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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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Transportation: Agency May Not Alter Voter-Approved Route

Alameda County transportation officials cannot change the route of a new highway to be funded by a county sales tax without returning to the county’s voters for approval, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled. The ruling overturned a decision by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Henry E. Needham Jr. which granted summary judgment to the Alameda County Transportation Authority in the case. The First District remanded the case to Superior Court for a new decision on a citizen group’s re...

Water:

A federal district court judge — not a Nevada state court — has jurisdiction in a water rights dispute even though the dispute involves decisions of the Nevada State Engineer, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

The decision is the second Ninth Circuit ruling in the last six months stemming from disputes over water allocation between federal and local governments in Churchill County, Nevada, east of Reno. The ruling emerged after a series of "dueling injunctions" in federal and state co...

Getting Beyond a Ctitical Mass

They come with Spandex and attitude. And they come with an agenda no less ambitious than to change urban transportation. They are adherents to the merry prankster of grassroots planning movements — Critical Mass.

Massers have a simple modus operandi: (1) organize mass bicycle rides once a month, (2) ride through the city, sharing travel lanes with cars, (3) demonstrate that bicyclists have road rights, too. Like other anarchist-oriented movements, Critical Mass boasts no central organizatio...

Revised CEQA Guidelines Have Few Significant Impacts So Far

Although new guidelines for implementing the California Environmental Quality Act went into effect in February — the first major overhaul in 13 years — no one is suggesting they have wrought a revolution. Nevertheless, the Davis Administration has vowed at least to review the changes made during the final months of Pete Wilson’s second term.

Several years of haggling among planners, attorneys, environmentalists, developers and state officials resulted in revisions to the CEQA guidelines issued by...

City Hall Joins Migration to Downtown San Jose

Once the butt of many jokes, downtown San Jose has become an increasingly popular location. Among the latest to indicate interest in a downtown office tower is the city itself, which proposes building a $214 million Civic Center on the eastern edge of downtown.

The city has completed an environmental impact report, and the City Council was expected on June 1 to approve the EIR, a new redevelopment area, a housing relocation plan, and a financing program. City officials hope the project will solve the ...

Housing Plans Still in Trouble San Diego County, Cities

A pilot program is underway in San Diego County to self-certify the county’s housing element, as well as the housing elements for each of its 18 cities. But despite San Diego’s receiving the autonomy desired by many local jurisdictions, the allocation of low-income units continues to hamper the planning process.

The state-approved program was designed to give local governments more flexibility in meeting affordable housing goals and avoiding oversight by the state Department of Housing and Com...

Jury Trial OK for Takings Case: Supreme Court Upholds Jury’s $1.45 Million Award to Builder

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court gave property owners the right to jury trials in federal court in regulatory takings cases brought against state or local governments under the federal civil rights law.

The 5-4 ruling handed down in late May upheld a $1.45 million jury award won by a developer against the city of Monterey for blocking a planned oceanfront residential development during the 1980s.

The division in the case was mostly along normal conservative-liberal ideological lines...

Proposition 218: Business Improvement District Levies Not Subject to Vote

Business Improvement Districts created by cities under the Parking and Business Improvement Area Law of 1989 are not subject to the voting requirements of Proposition 218, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.

The unanimous three-judge panel said that Proposition 218 has no effect on cities’ ability to levy assessments under the 1989 law (Streets & Highways Code §§ 36500-36551). The court concluded that San Diego’s Pacific Beach Business Improvement District did not impose an "assessment" with...

Local Government: City May Halt Water Hookups For Unicorporated Area

A city has no obligation to provide new water service to development in unincorporated areas, and a city may use its utilities as growth-management tools, the First District Court of Appeals has ruled.

The unanimous three-judge panel said that Crescent City did not act unreasonably when the City Council decided to prohibit new water utility connections outside the city limits. The appellate panel overturned the ruling of Del Norte County Superior Court Judge George L. Nelson. He had charact...

Revenue Neutrality Does Not Prevent Incorporations

As the debate over revenue-neutrality continues at the state Capitol and in local board chambers, something strange is happening. New cities are incorporating anyway.

There is no tidal wave of incorporations, but the City of Laguna Woods in Orange County started business March 24, and the Contra Costa County community of Oakley will become a city on July 1. Also, leaders of Elk Grove incorporation appear near an agreement with Sacramento County officials, who bitterly fought the 1997 incorporation of ...

Constitutional Law: Federal Courts Upholds State Limits on Referenda

Citizens have no right under the federal constitution to seek a voter referendum of a city’s land sale, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

In a case from Arizona, the federal appellate court dismissed arguments that the Tenth Amendment establishes the right to a referendum. The state constitution sets the rules for referenda, the court determined.

"It is the power of the federal government which is constrained by the Tenth Amendment, not the power of the states," the court...

Property Taxes: Super Williamson Act Constitutional, AG Says

A 1998 law that takes Williamson Act property taxes breaks for agricultural land one step further is constitutional, according to a state attorney general’s opinion.

The opinion, written by Deputy Attorney General Gregory L. Gonot, (Attorney General’s opinion No. 98-1106, filed March 10, 1999) concludes the "Super Williamson Act" approved by the Legislature does not violate state constitutional requirements that all property be taxable at the same percentage of fair market value. Farm interests said t...

Public Agency Must Pay for Value of Aggregate

When taking real estate by eminent domain, a public agency must pay the landowner for the value of unmined aggregate on the property, the Second District Court of Appeals has ruled.

The unanimous three-judge panel ordered the Ventura County Flood Control District to pay owners of 67 acres $2.6 million to compensate for the owners’ loss of the aggregate resource. The value of mineral deposits, including sand, clay and gravel, is an element in determining fair market value, which the public agency is re...

Court Rejects Local Costal Plan: State Costal Act Prohibits Building on ESHA, Wetlands

The Coastal Act does not allow destruction of a designated environmentally sensitive habitat area simply because the destruction is mitigated off-site, the Fourth District Court of Appeals has ruled. The court also determined that residential development of wetlands and removing a pond to build a road were not permissible under the Coastal Act.

The decision stems from the 25-year controversy over Bolsa Chica, a 1,588-acre area of wetlands and coastal mesas near Huntington Beach where developers have s...

Lawmakers return to Public Bonds; Bills to Link Water, Planning Stalled by Builders, Wet Winter

General obligations bonds to rehabilitate California’s crumbling infrastructure and build new public facilities are rising toward the top of the state Legislature’s agenda now that Gov. Davis’ education reform package is complete. The bonds, which could start hitting the ballot as soon as next March, would pay for everything from roads and water systems, to parks, libraries and homes.

Lawmakers have introduced $30 billion worth of general obligation bond proposals. Some of the proposals compete with o...

Regulators Cast a Huge Net For Rare Butterfly

The Quino Checkerspot Butterfly is the latest endangered species to cause confusion and controversy in Southern California, joining such famed animals as the Stephens kangaroo rat, the California gnatcatcher and the Delhi sands flower loving fly.

The butterfly was at first thought to live only in a few regions of Riverside and San Diego counties, where colonies have been found. But the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued a map in January showing potential Quino Checkerspot habitat in parts o...