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CP&DR News Briefs September 24, 2019: Federal TOD Legislation; Huntington Beach Sues State; HSR Route into Bay Area; and More

Brett Simpson on
Sep 23, 2019
San Diego Representative Introduces Federal Smart Growth Bill
Congressmember Scott Peters introduced a new bipartisan federal bill to increase funding to build homes near transit. The bipartisan Build More Housing Near Transit Act proposes a change in the rating criteria for the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts Program, which uses Capital Investment Grants to fund transit project. The bill requires housing feasibility assessments near transit stops and prioritizes changing land use policies to accommodate market rate and affordable housing. By supporting building near public transit, the bill aims to both address the national shortage of 7.2 million affordable homes and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. Rep. Peters, a centrist Democrat who represents San Diego, Poway, and Coronado, uses the San Diego affordability crisis in San Diego to exemplify the urgency of the measure. The act is endorsed by the American Planning Association, the National Association of Home Builders, Habitat for Humanity, and many others.”The Build More Housing Near Transit Act would ensure that limited federal transit dollars are used not only to finance important transit projects, but also enable additional transit-served housing for more Americans,” said Mike Kingsella, Up for Growth Action Executive Director. “The enhanced criteria for New Starts evaluations proposed by this legislation would mean more homes, using less land, with fewer cars on the road.”

Huntington Beach Sues State over Housing Laws — Again 
For the fifth time in the past year, the Huntington Beach City Council voted to sue California over two more housing laws, including one that removes charter cities’ ability to opt out of certain housing regulations. California sued the city earlier this year for non-compliance with state housing laws, and Huntington Beach fought back with a series of housing mandate challenges. Now, Huntington Beach is challenging the newly-passed Senate Bill 1333, which bars charter cities from opting out of state housing mandates, as well as the July-approved AB 101, which requires that the attorney general use a court order against cities in violation of housing plan mandates. Huntington Beach claims to be protecting itself from state overreach. “These lawsuits, like the other lawsuits we filed against the state, are about asserting the city’s constituiontally protected charter city authority to zone and plan for housing at the local level,” City Attorney Michael Gates told the Los Angeles Times.

High Speed Rail Names Preferred Route into Bay Area 
Despite community backlash, the California High-Speed Rail Authority unanimously approved a route to connect the San Joaquin Valley with San Jose. The route, chosen from four alternatives, crosses western Merced County grasslands and tunnels through Pacheco Pass. High-speed trains would share upgraded tracks with Caltrains between San Jose and Gilroy. The state’s analysis found that this alternative displaces the fewest homes and businesses, would have the least impact on waterways and habitats, and would cost tens of billions of dollars less to build than the originally-envisioned elevated-track option. However, communities along the San Francisco Peninsula expressed concerns about switching from elevated tracks to an at-grade railroad crossings. Residents also worried about increasing traffic in an already-busy rail corridor in neighborhoods like San Jose and Gilroy. Many also voiced concerns about the potential effects on the Grassland Environmental Area in San Joaquin Valley. The state will now conduct environmental impact reports for all four alternatives. 

Light Rail Extension Meets Surprise Opposition in San Bernardino Co.
In a surprise move against a decade-old project, the head of the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency’s head recommended withdrawing commitments to bringing the Gold Line light-rail project to Montclair. At a recent board meeting, SBCTA Executive Director Ray Wolfe came out against bringing the first light-rail to the Inland Empire from L.A. County. He cited the costs of the line – which the Gold Line Construction Authority said amounts to about $546 million total – and recommended siphoning existing funds to smaller projects. Montclair Mayor John Dutrey immediately objected to the statement, and pointed out that SBCTA will not have to pay for that section of the line. Still, the SBTCA is $15 million short of funds for the line’s final leg to Montclair. Additionally, Dutrey said that the cities of San Gabriel Valley, Claremont, Montcliar, and others have been waiting for this line for fifteen years, and have adapted their construction of residential units around expectations of the line. He committed to lobbying the state for more funds. However, the SBCTA is also considering cheaper alternatives to the light-rail project, including the Arrow passenger rail service already under construction from San Bernardino to Redlands. A staff report of all alternatives will be drawn up and brought to the SBCTA’s Transit Committee in October.

SANDAG Releases Spending Plan
The San Diego Association of Governments released a long-awaited $600 million spending blueprint outlining proposed transportation projects for the next five years. Major projects include mapping out a high-speed rail line between Oceanside, Escondido, and Carlsbad, designing express lanes along state Route 78, stabilizing the Del Mar Bluffs, and adding new Coaster trains. What’s not among key proposals, however, are the highway expansions promised under the 2004 voter-approved Transnet tax hike. Supporters of the plan say that abandoning the expansions are necessary to meet an ambitious new transit vision. But its critics said that voters won’t approve any new tax hikes if the promises of the 2004 measure aren’t fulfilled. Poway Mayor Steve Vaus proposed to amend the plan by nixing the new Coaster trains in favor of expanding routes 78, 52, and 67. The board is scheduled to vote on approval of the funding blueprint on September 27. It’s still unclear whether the vote will require a majority or a two-thirds vote to pass. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Quick Hits & Updates 

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) updated its Sustainable Communities Strategy evaluation guidelines. The update responded to target updates adopted by the Board in 2018, to better assess CARB’s regional targets for greenhouse gas emissions under SB 375. The September update includes a draft SCS Program Guidelines and Evaluation Report, open to public comment until October 3. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

To engage partners for the development of a bold new transportation vision, the San Diego Association of Governments(SANDAG) launched its new "Vision Lab." The Lab will be a collaborative space for agency staff, elected officials, working groups, and industry leaders to design the fully integrated regional transportation system. SANDAG’s 2021 Regional Plan will include a “5 Big Moves” transportation scheme that covers complete corridors, transit leap, mobility hubs, flexible fleets, and the next operating system. To support development of the 2021 Regional Plan, SANDAG established a Vision Advisory Panel to help make use of new technologies to reduce commute times and build a usable and efficient system. 

Plans for a campus expansion at UC San Diego will come true three years earlier than expected, after the university raised a record $2 billion in private donations. In 2012, the campus launched a massive capital campaign to achieve its vision of a more vibrant experience for its 40,000 students – and gave itself a decade to come up with the funds. Expansion plans include a new campus entryway, a Target, a Whole Foods, as well as new research and medical centers.

Following a multimillion-dollar property tax assessment break granted to the San Francisco Giants’ Oracle Park, San Francisco assessor Carmen Chu is suing both the baseball team and the city’s Assessment Appeals Board. Chu assessed the 42,000-seat stadium, on land leased from the Port of San Francisco, at $415 million for 2015, $421 million for 2016, and $430 million for 2017. However, the team believes the stadium is worth just $298 billion, down $9 million compared to 2015. And, though the Assessment Appeals Board agreed that the stadium has increased in value, it estimated lower values than Chu did – so she filed a lawsuit in the San Francisco Superior Court.

In a bid to lower Westwood Village’s 20 percent business vacancy rate, a Los Angeles City Council committee approved drafting amendments to the Westwood Village Specific Plan. The Plan, which hasn’t changed meaningfully since 1989, has faced criticism for prioritizing commuters who drive to the Village over students and local residents. Major amendments include eliminating the limit on fast food restaurants and easing parking requirements for retail spaces. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

San Diego Mayor Kevin Falcouner vetoed a proposal to require housing developers to build more low-income units. The veto came just hours after the City Council voted, 5-4, to approve the same proposal. Supporters of the requirements say that the policy will help the city confront its housing and homelessness crises. Opponents called the requirements a “tax on builders” that could worsen the housing crisis by making new housing projects potentially unfeasible – and the mayor agreed. Votes from six council members are required to override a mayoral veto, so one of the opposing council members would have to change the vote for the regulations to take effect.

Short-term vacation rentals in Santa Monica will continue to be restricted after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined an appeal from Airbnb and Homeaway. In March, Santa Monica passed an ordinance limiting short-term vacation rentals. In response, the two companies filed a lawsuit against the city claiming that the ordinance violated the Communications Decency Act and the First Amendment. The court rejected their argument in March, and denied their appeal last week.

The Marina Coast Water District sued Monterey County and California American Water over the county’s approval of Cal Am’s desalination plant permit. The district claims that by approving the permit, county officials violated the California Environmental Quality Act, water code, and planning and zoning law. The agreement allows the company to pump 16 million gallons of Salinas Valley groundwater per day to the plant.

In a bid to mitigate the local affordable housing crisis with backyard homes, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo announced plans to ease the permitting process for accessory dwelling units. ADUs are increasing in popularity: city officials said they processed about 40 applications for ADU permits in all of 2016, and now they process an average of 40 permits per week. The city hopes to increase these numbers further with the streamlined process, including a newly-dubbed weekly “ADU Tuesday,” on which residents can get express appointments for approvals within 90 minutes. The city is also launching an online ADU portal that qualifies homeowners’ properties and allows them to begin the permitting process.

The BART Board of Directors approved moving to a new $227 million headquarters in Downtown Oakland before their current lease expires in 2021. BART officials touted the new building as a long-term cost save to avoid the 60 percent rent rise after the lease expires at the current Kaiser complex location. But BART Board Director Debora Allen said that not all options had been considered – including negotiating a new five-year lease, constructing a new complex on an existing BART-occupied property, or looking for a less expensive area for relocation. The agency will release sales tax revenue bonds to pay for the new building.

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) voted to maintain the city of Coronodo’s new 2,000 percent housing quota increase. SANDAG was examining the county’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) plan, as passed down from the state. The state's RHNA handed Coronado an increase from 60 to 1,001 new units in their goal for Cycle Six. Coronado pleaded for a smaller goal, arguing that 71 percent of their land is owned by the Navy, the Port, and California Parks and Recreation – none of which can be developed. But SANDAG maintained the state mandate to increase their housing stock by 10 percent before 2029. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
A San Francisco Superior Court judge declined to block construction of a homeless navigation center on the Embarcadero, denying residents’ claims of “irreparable damage". The residents’ group, Safe Embarcadero for All, asked for a temporary restraining order to stall construction of the 200-bed shelter. The group cited an August incident where a man attacked a resident near the forthcoming shelter However, the judge ruled that the construction itself causes no harm, since the supposed neighborhood damage would only arise once the shelter is occupied.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development announced that 14 California cities have received a total of $3.15 million in SB 2 planning grants. SB 2, or the Building Homes and Jobs Act, was passed in 2017 to establish a $75 recording fee on certain real estate documents to be used for planning grants in its first year, and for affordable homes in subsequent years. The planning grants can be used for updating local planning documents, updating zoning ordinances, conducting environmental analyses or for local improvements to expedite local planning and permitting.