per square foot may prevent projects from reaching completion.

In a much-need vote of support, San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) Chair Georgette Gomez affirmed a united vision between MTS and SANDAG Director Hasan Ikhrata. Ikhrata, who unveiled plans for an ambitious and comprehensive transportation overhaul earlier this year, has received pushback for his apparent abandonment of voter-approved road improvements funded by the 2004 TransNet tax. In a joint press conference with Gomez, Ikhrata asserted that TransNet in fact has a $10 billion shortfall and cannot fund promised projects.

Following nearly a year of negotiations, Kings County settled its lawsuit against the California high-speed rail project. In a recent board meeting, the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority expressed confidence that the rail line will be adjusted to accommodate slower Amtrak trains, and will thus close a more immediate gaps in the Central Valley transportation system. Currently, Amtrak is a popular service in the valley, but shares a line with freight trains. This more-pragmatic vision for the line belies Governor Gavin Newsom’s persistent vision for a Merced-to- Bakersfield 220 mph high-speed train, which requires $20.4 billion by 2027 to successfully complete.

The San Francisco Planning Commission approved plans for a massive three-building office complex in SoMa, which will accommodate nearly 5,000 workers. Developer Tishman Speyer’s 598 Brannan Streey project includes 711,136 square feet off office space, 65,322 square feet of light industrial and retail space, a child care center, open space, and land donated to the city for future affordable housing. This approval comes as part of a series of new projects in SoMa, including major redevelopments of the Flower Mart and San Francisco Tennis Club. Still, construction is unlikely to begin until lawsuits against SoMa's new zoning laws – which allow buildings over 400 feet – are settled.

The San Diego City Council officially severed ties with the controversial downtown planning agency Civic San Diego. In a 5-2 vote, the council agreed to a settlement that leaves downtown planning decisions to the council, and leaves Civic as an unaffiliated public benefit company. Civic San Diego was formed in 2012 after the statewide dissolution of redevelopment agencies. However, 2015 and 2018 lawsuits alleged that the agency engaged in corrupt and illegal practices, currying favor with the private sector with major planning decisions downtown. Under a limited five-year agreement, Civic will act as a part-time consultant to the city for projects already in progress.

Ride-sharing company Lyft sued its hometown city of San Francisco, alleging the city reneged on a deal giving the company exclusive rights to street-rented bikes. The lawsuit responds to the city’s recent solicitation of vendors to offer free floating dockless bikes for hourly rentals, and asks for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order to prevent the city from issuing permits to other vendors. Lyft operates the Ford GoBike service in the city, and says that it invested millions of dollars under the assumption that it would be the only bike-rental service on city streets. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority says the exclusivity only applies to docked bikes, not to free-floating ones.

In response to the city’s growing housing and homelessness crises, Los Angeles City Council members proposed penalizing landlords who keep housing vacant. Several members of the city council jointly proposed an “empty homes penalty,” or vacancy tax, citing U.S. Census Bureau data that as of two years ago, the city had over 100,000 vacant units. By contrast, a recent point-in-time count shows a 16 percent homeless population increase in the past two years. Councilmembers hope to get a measure in front of voters by March of next year.

Joining more than a dozen California municipalities regulating rent prices, Inglewood approved a five percent rent increase cap. The unanimous city council decision lowered the increase cap from eight percent. Still, they backtracked on a key section of the ordinance: a requirement that landlords pay a relocation free for any tenant who can’t afford an increase. This ordinance responds to skyrocketing housing prices in the area: some residents reported as much as a 140 percent increase in rent. In March, Inglewood adopted an emergency ordinance to limit rent increases to five percent until this ordinance could be passed.