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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Q&A: Manuel Pastor, Champion of Environmental Justice and SGC Public Member

Formed with the passage of SB 732 in 2007, the Strategic Growth Council, a cross-sector body consisting of department heads and secretaries across state government (plus full-time staff), acts as a coordinating organization to consider the development of California’s built environment and protection of the state’s environment. Most recently, the SGC has focused on awarding roughly $200 million in planning grants through the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program.

CP&DR News Briefs, July 13, 18, 2015: Bill Would Halt High Speed Rail; Kern Co. Releases EIR on 2.8M Acres; S.F. Housing Treads Water

In response to escalating cost estimates for construction of California's high speed rail, two state senators have drafted a bipartisan bill to stop construction of the rail until a public revote can be taken on June 6, 2016.

CP&DR News Briefs, July 6, 18, 2015: $224 Million in Transit Grants; State Carbon Emissions Drop; Alameda Base Redevelopment

The California State Transportation Agency announced (pdf) recipients of $224 million in grant money to support public transportation projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

SGC Confirms Recipients of $122 Million in Grants

Following the recommendations of its staff, the Strategic Growth Council formally approved $122 million in grants for 28 projects designed to provide affordable housing and reduce carbon emissions throughout the state.

Santa Monica Backs Off Density, Centers in LUCE

In 2010, the City of Santa Monica adopted a Land Use and Circulation Element to its General Plan that was hailed as a model of progressive planning. The LUCE foretold a denser but, possibly, less trafficked and more pleasant city and was one of the first such elements to achieve the goals of SB 375. Cities across the state looked to the LUCE as a model. It won "Outstanding Comprehensive Planning Award, Small Jurisdiction" from the California Chapter of the American Planning Association http://www.cp-dr.com/node/2773.

The LUCE was designed to generate zero net new car trips in the city by 2025 and to reduce the city’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 200,000 metric tons compared to 2010 levels. It also provided a bookend to the 1984 General Plan update. Back then, the city sought to increase its employment base but did not promote housing accordingly. 

Five years later, Santa Monica has plenty of jobs – 74,000 in a city of 92,000, with pressures increased with the recent rise of “Silicon Beach tech firms – but has taken a step back from the LUCE, eliminating a density bonus “tier” and four of five “activity centers” identified in the LUCE. And if a slow-growth group gets its way, a full repudiation of the goals of 2010 may be in the offing. The situation sets a politically sensitive table for the new city manager, urban planning legend Rick Cole, who started work on June 29. 

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Ninth Circuit Blows Hole in Habitat Conservation Plans

Punching a hole in the faith local governments and developers in California have placed in habitat conservation plans, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that federal wildlife agencies retain the discretion to designate additional land as critical habitat even after an HCP has been approved.

The case is important because local governments and developers in California have relied heavily on the HCPs adopted in the 1990s for certainly in planning future development. The Ninth Circuit ruling reinforces the idea that the HCPs are not iron-clad and wildlife agencies can put protect additional land at their discretion, thus diminishing the certainty HCPs are designed to create. Adopted in 1999, the Western Riverside plan was one of the largest and most comprehensive HCPs.

Ruling in a case involving the Santa Ana sucker, a small fish that lives in the Santa Ana River, the Ninth Circuit upheld the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s 2010 decision to add some 1,400 acres (and possibly another 5,000 acres) to the fish’s critical habitat pursuant to the federal Endangered Species Act. The court rejected the claim from a variety of local government agencies that the habitat designation was “arbitrary” because the wildlife agency should have waited for implementation of the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan before designating additional habitat.

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CP&DR News Briefs June 29, 2015: 710 Tunnel Gains Support; Tribes Sue over Solar; L.A. Pursues Manufacturers; and More

Plans to build a $5 billion, 6.3-mile tunnel to close the "gap" of the 710 freeway are gaining headway as both the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments recommended that project as the best option. The tunnel, which would have two lanes in either direction and would be completely underground for 4.2 miles.

CP&DR News Briefs, June 22, 2015: NEPA Suit Filed over Fracking; Chargers Slipping Away from S.D.; Santa Ana ‘Welness District,’ and More

Two environmental groups have sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Secretary of the Interior for opening up 400,000 acres of public land in Southern California for fracking, which they claim violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

Was Supreme Court's Ruling on Sign Ordinance Over-Broad?

Cities' ability to control their streets' aesthetics may be affected by a June 18 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on content-based regulation of signage, but perhaps not as drastically as they had feared. 

In Reed v. Town of Gilbert, a six-justice majority of the high court applied strict scrutiny to a local "sign code" that restricted "temporary directional signs" based on their content. However, as the American Planning Association noted, a partly overlapping group of six justices joined in more cautious concurrences that sought to moderate the effects of the main ruling. And even the majority opinion offered reassurance that "Our decision today will not prevent governments from enacting effective sign laws." 

The case concerned a church that held services at varying borrowed locations in the town of Gilbert, Arizona. The church would post signs early each Saturday pointing out the site of the next Sunday service. Town officials regulated these signs under a special legal category for "temporary directional signs" specific to events of religious or nonprofit groups. The category limited the size and frequency of such signs and allowed them to be posted for only 12 hours before each event and one hour after it. 

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SCAG Wins In AHSC Grant Funding Recommendations

For the moment, equilibrium has been more or less restored in rivalry between Northern California and Southern California — at least as far as urban planning goes. 

Recommended awards have been announced in the competition for $120 million in planning assistance monies from the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities grant program, the state’s largest funding program for planning. Of the 28 projects selected, 11 are from the Bay Area and 10 are from Southern California. That's a big shift from the semifinal count, when the 54 finalists included twice as many from the Bay Area as from Southern California.

Put simply, 10 of the 12 semifinalists from the Southern California Association of Governments region were selected, compared to only 11 of 21 from the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission. SCAG officials had complained mightily about the semifinal counts.

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Papacy Comes Down to Earth on Climate Change

It turns out that two of the world's biggest proponents of smart growth are Catholic. One of them is California Governor Jerry Brown, who once studied to be a Jesuit priest and, more recently, has promoted earthly initiatives like high-speed rail, the adoption of vehicle miles traveled metrics, and the most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals in the western hemisphere. 

The other is the Pope. 

There Was No Way the Builders Were Going to Win the San Jose Case

Yesterday’s landmark ruling by the California Supreme Court upholding San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance was rightly hailed as a huge victory for affordable housing advocates. But the truth is that the ruling shouldn’t be viewed as a surprise. It was a very difficult case for the building industry to win – at least the way the industry’s lawyers has set the case up. 

And along the way, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye plowed some very powerful ground. She hoisted Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on his own petard by quoting his opinion in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, 483 U.S. 825 (1987), to support her conclusion. And she basically invalidated a key portion of Building Industry Assn. of Central California v. City of Patterson (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 886, which struck down Patterson’s inclusionary ordinance

Ruling for a unanimous court, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye concluded that the San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance is not an exaction imposed on housing developers but rather a land-use restriction no different than a zoning ordinance – or, for that matter, rent control. “This condition does not require the developer to dedicate any portion of its property to the public or to pay any money to the public.  Instead, like many other land use regulations, this condition simply places a restriction on the way the developer may use its property by limiting the price for which the developer may offer some of its units for sale,” she wrote. 

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CEQA Bills Stall, GHG Bill Moves Forward

With the year’s legislative session in full gear, attempts to reform – or end-run – the California Environmental Quality Act don’t seem to be doing so well. But Sen. Fran Pavley’s effort to codify an 80% greenhouse gas reduction target by 2050 – which would moot some major legal challenges – appears to be sailing through.

Legislation items are listed, by category and in numerical order, according to bill number, bill name, sponsor, description, and status as of press time. This list will be updated periodically to reflect new developments.


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CP&DR News Briefs, June 15, 2015: High Speed Rail Faces Opposition in L.A.; EPA Environmental Risk Database; Sacramento's Push for Housing; and More

California's $68-billion high speed rail is facing setbacks in its construction throughout the proposed route from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Local elected officials and homeowners groups in suburban Santa Clarita as well as blue-collar San Fernando, Pacoima, and other communities are demanding the state abandon a proposed route that woul

Los Angeles Metro Tackles First Mile, Last Mile Problem

As almost any transportation planner in Los Angeles County will attest, the car capital of the world is well on its way to becoming a transit capital as well. With tens of billions of dollars invested in recently opened and anticipated mass transit lines, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has transformed the county. Even so, Metro can’t be everywhere. 

Let the Sun Set on Ballot Measures

Allow me to laud something about California’s state and local ballot initiative system. No, really. 

Voting schemes for electing human beings to office are inevitably flawed. Whether a jurisdiction uses party primaries, open primaries, ranked choices, multiple votes, pluralities, majorities, voice votes, or anything else, no system can capture the true passions and preferences of all voters as they relate to all candidates.