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San Diego Considers Dueling Plans to Finance Stadium, Convention Center

What do touchdowns, trade shows, room service, rivers, and dorm rooms have in common? In San Diego, quite a bit.

Spooked by the possible relocation of the San Diego Chargers football team, the city is doubling down on opportunities not only to retain the Chargers but also to pursue a host of other initiatives related to tourism and economic development. The matters may be resolved through one of two competing measures that are expected to appear on upcoming ballots.

"The Citizens Plan" could appear on the citywide ballot as early as November. Proposed by Cory Briggs, an environmental attorney famous instead for halting city projects, it would raise hotel taxes and allow the city to expand its convention center, build a new Chargers stadium, secure long-term funding to promote the city to tourists, create a new San Diego River park and hand San Diego State University an expansion opportunity. It would make way for a joint-use convention center-stadium built on 10 downtown acres, next to the Padres ballpark and across the street from the city’s existing convention center.

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Can Jurisdictions ‘Play Nice’ to Reap New Tax Increments?

For the past three years, California's cities have been like beachcombers, waving metal detectors over miles of beach in the hopes of discovering $5 billion. They haven't had much luck -- until recently. In the past year, though, Sacramento has bestowed upon the state’s cities two new funding tools that, while they don’t replace redevelopment, have given cities, developers, and other institutions reasons to salivate. 

CP&DR News Briefs, December 14, 2015: New Zoning for SE San Diego; SCAG RTP/SCS Released; Group to 'Sue the Suburbs;' and More

The San Diego City Council is expected to approve Southeastern San Diego's first comprehensive set of zoning changes since 1987 with the goal of encouraging more development near mass transit.  Community leaders often complain that the area's lack of high-paying jobs discourages developers from building quality reta

Theater Review: Urban Planning Takes Center Stage in 'If/Then'

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, the American Planning Association's Burnham Award will go to Dr. Elizabeth Vaughan. She will be recognized for, among other accomplishments, forcing improvements to a mega-development on Manhattan’s West Side, elegantly creating more affordable housing, and making peace with anti-gentrification activists. 

SGC Ramps Up To Adopt New Program Guidelines on December 17

After doling out $120 million in essentially free money in 2015, the program staff behind the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities grants discovered almost as many opinions as there were dollars in the program. Public and private stakeholders alike expressed concerns about both the fairness and efficacy of the selection process. Large urban areas lobbied for population-based preferences, rural areas lamented their lack of qualifying transit, and fierce discussions took place over jurisdictional caps and underserved communities.  

These comments, many of which were elicited in four listening sessions across the state, have given rise to AHSC 2.0. At its December 17 meeting, the Strategic Growth Council staff will present final draft guidelines for the 2016 program for the SGC's consideration. 

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AHSC Programs Tops Up 2015 Awards

The staff of the Strategic Growth Council has early Christmas presents in store for some projects that had applied for Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities grants earlier this year. Staff have recommended that eight formerly rejected projects receive a total of $32.5 million in grants. 

The fall funding round was open to eligible projects that had scored at least 60 in the initial round but were shut out in part because of jurisdictional caps when the program announced its grants in June. That round included $120 million in total funding, awarded to 28 projects. 

Projects were evaluated according to their original applications. Some criteria were re-scored according to revised guidelines, focusing on projected greenhouse gas reductions and leverage of other funds. The re-scoring make some projects more attractive than they originally may have been. 

CP&DR News Briefs, December 7, 2015: Drought Prompts Moratorium in Pismo Beach; Fresno Misses Deadline for Expansion; SGC to Assist Disadvantage Communities with Grant Applications; and More

The Pismo Beach City Council voted to impose a moratorium on all new development in anticipation of a drastic drop in water supply next year.

First District Orders Cal State East Bay to Reconsider Offsite Traffic Mitigation

In light of a similar ruling by the California Supreme Court in a case from San Diego, the First District Court of Appeal has ordered Cal State East Bay to revisit the question of offsite traffic mitigation in the environmental impact report for its long-range master plan. As the Supreme Court did in San Diego, the court ruled that Cal State cannot simply declare mitigations infeasible unless the state legislature appropriates funds specifically for that purpose.

The Supreme Court remanded the East Bay case to the First District after ruling in the San Diego State case earlier this year. The First District reaffirmed its 2012 ruling on all other grounds, also ordering Cal State to conduct a better analysis of the impact of the campus expansion on surrounding parks. 

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Is This The Right Meeting? Really?

If NIMBYs are, proverbially, planners’ worst enemies, then planners are sometimes their own second-worst enemies.  

Monday morning I attended one of a dozen or so workshops and listening sessions, this one in Los Angeles, put on by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research to publicize and solicit input into the new draft General Plan Guidelines. It’s a momentous occasion for planners in California. Legislative, demographic, and cultural forces have forged a different world in the 12 years since OPR last updated the guidelines. 

Cities that update their general plans, usually to the tune of hundreds of pages, need all the help they can get. That’s why it’s so important for OPR to clearly explain what it has in mind and to hear what planners and citizens need to make the magic happen.  

Some citizens, though, see nothing magical about, well, anything that planners do.  

County Can't Recapture Money Loaned to Redevelopment Agency, Court Rules

San Bernardino County is not entitled to the return of $9 million in loan principal to the former county redevelopment agency, even though the funds were not tax-increment revenues and had come from the county’s general fund, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled Monday. 

The appellate court concluded that once the funds had been transferred from the county to the redevelopment agency, they were subject to a state law voiding all agreements between local governments and their redevelopment agencies. The source of the funds is irrelevant, the court said. 

In reaching this conclusion, the court saw no difference between a government agency spending tax money on items such as office supplies and a government agency loaning funds to another government agency. “[M]oney loaned by the county, even if the County obtained those funds as an allocation of taxes, does notretain its character as tax revenue in the hands of the borrower,” wrote Justice George Nicholson, a onetime Republican candidate for attorney general and aide to Gov. George Deukmejian, for a unanimous three-judge panel.

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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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CP&DR News Briefs, November 30, 2015: $700 Billion Mobility Plan for L.A. County; High Speed Rail Costs Prompt Scrutiny; Fresno Updates Development Code; and More

The libertarian nonprofit Reason Foundation released a its own speculative mobility plan for the Los Angeles region, seeking to ease congestion through a network of toll roads and varying pricing models on vastly expanded express lanes.

MTC May Force Hostile Takeover Onto ABAG

If there’s anything more confusing than one regional government bureaucracy, it’s two regional government bureaucracies.  

This is an axiom that cities in the Bay Area have gotten to know all too well over the past 45 years living under the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Calls to merge the two or eliminate one have resounded roughly as long as both have been around. At last, thanks in part to the regional planning mandate set forth by Senate Bill 375, the MTC may finally succeed in a hostile takeover of the much smaller ABAG.  

The Bay Area is the only one of California’s 18 regions that has a metropolitan planning organization that is different from its council of governments. ABAG, founded in 1961, is a council of government dedicating to regional planning and cooperation among its 101 member cities and nine member counties. Founded in 1970, MTC is designated by the federal government as the region’s MPO and its state equivalent, a regional transportation planning agency. It oversees regional transportation and, importantly, controls a portion of federal funds and local toll revenues. 

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The Tech Housing Crunch’s Fracking Dilemma

A couple of weeks ago I heard a spiel by one of the founders of a new startup called Feastly, which is trying to pair up chefs with diners. Chefs wake up in the morning, go into their kitchen, prepare whatever they want, put out a call on the Internet – and if it’s something you want to eat, you go to their house and dine. Feastly, in other words, turns every dining room into a restaurant.

It was a compelling pitch, but the truth of the matter is that Feastly is one of hundreds – thousands – millions? – of startups trying to be the Uber or AirBNB of [name your activity]. And it highlights a sudden and enormous challenge that planners in California are facing. Planners, for the most part, write and implement regulations that seek to plan for and control land uses. They do so for a variety of well-established reasons – ensuring that public health and safety are protected, but also helping to stimulate, shape, and channel the supply of built space so that the interests of a given community are balanced against the demands of the marketplace.

But how can you possibly plan for and control land uses when every bedroom is a hotel room, and every dining room is a restaurant, and every coffee shop is an office, and conversely every office is a potential living room or dining room or bedroom? 

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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JPA Can Be Used To End-Run Vote Requirement, Fourth District Rules

The Fourth District Court of Appeal has rejected arguments from San Diegans for Open Government that the City of San Diego improperly created a joint powers authority in order to avoid a two-thirds vote requirement for issuing sale-leaseback Marks-Roos bonds.

San Diegans for Open Government – a plaintiff frequently used by watchdog lawyer Cory Briggs – sued the city, claiming that a joint-powers authority between the city, the San Diego Housing Authority, and the city’s successor agency did not have the power to issue the bonds for several reasons. SDOG attempted to distinguish the situation from the facts of Rider v. City of San Diego (1998) 18 Cal.4th 1035, a California Supreme Court ruling which held, essentially, that the city could end-run the two-thirds requirement by creating a JPA. 

The Fourth District found that the situation in this case was distinguishable from Rider in some ways but these distinctions didn’t matter. “Rider made clear that for purposes of the debt limitation provisions, when a financing authority created to issue bonds ‘has a genuine separate existence from the City,’ ‘it does not matter whether or not the City “essentially controls” the [f]inancing [a]uthority,” wrote Acting Presiding Justice Richard A. Huffman for a unanimous three-judge panel.

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CP&DR News Briefs, November 23, 2015: L.A. Development Moratorium; Shifting Funds from High Speed Rail to Water Storage; S.F. Tries to Curb Displacement, and More

A group calling itself the Coalition to Preserve L.A. announced that it is going to shoot for a ballot measure to block “mega-projects" in Los Angeles. The initiative would effectively freeze all development in the city that does not conform to the current General Plan and community plans. The initiative includes several major provisions: 1) halt amendments to the City's General Plan in small bits and pieces for individual real estate developer projects; 2) require the City Planning Commission to systematically review and update the City's community plans and make all zoning code provisions and projects consistent with the City's General Plan; 3) place city employees directly in charge of preparation of environmental review of major development projects; and 4) impose a construction moratorium for projects approved by the City that increased some types of density until officials can complete review and update of community plans or 24 months, whichever occurs first.

The initiative’s main backers, several of whom have actively protested major developments in Hollywood, say the initiative will help preserve the character of Los Angeles neighborhoods. The measure would apply citywide. “This ballot measure is bad for L.A., and bad for the economy,” City Council Member Mitch O'Farrell told the Los Angeles Times. “It's bad for transit-oriented neighborhoods. It will also cost thousands of good-paying jobs.” The measure requires 61,486 signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.