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2016 Budget Holds Steady Course -- More Money for Cap-And-Trade Programs

With the state no longer in the dire financial circumstances that it endured several years ago, this year’s budget process was, by some measures, less tense than it has been in years past. Presented in January, revised in May, and approved June 15, the budget totals approximately $123 billion, including about $5 billion from reserve funds. The details are being negotiated in a series of trailer bills that are pending.

Money from the state cap-and-trade program is expected to reach $2.5 billion, with $400 million allocated to the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program. 

“For the most part, the budget was really good to local agencies,” said Dan Carrigg, Sr. Director Legislative Affairs for the League of California Cities. “We don’t have these wild budget deficits. Just having stability at the state level...even if local governments don’t get a dime, that’s positive. When the state is unstable, it just ripples out negatively to others."

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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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South-Central Burger Stand Is a Nuisance, Appellate Court Rules

A South-Central Los Angeles fast-food establishment constituted a public nuisance that merited additional restrictions on its operations, the Second District Court of Appeal has ruled.

The City of Los Angeles determined that Tam’s Burgers No. 6 – located at Figueroa and 101st Street – constituted a public nuisance even though the burger stand’s owners claimed most of the problems arose from the fact that the burger stand was located in a high-crime neighborhood. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert O’Brien ruled in favor of the city and the Second District, Division Five, upheld O’Brien’s decision.

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CP&DR News Briefs, May 11, 2015: New Challenge to Prop. 13; L.A. Metro Considers $120M Funding Measure;

Another group has arisen in the long-running battle to challenge Proposition 13. A coalition of several public employees unions and other interest groups, the Make it Fair organization seeks to place a measure that would upend Prop. 13 on the 2016 statewide ballot. The proposed measure would seek a “split-roll” solution, taxing commercial properties at market rates while leaving residential tax rates frozen according to purchase prices. Prop. 13’s freeze on property taxes has long been cited as a complicating factor in local government finance, particularly for school districts. Supporters of the measure say that its passage could result in an additional $9 billion in annual tax revenue. “California is losing billions of dollars every year thanks to problems in the law that allow some big corporations and wealthy commercial property owners to avoid paying their fair share,” campaign spokesman Anthony Thigpenn said in a statement quoted by the Sacramento Bee. “By continuing to raise taxes, the state is forcing businesses out of California, and they’re taking our jobs with them,” Rex Hine of California Business Properties Association told the Bee. 

CP&DR News Briefs, May 4, 2015: Brown Sets 2030 Greenhouse Gas Targets; OPR Releases Draft VMT Guidelines; Caltrans Management Plan, and More

Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order to establish a California greenhouse gas reduction target of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 – the most aggressive benchmark enacted by any government in North America to reduce dangerous carbon emissions over the next decade and a half. It also orders the state to prepare for adaptation to climate change. California is on track to meet or exceed the current target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, as established in the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32). California’s new emission reduction target of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 will make it possible to reach the ultimate goal of reducing emissions 80 percent under 1990 levels by 2050. This is in line with the scientifically established levels needed in the U.S. to limit global warming below 2 degrees Celsius – the warming threshold at which scientists say there will likely be major climate disruptions such as super droughts and rising sea levels.“With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations, but it’s one that must be reached – for this generation and generations to come,” said  Brown in a statement. (See CP&DR commentary by Josh Stephens and Bill Fulton on the order's potential impact on statewide Sustainable Communities Strategies.)

Complete Streets Movement Gains Momentum in California

Back in the early days of email, before Facebook and Buzzfeed, people used to send jokes around as chain messages. “Forwards” we sometimes called them. My favorite of these forwards was “Ways to Confuse Your Roommate” (here’s a version of it). My favorite way: “Go to the gym. Use the multipurpose room. For just one purpose."

I’ve often thought about streets the same way. We usually use them for just one purpose, especially in California. And yet, no one is ever baffled. 

The complete streets movement is changing this attitude. As most planners know, complete streets have been gaining popularity for the past few years, as the infrastructural equivalent of smart growth. Inspired by the Dutch woonerf and, before that, by the simple reality of multi-use, pre-automobile streets, complete streets seek to accommodate a diverse array of transportation modes all in the same space. The movement contends that feet and cars can peacefully coexist, and that streets can be places that people inhabit rather than pass through. 

Will Brown’s 40% Executive Order Squeeze Regions Via SB 375?

This week, Gov. Jerry Brown announced an executive order to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030. It’s being hailed as the most aggressive climate change policy pursued by any government in North America – but will it put the squeeze on California’s metropolitan planning organizations and their sustainable communities strategies?

Brown’s order has drawn attention for its combination of ambition and immediacy. But it does not come out of thin air. Brown’s 2030 targets fit, substantively and chronologically, between those of Fran Pavley’s 2006 law Assembly Bill 32, which mandates lowering GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s goals of 80 percent reduction by 2050, also established by executive order. Meeting them means that, in relatively short order, California will look, drive, and power itself far differently than it does today — especially as its population continues to rise. 

The order requires all state agencies with jurisdiction over sources of greenhouse gas emissions to participate. Agencies must prepare implementation plans by September 2015, with guidance from a technical advisory group that will be set up by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. 

World's Business Leaders Converge on L.A., Give a Few Nods to Cities

BEVERLY HILLS —This week's Milken Institute Global Conference brought together more CEO’s, heads of state, hedge fund managers, and industrialists than, I reckon, any other annual gathering in the United States. It’s a strange event at which to be an urbanist – and not just because it takes place in one of our most unusual cities, Beverly Hills. 

Planners, developers, and sundry folk love and believe in our cities. Many of us love our cities, and we are inspired daily by their dynamism and, in some case, their enormity. Los Angeles has 4 million people. And it functions (sort of). Amazing, right?! I think so.

But then you pass the Splenda to a CEO in the coffee line and realize that the annual revenue of his or her company might exceed that of a city’s budget, or even its gross metropolitan product. That’s humbling. It’s more humbling when you consider that some of these companies, from Twitter to Google to all the finance companies, hardly exist in physical space. They might employ a handful of people and deliver all of their products online. 

Cities Seize Chances to Avoid CEQA Review through Voter Initiatives

After 20 years, Los Angeles is on the verge of obtaining a new National Football League team. And as it turns out, the winning play for the NFL in Los Angeles may have been drawn up in a courtroom in Sacramento. In the cities of Carson and Inglewood, competing sponsors of stadium proposals are employing, simultaneously, a newly legitimized tactic to exempt their projects from review under the California Environmental Quality Act. Carson used the tactic to approve its stadium last week in record time. 

Last year, the California Supreme Court decided Tuolomne Jobs & Small Business Alliance v. Superior Court of Tuolomne County  in favor of Walmart, which had proposed a ballot initiative to approve a superstore in the City of Sonora. Before the initiative went to voters, the city council adopted the language of the initiative, effectively approving the project and claiming the CEQA exception that would have been granted had voters actually approved the project.

L.A. County General Plan: First Update in 35 Years

In the continuous scrum of Los Angeles County planning, some kind of milestone was reached this spring when the Board of Supervisors formally approved the county's 2035 General Plan update.

The new document is the first comprehensive rewrite of county planning rules since 1980.

Among other things, it represents a new focus on the county’s urbanized unincorporated areas, as well as more traditional undeveloped areas on the fringe. It is the first L.A. County general plan to take advantage of digital mapping approaches in promoting more consistent groupings of land use policies across multiple properties and types of ownership. It's an approach that meshes well with current state and federal planning processes for alternative energy -- which matters especially because of pressures for solar and wind energy development in the Antelope Valley.

CP&DR News Briefs, April 27, 2015: Ruling Disrupts Water-Saving Plans; Cappio Leaves HCD; and More

Water agencies cannot charge water users incrementally more per gallon of use following a ruling by the Fourth District Court of Appeals that cited a 1996 law prohibiting government agencies from overcharging for services. The suit came about after San Juan Capistrano charged nearly four times as much per unit of water for users in the highest tier to provide an incentive to conserve, but failed to show that the water was that expensive to deliver. Governor Jerry Brown wanted to use the rates to save water and create strong disincentives for wealthier residents. Other water districts must now review the ruling to make sure that their rates are in step with the court, while still encouraging conservation during the drought. Two-thirds of water districts use some form of tiered water pricing, but now agencies will have to show that hikes are directly tied to the cost of water, according to the court.

CP&DR News Briefs, April 20, 2015: Marin Farmers Negotiate with Coastal Commission; Santa Monica Down-Zones General Plan; Guadelupe Considers Disincorporation, and More

Marin County officials and state Coastal Commissioners agreed to take more time to hash out the nuances of new regulatory proposals that county officials think could impose too many constraints on local farmers even as the Commission seeks to limit the impacts of agricultural activities in the coastal zone. Locals were worried that new regulations - detailed in hundreds of pages of complicated state analysis - would require farmers to get permits to switch agricultural uses, from ranching to grape-growing, for instance, and would tighten rules on building under the Coastal Act. At issue as well are requirements such as setbacks and the allowed ratio of buildings to acres of farmland that a farmer owns. Farmers expressed concerns that overly tight regulations could put them out of business. “Too many rules and regulations leads to outlaw behavior, so getting it right” is essential, Steve Kinsey, chairman of the Commission, told the Marin Independent Journal. The delay in implementing regulations comes as the county withdrew its coastal development plan, giving the sides more time to reach an agreement. The county is expected to resubmit the plan in the fall. 

The Man Who Changed the Way We Think About Parking

Back in 2010, when I was Mayor of Ventura, the city installed parking meters downtown for the first time in 40 years. Not for every parking space, of course. The meters covered only 300 or so prime spaces on Main Street and a few popular side streets. Thousands of other downtown spaces – both onstreet and off – remained free.

 The problem we were trying to solve was a pretty typical one: Demand was so high for the prime spaces that people were cruising up and down Main Street, causing a constant traffic jam, in search of a space. The spaces themselves were hogged by merchants and their employees. It was hard to enforce the existing two-hour time limit, and the parkers gamed the system with such familiar tricks as wiping the meter maids’ chalk of their tires. Meanwhile, a half-block away, parking lots and a parking garage sat empty.

CP&DR News Briefs, April 13, 2015: L.A. Sustainability Plan; S.D. Rescinds Embattled Climate Plan; Californians Win National APA Awards; and More

Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles announced his new "Sustainable City pLAn," a far-reaching decree that seeks to make Los Angeles sustainable in ways ranging from water to solar energy to waste. Among other things, the plan seeks to reduce daily Vehicle Miles Traveled by 5 percent by 2025, to implement the Vision Zero policy to reduce traffic fatalities, to have zero days in which air pollution reaches unhealthy levels by 2025, and to complete 32 miles of Los Angeles River public access by 2025. The plan defines sustainability broadly, to include not only ecological goals but also broad goals of social and economic sustainability.

The plan seeks to reduce driving and pollution, increase walkability within neighborhoods (using WalkScore), improve pedestrian safety, promote development of affordable housing and transit-oriented development, support the re:codeLA initiative to update the city’s zoning code, revitalize the L.A. River, and support environmental justice, among other goals. Garcetti also signed a mayoral directive that requires all city departments to incorporate pLAn goals into their programs, and establishes sustainability officers in applicable departments and bureaus. At a signing event, he pledged that this "is not a plan for the shelves."

Los Angeles’ Slow-Growthers Have Gotten What They Wanted

Los Angeles’ housing crisis has been building for long enough that just about anyone who rents an apartment here could have told you about it years ago. But it wasn’t until last summer that UCLA released a report confirming what many of us already know: as a function of average rents (high) and average incomes (low, especially compared to those in San Francisco and New York) Los Angeles is the least-affordable rental market in the country. 

Circulating around the blogosphere now is a single graph that illustrates why: