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CP&DR News Briefs August 12, 2019: "Sue the Suburbs;" San Diego Specific Plans; HCD vs. Cupertino; and More

Brett Simpson on
Aug 11, 2019
Housing Advocates Sue Los Altos over Denial of Housing Development
As part of a multi-pronged effort to “sue the suburbs” and push for development of new housing, a housing advocacy group filed a lawsuit against Los Altos for its failure to streamline approval of a mixed-use project under Senate Bill 35. The California Rental Legal Advocacy and Education Fund (CaRLA), a nonprofit founded in 2016, uses litigation to hold cities accountable to statewide housing laws. This group uses the state’s Housing Accountability Act, which says officials cannot deny or reduce the density of a housing project that complies with general plan and zoning rules, to push cities to approve projects. Since 2016, CaRLA has sued nine cities over allegedly improper project denials or illegal housing ordinances, including San Mateo, Berkeley, Lafayette and San Francisco. Four of these resulted in settlements that forced officials to approve the projects. CaLRA raised almost $400,000 in funds last year from donors and grants to wage its fight against CEQA lawsuits that slow development approvals. For instance, last year Dublin was forced to approve a 220-unit apartment building next to the Dublin/Pleasonton BART station as part of a settlement with CaRLA. Opponents of CaRLA express concerns at their combative, non-cooperative approach. “While I respect the right to sue cities, as mayor, I would prefer that they would sit down with me and talk in person,” said Dublin Mayor David Haubert, according the the Mercury News. “I’m not sure why they didn’t do that.” (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

San Diego Adopts Two Transit Oriented Specific Plans 
Anticipating a spike in housing demand near planned transit stops, the San Diego City Council unanimously approved two specific plans that would rezone areas along trolley stations to add about 9,000 new homes. The council approved both the Balboa Avenue Station Area Specific Plan and the Morena Corridor Specific Plan – taking advantage of the future Mid-Coast Trolley Blue Line Extension. The city’s current Pacific Beach Community Plan only allows for the development of 1,200 units. In contrast, the Balboa Avenue plan would allow for an additional 3,508 housing units within a half-mile of the planned station. And the Morena Corridor plan would allow for 5,630 additional units over the 1,387 allowed in the previous plan. Both plans face community opposition, from residents who believe that their properties will be obstructed by high-rises – since new zoning raises building height limits from 45 feet to as high as 100 feet. Additionally, residents express concern that luxury apartments are being favored over affordable units. “Until we zone for affordable housing and remove the loopholes, we are not going to get it,” said James LaMattery, spokesman for the opposition group Raise the Balloon, according to Fox 5 San Diego. “What we are going to become is San Francisco 2.0, where the uber-wealthy live in the city and all of the poor neighborhoods are being developed by big developments that begin pushing them out.”

HCD Threatens to Sue Cupertino over Insufficient Housing at Vallco
The California Department of Housing and Community Development threatened to sue the City of Cupertino if it does not meet its housing obligations under state law. In an official warning letter, the state took issue with the city’s extreme opposition to approving the controversial mixed-use project at the former Vallco shopping mall site. According to statewide goals, Cupertino must zone and plan the construction of 1,064 new housing units by 2023. To reach that goal, a massive redevelopment of the Vallco site – which would have built 2,402 new homes – was green lighted under state law SB 35. SB 35 requires cities to fast-track certain residential and mixed-use projects. Recently, a local group sued to block the SB 35 approval – and the city is not fighting this lawsuit. In its letter, the state warned that if the homes promised by that project don’t reach production, Cupertino will fall out of compliance with state-mandated goals. “HCD appreciates the difficulty jurisdictions face in balancing competing interests when making land use decisions,” HCD Deputy Director Zachary Olmstead wrote in the letter to Cupertino’s city manager. “However, the City also has the responsibility to zone adequate sites to accommodate housing needs and to ensure that new housing development opportunities are available to meet the housing needs of all members of the community.” (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Los Angeles Formally Adopts VMT Metrics 
As part of a statewide step away from car-centric environmental analyses, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved the adoption of transportation metrics under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) from LOS (Level of Service) to VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled). “Level of Service” is a way of measuring traffic adopted early by CEQA project approvals that works to prevent congestion. However, favoring congestion reduction often means requiring more space for cars and less space for bike lanes and public transit. However, this led to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. In 2014, California’s Office of Planning and Research began devising the VMT metric, which more accurately shows that projects in denser urban areas have less environmental impacts than less dense suburban areas. California adopted VMT in January, and the official statewide deadline for adoption is July 1, 2020. As part of its adoption, Los Angeles set VMT thresholds and created an online VMT calculator for developers. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Bid to Drill in Carrizo Plain Blocked 
The California Bureau of Land Management blocked oil drilling in San Luis Obispo’s Carrizo Plain National Monument, overturning a local Bakersfield Field Office decision to build a well and pipeline. BLM was responding to an administrative appeal raised by the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch, who claimed that the regional office failed to fully consider the effects on the climate and potential harm to wildlife. The drilling project, proposed in 2012 by E&B Natural Resources Management Corp. and approved in March, was planned for the base of the Caliente Mountains along the western boundary of the national monument. It represented the first approved drilling since the monument was named in 2001. BLM ruled that the environmental review discussed global greenhouse gas and air quality impacts but not specific impacts on the San Luis Obispo and Kern County environments. The state office recommended conducting another environmental review and initiating consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services for all federally listed endangered species.
Quick Hits & Updates 
Despite recent rezoning for transit-oriented housing downtown, plans for a 425-unit project in San Bruno were killed by a margin of a single vote in city council. This came after a three-year, $3 million planning process in which developer Ghielmetti followed the city’s voter-approved transit corridor plan, agreed to add car and bike parking, a 40,000-square-foot “upscale” grocery store, 64 affordable units, street improvements and a community meeting space. He also pledged to pay $10 million into the city’s general fund to offset the increase in demand for public services from the new residents.

San Francisco Director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development Kate Hartley is stepping down. Hartley was appointed to the position, tasked with overseeing affordable housing building citywide, in 2017 by then-mayor Ed Lee. Hartley will move to a job overseeing “affordable housing finance,” according to a statement announcing her departure. She’ll formally step down July 26.

Oakland’s homeless population surged by 47 percent between 2017 and 2019 to surpass both Berkeley and San Francisco, according to a recently-released one-night street count. The count showed that Oakland now has 940 homeless persons per 100,000 population – while San Francisco has 906 and Berkeley has 848. The city’s homeless population accounts for nearly half of Alameda County’s total, according to the new figures shared at a meeting on homelessness with mayors from 14 cities in the county and the county’s Board of Supervisors.

In the latest development in a battle for control of the San Diego Sports Arena, the arena’s operator, AEG management, agreed to disclose its financial records. This ruling came after H&S Ventures, a rival group that owns the San Diego Gulls minor league hockey teams, requested the documents under the state’s Public Records Act. Both companies have submitted proposals to run the arena after AEG’s long-term lease expires in May 2020. A final decision won’t come until the fall.

Following the San Diego Association of Governments’ announcement of a comprehensive, multi-billion-dollar transit overhaul, the Coronado City Council unanimously approved a resolution opposing the plan. More specifically, Coronado opposes redirecting the 2004 TransNet half-cent sales tax funds away from voter-approved highway projects. SANDAG and Hasan Ikhrata, its new executive director, have faced opposition countywide for repurposing TransNet funds for public transit projects. Instead, the council proposed using the TransNet funds for a $25 million Coronado-specific transportation improvement project. (See prior CP&DR coverage.) 

Following strong public opposition to a city council bill designed to boost low-income housing, the San Diego City Planning Commission unanimously rejected the bill. The bill, proposed by City Council President Georgette Gomez, would require developers to make 10 percent of units in a housing project affordable to families making 50 percent of the median income – which is $53,500 in 2019. The current affordable housing policy requires developers to make 10 percent of units affordable to those making 65 percent of the area median income. Instead, the Planning Commission accepted an amended policy that softens the 50 percent requirement to a more modest 60 percent. 

In the boldest campaign to solve San Francisco’s homelessness crisis yet, an anti-poverty nonprofit debuted a plan to add 100 permanent supportive housing units to each of San Francisco’s 11 districts – totaling 1,100 new units. The so-called “All In” campaign, spearheaded by Tipping Point Community, asks community members to sign a pledge supporting homes and services in their neighborhood. The grassroots effort will also include asking community members to recruit neighbors and share facts about the widely misunderstood crisis.