Headline Story

AB 2: Redevelopment Is Back -- Or Is It?

So, redevelopment is back, sort of. How much of a difference it will make remains to be seen.

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed AB 2 (Alejo), which permits cities to create tax-increment-based “Community Redevelopment Investment Authorities” (CRIA). It’s more or less the same bill that legislative leaders – led by former Senate pro tem Darrell Steinberg – have been trying to get Brown to sign since 2012, when the redevelopment agencies were shut down. 

Unlike those earlier bills, however, this law makes the overt point of completely disconnecting the new system from the old redevelopment code sections in state law; and it makes no connection to SB 375 and the state’s other sustainability-based planning and development efforts.

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CP&DR News Briefs, June 8, 2015: Island Land Transferred to S.F.; High Speed Rail Considers Eminent Domain; Sacramento Rejects Streetcar

In the first phase of a landmark redevelopment deal many years in the making, the U.S. Navy transferred nearly 300 acres of its old Treasure Island/Yerba Buena Island naval base to the City of San Francisco to redevelop the campus into 8,000 homes in exchange for $55 million to the Navy. The city has approved plans to build 2,000 affordable units, along with 300 acres of parks and open space on the campus, and will create a new ferry service to become a cornerstone of the island's transportation program. “It’s taken almost two decades to get to this point, and we’re eager to transform this former naval base into a vibrant community with more housing, jobs and economic opportunities for our residents," Mayor Ed Lee announced.

High Speed Rail Identifies Properties for Eminent Domain

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has listed over 200 properties in the Central Valley for possible eminent domain proceedings to accommodate construction of the first two segments of its network. The State Public Works Board, made up of the heads of the state's Transportation, General Services, and Finance departments, recently voted to adopt 23 resolutions declaring a public need and authorizing the acquisition of properties in Fresno, Madera, Kings, and Tulare Counties. Since December 2013, the Public Works Board has adopted 230 such resolutions covering more than 625 acres of land in the four counties in anticipation of the $68 billion project planned to be fully operational by 2028. Now a Superior Court judge will decide if the agency is entitled to the property, and, if the judge rules in the train's favor, a trail will determine the fair market value due to the owner.

Valencia Water Company’s Status Becomes a Newhall Ranch Football

This article was corrected on June 2, 2015.

The longtime battle over Newhall Ranch has spilled into unusual legal territory with a fight over the status of the private water company that would likely serve the development project.

Uniquely, the Valencia Water Company (VWC) may be California's only active large-scale water provider that is neither public, nor mutual, nor regulated as a private entity by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

VWC still supplies water day by day to some 31,000 existing hookups serving about 120,000 people in the Santa Clarita Valley of Los Angeles County. But legally VWC has been in an odd state of existence for a little over a year.  Opinions differ whether VWC is public or private, what rules apply to its continued operation, and even by what right it operates at all.

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CP&DR News Briefs, June 1, 2015: Greenbelt for San Fernando Valley; Complete Streets Alternative to 710 Freeway Tunnel; Marijuana Zoning, and More

More than four decades after a graduate student proposed adding a “green belt” of wildlife habitats, parks, and recreational areas in a rim circling the San Fernando Valley, Rep. Adam Schiff is pushing to add as much land as possible "Rim of the Valley Corridor" to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in the Los Angeles area. Backed by a broad coalition including the National Park Service, the designation would protect of the 1,000-square-mile area from future development and preserve puma and bobcat habitats, along with forests and fossil beds. "For us, it's a complete and utter enhancement,” Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation president Kim Lamorie told the LA Times. "Our [residents] are always competing to get the National Park Service … to purchase land in and around our homeowners associations and rural villages.... Property values go up when you're surrounded by open space.” 

Group Proposes Complete Streets Alternative to 710 Freeway Tunnel

An opposition group to an underground 710 freeway extension from Alhambra to South Pasadena presented its plan for an alternative to a tunnel proposed to close the 710 freeway gap through South Pasadena. Beyond the 710, a coalition of community organizations, environmental attorneys and five San Gabriel Valley cities, is advancing a plan that would expand bus service, improve surface streets, and develop more walkable communities to better address traffic congestion, pollution, and transportation needs of the area, all with a price tag for $875 million, much less than the $5.6 billion price tag of the tunnel, which is one of five alternatives analyzed in an environmental impact report released in March. “We are hoping to move beyond the old, tired 710 Freeway debate, which is wasting lots of time, money and resources,” South Pasadena City Councilwoman Marina Khubesrian, vice chair of the Beyond the 710 coalition, told the Los Angeles Times. Supporters of the estimated $5.6 billion tunnel, contend that the group is just trying to gum up an environmental review that is underway and undermine growing support for the tunnel project.

Balboa Park Bridge Plan Upheld by Appellate Court

In reviewing a project’s consistency as part of an environmental review, a city need not comply with every single general plan policy so long as it concludes that most general plan policies are being followed, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.

In a case involving a proposed bridge and parking garage in Balboa Park, the appellate court also overruled a trial judge’s ruling that the City of San Diego violated its own municipal code by concluding that there would be “no reasonable beneficial use” of the famed Plaza de Panama if the bridge project were not built.

The case involves a proposal to remove automobiles from the Plaza de Panama in order to avoid conflicts between pedestrians and automobiles. The proposal would include construction of a new bridge, the Centennial Bridge, that would connect the historic Cabrillo Bridge to a new underground parking garage south of the Plaza. 

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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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Bill to Delay Implementation of SB 743 Gains Traction

A developers’ group is promoting a new piece of legislation that would postpone implementation of SB 743 – the bill that would change traffic analysis to vehicle miles traveled in environmental review – for a year. The bill has apparently revealed a split among developers who say they focus on infill projects.

Sponsored by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Norwalk), who was elected in November, Assembly Bill 779 would postpone implementation of SB 743 until 2017. A lobbying group called the Infill Builders Federation is sponsoring a bill that, depending on its final form, would postpone the implementation of SB 743. Supporters insist that they embrace VMT but say that the two years are needed to help developers prepare for the switch and to work out what they see as kinks in the law. (The City of Pasadena has already implemented most of the provisions of SB 743.)

Beyond Almonds: Cities Face Immediate Water Cuts, Long-Range Uncertainty

As California’s drought continues to worsen, the state’s 500-plus local governments face a twofold challenge: complying with state-mandated reductions in urban water use while at the same time planning for long-term development. While the state’s housing needs are manifest – 220,000 units per year just to keep up with latent demand – the long-term water supplies required to supply new development and redevelopment have become less certain thanks to the drought. 

In the wake of Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent executive order, many districts are imposing cutbacks on institutional users, such as park and school districts, and on homeowners collectively. But unlike the 1990s, only a few communities appear to be placing moratoria on new development as result of the drought. But experts predict that further water conservation measures – including more water-efficient new residences – could take the pressure off of development moratoria in the future.

The San Jose Water Company is one of the largest water providers at the high end of the reduction scale. It must cut 30 percent. That district is allocating thirteen 780-gallon units of water per home – as compared to the 2013 average of 19 units – regardless of a home’s size. Homeowners will pay penalties for usage above their allocated units. Bakersfield is restricting outdoor water use to three days a week. 

Wendell Cox's Version of Dune

When I consider Wendell Cox’s ideas, I remind myself that I am taking in not just a series of ideas but rather a whole worldview. It's kind of like reading Dune, the famously comprehensive desert world imagined by sci-fi novelist Frank Herbert. 

Cox spoke the other day to ULI's Los Angeles chapter along with USC demographer Dowell Myers. The two weren't exactly adversaries, but they were a study in forms of reasoning. Cox is all induction, beginning with theory and explaining how the facts match it. Meyers is deductive, presenting the facts and going from there. 

Cox’s a worldview that does not, I think, correspond well to reality -- certainly not the reality of California -- but it's a nonetheless a complete, mostly consistent view. An analysis of Cox, then, relies on finding those moments when his world matches up with the real world just closely enough to make a comparison. 

Newport Beach's Banning Ranch Approval Upheld by Appellate Court

The Fourth District Court of Appeal has upheld the City of Newport Beach’s decision to “approve” a development project on Banning Ranch, saying that the city complied with both the California Environmental Quality Act and its own general plan. A trial judge had ruled that the city complied with CEQA but violated its own general plan. 

The project is still pending before the Coastal Commission.

It was the second time in less than three years that the Fourth District upheld Newport Beach’s action on the Banning Ranch project. In December 2012, the court ruled that the city’s EIR had properly analyzed the impact of the project on adjacent parks. 

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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.