Headline Story

Court Upholds CEQA Exemption For Rodeo In Light Of Berkeley Hillside Case

Reconsidering the case in light of the California Supreme Court’s recent Berkeley Hillside ruling, the Third District Court of Appeal has reaffirmed last year’s ruling concluding that a rodeo at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds does not qualify as an “unusual circumstance” that can override an exemption under the California Environmental Quality Act.

In April 2014, the Third District ruled that the rodeo – the first held at the Watsonville facility in many years – did not constitute an “unusual circumstance”.The plaintiffs, Citizens for Environmental Responsibility, appealed the ruling to the California Supreme Court, which stayed briefings pending the Supreme Court’s ruling in Berkeley Hillside, which also dealt with the unusual circumstances override of CEQA exemptions. After the Supreme Court ruling in Berkeley Hillside, the case was remanded to the Third District to revise the 2014 ruling in consideration of the Supreme Court’s decision.

In Berkeley Hillside, the Supreme Court laid out a two-step approach to the “unusual circumstances” question when a lead agency is considering an exemption. 

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High Court Faces Tough Deferred Issues on CEQA Docket

The California Supreme Court is finally catching up on its backlog of cases interpreting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Recently the justices moved along two cases related to the law's climate change implications. The bottom line, however, is that the list is getting longer. The court now has eight CEQA cases pending on issues ranging from how CEQA must account for climate change to whether the law is pre-empted by federal railroad regulation.

The justices heard arguments September 2 on the leading Newhall Ranch case, emphasizing greenhouse gas reduction standards. They've also just scheduled oral argument for October 7 on the "CEQA in Reverse" case, which addresses whether developers must consider the impact of environmental conditions on a project, as well as vice versa.

This is a big change from a year ago. Shorthanded from two retirements, the court had a docket full of big lurking environmental review issues with grants of review dating as far back as 2012. Last year, not counting denials of review, the justices issued one big CEQA opinion in the whole year: Tuolumne Jobs & Small Business Alliance, an August 2014 decision allowing the use of ballot measure petitions to pressure local governments into adopting large projects. (See CP&DR  coverage here.) 

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CP&DR News Briefs, September 21, 2015: Active Transportation Grant Recommendations Released; San Jose Housing Case; S.F. Bay Water Quality Improves; and More

The California Transportation Commission has released staff recommendations (pdf) for the awarding of up to $215 million in grants in Cycle 2 of its Active Transportation Program.

Most Major Bills Fail In Legislative Session

Only a few significant planning and development bills made to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk by the end of the legislative session on Sept. 11 -- most significantly SB 774, which requires local governments to cut parking ratios for transit-oriented development.

Several major bills did not make it out of the legislature, including:

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CP&DR News Briefs, September 14, 2015: S.F. Affordable Housing; Oil Field Rules; Transit & L.A. Olympic Bid; and More

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee introduced a five-pronged plan to build and rehabilitate 10,000 affordable housing units in the city by 2020. Significantly, construction will begin in November to allow nonprofit developers to take over federally funded public housing projects in exchange for upgrading them, hopefully repairing 1,400 units by 2017 and another 2,060 by 2018.

For Better or Worse, The Tuolomne Tactic Is Here to Stay

Just before Labor Day, Rick Caruso, the savvy real estate developer from Los Angeles, used the “Tuolomne Tactic” to end-run the California Environmental Quality Act in order to get a shopping center approved in Carlsbad.

Which means the score is now one Walmart in Tuolomne County, two football stadiums in L.A., and a shopping center in San Diego County. And that raises a pretty interesting question: How far will developers push the Tuolomne Tactic? And will the Legislature step in with a fix? 

Not likely – which means California planning regulation just got even more convoluted than it was before. 

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CP&DR News Briefs, September 7, 2015: Navy Redevelopment in S.D.; Water Tunnels; $3.6 Billion Proposed for Infrastructure; and More

The California Coastal Commission and the Navy reached a settlement in the commission's lawsuit against a proposed redevelopment of the Navy's downtown waterfront property in San Diego, leaving just one more legal hurdle for the Navy to clear to build the $1.2 billion, 3.25 million square foot plan. The settlement came as project developer Doug Manchester made concessions including opting to build a 40,000 square foot museum across from the USS Midway Museum, pledging to make more than 3,100 parking spaces available to the public on holidays and weekends, and posting signs directing people to the waterfront. All in all, the project will be built entirely on land granted to the Navy by voters in 1920 and would include 2.9 million square feet of office space, including a 351,000-square-foot regional headquarters for the Navy, 1,375 hotel rooms, 213,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and a 1.9-acre public park, along with the museum and parking spaces. However, Cory Briggs, the attorney representing the coalition provigin the last legal challenge under the National Environmental Policy Act, called the settlement "lipstick on the pig," saying that the project should instead consist of a bigger waterfront park.

Applications Submitted for Delta Water Tunnels

Officials have submitted the first permit applications to construct two 30-mile tunnels to transport water from the San Joaquin Delta to Central and Southern California. In an effort to upgrade current systems that Governor Jerry Brown has called inefficient, outdated, and vulnerable to earthquakes, the Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation are seeking approval to build three giant water intakes to draw water from the Sacramento River to feed into the $17 billion tunnels. The State Water Resources Control Board, which must approve or reject the request, expects to complete its review within two years, agency spokesman Timothy Moran told the Associated Press.

Book Review: Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change

There comes a moment in the course of every nascent trend when we must ask, “is that a thing?” For tactical urbanism, that moment has been coming at least since 2008, when the (re)Bar collective deposited its first temporary minipark to inaugurate National Park(ing) Day. It’s been coming since Mayor Bloomberg closed Times Square. And it’s been coming since people in Los Angeles started referring to gourmet food trucks unironically.

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

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.

Fair Housing: Talking Past Each Other About Cities and Segregation

About 80 years too late, the federal government has put real regulatory authority behind the duty of publicly funded agencies to “affirmatively further fair housing”. It’s being discussed as a genuine chance to desegregate the suburbs. 

On July 8 the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued its final rule on "Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing" (AFFH). Under the rule, state and local agencies receiving HUD funds must now do more than passively study barriers to fair housing: they must also make and follow genuine plans to reduce the barriers they describe.

The new HUD rule was backed -- arguably, was made possible -- by the U.S. Supreme Court's unexpectedly liberal ruling of June 25 in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. The high court upheld a claim of disparate-impact discrimination against the Texas agency that allocates low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC). In the court's words, the group bringing the claim "alleged the Department has caused continued segregated housing patterns by its disproportionate allocation of the tax credits, granting too many credits for housing in predominantly black inner-city areas and too few in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods." 

Redevelopment-Killing Law Not Subject to Proposition 1A, Appellate Court Rules

The Third District Court of Appeal has rejected several arguments that the laws eliminating redevelopment violate the California constitution.

In a followup to California Redevelopment Association v. Matosantos, 53 Cal. 4th 231 (2011), the California Supreme Court ruling that permitted the elimination of redevelopment agencies, the Third District has ruled that AB 1x 26 -- the law that killed redevelopment -- does not violate 2004’s Proposition 1A. The court also rejected a series of other arguments, including the idea that Gov. Jerry Brown’s declaration of a fiscal emergency did not warrant the elimination of redevelopment. 

The opinion was written by Justice Harry Hull, who was chairman of the board of McDonough Holland & Allen, a leading redevelopment law firm, before he was appointed to the bench. The language of the blunt-spoken opinion seems to suggest that the cities had a weak case all the way around.

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CP&DR News Briefs, August 24, 2015: Tahoe Conservation Purchase; Huge Warehouse Approved in I.E.; Sacramento Considers Transit to Area

An environmental group has purchased $10.1 million worth of Lake Tahoe land including scenic meadows, forests, and trout streams in order to preserve wildlife there and increase California's water supply. The purchase amounts to over 10,000 acres.

Carson May Deny Mobile Home Subdivision Based on General Plan Inconsistency, Court Rules

In a split decision, the Second District Court of Appeal has ruled that the City of Carson acted properly in denying the subdivision of a mobile home park because this change in ownership structure was inconsistent with the general plan by placing at risk wetlands within the park, which were reclaimed from contaminated oil friends and are called out in the open space element of the city’s general plan.

The Second District’s ruling in Carson Harbor Village v. City of Carson is the latest ruling in the lengthy litigation between the mobile home park and the city over whether to permit the mobile home park to subdivide its property and require mobile home tenants to own their individual lots. Mobile home residents typical own the mobile home but rent the property on which it sits, which is often subject to a municipal rent control ordinance. Mobile home park owners have fought back using a wide variety of tactics, including the proposed subdivision of their property.

 In a previous unpublished decision, Carson Harbor Vill., Ltd. v. City of Carson (Apr. 30, 2010, B211777), the Second District ruled that the city could not deny the mobile home subdivision based on inconsistency with the general plan. However, in 2012 the California Supreme Court ruled in Pacific Palisades Bowl Mobile Estates, LLC v. City of Los Angeles, 55 Cal.4th 783, that mobile home subdivisions are subject to both the Coastal Act and the Mello Act. The Second District reversed its earlier decision based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Pacific Palisades. 

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Cal Supremes Agree to Hear Banning, Newhall Ranch Cases

The California Supreme Court has agreed to hear two important planning and development cases – one involving Banning Ranch in Newport Beach and one involving the seemingly endless Newhall Ranch project. 

Motion Picture Academy Lays Giant Egg on Fairfax Boulevard

The intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Boulevard is under an evil spell.  Otherwise, I can’t account for the two most questionable museum proposals to descend on the area formerly known as the Miracle Mile.

Should Cap-And-Trade Program Rethink "Disadvantaged Communities?

On an unusually hot February afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, I conducted a field walk assessment to help a client identify potential sites for a bikeshare “mobility hub.” Standing on a  corner near the Convention Center, I noted that we were at the border between two Census tracts. Ordinarily, this border wouldn’t matter much—the neighborhood isn’t discernibly different on one side or the other—but in this case, I was helping the client apply for a state grant program that gives special consideration to projects located in “disadvantaged communities.” 

 If located on the south side of the street, the project would be located in a “disadvantaged” census tract, but not on the north side.  “Well, let’s clearly locate the hub on the south side,” the client advised, with some incredulous laughter. Humorous as it may sound, this decision speaks to the serious policy weight—and dollars—the State of California has put behind the concept of “benefitting disadvantaged communities.”  

CP&DR News Briefs, August 17, 2015: Los Angeles Mobility Plan; Draft CEQA Guidelines; Bay Area Transportation Funding

The Los Angeles City Council voted 12-2 to support a sweeping new mobility plan that would focus on increasing bicycle and pedestrian safety and reducing car usage by reshaping streets with medians, widened sidewalks, and over 300 miles of dedicated bike and bus lanes, at the expense of car lanes.