Headline Story

Rent Control Gains Traction Amid Housing Crisis in Bay Area

Like a monster that’s been hiding in the basement for decades, rent control is rearing its head in the Bay Area. Whether it is an ugly countenance or a smiling face is a matter of perspective.
 
While the Bay Area has struggled with housing shortages and rising rents for the past decade or so, it has become evident that no amount of development will, in the near term, bring rents back down to manageable levels for residents earning median incomes and below. As tech jobs have made Bay Area residents more wealthy, and attracted newcomers flush with cash, landlords in unregulated cities have tried to cash in by raising rents and even evicting incumbent tenants. 

Therefore, over the past year, cities have again turned to what is, in many ways, the tool of last resort to preserve affordable housing.
 
“A year ago we had the wild west,” said Eric Strimling, spokesperson for the Alameda Renters Coalition, of Alameda’s rental market. “There were pretty much no regulation at all. Evict at will, raise rents at will.”
 

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Separation of Property by Condemnation Does Not Equal Subdivision, Court Says

The division of one parcel into four noncontiguous pieces via eminent domain does not automatically create four legal parcels and permit the landowner to avoid the Subdivision Map Act, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled. 

“We hold that a ‘division’ of property within the meaning of the [Subdivision Map] Act does not occur simply because an eminent domain proceeding results in a physical separation of a property’s non-condemned portions,” wrote Presiding Justice Jim Humes, a former top aide to Jerry Brown for a three-judge panel of the First District. “The owner of such a property is therefore not entitled to a certificate of compliance for each of the resulting separate parts.”

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First District Reverses Earlier Decision in Berkeley Hillside Case

Reversing itself on remand, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled in the Berkeley Hillside case that the proposed home of computer pioneer Mitch Kapor and his wife does not, in and of itself, represent an “unusual circumstances” under the CEQA Guidelines and therefore the  City of Berkeley acted properly in applying a CEQA exemption to the project. 

In so doing, the court did not need to move on to the second half of the analysis laid out earlier this year by the California Supreme Court in the appeal of the Berkeley Hillside case, Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley (2015) 60 Cal.4th 1086, which was decided in May. 

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CP&DR News Briefs, November 2, 2015: HSR Costs May Soar; L.A. City, County Propose Housing Plans; S.D. Stadium EIR Gets Gov’s Support; and More

California's High Speed Rail project is finding more hurdles in the way of the intended 2022 finish  of its first phase from Burbank to Merced. A Los Angeles Times analysis finds that the project's first phase from Burbank to Merced will likely overshoot the $68 million budget and will almost certainly not meet the 2022 deadline because of the difficulty of punching 36 miles of tunnels through mountains north of Los Angeles.

CP&DR News Briefs, October 26, 2015: S.F. Bay Wetland Restoration; VA Campus Master Plan; L.A. Subway EIR, and More

Report: Wetland Restoration Crucial for Health of S.F. Bay

A Plan with 'Zero' Chance of Success

In 2013, 34 pedestrians died on the streets of Denmark. The city of Copenhagen, roundly hailed as the world's pleasantest city for walking and biking, has about 10 percent of Denmark's population of 5.6 million. We can extrapolate that exactly three pedestrians died in Copenhagen in 2013, for a rate of about 0.5 per 100,000.

To be sure, those three deaths deserve due lamentation, scrutiny, and sympathy. On the other hand, they deserve celebration. Copenhagen's pedestrian fatality rate is about as low as it gets. The lowest pedestrian fatality rate of any major American city is 0.76. Copenhagen's rate is a full five times lower than that of the City of Los Angeles, which, at 2.57 (pdf) is towards the high end.

If you divide Copenhagen's fatality rate by Los Angeles', you get 19 percent. The question that some in Los Angeles are now asking is, what happens when you divide by zero?

In Roundup of Local Land Use Measures, San Francisco Wins for Most Contentious City

A typically diverse array of land use measures appears on the November ballot in a handful of localities around the state. Most questions ask voters to endorse or oppose specific developments, from a golf course redevelopment in El Dorado County to a park in San Carlos. Only the City of Modesto has a sweeping, citywide question, billed as a referendum on urban sprawl. 

Then there is the City and County of San Francisco, arguably the most unique and hotly contested 49 square miles in the country. This November, it has a whole state’s worth of propositions. They range from a proposed local moratorium on development to restrictions on Airbnb and the like to a major $310 million housing bond that Mayor Ed Lee has been promoting. 

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CEQA Analysis Can Put Traffic From Vacant Store In Baseline

The City of Carlsbad acted correctly in including traffic from a vacant store in its environmental baseline for a shopping center renovation, the Fourth District Court of Appeals has ruled in an unpublished case.

Westfield, the shopping center operator, proposed demolishing and reconstructing the vacant Robinson-May store in Plaza Camino Real, a shopping center originally built in 1969. Westfield’s changes actually resulted in a reduction in the overall square footage of the shopping center. 

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Mobility Plan Nudges Los Angeles Towards New Transportation Modes

There’s a scene in "X Men Origins: Wolverine" in which a government scientist infuses every bone in the title mutant’s body with an inviolable metal called adamantium. The process is excruciating, but it leaves Wolverine with the distinct benefit of near-indestructibility. And claws.  

That’s kind of like what the city of Los Angeles is doing to its transportation network. With the adoption of Mobility Plan 2035 , the world’s first great automobile-oriented city could become the first city to de-orient itself from the automobile. The city will not merely cease adding lane-miles; it will, in fact, take space away from personal automobiles.  

“In built-out cities, we’re not in the business of widening streets anymore, particularly in downtowns,” said Seleta Reynolds, director of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. 

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CP&DR News Briefs, October 19, 2015: SGC General Plan Guidelines Draft; Treasure Island Housing Plan; S.D. Sup. Faces Conflict of Interest; and More

The state Office of Planning and Research has released a public draft of the update to its General Plan Guidelines for the state, beginning the public review period of the draft. The "general plan guidelines package," when it is completed, will include new guidelines for general plans, along with a GIS data mapping tool that will allow communities to access large amounts of free data in crafting their general plans, and an easily navigable website.

American Planning Association California Chapter Presents 2015 Awards

OAKLAND, Oct. 4 -- The California Chapter of the American Planning association announced its awards at the 2015 installment of its annual conference. 

Opportunity and Empowerment

Award of Excellence
Courtyard at La Brea, West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation

Q&A: Cole Returns to Small City Roots in Santa Monica

A veteran of planning and public administration in California, Rick Cole has built a career on the premise of bringing innovation and common-sense planning to the jurisdictions in which he has worked. The former mayor of Pasadena and city manager of both Ventura and Azusa, Cole entered big-city administration in 2013 as Deputy Mayor for Budget and Innovation in the City of Los Angeles. This May, Cole elected to return to his small-city roots with his appointment as city manager of the City of Santa Monica. Cole takes office amid a tumultuous time in Santa Monica, when pressures to grow are running headlong against concerns over traffic, loss of civic character, and housing costs. CP&DR’s Josh Stephens spoke with Cole about his plans for a city that captures the best – and worst – of California planning in microcosm.
 
What inspired you to leave the City of Los Angeles for its neighbor?
 
Clearly Santa Monica has the opportunity to be a model as it has been a pioneer in so many areas. The biggest challenge facing the city is maintaining its diversity in the face of market forces that are driving housing prices to stratospheric levels.

Beyond that, Santa Monica is Ground Zero with the opening of the Expo Line for creating a new model of mobility in Southern California. Given the increasing polarization over development issues, we have the challenge of forging a healthier and constructive model for civic engagement. One that promotes dialog and genuine search for common ground.

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Supreme Court Denies, Depublishes Riverside Habitat-CEQA Case

The California Supreme Court has denied review of a case from Riverside County involving the interplay of habitat conservation planning and the California Environmental Quality Act -- and also depublished the case so it cannot be used as precedent.

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CP&DR News Briefs, October 12, 2015: SANDAG Transportation Plan; Coastal Commission Seeks Revision to O.C. Project; Transit Station Scorecard; and More

The SANDAG Board of Directors voted unanimously last week to adopt the final version of its Regional Transportation Plan, called San Diego Forward: The Regional Plan. The plan will invest $204 billion into transportation infrastructure projects over the next 35 years, including provisions for 1 million more county residents and 300,000 more jobs. The RTP calls for investment in in transit projects, bikeways, pedestrian improvements, and a Managed Lanes network between now and 2050.

SGC Proposes $30 Million to Backfill Last Year's Projects, Plus Ideas to Work With MPOs

The Strategic Growth Council staff has proposed using $30 million in new money to provide additional funding for projects that didn’t make the cut or weren’t fully funded by the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program last year. 

In its staff report for next Thursday’s meeting, the SGC staff has also thrown out several additional ideas for working with the metropolitan planning organizations, including a geographical allocation of funds and MPO review and recommendation of projects. However, SGC staff isn’t recommending any particular ideas.

The SGC staff also laid out the process by which it will provide $500,000 in technical assistance to grant applicants from disadvantaged communities and align the AHSC program and the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation (SALC) program and indicated that SGC and the Department of Housing & Community Development will work to incorporate issues of farmworker housing into the AHSC program.

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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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