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CP&DR News Briefs, August 31, 2015: Feinstein Seeks to Conserve 1 Million Acres; Bay Area Gentrification Map; New Light Rail in Sacramento, and More

Matthew Hose on
Aug 30, 2015

Sen. Diane Feinstein sent a letter to President Obama asking him to bypass Congress and designate over one million acres of land between Palm Springs and the Nevada border as national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Two bills previously sponsored by Feinstein to protect the area over the past six years have languished. In her request to President Obama, Feinstein asked that he create three monuments: one, to be called the Mojave Trails National Monument, would cover 921,000 acres of federal land along Route 66 between Ludlow and Needles; another, called the Sand to Snow National Monument, would take 135,000 acres of land between Joshua Tree National Park and the San Bernardino National Forest and protect 24 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail; the last, Castle Mountains National Monument, would include the historic mining town of Hart near the Mojave National Preserve. Feinstein was encouraged to seek presidential action by conservation groups including The Wildlands Conservancy, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Mojave Desert Lands Trust and Friends of the Desert Mountains.

Map Tracks Gentrification in Bay Area
UC Berkeley researchers have created an interactive Urban Displacement Project map showing that the Bay Area's transformation into an exclusive high-income community that pushes out its low-income residents is only just beginning. Headed by UC Berkeley researcher Miriam Zuk and city and regional planning professor Karen Chapple and the product of nearly two years of community-engaged research looking at gentrification and displacement, the project found that in 2013, more than 53 percent of low-income households lived in neighborhoods at risk of or already experiencing displacement and gentrification pressures. Neighborhoods with rail stations, historic housing stock, an abundance of market-rate developments and rising housing prices are especially in danger of losing low-income households. It also finds that the most stable neighborhoods -- such as East Palo Alto, Marin City and San Francisco’s Chinatown -- have remained that way likely because of tenant protections, rent control, and strong community organizing. “Using our online map allows residents, neighborhood groups and governments to assess where their neighborhoods — or those next door — are in terms of the risk and actual occurrence of gentrification and displacement,” Zuk said in a statement.

Light Rail Extension Opens in Sacramento
Sacramento Regional Transit officially opened its 4.3-mile Blue Line light-rail extension connecting Cosumnes River College to other area campuses and offering south-county commuters an alternative to crowded Highway 99 and Interstate 5. Coming in about $10 million under the projected budget of $270 million, the extension links the rail line to Elk Grove's doorstep, and the college station includes a 2,000-spot parking garage shared by students and commuters. However, skeptical Elk Grove e-tran bus commuters say they have no intention of switching from buses to rail, saying that the trains will be inconvenient -- possibly taking longer than a typical drive to commute downtown -- and unsafe. However, Regional Transit’s security chief Norm Leong said that crime numbers are down on light-rail trains and at stations, totaling 39 thefts and robberies so far this year.

High Speed Rail Targets More Properties for Eminent Domain
The State Public Works Board has filed eminent domain resolutions for 12 more pieces of property along the high speed rail pathway in the San Joaquin Valley, bringing the total number filed to 270 since December 2013. Encompassing nearly 800 acres in the four county region of Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties, the board has been using eminent domain to condemn land when it and property owners cannot agree on price or terms. The resolution, encompassing 53 acres of land, will now go before a judge to decide whether the agency is entitled to the property, and then to a jury to decide the fair market value and other "just compensation" due to the owner.

Residents Sue SF Over Flood Damage
San Francisco residents affected by a December flood in the Mission District, Excelsior, and South of Market neighborhoods have filed a lawsuit against the city, saying that a lack of maintenance on storm drains and sewage systems led to property damage in those neighborhoods. Residents say that the city knew that repairs were necessary after paying out $5 million for a similar lawsuit stemming from 2003 and 2004 winter storms, but neglected to make needed repairs. The lawsuit alleges that the storms, which dropped 5 inches of rain in San Francisco, brought runoff that mixed with raw sewage and flowed into homes and businesses. It then alleges that Mayor Ed Lee told residents that the city was going to pay for damages, but the city then denied all claims filed. “My only conclusion as to why the city has failed to make good on its promises is because this problem does not exist in one of the more affluent neighborhoods of San Francisco,” the plaintiffs’ attorney, Mark Epstein, said in a statement. “My clients are your typical hardworking and honest property owners and renters and do not reside in the city’s Marina or Pacific Heights neighborhoods. Apparently, it is easy to ignore the working class.”

Transit Center Opens in San Bernardino
The new San Bernardino Transit Center designed to connect all major mass transit systems and connect people to downtown San Bernardino has officially opened this month. The $25 million project, located on Rialto Ave. in downtown San Bernardino, came about through a partnership between Omnitrans, the San Bernardino Association of Governments, and the City of San Bernardino with funding from the Federal Transportation Administration and the state of California. The 7,500-square-foot building will connect more than a dozen transit lines, including ten local bus routes, the Green Line, express Omnitrans bus routes, the Victor Valley Transit Authority, Mountain Transit, and the Metrolink San Bernardino Line once it is completed.

SF Establishes ‘Green Benefit District'
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution to establish a Green Benefit District -- designed to allow residents to directly invest in the maintenance and improvements of neighborhood parks, playgrounds, plazas, sidewalks and other public space amenities in their neighborhoods -- in Dogpatch & Northwest Potrero Hill. With over 76 percent of voters saying yes to the proposal to create the Dogpatch & Northwest Potrero Hill Green Benefit District, the new district will last for 10 years with a budget of almost $515,000, at a cost of $0.095 per square foot of building area for residential developments and $0.0475 for industrial developments.

Olympic Valley Incorporation Falters
A grassroots group attempting to incorporate Olympic Valley, adjacent to Squaw Valley ski area, as a town asked for a state review of a Comprehensive Fiscal Analysis prepared by Rosenow Spevacek Group Inc. that concluded that the proposed town "does not appear to be feasible at this time." In a 6-1 vote, the Placer Local Agency Formation Commission approved Incorporate Olympic Valley's request for review, putting a temporary halt to the town formation process and sending the request to the California State Controller's office for review. Specifically, IOV believes that errors were made in the CFA's estimates of the cost of law enforcement for the valley, expenditures based on comparable contract cities, and calculating the general fund reserve as a percentage of the total general fund revenue rather than the town's operating expenses.

California Transit Agencies Pick Fight with U.S. Dept. of Labor
Several California transit agencies say that the U.S. Department of Labor is holding $1 billion hostage, contingent on the agencies violating a state public employee pension reform law which a federal judge upheld last year. The department is still enforcing a federal prohibition against interfering with collective bargaining rights, which it claims California's Public Employees' Pension Reform Act violated by changing pension rights without negotiating with workers. The department could withhold $91 million for BART, $206 million for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, $700 million for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and millions more for agencies across the state. It said it will release the grants if an agency agrees to restore transit union rights and benefits in effect before the California pension reform took effect. In response, transit chiefs including among others Grace Crunican, BART's general manager, and Perry Woodward, chairman of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority signed a letter to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, stating that "the (Labor Department) is requiring grantees to agree to violate California law in order ... to receive funding."

Study Details Peripheral Benefits of SF Transit 
In an effort to demonstrate the importance of San Francisco public transportation, a new study from San Francisco's Metropolitan Transportation Agency finds that for every one dollar San Francisco invests in Muni, $2-3 are generated in the local economy. The study, done by SFMTA in partnership with Oakland-based transportation consultant Economic & Planning systems, also found that the economic benefits of Muni exceeded its costs by $634 million to $1.25 billion annually. “This study demonstrates the significant economic benefit we receive when we invest in our transportation system,” Supervisor Scott Wiener told the Examiner. “This is exactly why the transportation fees on new developments we have proposed as part of the Transportation Sustainability Program are so essential.” In order to come up with its numbers, the study's authors had to imagine a scenario wherein Muni did not exist. In that scenario, San Francisco car ownership would increase by 50 percent, and San Franciscans would add 9.3 million to 11.5 million hours to their commutes, along with taking up 27 million to 30 million more parking spaces.

L.A. Seeks ‘Zero’ Traffic Deaths
In an effort to kick-start his "Vision Zero" plan to eliminate traffic-related deaths by 2025, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an executive directive ordering multiple city departments to report back by Dec. 1, 2015 with specific recommendations for measures that would immediately reduce traffic-related deaths in L.A. by 20 percent by 2017. The directive also calls for the formation of a Vision Zero Task Force as well as an Executive Steering Committee, led by city agencies in coordination with the Los Angeles Department of Public Health. “We have to think big and work hard when it comes to keeping people safe,” said Mayor Garcetti in a press release. “It is tragic that 200 people are killed each year while moving about our city. With more people walking and biking than ever before, we must use every available tool to save lives. I am determined to bring that number down to zero.”

Report Details Impacts of Drought on Agriculture
A new report titled "Impacts of California's Ongoing Drought: Agriculture," the first comprehensive analysis of the drought on California agricultural revenue and employment through 2014, finds that California's agriculture sector has far exceeded expectations throughout the drought because of massive groundwater pumping that has been devastating to other sectors. Though farmers harvested 640,000 fewer acres last year than before that drought, crop revenue peaked at $34 billion -- the highest in California history -- in 2013. Statewide agriculture-related jobs also reached a record-high of 417,000 people in 2014, and farms have adopted more efficient water management practices, like drip irrigation and switching from lower- to higher-value crops. However, with groundwater pumping serving as a vital force for agriculture, other sectors have suffered, with current and future generations now forced to dig deeper wells, and cities forced to repair infrastructure damaged by subsidence.

Pasadena Updates General Plan
An update to the City of Pasadena's general plan focuses housing and commercial space in the city's urban core, emphasizing growth and walkability there while attempting to keep increases in density away from the city’s iconic tree-lined neighborhoods. Estimating a modest population increase of about 20,000 people by 2035, the plan focuses 60 percent of new housing and 40 percent of non-residential space in the central district. Part of the plan calls for more infrastructure to encourage walking, biking, and public transportation especially in downtown and on South Fair Oaks, where Marsha Rood, Pasadena's former development administrator said she expects to build "up" rather than outward.

Los Angeles Debates Short-Term Rentals
Los Angeles officials are trying to hash out the difference between "good" and "bad" short-term rentals as affordable housing advocates, rental operators, and neighborhood activists hotly debate rules over online rental sites like Airbnb. Much of the problems stem from commercial companies turning rent-controlled units into de facto hotels, with nonstop rentals for revolving doors of tourists. Housing advocates bemoan that this practice has taken nearly 11,000 units from the housing market, according to the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, while neighborhood groups complain of noisy parties from tourists. But as they debate the "bad" units, common ground amongst the various groups lies in what Councilman Mike Bonin dubbed "good short-term rentals," wherein a homeowner may rent out a spare room or back house from time to time. Bonin's new proposed rules, backed by Council President Herb Wesson and Councilman Paul Koretz, would bar rentals at rent-controlled units and require them to collect the same kind of city taxes as hotels, which is already legally required but inconsistently done.