Headline Story

Rent Control Gains Traction Amid Housing Crisis in Bay Area

Like a monster that’s been hiding in the basement for decades, rent control is rearing its head in the Bay Area. Whether it is an ugly countenance or a smiling face is a matter of perspective.
While the Bay Area has struggled with housing shortages and rising rents for the past decade or so, it has become evident that no amount of development will, in the near term, bring rents back down to manageable levels for residents earning median incomes and below. As tech jobs have made Bay Area residents more wealthy, and attracted newcomers flush with cash, landlords in unregulated cities have tried to cash in by raising rents and even evicting incumbent tenants. 

Therefore, over the past year, cities have again turned to what is, in many ways, the tool of last resort to preserve affordable housing.
“A year ago we had the wild west,” said Eric Strimling, spokesperson for the Alameda Renters Coalition, of Alameda’s rental market. “There were pretty much no regulation at all. Evict at will, raise rents at will.”

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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. 

CP&DR News Briefs, February 15, 2016: Coastal Commission Ousts Lester; LAO Report on Housing Affordability; Obama Budget Highlights; and More

Charles Lester, former Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission was dismissed from his role after nearly five years Feb. 10. The 7-5 vote took place behind closed doors after seven hours of public testimony, the majority of which supported Lester. Supporters of Lester say  pro-development commissioners were hoping to oust him.

How Scalia Found His Voice

Thirty years ago, in his first big majority opinion -- a land-use case from the California coast -- Antonin Scalia found the colorful and irreverent style that came to distinguish his career on the Supreme Court. And with one clean swipe, he knocked William Brennan out of the box and became the intellectual leader of the court.

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CP&DR News Briefs, February 8, 2016: Lester Defends Record; AHSC Posts Funding Notice; Enviros Sue Over Highway Project; and More

Embattled California Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester released a twenty-page memo (pdf) detailing his accomplishments and reasons for remaining in his position.

Los Angeles' Moral Failing

Whereas a Berkeley resident can cross from exuberance of Telegraph Avenue into the heart of the Cal campus in a few steps, UCLA is an auto-oriented campus surrounded by a moat of driveways, green space, and city streets. Its neighbors are some of the wealthiest and orneriest an institution could ever have the misfortune to live next to. The university, for all its academic heft, retreats from the city, and the city from it.

UCLA was an ironically illustrative venue for a talk by Michael Storper, lead author of "The Rise and Fall of Urban Economies," that I attended recently. Contrary to its expansive title, Storper’s study concerns only Los Angeles and San Francisco. Given that both are booming Pacific Rim metropolises, it may be hard to figure out which is the “rise” and which is the “fall.”