Headline Story

Ballot Initiative Takes Aim at Planning in Los Angeles

On the morning of Wednesday, November 9, while the nation takes stock of its future, its second-largest city will be doing the same. By then, the proposed Hollywood Palladium Residences may be one of two things: a proud testament to a progressive city's embrace of smart growth, or a 28-story symbol of the hubris of Los Angeles’ planning and development community.  

Sixth Circuit Issues Nationwide Stay on EPA's WOTUS Rule

The federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday issued a nationwide stay blocking enforcement of the new federal rule defining "Waters of the United States". For now the stay applies in all states, including California. While it lasts, the "Waters Of..." definition returns to the jumbled but familiar state it was in before the new rule took effect on August 28. Although the stay is only a temporary measure, it strengthens legitimacy and buys time for opponents of the Obama Administration’s approach to clean water regulation. 

The rule by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers adds some small bodies and areas of water, including California's intermittent vernal ponds, to the realm of "waters" under federal oversight. It has been attacked as a symbol of regulatory overreach by agricultural and building lobbies and by conservative organizing groups. 

The rule, if allowed to take effect, would increase the number of waterways under EPA jurisdiction, meaning that projects with effects on those included waters would newly be required to obtain federal permits to proceed. Estimates of the extent of the increase vary widely. Last year the EPA said that the increase would be about 3% -- apparently taken from an EPA statement issued last year. However, an American Farm Bureau analysis claims the new rule "would expand EPA and Army Corps of Engineers authority over approximately 99.7% of Missouri."

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Brown Vetoes Civic San Diego Bill and Atkins Tax Credit; Signs Parking Bill

Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed two planning bills by significant San Diego legislators -- AB 504 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, which would have reined in the permitting power of Civic San Diego, the nonprofit redevelopment agency, and AB 35 by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, which would have increased the state's allocation of low-income housing tax credits by $300 million.

However, Brown signed several important bills, including SB 744, which requires lower parking ratios in infill situations; AB 323, which extends a CEQA exemption for city roadway improvements; AB 2, which brings back limited tax-increment financing; and SB 107, a redevelopment cleanup bill.

Brown vetoed the tax credit bill as part of a package of nine bills he vetoed in order to maintain the state's strong fiscal situation. He tipped his hand last week in a plenary at the Urban Land Institute in San Francisco when he said he generally opposed tax credits because it is not usually possible to remove them in hard fiscal times.

Gonzalez has promoted AB 504 as a way of restoring permitting power to San Diego City Hall, in part to give the City Council the ability to impose labor requirements on downtown projects including hotels. As the successor to the Centre City Development Commission, Civic San Diego does issue permits from some downtown buildings. In his veto message, Brown said the issue should be resolved locally, not at the state level.

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Cal Supremes Wrestle With "CEQA In Reverse" Case

California's Supreme Court justices were picking doubtfully Wednesday morning at the famous "CEQA in reverse" argument -- a claim that the California Environmental Quality Act can require an environmental impact report (EIR) not only when a project may threaten the environment, but also when a project would draw users to a place with hazardous environmental conditions. 

The question before the court in California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District is not so much whether projects should be built near hazards, but whether CEQA is the appropriate law to regulate such proposals. (Last year Bill Fulton suggested that if CEQA doesn't apply "in reverse", then maybe local officials will have to dust off other planning tools to protect the public more affirmatively.)

Justices Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, Goodwin Liu and Carol Corrigan led the questioning. They appeared to view full-on "reverse" CEQA as too radical, and instead were inviting rationales for compromise outcomes. 

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CP&DR News Briefs, October 5, 2015: SANDAG Transportation Plan; Sacramento Railyards; Joshua Trees in Danger; and More

The San Diego Association of Governments is expected to adopt a plan to guide the city's transportation infrastructure for the next 35 years, emphasizing densely populated neighborhoods and putting skyways and light-rail stations in the county's beach communities. Some transportation activist groups are saying that the plan doesn't adequately match up with the city's Climate Action Plan.

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, September 28, 2015: UC Davis Sacto Development; Tension Among Bay Area Planning Agencies; El Niño Erosion, and More

The University of California-Davis has laid out its "University of the 21st Century" plan to build $2 billion in graduate programs and a veterinary hospital in downtown Sacramento. The satellite campus would include two new schools, one focusing on population and global health and another a public policy institute, offering master's degree programs that could be expanded to undergraduate programs depending on demand, Chancellor Linda P.B.

San Clemente Must Return Unused Parking Impact Fees, Fourth District Rules

The City of San Clemente must refund $10 million in beach parking impact fees accumulated over a 20-year period because it did not build parking facilities with the money nor make the necessary findings under the Mitigation Fee Act to retain the money for more than five years, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.

San Clemente imposed the “Beach Parking Impact Fee” of $1,500 per unit in 1989 because it concluded that new residential development in inland area of the city would increase the demand for parking near the beach. The city collected $10 million in the next 20 years but expended only $350,000 to purchase one parcel of property. 

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SGC Proposes Higher Caps for Developers, Jurisdictions

In draft program guidelines issued last week, the Strategic Growth Council staff will recommend eliminating the jurisdictional cap on funding, increasing the cap for individual developers from $15 million to $40 million, and setting aside 10% of the funding for rural projects. However, the SGC staff recommendations stop short – so far – of a setaside for each region, as some metropolitan planning organizations requested. 

Instead, the SGC staff has recommended that MPO staff should review full AHSC applications based on consistency with each MPO’s sustainable communities strategy and provide formal recommendations to the SGC as to which applications should be funded. However, more options may be presented to the SGC at its October meeting. 

The staff recommendations include a wide variety of other changes, including increasing the points awarded for deep housing subsidies on affordable housing projects. Overall, the SGC staff is recommending a 50-50 split in the scoring criteria between GHG emissions reductions and other policy criteria, such as affordable housing and collaboration between transportation and housing projects. Last year, the GHG reduction accounted for 55% of possible points, while policy objectives accounted for 30% and 15% went to “project readiness and feasibility”. 

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.