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Insight: Does Supply Create Its Own Demand?

A couple of weeks ago, the satirical newspaper The Onion reported that the City of San Francisco was looking to relocate because its current location had become too expensive. Funny though this was, I expected the follow-up story to focus on the economic development incentive package being put together to keep San Francisco where it is. 

A week or so later, Gabriel Metcalfe – head of the respected San Francisco urban planning organization SPUR – published a provocative piece in CityLab blaming the city’s affordability crisis on progressive politics – especially progressive politics of the no-growth kind. Progressive San Francisco, he argued, “had a fatal, Shakespearean flaw that would prove to be its undoing: It decided early on to be against new buildings. It decided that new development, with the exception of publicly subsidized affordable housing, was not welcome.”

All up and down California – especially in the expensive coastal enclaves around San Francisco and Los Angeles – community activists have been lately decrying how the rising cost of housing is making it impossible for normal people with normal incomes to live in these towns. Yet, as Metcalf points out, most of the time these same community activists are arguing that the trend toward high housing cost must be countered with... less housing construction. Or at least less market-rate housing construction. 

CEQA Bills Stall, GHG Bill Moves Forward

With the year’s legislative session in full gear, attempts to reform – or end-run – the California Environmental Quality Act don’t seem to be doing so well. But Sen. Fran Pavley’s effort to codify an 80% greenhouse gas reduction target by 2050 – which would moot some major legal challenges – appears to be sailing through.

Legislation items are listed, by category and in numerical order, according to bill number, bill name, sponsor, description, and status as of press time. This list will be updated periodically to reflect new developments.

 

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CP&DR News Briefs, June 15, 2015: High Speed Rail Faces Opposition in L.A.; EPA Environmental Risk Database; Sacramento's Push for Housing; and More

California's $68-billion high speed rail is facing setbacks in its construction throughout the proposed route from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Local elected officials and homeowners groups in suburban Santa Clarita as well as blue-collar San Fernando, Pacoima, and other communities are demanding the state abandon a proposed route that woul

Los Angeles Metro Tackles First Mile, Last Mile Problem

As almost any transportation planner in Los Angeles County will attest, the car capital of the world is well on its way to becoming a transit capital as well. With tens of billions of dollars invested in recently opened and anticipated mass transit lines, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has transformed the county. Even so, Metro can’t be everywhere. 

Let the Sun Set on Ballot Measures

Allow me to laud something about California’s state and local ballot initiative system. No, really. 

Voting schemes for electing human beings to office are inevitably flawed. Whether a jurisdiction uses party primaries, open primaries, ranked choices, multiple votes, pluralities, majorities, voice votes, or anything else, no system can capture the true passions and preferences of all voters as they relate to all candidates. 

CP&DR News Briefs, June 8, 2015: Island Land Transferred to S.F.; High Speed Rail Considers Eminent Domain; Sacramento Rejects Streetcar

In the first phase of a landmark redevelopment deal many years in the making, the U.S. Navy transferred nearly 300 acres of its old Treasure Island/Yerba Buena Island naval base to the City of San Francisco to redevelop the campus into 8,000 homes in exchange for $55 million to the Navy. The city has approved plans to build 2,000 affordable units, along with 300 acres of parks and open space on the campus, and will create a new ferry service to become a cornerstone of the island's transportation program. “It’s taken almost two decades to get to this point, and we’re eager to transform this former naval base into a vibrant community with more housing, jobs and economic opportunities for our residents," Mayor Ed Lee announced.

High Speed Rail Identifies Properties for Eminent Domain

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has listed over 200 properties in the Central Valley for possible eminent domain proceedings to accommodate construction of the first two segments of its network. The State Public Works Board, made up of the heads of the state's Transportation, General Services, and Finance departments, recently voted to adopt 23 resolutions declaring a public need and authorizing the acquisition of properties in Fresno, Madera, Kings, and Tulare Counties. Since December 2013, the Public Works Board has adopted 230 such resolutions covering more than 625 acres of land in the four counties in anticipation of the $68 billion project planned to be fully operational by 2028. Now a Superior Court judge will decide if the agency is entitled to the property, and, if the judge rules in the train's favor, a trail will determine the fair market value due to the owner.

Valencia Water Company’s Status Becomes a Newhall Ranch Football

This article was corrected on June 2, 2015.

The longtime battle over Newhall Ranch has spilled into unusual legal territory with a fight over the status of the private water company that would likely serve the development project.

Uniquely, the Valencia Water Company (VWC) may be California's only active large-scale water provider that is neither public, nor mutual, nor regulated as a private entity by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

VWC still supplies water day by day to some 31,000 existing hookups serving about 120,000 people in the Santa Clarita Valley of Los Angeles County. But legally VWC has been in an odd state of existence for a little over a year.  Opinions differ whether VWC is public or private, what rules apply to its continued operation, and even by what right it operates at all.

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CP&DR News Briefs, June 1, 2015: Greenbelt for San Fernando Valley; Complete Streets Alternative to 710 Freeway Tunnel; Marijuana Zoning, and More

More than four decades after a graduate student proposed adding a “green belt” of wildlife habitats, parks, and recreational areas in a rim circling the San Fernando Valley, Rep. Adam Schiff is pushing to add as much land as possible "Rim of the Valley Corridor" to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in the Los Angeles area. Backed by a broad coalition including the National Park Service, the designation would protect of the 1,000-square-mile area from future development and preserve puma and bobcat habitats, along with forests and fossil beds. "For us, it's a complete and utter enhancement,” Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation president Kim Lamorie told the LA Times. "Our [residents] are always competing to get the National Park Service … to purchase land in and around our homeowners associations and rural villages.... Property values go up when you're surrounded by open space.” 

Group Proposes Complete Streets Alternative to 710 Freeway Tunnel

An opposition group to an underground 710 freeway extension from Alhambra to South Pasadena presented its plan for an alternative to a tunnel proposed to close the 710 freeway gap through South Pasadena. Beyond the 710, a coalition of community organizations, environmental attorneys and five San Gabriel Valley cities, is advancing a plan that would expand bus service, improve surface streets, and develop more walkable communities to better address traffic congestion, pollution, and transportation needs of the area, all with a price tag for $875 million, much less than the $5.6 billion price tag of the tunnel, which is one of five alternatives analyzed in an environmental impact report released in March. “We are hoping to move beyond the old, tired 710 Freeway debate, which is wasting lots of time, money and resources,” South Pasadena City Councilwoman Marina Khubesrian, vice chair of the Beyond the 710 coalition, told the Los Angeles Times. Supporters of the estimated $5.6 billion tunnel, contend that the group is just trying to gum up an environmental review that is underway and undermine growing support for the tunnel project.

Balboa Park Bridge Plan Upheld by Appellate Court

In reviewing a project’s consistency as part of an environmental review, a city need not comply with every single general plan policy so long as it concludes that most general plan policies are being followed, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.

In a case involving a proposed bridge and parking garage in Balboa Park, the appellate court also overruled a trial judge’s ruling that the City of San Diego violated its own municipal code by concluding that there would be “no reasonable beneficial use” of the famed Plaza de Panama if the bridge project were not built.

The case involves a proposal to remove automobiles from the Plaza de Panama in order to avoid conflicts between pedestrians and automobiles. The proposal would include construction of a new bridge, the Centennial Bridge, that would connect the historic Cabrillo Bridge to a new underground parking garage south of the Plaza. 

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New Clean Water "WOTUS" Rule Covers Vernal Pools

The federal government issued its long-awaited “Waters of the United States,” or WOTUS, definition yesterday, extending federal authority to California’s vernal pools and other naturally forming pockets of water. However, the new rule does not regulate groundwater nor many subsurface flows and states it will maintain existing provisions for stormwater systems and some ditches.

However, business and Congressional opposition to the rule remains fierce. The Association of California Water Agencies expressed disappointment with the rule, saying "ACWA remains concerned that the final rule is too broad and our requests that water conveyance systems and water infrastructure adjacent to 'navigable waters' be excluded from the proposed rule was not met."

Developers and local officials as well as agricultural and industrial businesses had sought to limit the "Waters of the United States" definition for fear it might impose Clean Water Act permitting processes on construction and water management proposals that had hitherto required only local approvals. The rule does make concessions to concerns from business, real estate and rural local governments that existing drainage systems and permit exemptions might be disrupted. California voices were very much included in this pattern, and many California local governments expressed anxiety about their stormwater discharge permits.

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Bill to Delay Implementation of SB 743 Gains Traction

A developers’ group is promoting a new piece of legislation that would postpone implementation of SB 743 – the bill that would change traffic analysis to vehicle miles traveled in environmental review – for a year. The bill has apparently revealed a split among developers who say they focus on infill projects.

Sponsored by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Norwalk), who was elected in November, Assembly Bill 779 would postpone implementation of SB 743 until 2017. A lobbying group called the Infill Builders Federation is sponsoring a bill that, depending on its final form, would postpone the implementation of SB 743. Supporters insist that they embrace VMT but say that the two years are needed to help developers prepare for the switch and to work out what they see as kinks in the law. (The City of Pasadena has already implemented most of the provisions of SB 743.)

Beyond Almonds: Cities Face Immediate Water Cuts, Long-Range Uncertainty

As California’s drought continues to worsen, the state’s 500-plus local governments face a twofold challenge: complying with state-mandated reductions in urban water use while at the same time planning for long-term development. While the state’s housing needs are manifest – 220,000 units per year just to keep up with latent demand – the long-term water supplies required to supply new development and redevelopment have become less certain thanks to the drought. 

In the wake of Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent executive order, many districts are imposing cutbacks on institutional users, such as park and school districts, and on homeowners collectively. But unlike the 1990s, only a few communities appear to be placing moratoria on new development as result of the drought. But experts predict that further water conservation measures – including more water-efficient new residences – could take the pressure off of development moratoria in the future.

The San Jose Water Company is one of the largest water providers at the high end of the reduction scale. It must cut 30 percent. That district is allocating thirteen 780-gallon units of water per home – as compared to the 2013 average of 19 units – regardless of a home’s size. Homeowners will pay penalties for usage above their allocated units. Bakersfield is restricting outdoor water use to three days a week. 

Wendell Cox's Version of Dune

When I consider Wendell Cox’s ideas, I remind myself that I am taking in not just a series of ideas but rather a whole worldview. It's kind of like reading Dune, the famously comprehensive desert world imagined by sci-fi novelist Frank Herbert. 

Cox spoke the other day to ULI's Los Angeles chapter along with USC demographer Dowell Myers. The two weren't exactly adversaries, but they were a study in forms of reasoning. Cox is all induction, beginning with theory and explaining how the facts match it. Meyers is deductive, presenting the facts and going from there. 

Cox’s a worldview that does not, I think, correspond well to reality -- certainly not the reality of California -- but it's a nonetheless a complete, mostly consistent view. An analysis of Cox, then, relies on finding those moments when his world matches up with the real world just closely enough to make a comparison. 

Newport Beach's Banning Ranch Approval Upheld by Appellate Court

The Fourth District Court of Appeal has upheld the City of Newport Beach’s decision to “approve” a development project on Banning Ranch, saying that the city complied with both the California Environmental Quality Act and its own general plan. A trial judge had ruled that the city complied with CEQA but violated its own general plan. 

The project is still pending before the Coastal Commission.

It was the second time in less than three years that the Fourth District upheld Newport Beach’s action on the Banning Ranch project. In December 2012, the court ruled that the city’s EIR had properly analyzed the impact of the project on adjacent parks. 

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Californians Show Their Bravery on Climate Change

This morning, Hector Tobar, a respected Los Angeles-area commentator, personally heaped all the ecological sins of humankind on to the current residents of Los Angeles in an editorial in the New York Times, a publication that has gotten increasingly feisty about its hatred for California of late. Tobar writes:  

CP&DR News Briefs, May 18, 2015: L.A. Mobility Plan; Delta Smelt Face Extinction; Solar Power Plan Postponed

The Los Angeles Planning Commission advised the City Council to adopt the city's proposed Mobility Plan 2035 (pdf), update the land use element of 35 community plans, and adopt an ordinance to implement new street standards and complete street principles.

Enviros, Others Clash Over Desert Solar Plan

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) has taken on the difficult task of bringing high-flown talk about renewable energy goals down, literally, to earth, in the form of land use planning. It's asking members of the energy, planning and environmental fields to cooperate in adding a new dimension to the meaning of property ownership in California's southeastern deserts. 

But it’s also running into resistance from local governments that don’t want the plan to restrict their own land use power; Imperial County, for example, has banned new solar facilities. And some environmental groups are criticizing the plan because of the potential environmental impact of large-scale solar and other renewable energy facilities. It’s an ironic clash between a governor who wants rapid progress on renewable energy and local and environmental groups who are concerned about the environmental impact of large-scale solar facilities.

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