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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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.

Fair Housing: Talking Past Each Other About Cities and Segregation

About 80 years too late, the federal government has put real regulatory authority behind the duty of publicly funded agencies to “affirmatively further fair housing”. It’s being discussed as a genuine chance to desegregate the suburbs. 

On July 8 the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued its final rule on "Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing" (AFFH). Under the rule, state and local agencies receiving HUD funds must now do more than passively study barriers to fair housing: they must also make and follow genuine plans to reduce the barriers they describe.

The new HUD rule was backed -- arguably, was made possible -- by the U.S. Supreme Court's unexpectedly liberal ruling of June 25 in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. The high court upheld a claim of disparate-impact discrimination against the Texas agency that allocates low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC). In the court's words, the group bringing the claim "alleged the Department has caused continued segregated housing patterns by its disproportionate allocation of the tax credits, granting too many credits for housing in predominantly black inner-city areas and too few in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods." 

Redevelopment-Killing Law Not Subject to Proposition 1A, Appellate Court Rules

The Third District Court of Appeal has rejected several arguments that the laws eliminating redevelopment violate the California constitution.

In a followup to California Redevelopment Association v. Matosantos, 53 Cal. 4th 231 (2011), the California Supreme Court ruling that permitted the elimination of redevelopment agencies, the Third District has ruled that AB 1x 26 -- the law that killed redevelopment -- does not violate 2004’s Proposition 1A. The court also rejected a series of other arguments, including the idea that Gov. Jerry Brown’s declaration of a fiscal emergency did not warrant the elimination of redevelopment. 

The opinion was written by Justice Harry Hull, who was chairman of the board of McDonough Holland & Allen, a leading redevelopment law firm, before he was appointed to the bench. The language of the blunt-spoken opinion seems to suggest that the cities had a weak case all the way around.

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