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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.

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. 

Will Brown’s 40% Executive Order Squeeze Regions Via SB 375?

This week, Gov. Jerry Brown announced an executive order to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030. It’s being hailed as the most aggressive climate change policy pursued by any government in North America – but will it put the squeeze on California’s metropolitan planning organizations and their sustainable communities strategies?

Brown’s order has drawn attention for its combination of ambition and immediacy. But it does not come out of thin air. Brown’s 2030 targets fit, substantively and chronologically, between those of Fran Pavley’s 2006 law Assembly Bill 32, which mandates lowering GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s goals of 80 percent reduction by 2050, also established by executive order. Meeting them means that, in relatively short order, California will look, drive, and power itself far differently than it does today — especially as its population continues to rise. 

The order requires all state agencies with jurisdiction over sources of greenhouse gas emissions to participate. Agencies must prepare implementation plans by September 2015, with guidance from a technical advisory group that will be set up by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. 

World's Business Leaders Converge on L.A., Give a Few Nods to Cities

BEVERLY HILLS —This week's Milken Institute Global Conference brought together more CEO’s, heads of state, hedge fund managers, and industrialists than, I reckon, any other annual gathering in the United States. It’s a strange event at which to be an urbanist – and not just because it takes place in one of our most unusual cities, Beverly Hills. 

Planners, developers, and sundry folk love and believe in our cities. Many of us love our cities, and we are inspired daily by their dynamism and, in some case, their enormity. Los Angeles has 4 million people. And it functions (sort of). Amazing, right?! I think so.

But then you pass the Splenda to a CEO in the coffee line and realize that the annual revenue of his or her company might exceed that of a city’s budget, or even its gross metropolitan product. That’s humbling. It’s more humbling when you consider that some of these companies, from Twitter to Google to all the finance companies, hardly exist in physical space. They might employ a handful of people and deliver all of their products online. 

Cities Seize Chances to Avoid CEQA Review through Voter Initiatives

After 20 years, Los Angeles is on the verge of obtaining a new National Football League team. And as it turns out, the winning play for the NFL in Los Angeles may have been drawn up in a courtroom in Sacramento. In the cities of Carson and Inglewood, competing sponsors of stadium proposals are employing, simultaneously, a newly legitimized tactic to exempt their projects from review under the California Environmental Quality Act. Carson used the tactic to approve its stadium last week in record time. 

Last year, the California Supreme Court decided Tuolomne Jobs & Small Business Alliance v. Superior Court of Tuolomne County  in favor of Walmart, which had proposed a ballot initiative to approve a superstore in the City of Sonora. Before the initiative went to voters, the city council adopted the language of the initiative, effectively approving the project and claiming the CEQA exception that would have been granted had voters actually approved the project.

L.A. County General Plan: First Update in 35 Years

In the continuous scrum of Los Angeles County planning, some kind of milestone was reached this spring when the Board of Supervisors formally approved the county's 2035 General Plan update.

The new document is the first comprehensive rewrite of county planning rules since 1980.

Among other things, it represents a new focus on the county’s urbanized unincorporated areas, as well as more traditional undeveloped areas on the fringe. It is the first L.A. County general plan to take advantage of digital mapping approaches in promoting more consistent groupings of land use policies across multiple properties and types of ownership. It's an approach that meshes well with current state and federal planning processes for alternative energy -- which matters especially because of pressures for solar and wind energy development in the Antelope Valley.

CP&DR News Briefs, April 27, 2015: Ruling Disrupts Water-Saving Plans; Cappio Leaves HCD; and More

Water agencies cannot charge water users incrementally more per gallon of use following a ruling by the Fourth District Court of Appeals that cited a 1996 law prohibiting government agencies from overcharging for services. The suit came about after San Juan Capistrano charged nearly four times as much per unit of water for users in the highest tier to provide an incentive to conserve, but failed to show that the water was that expensive to deliver. Governor Jerry Brown wanted to use the rates to save water and create strong disincentives for wealthier residents. Other water districts must now review the ruling to make sure that their rates are in step with the court, while still encouraging conservation during the drought. Two-thirds of water districts use some form of tiered water pricing, but now agencies will have to show that hikes are directly tied to the cost of water, according to the court.