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CP&DR News Briefs March 3, 2020: Development Fees; Oil Drilling; High Speed Rail; and More

Robin Glover on
Mar 2, 2020
Package of Bills Takes Aim at Development Fees 
Seven bills aimed at slashing development and impact fees -- which comprise up to 18 percent of the cost of new Californian homes -- have been proposed in the legislature recently. The bills, jointly authored by five Democratic assembly members, aim to combat the housing crisis in California. If passed in full, the package would substantially modify the way fees are assessed, including nexus standards reform; impact fee reduction for affordable housing units and units built using the state's density bonus program; tie fees to median home prices; and assess fees on a per-square-foot basis, giving developers the option to build smaller, more affordable units without being penalized. Impact fees would be payable "under protest," allowing developers to defer fee negotiations and continue building. Overall, the package pares down requirements and development costs, with one exception: cities and counties would be required to report essential housing data to HCD, including the number of new housing units that have been issued a completed entitlement, a building permit, or a certificate of occupancy. The bills are currently being sent to Assembly Committees where they are expected to be heard in the spring. 

Ruling Stalls Approval of 72,000 Oil Wells 
Kern County oil producers will no longer be allowed to use a single environmental report for 72,000 new oil wells after an appellate court ruled that the report concealed impacts on air quality, drinking water, and wildlife. Kern County officials ignored threats to public health from particulate soot, and impacts to drinking and agricultural water supplies, the panel ruled. The environmental impact report had set a cap of 3,647 new well approvals a year, for a total of 72,900 permits over 20 years, but the sweeping ruling invalidates the entire policy until county officials can demonstrate CEQA compliance. While the decision is a blow to the industry, the overall concept of blanket approval and quick permitting remains intact. "We're committed to this ordinance. If we need to fix it, we'll fix it," said Kern County Planning and Natural Resources Director Lorelei Oviatt, who helped craft the policy. "I'm very pleased we won on the very important issues for this innovative approach ... covering 2.3 million acres." Her statement gets to the heart of environmentalist's concerns. "The scheme they set up is basically rubber-stamping all the applications that come across the county's desk for oil and gas wells, and all of the ancillary equipment," said Hollin Kretzmann, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. There's no word yet whether there will be an appeal, but one more timely option on the table would be to kick the matter up to state authorities.

Bakersfield-Palmale Segment of High Speed Rail to Cost $18.1 Billion
The segment of California High Speed Rail from Bakersfield to Palmdale would incur significant losses, financial and otherwise, says a draft environmental statement by the California High-Speed Rail Authority. The rail line route would cut through 253 residential housing units, 311 businesses, 175 farm fields, a homeless shelter, and an alternative high school. Among impacts that are "significant and unavoidable under CEQA" is the relocation of a section of the iconic Pacific Crest Trail. The estimated $18.1 billion price tag is a reflection of the route's challenging terrain. To achieve 4,000 feet of elevation - as crossing the Tehachapi Mountains requires - plans call for 9.3 miles of tunnels,15.8 miles of elevated structures, and 75 overpass or underpass structures to cross highways. A federal bill, H.R. 5805, has been introduced in the House of Representatives by by Rep. Jim Costa that would authorize $32 billion in federal funds for high-speed rail corridors, but whether those funds make it to California is an open question as the federal administration has been show to disburse funds and has tried to take already granted funds back.

LAO Analyzes Costs, Benefits of Governor’s Climate Proposals 
The Legislative Affairs Office has issued a report examining Gov. Gavin Newsom's proposed investments related to climate change. The four main proposals evaluated by the LAO include a $965 million cap-and-trade expenditure plan, $25 million for expanded climate adaptation research and technical assistance, $250 million for a new climate catalyst loan fund, and a $4.8 billion climate bond. The report sets forth a series of key issues for the legislature to consider, including thinking broadly - beyond the governor's recommendations - about its climate change-related priorities. Since the climate catalyst loan, for example, comes out of the General Fund, the legislature will have to weight multiple priorities before those funds are issued to their ultimate destination. A common thread throughout the report is California's potential contributions to the private sector and impacts beyond the state's borders. Because California emits roughly 1 percent of global greenhouse gas gases,. the most significant effect of California's climate policies may be how they influence greenhouse gas reduction activities in other jurisdictions. If California were to successfully implement cost-effective policies, for example, a reasonable assumption is that other states or even countries could follow suit.


Quick Hits & Updates

The California High-Speed Rail Authority estimates the state bullet train project will cost $80.3 billion, up from a previous estimate of $70 billion, mainly because the plan pushes back the completion of a high-speed rail link between Silicon Valley and the Central Valley by 18 months, to late 2031. But, managers insist they are on pace to meet a 2022 federal deadline for laying track along the first segment in the Central Valley.

New figures from BART indicate that ridership has decreased during off-peak hours, particularly on weekends and at night. The total amount of rides outside of commuting hours have dropped by nearly 10 million, from 62.2 million in 2015 to 52.7 million in 2019. In a survey of 662 BART riders, reasons for not taking rides in off-peak hours includes lower frequency of trains on the weekend and the rail system not reaching places BART riders want to travel to. Crime, lack of cleanliness, and homeless riders were also cited as reasons riders chose alternative transit options.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge sided with the California attorney general's office and HCD, asserting Huntington Beach must respond to a state lawsuit accusing the city of falling out of compliance with the state housing mandate.

UCLA Luskin research team won the 2019 Pyke Johnson Award from the Transportation Research Board for a recent paper about the mobility needs of aging adults. The award-winning paper, "Physical Accessibility and Employment Among Older Adults in California," found that adults age 60 and older are able to stay in the workforce longer when they have access to a car or to public transit, or if they live in an urban area.

More than half of all California counties should begin preparing for a large and long lasting period of declining student enrollment by as much as seven percent, according to projections from the California Department of Finance. Since funding is allocated on a per pupil basis, schools will contend with shrinking budgets. There is at least one silver lining: with continued economic growth, lower enrollment could result in funding increases for K-12 schools of up to $100 per student in each of the next several years.

The San Bernadino County Transportation Authority voted to initiate a $3 million study to explore three rail access options and choose a "preferred alternative" that would allow car-free access to Ontario International Airport. In broad strokes, officials are looking at either extending the Gold Line from Pomona to the airport, building a heavy-rail line from Metrolink's Rancho Cucamonga station, or converting existing cargo train tracks to a heavy-rail passenger service from Metrolink's Ontario-East Station.

San Diego's Planning and Development Services has created an online portal through which the public can track progress on the general plan and local development, as the city seeks to add up to 60,748 residences. The portal includes text summary reports, maps that show how many residences have been built in each unincorporated community, the capacity the general plan would still allow to be built in each community, and a search tool, all updated quarterly.

Los Angeles Metro expects to receive a $1.3 billion grant for the purple line, a Los Angeles County subway line that will connect downtown to the Westside, the last piece of major funding needed to finish the project. The nine-mile project, which will run beneath Wilshire Boulevard, is expected to generate 78,000 new daily trips.

Los Angeles is considering a car-free zone on Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles. The initiative, Bringing Back Broadway, includes a streetscape master plan that would extend sidewalks and divert traffic. A new streetcar loop for Broadway is also in the works; nearly $590-million has been secured for construction and operations.

The Coastal Commission unanimously rejected a massive seawall barrier proposal that would protect expensive homes on Dana's Point's Strands Beach from landslides. Commissioners objected to the large taxpayer expense that would predominantly benefit wealthy homeowners, as well as the loss of beach that would occur as a result of the plan. CCC rejected a similar proposal in 2012, signaling commissioner's preference for protecting coastline over private property.

President Trump signed a presidential memorandum that is intended to divert water to Central Valley's agricultural regions, once again setting up a legal battle between the state and the federal Justice Department. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra immediately responded, saying in a news release that California will challenge the action. Implications are unclear for Gov. Gavin Newsom's recent announcement that he will seek "voluntary agreements" to manage delta resources.

The developer of Cupertino's Vallco Mall filed a complaint against the city of Cupertino, setting the stage to sue the city over general plan amendments made in August. The company had "no choice" to file a claim, Sand Hill managing director said in an email, alleging the amendments would amount to "downzoning" the project and "radically [diminish] the value of the Site, as they left no potential for a project that can feasibly be built.” (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has created Housing Central Command, a new initiative to establish real-time awareness of LA's permanent supportive housing portfolio across all jurisdictions and funding streams. Developed by HUD, the crisis response model will allow homeless service agencies and government authorities to coordinate with a common set of housing inventory data.

A San Mateo development is on track to be the first success story for AB 1763, the bill that allows projects near major transit hubs to be built taller and denser. A developer is relying on the new law to bump a five-story, 164-unit project up to a seven-story complex with 225 units for low-income families. 

San Francisco's car ban on Market Street went into effect last month. Newly released data from Inrix, a traffic analytics firm, shows worries regarding traffic snarls on surrounding streets were unfounded. An independent data set provided to the San Francisco Examiner confirms Inrix's findings, which show negligible, slightly slower car travel times, while Muni and bus times have seen a commensurate boost.

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