Headline Story

Court Upholds CEQA Exemption For Rodeo In Light Of Berkeley Hillside Case

Reconsidering the case in light of the California Supreme Court’s recent Berkeley Hillside ruling, the Third District Court of Appeal has reaffirmed last year’s ruling concluding that a rodeo at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds does not qualify as an “unusual circumstance” that can override an exemption under the California Environmental Quality Act.

In April 2014, the Third District ruled that the rodeo – the first held at the Watsonville facility in many years – did not constitute an “unusual circumstance”.The plaintiffs, Citizens for Environmental Responsibility, appealed the ruling to the California Supreme Court, which stayed briefings pending the Supreme Court’s ruling in Berkeley Hillside, which also dealt with the unusual circumstances override of CEQA exemptions. After the Supreme Court ruling in Berkeley Hillside, the case was remanded to the Third District to revise the 2014 ruling in consideration of the Supreme Court’s decision.

In Berkeley Hillside, the Supreme Court laid out a two-step approach to the “unusual circumstances” question when a lead agency is considering an exemption. 

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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.

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CP&DR News Briefs, November 23, 2015: L.A. Development Moratorium; Shifting Funds from High Speed Rail to Water Storage; S.F. Tries to Curb Displacement, and More

A group calling itself the Coalition to Preserve L.A. announced that it is going to shoot for a ballot measure to block “mega-projects" in Los Angeles. The initiative would effectively freeze all development in the city that does not conform to the current General Plan and community plans. The initiative includes several major provisions: 1) halt amendments to the City's General Plan in small bits and pieces for individual real estate developer projects; 2) require the City Planning Commission to systematically review and update the City's community plans and make all zoning code provisions and projects consistent with the City's General Plan; 3) place city employees directly in charge of preparation of environmental review of major development projects; and 4) impose a construction moratorium for projects approved by the City that increased some types of density until officials can complete review and update of community plans or 24 months, whichever occurs first.

The initiative’s main backers, several of whom have actively protested major developments in Hollywood, say the initiative will help preserve the character of Los Angeles neighborhoods. The measure would apply citywide. “This ballot measure is bad for L.A., and bad for the economy,” City Council Member Mitch O'Farrell told the Los Angeles Times. “It's bad for transit-oriented neighborhoods. It will also cost thousands of good-paying jobs.” The measure requires 61,486 signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. 

What Will AB 744 Do To Parking?

The High Cost of Free Parking, by UCLA professor emeritus Don Shoup’s landmark call for parking reform, was published in 2005. On the occasion of its tenth anniversary, some of his strongest devotees can, at long last, celebrate a victory in the state where the “Shoupista” movement began. 

Assembly Bill 744 (Chau) – recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown -- ushers in a new era in parking regulations in California cities. Chipping away at rules that many consider arbitrary and anti-urban, it dictates that a city may not impose parking minimums greater than 0.5 spaces for housing developments comprising 100 percent affordable units within a half-mile radius of a major transit stop.

It extends similar benefits to developments of senior citizen and special needs housing as well as to developments with a combination of market-rate and affordable units.

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CP&DR News Briefs, November 16, 2015: 9,100 Homes for Mountain View; L.A. Subway Cost Overruns; Housing Penalties in Bay Area?, and More

The Mountain View City Council specified the number of houses it is prepared to build in the city's North Bayshore business district, choosing the densest option of building 9,100 units in the area that's home to Google, LinkedIn, and Microsoft. “It gives us the most flexibility moving forward,” Vice Mayor Pat Showalter said at the meeting, according to the San Francisco Business Journal. “It’s not all going to be built. So having more areas where it’s allowed is better.” Getting to that number of units would require a revision of the final Environmental Impact Report, which the previous council had approved without any residential space. After that, voters put a pro-housing council majority into office last November as housing advocates said approving office space with no housing would aggravate traffic issues and promote suburban sprawl. Councilmembers supported a land-use plan that would allow residential uses for over 60 acres of land, most of which is owned by Google. Mountain View currently has 31,000 households. 

What Next For The Subway To The Sea?

The Second District Court of Appeal has upheld the environmental impact report for the extension of Los Angeles’s Purple Line, removing another hurdle for construction of the “Subway to the Sea” through Beverly Hills. Now we'll see whether the Beverly Hills city and school district will appeal to the California Supreme Court.

The subway extension has been consistently opposed by both the City of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District, primarily because it would require tunneling under Beverly Hills High School. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority is planning to locate a station at Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars, in the middle of the Century City business district, which is located immediately west of Beverly Hills High School, rather than further north along Santa Monica Boulevard.

In ruling against the city and the school district, the appellate court emphasized the need to give great deference to the lead agency in reviewing decisions about whether to recirculate an EIR.

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Q&A: Julia Lave Johnston

In a field that is often fragmented, Julia Lave Johnston has long acted as a unifying force for planners in California. Most recently, Johnston headed UC Davis Extension’s program in continuing education for planners. She recently left that post to join the Institute for Local Government, a nonprofit organization affiliated with th League of California Cities that seeks to help cities achieve their planning goals, especially in the area of sustainability. As both an educator and a cheerleader of planning, Johnston brings nearly three decades of experience in local and state government to this role. She spoke with CP&DR about her new position and the state of the planning profession in California. 

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CP&DR News Briefs, November 9, 2015: L.A. Overlooks Impact Fees; S.F. Arena EIR Advances; Federal Tiger Grants Announced, and More

An audit (pdf) by Los Angeles's controller finds that the city is failing to charge developers millions of dollars in development impact fees -- frequently used to increase police and fire protection, traffic mitigation, and improve public facilities -- and has left millions in collected fees unspent.

Election Results: Turning Point on San Francisco Density?

Was Tuesday's election the turning point in the San Francisco density battles? 

There's been a lot of talk lately about how the city's longtime policy of controlling new development may be outdated now that it's the most expensive city in the country. And in the election, affordable housing, urban density, and short-term housing rentals all prevailed . In fact, more people voted on land use measures yesterday in the City and County of San Francisco than in the rest of the state's jurisdictions combined -- four time as many, in fact. Roughly 130,000 San Francisco voters weighed in on a ballot packed with six land use measures. 

Elsewhere in the state, measures to curtail development and/or preserve open space prevailed in Malibu, El Dorado County, and San Anselmo, so some things never change.

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Community Development Director Wanted, City of Pismo Beach

Community Development Director
City of Pismo Beach

Encompassing seven miles of California’s premier Central Coast midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco in San Luis Obispo County, the City of Pismo Beach (pop. 7,860 perm./18,000-32,000 seasonal) offers an incomparable quality of life. This fiscally strong and stable city is seeking a Community Development Director to lead a staff of 10 during one of the most exciting times in the city’s history.

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 death rate of any major American city is 0.76. Copenhagen's pedestrian fatality rate is a full five times lower than that of the City of Los Angeles, which, at 2.57 (pdf) puts it 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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