The San Diego City Council unanimously adopted a revised Downtown Mobility Plan (pdf). The $63 million plan seeks to further the transportation goals laid out in the city’s recent Climate Action Plan. The plan includes the addition of nine miles of bike lanes and more than five miles of widened sidewalks. It will add multiple protected bike lanes, many of which will be converted traffic and parking lanes, and other “road diets” to increase the number of people who walk and bike downtown. It also increases curbside parking by converting many parallel spaces into angled spaces. The plan addresses complete streets, pedestrian movement, bicycling, transit, vehicular traffic, transportation demand management, parking, intelligent transportation systems, airports, stormwater, and implementation. One of the most notable goals is that of increasing bicycle commuting from 2 percent of downtown workers to 6 percent by 2020.
Los Angeles Ethics Commission Tallies Developer Lobbyist Expenditures
According to the city’s Ethics Commission, developers spent a record amount on lobbying in the first quarter of 2015: $13.5 million. Nearly half of the money was spent on ten lobbying firms, most of which are involved with securing entitlements and general plan amendments for proposed developments. Nine of the top ten spent combined $1.4 million for various building projects and the tenth, Clear Channel (a billboard company) was fifth and spent $155,000 in the first few months of the year. This money goes to council members, commissioners or city staff. Some projects include the Palladium Residence in Hollywood or the new stadium for Major League Soccer stadium in Exposition Park. The biggest spender was CRE-HAR Crossroads SPV LLC with $220,660 in pursuit of approvals for hotels, shops, homes and offices surrounding the Crossroads of the World shops in Hollywood. Spending on billboard-related lobbying was around $545,000 because of a recent ordinance about digital billboards. The flurry of lobbying comes in advance of the March 2017 vote on the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which could freeze all development that does not conform with existing zoning. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
Southern California Ill-Prepared for Earthquake Risk
According to a report published by the Southern California Disaster Risk Initiative Committee, the region is not prepared for the inevitable disaster of the next large earthquake. The committee is comprised of business, public policy and utility leaders in Southern California. One of the areas that needs immediate attention is Cajon Pass, located on the San Andreas fault, with multiple combustible natural gas and petroleum pipelines electrical transmission lines, train tracks and Interstate 15. Fixing this is a daunting task, pushing for change is Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas Co., Walt Disney Company and Wells Fargo. The report contends that having the entire region prepared for an earthquake is impossible, however small but meaningful steps can be taken. For instance for Cajon Pass, creating shutoff valves on both sides of the fault to automatically turn off during an earthquake. Other areas that must be fixed are water pipes and natural gas lines throughout Southern California and retrofitting collapse-prone buildings. The report contends that many large businesses and local politicians are unaware of the worst-case scenario for the next earthquake, in which water and power could be off for weeks and tens of thousands could be out of housing. Additionally many Californians don’t know their neighbors, which will hurt neighborhoods’ ability to recover.
Multiple Homelessness Plans Considered in Los Angeles
Los Angeles voters will consider one of two measures designed to address homelessness on the November citywide ballot: a new parcel tax or a $1.1-billion housing bond. Public polls show the bond having a better chance of passing in November, and it has support from many City Council member. But analysts feel the parcel tax would offer more flexibility and financial freedom. The city will decide by mid-August which measure will proceed. Mayor Eric Garcetti has pushed for increased budget for homelessness initiatives, and the city adopted a plan that would require at least $1.85 billion over the next ten years. The parcel tax would generate $102 per parcel, with nearly $80 million a year. Separately, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is lobbying for the county to impose a “millionaires’ tax” that would help fund homelessness programs.
Tax-Free Stadium Plan Proposed in San Diego
San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio is advancing a new plan to privately fund a sought-after $1.5 billion Chargers stadium. The plan eliminates a convention center annex and obviates the need for a proposed tax increase that would pay for it. His plan relies on investments by fans and investors, spending between $5,000 and $700,000 each. Instead of the “convadium” ballot initiative that would include a convention center, DeMaio’s plan would substitute a 250-room hotel whose rooms would overlook the stadium field as well as retail center, fitness club, restaurants and other attractions. DeMaio criticizes San Diego hoteliers for not making their own plans while being worried about the convadium losing business but still allowing the Chargers to be the only leadership on the subject. DeMaio says his plan is the only one with the San Diego taxpayers in mind. His 41-page report outlines ten different financing solutions to privately fund the stadium. For instance, if the stadium is built near UC San Diego and San Diego State, the schools will contribute $125 million to the project. DeMaio proposes a mail ballot election in November that would counteract the Chargers’ proposal but keep the general concept of a sports and entertainment center so that it would not be subject to new environmental legal challenges. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
Report: Traffic Tops List of Californians’ Concerns
The Public Policy Institute of California released a report about traffic congestion in the state. The report shows 58 percent of Californians say traffic congestion on freeways and major roads is the biggest problem in the region. These numbers are consistent with findings found ten years ago, when 64 percent said it was the biggest problem. The areas with the biggest concerns over congestion are LA County, Bay Area, Inland Empire and Orange County/ San Diego Counties. The report also found that 68 percent of Californians say they usually commute alone, which is a decrease of two percent from 2006. In the Bay Area, 24 percent commute by public transportation, and in LA County 11 percent. The majority of stateside respondents said more money should be spent on roads, highway and bridge maintenance, with public transit and freeways as the top priorities. While there are multiple ways to fund the gap in infrastructure, 61 percent of adults say they support the issuance of state bonds as opposed to increases in local sales tax to fund transportation projects.
L.A. City Attorney Files Criminal Charges over Airbnb-Related Evictions
For what may the first time in the country, criminal charges have been filed against a building owner that evicted tenants to offer the site for rent on Airbnb. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has changed an owner with six misdemeanor charges for violating city zoning, building code, rent- control laws and a civil suit, which should send signals to other landlords about breaking the city’s rent control laws. As Feuer said at a news conference, “given that shortage of affordable housing, illegally converting rental units to hotels or short-rentals has got to stop.” The complaint says the tenants were evicted under the Ellis Act, which requires landlords to pay relocation fees and notify tenants within five years. This is one example of the housing market in L.A. more than 1,000 rent-controlled apartments were taken off the market. Many of the attorneys and tenants blame Airbnb for the illegal converting of apartments.
Updates & Quick Hits
A Costa Mesa association of business owners is filing a lawsuit against the city for allowing an Islamic cneter to open a 6,000 square-foot center near John Wayne Airport. In February, the planning commission denied the proposed center but in March the City Council approved it on a 3-2 vote. The business group says it is worried about property rights and parking issues.
California lawmakers approved a streamlined permitting process that would allow marijuana growers to divert water from streams. This new process will make it simpler for regulators to protect streams and fisheries from the effects of marijuana growing operations. However, it allows growers to bypass the CEQA permitting process and instead pay $5,000 to divert.
Rancho Mirage is annexing 320 acres of tribal land for a 1,200 unit 55-and-older community. The City Council approved a tentative tract map and will submit application for annexation with the Riverside County LAFCO. The land is owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the discussion now is whether a federal environmental impact statement prepared by the tribe met CEQA standards.
UC Merced announced that it will expand classrooms, dorms and labs for an additional 4,000 students over the next half-decade. The $1.14 billion project, overseen by Plenary Properties Merced, will dramatically increase the footprint of the university, which opened in 2005 and currently enrolls 6,600 students. Construction should be completed by 2020.
The City of Alameda rejected a rent stabilization ordinance’s funding plan. The ordinance came into effect in March and will cost $1.95 million administratively annually. The city proposed offsetting the cost by having landlords pay $31 per unit, of which fifty percent could be passed on to tenants. This was rejected and Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese wanted more information on how other cities pay for these ordinances, without creating more bureaucratic work. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
The board of the LA. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved, 11-2, an expenditure plan that will likely lead to a sales tax measure for the November ballot. Included in the project are new subway line from San Fernando Valley to LAX, extensions to connecting communities and would have a “no sunset” provision which would provide ongoing financing to dozens of major transportation projects. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors will vote in August to officially place the measure on the November ballot.