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San Diego Considers Dueling Plans to Finance Stadium, Convention Center

What do touchdowns, trade shows, room service, rivers, and dorm rooms have in common? In San Diego, quite a bit.

Spooked by the possible relocation of the San Diego Chargers football team, the city is doubling down on opportunities not only to retain the Chargers but also to pursue a host of other initiatives related to tourism and economic development. The matters may be resolved through one of two competing measures that are expected to appear on upcoming ballots.

"The Citizens Plan" could appear on the citywide ballot as early as November. Proposed by Cory Briggs, an environmental attorney famous instead for halting city projects, it would raise hotel taxes and allow the city to expand its convention center, build a new Chargers stadium, secure long-term funding to promote the city to tourists, create a new San Diego River park and hand San Diego State University an expansion opportunity. It would make way for a joint-use convention center-stadium built on 10 downtown acres, next to the Padres ballpark and across the street from the city’s existing convention center.

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Denial of Upzoning Might Create Disparate Impact Under Fair Housing Law, Ninth Circuit Rules

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a trial judge and ruled that the City of Yuma’s refusal to approve an upzoning might constitute a disparate racial impact under the federal Fair Housing Act.

The case involved a request by development entities associated with Hall Construction, as well as the underlying property owner Avenue 6E, to allow 6,000-square-foot lots rather than 8,000-square-foot lots in a neighborhood in southeastern Yuma, a city on the border of both California and Mexico. Both lot sizes are permitted under the city’s general plan. 

Writing for the the Ninth Circuit, veteran Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt, the last remaining federal appeals judge appointed by Jimmy Carter, concluded that the allegations made by the developers “provide plausible circumstantial evidence that community opposition to Developers’ proposed development was motivated in part by animus, and that the City Council was fully aware of these concerns when it took the highly unusual step of acceding to the opposition and overruling the recommendations of its zoning commission and planning staff.”

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CP&DR News Briefs, March 21, 2016: L.A. Moratorium Initiative Postponed; A $120 Billion Wish-List; S.F. Moves toward VMT; and More

The Coalition to Preserve L.A. has announced it will postpone the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a proposed ballot initiative that would have deep ramifications or planning in Los Angeles, until March 2017. The coalition also revised the original 26-page initiative to eight pages. The coalition is concerned that the initiate would get lost among the 20 or so measures on the November citywide ballot. Campaign director Jill Stewart explained: “Our initiative is too important to be buried at the tail-end of this November’s ballot, which is beginning to look like it will be.” The group is particularly concerned about what it describes as “mega-projects” that do not conform to community plans are out of character with surrounding neighborhoods. The initiative would prohibit the City Council from approving general plan amendments for specific projects, commonly known as “spot zoning,” for a two-year period and requires the city to update its General Plan. The new version removes some constraints on the general plan update process. The initiative requires 61,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

One Win, One Loss For Cities In Marijuana Cases

Local governments in the Inland Empire won one and lost one in rulings about medical marijuana, both from the same panel of justices on the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

In a case from Palm Springs, Division Two of the Fourth District ruled that the city’s medical marijuana ordinance is not pre-empted by federal law.

In a case from Upland, the same panel ruled that a medical marijuana initiative that qualified for the ballot in Upland must be scheduled for a special election, rather than waiting for a general election.

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Disputed Redevelopment Funds Can't Be Withheld, Court Rules

Under Proposition 22, neither the state Board of Equalization nor a county auditor-controller can constitutionally withhold tax funds as part of a redevelopment dispute, as called for by AB 1484, the 2012 bill that cleaned up the redevelopment wind-down, the Third District Court of Appeal has ruled.

The ruling represents a minor and belated victory for the League of California Cities, which wrote Prop. 22 and got it passed in 2010 expressly to stop the state from taking redevelopment funds – only to be outflanked by Gov. Jerry Brown a year later when he abolished the entire redevelopment system. 

In setting the rules for the post-redevelopment world, AB 1484 authorized the Board of Equalization to withhold sales and use tax funds, and county auditor-controllers to withhold property tax funds, as a way of forcing cities and counties to turn over disputed redevelopment funds. But the Third District found these provisions unconstitutional on their face under Prop. 22.

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California Cities Join Global Urban Resilience Movement

Coastal California has long been known for harrowing natural hazards: wildfires, drought, floods, the occasional tsunami, and, of course, earthquakes. It has also developed some serious human-made hazards too: chronic poverty, sea level rise, crime, pollution, riots, fragile energy grids, stratospheric housing costs, among others. 

The state is, as urban theorist Mike Davis put it, steeped in “the ecology of fear.” Armed with new data and strategies, cities are trying to ease their anxieties. 

“Resilience” refers to cities’ ability to weather and recover from discrete “shocks,” such as earthquakes, and chronic “stresses,” such as poverty and the predicted effects of climate change. California has become Ground Zero in the resilience movement.
 
Four California cities — Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco — have appointed “chief resilience officers” as part of a worldwide experiment in hazard mitigation and bureaucratic reform sponsored by New York-based nonprofit 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), project of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Second District Upholds L.A. Billboard Restrictions

The Second District Court of Appeal has ruled that the City of Los Angeles’s ban on billboards advertising offsite businesses is not content-based and therefore not subject to the “strict scrutiny” test under free-speech clauses in either the U.S. or California constitution.

The case was brought by Lamar Outdoor Advertising, which submitted 45 applications for offsite billboards after the ordinance was adopted and saw all 45 denied. 

Written by Justice Beth Grimes, the ruling essentially follows the same legal reasoning as similar rulings by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the same L.A. billboard ban. In concluding that the ordinance conforms with the California Constitution’s free speech clause, Grimes relied in part on the Fourth District’s recent ruling in City of Corona v. AMG Outdoor Advertising, Inc. (2016) 244 Cal.App.4th 291 – a case in which, ironically, the appellate court highlighted the contrast between AMG, which did not comply with Corona’s rules for phasing out billboards, and Lamar, which did comply.

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Community Character Under CEQA Limited to Aesthetics, Appellate Court Rules

Resident concerns about the social and psychological impact associated with the conversion of a horse-boarding facility to a 12-lot subdivision do not constitute a “community character” issue requiring an environmental impact report, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.

The appellate court overturned a ruling by San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager, who found that the City of Poway’s mitigated negative declaration did not adequately take into account community character issues. On appeal, the Fourth District ruled strongly that the California Environmental Quality Act only requires lead agencies to community character issues that are aesthetic in nature.

“Community character is not defined in CEQA or in the Guidelines,” wrote Acting Presiding Justice Gilbert Nares for a unanimous three-judge panel. “To the extent published California cases have discussed community character in CEQA cases, it has been limited to aesthetic impacts.”

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CP&DR News Briefs, March 14, 2016: High Speed Rail Suit; Cities Win RDA Ruling; Economic Impacts of Housing Shortage; and More

The California High Speed Rail Authority won a court victory last week when Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled farmers and other plaintiffs in Kings County had not presented enough evidence to support their claim that the state’s high speed rail project had violated the terms of 2008’s Proposition 1A. Kenny wrote, “there are still too many unknown variables” and therefore does not constitute sufficient grounds for the suit. The ruling implies that plaintiffs may reopen the case in the future if the project does not comply with requirements of the bond measure. The rail authority still must comply with the bond measure’s requirements, including target travel times, ridership, headways, and financial self-sufficiency.


CP&DR News Briefs, March 7, 2016: S.F. Density Bonus Moves Forward; Davis Considers 'Innovation Districts; and More

The San Francisco Planning Commission voted to allow developers to build taller buildings in exchange for including extra affordable housing only on 215 identified “soft sites” or on properties with less than five percent of parcel covered such as gas stations and parking lots. The density bonus plan, proposed by Mayor Ed Lee, would allow an extra two stories or 25 feet in exchange for 30 percent of the building being below-market-rate housing. Buildings that are 100 percent affordable can build an additional three floors. This will hopefully add an additional 16,000 housing units in the next twenty years. Supervisor Katy Tang told SF Gate, “This is a much better piece of legislation” than earlier drafts or the state bonus law, she said. “This represents San Francisco values.”

Davis Citizens May Vote on ‘Innovation Districts’

Justice Thomas Wants To Go After Nollan/Dolan

The U.S. Supreme Court decided on Monday not take the appeal in California Building Industry Association v. City of San Jose, the case in which the California Supreme Court upheld San Jose’s inclusionary housing requirement. But the court was not completely silent. 

In concurring with the decision to pass on the case – a decision that not accompanied by a written opinion by the court -- Justice Clarence Thomas said he believes that the question of whether disproportionate exactions can be imposed on developers in legislative actions – as opposed to quasi-judicial action – is not settled. 

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CP&DR News Briefs, February 29, 2016: San Diego Stadium; Group Wants to Fund Water, not Train; O.C. Bus Overhaul, and More

Having failed in their bid to relocate to Los Angeles, the San Diego Chargers will pursue a new stadium and convention center in downtown San Diego. The proposal flouts Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s proposal for the team to remain in Mission Valley in a replacement for Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers’ project will go before voters, and free the Qualcomm center for UC San Diego and San Diego State University. The Chargers’ project may receive public funds from a voter-approved TOT increase that can receive tax money from hotels. The Chargers will receive $100 million grant and $200 million loan from the NFL for not sharing the Inglewood stadium that will be occupied by the relocating Los Angeles Rams. There seems to be voter reluctance on grand expenditures, but the team hopes the center can bring economic activity year round such as Comic Con, Super bowls and other large events. The Chargers have indicated that they may pursue the “Tuolumne Tactic” to avoid CEQA review by proposing a ballot initiative for voter approval; this would permit the City Council to approve CEQA exemptions even before a popular vote takes place.

Intellectual Tourism, Near and Far: Review of 'The Geography of Genius'

Steve Jobs. 

That's the only reference to Apple's ubiquitous founder that this review will include. In Geography of Genius, journalist Eric Weiner does the world a favor by reminding us that there are, and have been, other greats who deserve the mantle of genius. 

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Carlsbad Voters Reject Tuolomne Tactic

In an absurd twist on use of the Tuolomne Tactic, Carlsbad voters have apparently overturned the city council’s decision to adopt a proposed ballot initiative approving a specific plan that would permit developer Rick Caruso to move forward with a shopping center. 

Caruso successfully used this “Tuolomne Tactic” to end-run the California Environmental Quality Act last August when the city council adopted his initiative seeking approval of a specific plan allowing his project. However, subsequently, a citizen group, gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on the ballot seeking to overturn the council’s adoption of the proposed initiative. The citizen group received most of its financial support from Westfield Corp. owner of a nearby shopping mall

The resulting election took place last Tuesday.

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CP&DR News Briefs, February 22, 2016: SACOG RTP/SCS; 1.8 Million Desert Acres Preserved; Another L.A. Ballot Initiative; and More

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) Board of Directors unanimously adopted the 2016 Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy for the six-county Sacramento region and certified the associated EIR. The MTP/SCS is a 20-year plan for transportation improvements in the region based on projections for growth in population, housing and jobs.

Cal Supremes Deny Rehearing In Newhall Ranch Case

The California Supreme Court has denied a rehearing in Center for Biological Diversity v. Los Angeles County, the major challenge to the environmental impact report on the Newhall Ranch project. 

In the ruling on November 30, the Supreme Court ruled that a lead agency could use the baseline statewide target of a 29% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from a "business as usual" scenario in the EIR but, rather, had to use a more project-specific baseline instead. CEQA practitioners have been scratching their heads ever since about how to actually do this. 

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A Housing Incentive That Actually Works

The February 9 Legislative Analyst Office report on California “serious housing shortage” ends on a decidedly depressing note: “Bringing about more private home building … would be no easy task, requiring state and local policy makers to confront very challenging issues and taking many years to come to fruition.” The report, which focuses on low-income housing, follows a a March 2015 companion that officially – if obviously – summarized the state’s skyrocketing housing costs.