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CP&DR News Briefs February 11, 2020: Rent Control Ballot Measure; Bay Area Transit Fares; Statewide Housing Policies

Robin Glover on
Feb 10, 2020
New Rent Control Measure Qualifies for November Ballot 
Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that a rent control measure has garnered enough signatures for it to appear on the November ballot. The initiative would end current restrictions in state law, allowing cities and counties to implement and expand rent control policies that limit how much rents can increase each year. Last year's attempt to adopt a similar measure failed in an expensive PR battle between housing advocates and real estate groups, who argue property values will fall if the measure is adopted. Rent control advocates had some success last year when state legislators passed legislation that limited annual rent increases to five percent and made it illegal for landlords to evict current residents without cause so as to charge higher rent for the new tenant. But the state Senate rejected requiring local governments to allow apartment homes in neighborhoods zoned for single family residences. In hopes of boosting this year's chances, the bill's sponsor, Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which sponsored a failed rent control measure in 2018, has made concessions to rent control opponents, keeping a provision of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act that exempts single-family homes and new buildings from rent caps. Other elements of Costa-Hawkins, which gave broad protections to landlords, have been reversed over the years. In 1995, a bill restored the ability of California cities to compel developers to include affordable units in new rental projects.

United Transit Fare System for Bay Area Proposed 
In response to increased public transit investment even as ridership continues to fall, a San Francisco congressman will introduce Assembly Bill 2057, the Bay Area Seamless Transit Act, that would standardize fees and schedules across San Francisco's 27 transit agencies. If passed, AB2057 will require cities and counties to charge the same bus fare, to apply the same discounts for people transferring from one bus line to another, and to define each population, such as youths and seniors, in the same terms. The legislation would also require agencies to use the same regional transit map, smartphone apps and Clipper card payment technology, to make it easier for people to navigate from one system to another. The bill will also look to link scheduled among transit agencies and automatically apply discounts when riders transfer. Additionally he wants agencies to work together on capital projects, to avert such outcomes as the new Larkspur SMART terminal, which requires a 10-minute walk from the Larkspur ferry, across a street and through a shopping mall. His bill would set up a task force to begin that larger institutional change. The bill does not include a financing mechanism, but it coincides with the Faster Bay Area campaign for a sales tax to raise $100 billion for transportation funding over 40 years.

Report Favors Statewide Policies to Promote Housing 
UC Berkeley’s Terner Center conducted an analysis of five land use reform efforts in supply-constrained markets that pointed to best practices in both passing and implementing land use reform. "Getting It Right:Lessons in Designing, Passing, and Implementing Effective Land Use Reform” cites officials in Oregon, Portland, Denver, Grand Rapids, and Los Angeles who agreed that fair distribution guaranteed at higher jurisdiction levels is key. At the same time, granting a degree of local discretion helped build local support in Oregon, for example, when it implemented mandatory upzoning measures. Moreover, housing stock substantially increased in jurisdictions that prioritized housing around transit corridors and job centers, but didn’t exclude single-family neighborhoods. This point is particularly relevant for California, in which a previous Terner Center study found is 75 percent zoned for single-family residences. Another finding was that coalition building is crucial. Denver officials learned from failed attempts that lack of engagement leads to pushback. They found success with Blueprint Denver -- adopted in 2019 -- after receiving over 25,000 unique interactions with its latest update. And as Oregon has learned, land use reform can and should be a vehicle for protecting residents from displacement and exclusion. Stakeholders in Oregon noted that broad tenant protections in HB 608 were critical to the passage of statewide land reform bill HB 200. Finally, providing certainty in the development process Grand Rapids put in place straightforward land use regulations in 2010, and since then it is nearly unheard of for the city to deny a project application. The authors of the report conclude that “if done thoughtfully, statewide land use reform could prove to be an important tool for localities to meet new RHNA requirements.”

Quick Hits & Updates

The federal government put California on notice, announcing a planned high-speed rail project from Victorville to Las Vegas is on hold until California has an adequate plan in place for the $300 million project. The letter comes as California's high-speed bullet train has come under fire from internal audits by federal regulators who faulted both state and federal agencies for lack of oversight. According to current estimates, the train could be operational in three years.

Communities can apply for nearly $5 million in grants made available through a partnership between California's Strategic Growth Council and the Thriving Earth Exchange. Three February application deadlines are approaching: the Transformative Climate Communities Program will award $200,000 to three applicants who apply by February 28, 2020. The Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program (AHSC) is making $500 million in grants available to support infill and compact development. Applications are due on February 11. Applications for a Climate Change Research Program grant, which allocates up to $4.75 million in awards to greenhouse gas reduction programs, is due February 12.

In a letter to HUD secretary Ben Carson, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked the Trump administration to grant access to federally owned surplus land in California to build housing for homeless people. He also repeated a request for 50,000 additional housing vouchers, which Carson denied last year. Newsom has expressed hope that federal resistance to increasing aid will soften, noting recent successful negotiations between Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Carson regarding emergency medical care and homeless shelters on federally owned land.

Federal regulators are at fault for failing to adequately supervise California's ailing High Speed Rail project, according to an audit by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The audit confirms the factual basis for repeated attacks by the Trump administration regarding California's mismanagement of the project, but also places blame on on federal regulators for not doing due diligence before disbursing funds. "FRA provided technical assistance to improve future submissions but, prior to May 2019, did not make decisions on whether to take additional actions - such as withholding funds - to address CHRA's consistent failure to meet grant requirements," the report said.

California and several environmental groups are suing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to block new fracking permits on federal land adjacent to state property in central California. The suit filed in federal court in Los Angeles contends that the federal government's environmental review did not adequately evaluate harmful effects on communities and the environment in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura counties, and requests that the court set aside the decision. 

San Jose State University announced a plan to build hundreds of new apartments and funnel millions of dollars toward preventing homelessness in the next several years. The university has had difficulty retaining staff due to high housing costs, and reports having students at risk of homelessness. As part of the plan, the school intends to repurpose a state-owned building into 800 - 1,200 apartments for students and faculty, most of which would be rented for below market value. The university will have to secure addition funds to supplement $3.135 million in grant money it has received from the California University Chancellor's Office. 

The Lake County Local Area Formation Commission will annex over 100 acres of Middletown Rancheria land into Callayomi County Water District to ensure water supply to the property, which includes hotels, casinos, a government administration complex, homes, and a commercial property for future development. Local leaders cited fire protection as a factor behind annexation after the Valley Fire razed much of the area.

LA County Metro's board has approved a $32.5 million contract to conduct an environmental analysis and "advanced engineering design concepts," for the 4.6-mile Green Line rail extension to Torrance, in hopes of being operation in time for the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. The 3.5 year analysis will study two potential routes through Lawndale to a station at 190th Street, in Torrance, which would then use an existing railroad right-of-way to a long-delayed station on Crenshaw Boulevard. The project is expected to begin next month, with public hearings on the draft environmental analysis slated for fall 2021.
San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nurus has been charged with fraud following an FBI probe. Nuru, who is now on paid leave, has presided over DPW for years, leading a 1,600-person workforce with a $500 million annual budget In an unsealed federal complaint, the FBI alleges Nuru was quietly involved in a number of fraud schemes involving city resources. Allegations include buying commissioner votes, accepting expensive gifts to manipulate approval processes, in one case giving insider information to a homeless shelter developer.

A voter-approved plan will move forward for a homeless encampment in Berkeley. The shelter, which will only operate for a year as a trial run, will consist of several wind-resistant tents with a 50-resident capacity. The plan has received pushback from the community, but the shelter is a significant step forward in fulfilling Gov. Gavin Newsom's executive order to develop vacant properties throughout California into sites for affordable housing.

A group of about 20 protesters crashed "The Future of Downtown San Jose," a private event hosted by Silicon Valley Business Journal, chanting 'Google is not welcome here' and we won't be displaced!' to the more than 400 guests. The $115 price of admission and composition of the room, which included influential San Jose leaders, developers and stakeholders, fueled frustrations over what some have seen as an exclusionary process as downtown San Jose has seen rapid growth. Currently, Google is in closed-door negotiations with the city for a massive "transit village" that would create 6.5 million square feet of office space, according to project plans submitted to the city. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Santa Ana officials will make a big push in coming days for a route expansion of their $408 million streetcar to places like John Wayne Airport and Anaheim's tourist-heavy Resort District. City Council members unanimously approved a resolution urging the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) to create new routes. The existing streetcar project, which has widespread support among OCTA board members, broke ground in 2018 and is expected to begin service in early 2022.

San Jose is launching an innovation zone where companies can test new technology and services, according to San Jose city officials and business leaders. The zone will be San Jose's third attempt at establishing an innovation zone in six years; the first two, which were entirely focused on transportation, fizzled after failing to garner enough support. This time around, early collaborators, including Amazon Web Services, Siemens, Bird and Verizon, come from a broader range of industries. Getting companies on board early with a publicly-announced commitment could pave the way for greater long-term innovation zone success.

The Government Operations Agency has selected a developer to build housing in Stockton, and a request for qualifications was put out to developers for affordable housing in South Lake Tahoe, two major milestones toward affordable housing development on state excess land as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom's executive order. Visionary, a local Stockton developer, was selected to build a modular multi-family housing project that will bring 100 LEED Certified, 100 percent restricted affordable housing units to the city. The Department of General Services also began the process of soliciting a developer for a site that is expected to result in approximately 100 units, with an emphasis on workforce housing.

Speaking at a forum of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg brought his homelessness housing mandate to the national stage. A state task-force chaired by Mayor Steinberg first publicly proposed the mandate in mid-January, calling for a constitutional amendment that would empower the state with legal action against cities that do not meet aggressive goals to shelter homeless people. Accountability is the key to securing funding, said Steinberg, who likened the mandate to other government mandates, such as public education for children.

A new proposal by the Trump administration to help Los Angeles' homeless population ties federal dollars to sweeping changes to California's "housing first" approach, potentially putting city officials at odds with local leaders and advocates. In a recent letter to California officials, HUD Secretary Ben Carson made clear California officials will need to shift policy priorities to "empower and utilize local law enforcement" if they expect to receive federal dollars. His written remarks echo recent comments on Fox News that officials need to "uncuff law enforcement so that people can be removed now and placed in transitional places."