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CP&DR News Briefs July 30, 2019: Caltrain Expansion; HUD vs. Los Angeles; Residential Permitting Plummets; and More

Brett Simpson on
Jul 28, 2019
Caltrain Envisions $25 Billion Plan to Triple Ridership
Caltrain will triple its ridership from 60,000 to 180,000, according to a $25 billion, decades-long “service vision” compiled by the agency. The vision includes several extensions, an increase in cars and stations to serve growing demand from Bay Area populations. Caltrain officials hope to anticipate a projected 40 percent increase in residents and workers along transit lines by 2040. Key proposals within the vision include a track extension into the Transbay Terminal in SoMa, as well as a plan to transition diesel cars to electric. However, officials must find a way to fund these innovations: the railway doesn’t reap sales or property tax revenue, and instead relies on a $30 million annual subsidy from the three counties it serves. According to Caltrain’s CEO and general manager Jim Hartnett, the agency is considering putting a sales tax measure on the ballot for funding next year. The final vision will go to Caltrain’s board of directors for approval in October.

HUD Accuses Los Angeles of Discrimination; Withholds Funds
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson denied Los Angeles $80 million in funds, citing discrimination against disabled residents. In a recent letter, Carson rejected city officials’ requests for funding, citing the city’s failure to comply to federal accessibility laws in its proposed affordable housing projects. This comes as a blow to the city, which is struggling with affordable housing and homelessness crises. The money being withheld by HUD includes funds from the federal HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which pays for affordable housing for low-income families. According to Carson’s letter, local officials will have 45 days to resubmit or rework their funding application. They can also seek the funding by entering into an agreement that addresses the city’s outstanding violations on disabled housing. L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti claims that there are “no grounds” for withholding the funds. “These funds support an array of federal programs upon which millions of people rely, and withholding them will ultimately hurt the neediest among us,” Garcetti told the Los Angeles Times. “At a time of rising homelessness and a moment of record income inequality in America, the victims of this action will not be local government, but struggling Americans."

Residential Building Permit Approvals Decline 12 Percent over 2018
Residential building permit approval rates decreased statewide, according to new data from California Department of Finance. According to the data, California communities approved an annual average of 110,000 new buildings in the first five months of 2019 – 12.2 percent fewer than the same period in 2018. Permits for multi-family units like apartments decreased by an even greater rate, falling by 42.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted average of 46,000 units per year. This data comes as a blow to Governor Gavin Newsom’s aggressive housing production goal of 3.5 million new units by 2025. To reach this goal, statewide production would have to increase fivefold. This year, the governor pushed stricter policy for new building: he allocated $1.75 billion for financing loans and tax breaks for affordable housing development in this year’s budget. He also attempted, and failed, to withhold road repair money from cities that didn’t meet their housing goals – and instead compromised with a fine. But data shows that new housing numbers are still moving in the wrong direction. Senator Scott Weiner, whose building bill SB 50 was shelved in the Legislature in May, commented on the new data. "Even though there’s a perception that we’ve accelerated housing production in California, we haven’t,” he said to the Sacramento Bee. "We’ve fallen dramatically far short of where we need to be and it’s getting worse. And this is threatening the state’s future.”

Survey Ranks “Walkable Places” Nationwide; Bay Area Ranked 5th
California urban hubs nabbed top national rankings for walkability, according to the WalkUP rankings from Smart Growth America. The analysis ranks the levels of walkable urbanism within the nation’s largest metro areas, and identified 761 extremely walkable places, or “WalkUPs,” that deliver an outsized economic performance despite their minute portion of total U.S. land mass. According to the research, such areas deliver high proportions of office, retail, and multi-family homes per square feet. Nationally, the San Francisco Bay Area ranks fifth in walkable urbanism, Sacramento ranks nineteenth, Los Angeles ranks twentieth, and San Diego ranks twenty-fifth. The “San Francisco Bay Area” region includes San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose; the study notes that Silicon Valley maintains a "retro-drivable suburban development pattern" despite its high concentration of knowledge workers. The findings also note that most of Los Angeles’s walkable urban space is located in its suburbs.

Quick Hits & Updates 
In response to an approved high rise development on a site occupied by Amoeba Music in Hollywood, a prominent anti-development group is suing the City of Los Angeles on the grounds of culture significance. In addition to filing a lawsuit, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its subsidiary the Coalition to Preserve L.A. filed a monument application for the Sunset Boulevard site. The lawsuit also claimed that the proposed 26-story complex with up to 200 apartments and 7,000 square feet does not produce sufficient affordable housing. Amoeba Music plans to relocate to another Los Angeles site.

The Redlands Passenger Rail program broke ground in downtown Redlands, beginning construction on the nine-mile, $355.4 million link from San Bernandino to Redlands. The new corridor will add four stations, including downtown Redlands. The Santa Fe Depot will connect riders to the Arrow line and its low emission diesel train, as well as a Metrolink platform toward Los Angeles. The San Bernandino Transit Center connection will link riders to Los Angeles Union Station, LAX, Orange County, and more. The project is expected to be completed in 2022.

Caltrans and state representatives spoke in opposition of building a park or housing on freeway stubs off of the Los Angeles County 710, taking the much-anticipated project off the table. When Caltrans killed plans to close the 4.1-mile 710 Freeway Gap between El Sereno, South Pasadena and Pasadena by surface or tunnel, the L.A. county MTA awarded these cities $515 million for local roadway projects. Of that, $100 million were earmarked for Alhambra to pursue a project on the southern stub – including the possibility of parkland. However, state representatives have since expressed concerns about increased congestion from closing the structures. 

As part of a multi-pronged effort to ease anticipated traffic to the Warrior’s Mission Bay arena, San Francisco transportation officials announced that tickets to any event at the new Chase Center arena will come with a free Muni day pass. The 18,000-seat arena will offer limited parking spaces, and officials are preparing for a crush of traffic to the site. In February, Mayor London Breed created a working group of more than a dozen city departments to increase infrastructure and operations for the influx of thousands of event attendees to the area. For transportation officials, this includes increased Muni rides, a Muni platform expansion, and a new ferry service to the site. 

In a split decision, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors rejected a November 2019 bill asking voters to add an extra layer of oversight to the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. Mayor London Breed has lobbied strongly against the bill, arguing that the added layer of bureaucracy wouldn’t be worth the increased attention to homelessness. The department, created in 2016, reports directly to the mayor and is one with the few major departments in the city without an oversight commission. The oversight measure instead will be considered for the March 2020 ballot.

In the latest of a series of legal battles over the Cupertino Vallco Mall development project, the Cupertino City Council settled a lawsuit with former city attorney Randolph Hom – who alleged retaliation, discrimination, and breach of contract in connection with his involvement in the redevelopment plan. Hom was fired by the city after he argued that the proposed $3 billion Vallco Mall redevelopment violated the city’s general plan. The city council denies all wrongdoing, but agreed to pay the $205,000 settlement to avoid further legal proceedings. (See prior CP&DR coverage.) 

The Cupertino City Council nixed any future office development at the Vallco Shopping Center site should current plans fall through. The current council opposes the approved plans, which were required as part of the 2017 SB 35 streamlined approval process for developments that comply with affordable housing requirements. The council members say that adding up to 2 million square feet of office space will exacerbate the housing shortage by attracting even more workers. Senator Scott Weiner, who authored SB 35, recently accused the council of attempting to sabotage future housing projects at the site.

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a 60-story skyscraper project in South Park, and also approved the project for the Sustainable Communities Environmental Assessment, which allows for CEQA streamlining for projects near transit. The Canadian developer Onni bought the site in 2016 and plans to convert a block into a retail/residential center, adding two new towers and preserving the two Los Angeles Times buildings on the property.