Headline Story

Supreme Court Gives Enviros Big Victory on Newhall Ranch

California's Supreme Court broke the Newhall Land & Farming Company's long winning streak November 30 in a victory for environmental and community groups over the Newhall Ranch megadevelopment. 

The plan to extend Los Angeles' urban growth into the Santa Clarita Valley, with a planned community of almost 58,000 people, has been persistently proposed and persistently litigated for two decades. Thanks to recent years' pro-development rulings, notably by the Second District Court of Appeal's Fifth Division, the project seemed to be well launched. Now quite a few bets are off.

The five-vote majority opinion by Justice Kathryn Werdegar sided with opponents of the development on the three major issues before the court. Justice Carol Corrigan filed a brief separate opinion concurring and dissenting, while Justice Ming W. Chin wrote an extensive dissent objecting to the likely delays in the project. 

Perhaps most significantly, the court said Newhall could not determine the significance of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) simply by applying the raw statewide regulatory goal of reducing GHG emissions 29 percent below "business as usual" levels by the year 2020, as set under the AB 32 Scoping Plan. The court held that an agency trying to apply the statewide goal locally should explain how the local situation related to the statewide goal.

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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.

Post-Redevelopment Real Estate Is, Oddly, Not a Land-Office Business

When the redevelopment system was dismantled in 2012, redevelopment leaders around the state feared that the state Department of Finance’s desire for short-term cash would force a fire-sale of redevelopment assets that would drive prices down and undermine cities’ ability to complete their pending redevelopment projects.

More than three years later, the opposite has occurred: Successor agencies are moving slowly to put real estate on the market, in part because both successor agencies and DOF are just now getting around to dealing with Long-Range Property Management Plans or LRPMPs – the plans that delineate just exactly how properties owned by former redevelopment agencies will be disposed of. LRPMPs are required under AB 1484 of 2012, the post-redevelopment cleanup bill that sought to moderate the fire-sale fears, among other things.

In part, the slow disposition is the result of a dauntingly technical process. In the words of Tara Matthews, a partner with the Rosenow Spevacek Group, Inc. (RSG): "The disposition process is confusing, cities are short-staffed, the typical brokerage companies don't understand the process and are hesitant to take it on, and developers don't know what options are available or how to initiate the conservation with cities." Property sales must be approved both by the successor agency’s oversight board and by DOF.

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Beating Boston at Its Own Games

Are there any two American cities more different from each other than Boston and Los Angeles? History vs. modernity, compactness vs. sprawl, chowder vs. kale, sun vs. snow, modesty vs. flash, intellect vs. entertainment. 

Back in January, Boston beat out Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., to become the United States Olympic Committee’s official pick to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Since then, civic leaders in Los Angles have been nearly salivating with every hint of disaffection on the part of the Beantown faithful. Concerns were legion: Boston doesn’t have room; Boston’s transit system can’t handle the crowds; Boston doesn’t have the facilities; Boston doesn’t want to spend billions; Boston, to be characteristically blunt, has better things to do.

CP&DR News Briefs, August 10, 2015: Ontario to Take Control of Airport; Oakland Coliseum For Sale?; Bakersfield Considers HSR Routes; and More

A deal between the cities of Los Angeles and Ontario ends a dispute over the decline of LA/Ontario International Airport. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Ontario Mayor pro tem Alan Wapner announced the signing of a Settlement Agreement Term Sheet which will lead to the transfer of ownership of ONT to the Ontario International Airport Authority subject to approvals.

Nice Try, Cal State -- But CEQA Mitigation Doesn't Require State Appropriations

Tuesday’s California Supreme Court ruling in a CEQA case involving San Diego State lays down an important marker: State agencies can’t claim that a mitigation measure is infeasible just because they didn’t get a legislative appropriation to pay for it. It’s the second time the Supreme Court has rejected an argument by Cal State that fiscal considerations under state law should trump CEQA.

The Cal State Board of Trustees had tried to argue that they didn’t have to pay for offsite mitigations for expansion of San Diego State University under the California Environmental Quality Act because the legislature had not specifically authorized the money to pay for those mitigations. But a unanimous Supreme Court rejected the argument.

To do so, write Justice Pamela Werdergar for the Supreme Court, would put the legislature in the position of serving as lead agency on every CEQA-related project undertaken by any state agency – essentially determining which mitigations to pay for and when a statement of overriding considerations is justified. “[S]uch a holding would logically apply to all state agencies, thus in effect forcing the Legislature to sit as a standing environmental review board to decide on a case-by-case basis whether state agencies’ projects will proceed despite unmitigated off-site environmental effects,” Werdegar wrote.

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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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Trailer Bill Could Cost Cities $800 Million in Redevelopment-Related Funds

Just when cities thought it was safe to sign on to notices of completion and put their long redevelopment nightmares behind them, a newly proposed bill yet again has put cities at odds with the state.  

In the four years since Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the dissolution of the state’s nearly 400 redevelopment agencies, a series of laws and court cases  –principally revolving around the 2012 law AB 1484 has resulted in a complex but, for the most part, manageable system by which cities dispose of properties and settle their accounts with the state Department of Finance (DOF). This has meant that DOF takes possession of properties and funds formerly held by redevelopment agencies while DOF reimburses cities for debts owed to them by their former redevelopment agencies and/or pays cities for certain expenses incurred in the dissolution process.  

DOF and cities must agree to Findings of Completion before properties may be disposed of and cities receive their reimbursements. To avoid endless bickering over who is owed what, FOC's provide cities and DOF incentive to arrive at negotiated agreements so that cities can receive their rightful reimbursements in a timely manner.  

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CP&DR News Briefs, August 3, 2015: New Salton Sea Plan; Sucker Fish Habitat at Issue; Developers Protest Oakland Art Fee; and More

Officials with the Imperial Irrigation District have proposed a smaller plan for restoration of the Salton Sea, reducing the cost from $9 billion to $3.15 billion.

CP&DR News Briefs, July 27, 2015: L.A. Developments Near Faults to Face Scrutiny; Grand Jury Examines Irvine Great Park; Calif. Streets in Poor Shape; and more

Developers in Los Angeles will face more extensive scrutiny if they decide to build near earthquake faults under new rules in Los Angeles. The Westside, the South Bay, and northeast Los Angeles will be the three main areas covered by new scrutiny under a program advanced by Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Insight: Does Supply Create Its Own Demand?

A couple of weeks ago, the satirical newspaper The Onion reported that the City of San Francisco was looking to relocate because its current location had become too expensive. Funny though this was, I expected the follow-up story to focus on the economic development incentive package being put together to keep San Francisco where it is. 

A week or so later, Gabriel Metcalfe – head of the respected San Francisco urban planning organization SPUR – published a provocative piece in CityLab blaming the city’s affordability crisis on progressive politics – especially progressive politics of the no-growth kind. Progressive San Francisco, he argued, “had a fatal, Shakespearean flaw that would prove to be its undoing: It decided early on to be against new buildings. It decided that new development, with the exception of publicly subsidized affordable housing, was not welcome.”

All up and down California – especially in the expensive coastal enclaves around San Francisco and Los Angeles – community activists have been lately decrying how the rising cost of housing is making it impossible for normal people with normal incomes to live in these towns. Yet, as Metcalf points out, most of the time these same community activists are arguing that the trend toward high housing cost must be countered with... less housing construction. Or at least less market-rate housing construction. 

Removal of Conservation Overlay Not Exempt from CEQA, Court Rules

A decision to remove 200 acres of the Anheuser-Busch-owned Warm Springs Ranch from the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Plan is not exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act even though the property would be replaced in the plan by 1,000 acres on two other nearby ranches, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled. 

The decision to remove the property was the result of a complicated – and in some ways failed -- negotiation between the company, the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority, and Riverside County. Overturning Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia, the Fourth District ruled that CEQA Exemptions 7 and 8 did not apply to the situation, even though the change would not automatically lead to development of the parcel. 

“[W]e conclude the removal of the conservation overlay from the phase 9 property is a ‘project’ under CEQA as a change embodied a fundamental land use decision that has the potential for causing ultimate physical changes in the environment, because land that was protected for conservation purposes will no longer be subject to such protections,” the court wrote.

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CP&DR News Briefs, July 22, 2015: Brown Pushes Delta Water Tunnels; Army Corps Approves L.A. River Plan; New National Monument; and More

The state Department of Water Resources sharpened plans for the construction of two 30-mile-long tunnels on the Sacramento River, releasing hundreds of pages of documents in its environmental impact statement detailing the project’s changes from the original 2006 plan worth $15 billion.

SCG Gears Up to Give $400 Million in Grants

LOS ANGELES — The Strategic Growth Council and partner agencies went from 0 to $120 million in the span of a few short months this year. Spurred by the passage of a budget bill last year, guidelines for the new Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities grant program came out in January, initial applications were accepted March, and just last month 28 grant awardees were announced.