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CP&DR News Briefs January 28, 2020: Treasure Island; L.A. Transit; Fire Protection; and More

Robin Glover on
Jan 27, 2020
Lawsuit Could Complicate Redevelopment of Treasure Island 
Current and former residents of Treasure Island, in the San Francisco Bay, filed a class-action lawsuit seeking $2 billion in damages from authorities who allegedly concealed problems with nuclear contamination. The lawsuit says plaintiffs have been unknowingly exposed to carcinogenic and radioactive materials for years because of "untrue and misleading statements" that led residents to believe the area was safe. Beyond financial compensation, the lawsuit demands "independent verified reports" to confirm "complete and total remediation of all toxic materials." These demands come as a major revitalization project for the island is on the horizon. The city is partnering with private developers to build condos, parks, and a hotel as part of a $6 billion construction project. Meanwhile, separate investigations by state technicians and the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2011 and 2013 uncovered evidence of radioactive materials in areas that had been "cleared" by the Navy as safe. And between 2008 and 2019, contractors found and cataloged 1,300 radioactive objects, some next to occupied units. But the Navy, the city's development authority and the health department declined to investigate further. Several defendants are named in the suit, including city development authorities, the U.S. Navy, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, the Treasure Island Homeless Development Initiative, the San Francisco health department, a development firm and two engineering firms that performed cleanup tasks.

Los Angeles County to Revamp Bus System 
In response to a decline in bus ridership, Los Angeles Metro has released a draft service plan that would increase frequency of buses across the Metro system. Ridership has fallen by an average of 26,000 riders on weekdays from 2013 to 2019, and chief among riders' complaints were unpredictable wait times and infrequent service. Under the draft NextGen Bus Plan, there would be much more frequent bus service on most routes, shorter waits for buses and more reliable service. Under the new plan, buses would arrive every five to 10 minutes for 83 percent of current riders, up from 49 percent today. The number of bus lines running every five to 10 minutes would increase from 16 to 29 on weekdays and from two to 14 on weekends. Additionally, the number of LA County residents who would walk to bus lines running every five to 10 minutes would more than double from 900,000 currently to almost 2.2 million. To do this, the plan consolidates routes on streets with the highest demand and combines local and most Rapid lines with the overall number of stops. Metro is exploring ways to accommodate underused areas with on-demand shuttle service. If approved, the new bus system rollout would take place in three phases beginning in December 2020 with expected completion in December 2021. (See prior CP&DR commentary.)

State Streamlines Vegetation-Clearing Permits for Fire Protection
California regulators have streamlined the approval process for vegetation clearing projects from the usual three- to five-year timeline to less than a year in order to protect homes in fire danger zones. The move is a result of more than a decade of environmental analysis to determine how to systematically make communities safer while protecting the environment. The resulting environmental impact report will serve as a blueprint that allows agencies like Cal Fire to follow report parameters rather than create an entirely new environmental document for every project. Fuel-thinning is just one piece of a broader puzzle for legislators and regulatory agencies. It isn't effective against wind-driven fires like the devastating Paradise fire, for example, and clearings will have to be maintained in perpetuity to be effective. But the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection cites the Cave fire as proof of efficacy: "Most recently, in Santa Barbara County, two priority treatment projects had direct benefits to firefighters and the evacuating public during the Cave Fire," the board said on its website. "By using fuel breaks, firefighters were able to access the fire and strategically and safely fight the Cave fire, resulting in zero structures destroyed." California, which owns three percent of California's forestland, hopes to treat 500,000 acres of non-federal land annually. The federal government is attempting to match that amount on the 58 percent of California forestland under federal ownership.

Major Student Housing Project in S.F. Faces Lawsuit
Residents of San Francisco's Laurel Heights neighborhood have filed a lawsuit challenging a 744-unit housing and retail complex on the former UCSF Laurel Heights Campus. The lawsuit claims the development--which includes 186 units of low-income senior housing--would cause "needless significant impacts," putting San Francisco in violation of CEQA. The project has taken five years to work its way through the approval process, going through 100 meetings in the community and amendments to shrink retail space to accommodate affordable housing. Ultimately it won unanimous approval from the Board of Supervisors and San Francisco Planning Commission. Developers anticipated a CEQA challenge. In public meetings, residents had expressed wariness of construction noise, dust and congestion, as well as concern regarding continued public access to a historic site located near the property. In preparation for legal action, developers used AB 900 --the same law used by the Golden State Warriors to speed legal challenges to the team's new arena in Mission Bay. Under AB 900, "environmental leadership development projects" that meet green city standards and are transit-oriented get fast-tracked through the appeals process and must be resolved within 270 days.

Quick Hits & Updates 
The Salinas City Council approved three resolutions that will add nearly 4,400 homes across approximately 800 acres. The first to be built under an inclusionary housing ordinance passed two years ago, the project will also add parks, three new schools, a 30-acre community park, and is estimated to bring in millions in revenue. The three resolutions certified the project's environmental impact report, adopted its CEQA findings, and incorporated minor modifications. About 1,360 of the units planned are to be single-family homes, while 1,800 would be town homes. The remaining 1,176 are projected to be multi-family apartments.

For the first time in 20 years, Ventura is updating an approval process for new developments. “Ventura has had a negative reputation for many years, not just in the county but in Southern California,” said a former long-time council member who is now a land use consultant. “I’ve had people who meet with me on a regular basis over the years who want to do projects here … and they’ve heard the horror stories. Our system can be difficult to navigate.” Ventura’s economic developer said the changes are aimed at correcting three fundamental deficiencies in the city’s process: lack of clarify, lack of certainty, and high costs that stem from a lack of clear and objective design guidelines.

The Department of Housing and Community Development announced the release of $297 million as part of the January 2020 Multifamily Housing Program. NOFA workshops will be held in Sacramento, Oakland, Riverside, and Santa Ana at the end of January. Eligible applications who have successfully developed at least one affordable housing project are invited to apply by the March 2 deadline.

Bay Area Council CEO Jim Wunderman has been named by Gov. Gavin Newsom to serve as Chair of the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA), which is leading a revival of regional ferry service. First appointed to the WETA Board of Directors in 2015, Wunderman helped in the development of a 20-year plan to extend ferry service to every region of the Bay Area. He played an instrumental role in the creation of WETA and helped lead successful regional funding measures in 2006 and 2017 that provided the agency with $550 million to build out its fleet.

Glendale's art and entertainment district is getting a an $8.3 million overhaul. To date only rough design and technical elements of the two-block area have been approved by city council, but the proposal lays out a plan for a pedestrian-friendly district with an outdoor plaza that would include dining, an interactive play zone for kids, performances, and contemporary art installations. The projected is slated to be completed by 2022.

A San Francisco agency is proposing to divert future property tax revenue increases from schools and BART to construct nearly 6,000 units of below market-rate housing, according to a public document detailing the proposal. The former redevelopment agency would seek to correct some of the historical wrongs that caused its dissolution in the 2000s, in which the agency demolished 14,207 housing units as part of "slum removal" that resulted in a net loss of 6,709 units.

Los Angeles’s first Proposition HHH housing project--a 62-unit building that offers supportive services--opened in mid-December. About 20 additional units are currently under construction, and work will begin on another 30 in 2020. Officials are undoubtedly relieved to have produced tangible results, but the problem has only accelerated. Homelessness in Los Angeles has increased 16 percent since the bond measure for $1.2 billion passed in 2016, with more than 27,000 people going unsheltered in the city each night.

After years of legal spats between a Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Kholsa and local surfers over access to Martins Beach, the state is throwing its legal muscle behind the case. Lawsuits against Khosla have relied on whether the former property owners had already granted public rights through "implied dedication" to use the beach, road, and parking lot. The Coastal Commission, officials said, spent several years collecting evidence from more than 225 people- including written accounts, photographs, personal journal entries and news articles that show public use as early as the 1800s.

State legislators are proposing a "California Green New Deal" to reduce homelessness, curb emissions, and buoy living standards in under-served communities within 10 years. Like its federal counterpart, the California Green New Deal is a broad outline of goals rather than a detailed policy proposal. The proposal--which is backed by 14 legislators--largely seeks to accelerate California's already ambitious climate goals like Senate Bill 100, which mandates 60 percent renewable energy sources by 2030. The New Deal targets 100 percent renewable energy within the same time frame.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed to join an appeal over a proposed condominium project in San Mateo as part of an effort to defend the Housing Accountability Act. As one of 120 charter cities, San Jose has broad authority over local matters, but developers, activists, and lawmakers worry that if the initial ruling stands, San Jose and other charter cities will use the case as precedent to exercise unilateral authority over development approvals. 

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."

Friends of Waverly, a neighborhood group, filed a lawsuit to block construction of a homeless shelter in Griffith Park,. The lawsuit alleges Los Angeles officials abused discretion when they granted the project emergency exemption from environmental review. The $6.6-million project, which will include a 10,800-square-foot structure with approximately 100 beds and trailers to showers, restrooms and administrative offices, is part of L.A.'s "bridge housing" program, a stopgap measure meant to shelter the homeless while permanent structures are under construction.

The Laguna Beach City Council passed a resolution opposing SCAG's updated housing needs assessment, which calls for 390 units, up from an October assessment that called for 55 new housing units. The resolution argues SCAG's modified methodology lacks specificity, supporting documentation and vetting by SCAG staff, and a "near total absence of stakeholder engagement." SCAG issued a statement urging cities to wait for the process to unfold: "We have a set process to follow, and these numbers are far from final."

Years of rocket engine manufacturing may disqualify one of Los Angeles' largest undeveloped areas from residential use. The owner of the Warner Center property had previously marketed the site as one with high-rise urban development potential. But in documents filed with LA's Water Quality Control Board, property owner United Technologies Corp. indicates it will only seek to bring pollution standards up to commercial use after environmental tests detected several cancer-causing chemicals still permeating the area.

The Center for Biological Diversity is suing Placer County for approving the Sunset Area Plan, a sprawling 8,500 acre project that includes 8,000 housing units and 34 million square feet of retail, commercial, and industrial space. The lawsuit argues that the project will destroy 5,000 acres of rare wetlands that are home to rare and threatened species, including fairy shrimp and the western spadefoot toad. 

The Newsom administration appears poised to settle a suit with Huntington Beach over the city's affordable housing targets. Huntington Beach's general plan was initially in compliance with state mandated targets, but officials backtracked, decreasing the amount of land set aside for housing. A year later, state housing officials say they have a proposal to increase low-income housing development. If Huntington Beach City Council approves the proposal by March, the city would then be in compliance, rendering the suit moot--for now.

Owners of The Forum, an Inglewood events venue, have filed suit to block construction of the proposed Los Angeles Clippers arena. The suit alleges Gov. Gavin Newsom violated the constitution when he used AB 987 to prevent any litigation from stalling the project for more than 270 days. The stadium bypassed a full environmental review through a ballot measure, but arena developers are litigating several lawsuits related to the matter. City officials have expressed confidence construction will move forward as planned.

Supporters of Measure E--a ballot initiative that would tax San Jose properties worth $2 million or more to fund affordable housing-- have officially launched their campaign outside of an affordable housing development. Measure E is a progressive tax based on a property's transfer value that would levy a .75 percent tax for properties valued between $2 million -$5 million a 1 percent tax for $5 million-$10 million properties and a 1.5 percent tax on properties valued over $10 million. The new tax would be on top of an existing flat .33 percent transfer tax. City officials estimate Measure E could generate between $22 million and $73 million annually.

An underground tunnel project that would pump billions of gallons of water from the San Joaquin Delta to southern California is officially under reconsideration. Gov. Gavin Newsom's office issued a Notice of Preparation, reviving a more ambitious tunnel project that was dropped last year. State officials say they need the tunnel because intake for the current system is only three feet above the average sea level, making it vulnerable to climate change.