Economic analysis firm BAE Urban Economics has released a report “CEQA in the 21st Century Environmental Quality, Economic Prosperity, and Sustainable Development in California” contending that, contrary to claims by many developers and planners, the California Environmental Quality Act supports economically and environmental sustainable development. The report, sponsored by the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, claims that CEQA does not have a dampening effect on California’s economy or on infill development and that concerns about frivolous CEQA lawsuits are overblown. Pointing to progressive developments in the state under CEQA, the report includes a number of significant findings, including: Legislative changes to CEQA aimed at streamlining the CEQA process to encourage infill development are working; between 2013 and 2015, legal challenges were filed in 0.7 percent of projects subject to CEQA review; California’s urban areas compare favorably to cities around the country with regard to the rate of infill vs. greenfield development; the state’s largest cities show ongoing improvement in walkability; and, when compared to other states, California produces the second highest number of affordable housing units per 100,000 residents in the nation.The report included a literature review of recent studies on CEQA’s impacts, legislation, legal findings, regulatory changes and their successes.

San Francisco Seeks to Engage Community to Improve Public Spaces
The San Francisco Planning Department released the Public Space Stewardship Guide, which provides community groups, civic leaders, and private sector entities with models, case studies and ready-to-use tools for funding, programming and maintaining successful public spaces. “Parklets, plazas, Living Innovation Zones, and urban prototyping are transforming public spaces like never before,” said San Francisco Planning Director John Rahaim in a statement. “The Public Space Stewardship Guide is an invaluable resource for cities, neighborhood organizations, business owners, neighbors, and artists nationwide who want to activate and sustain successful public spaces.” The guide asserts that successful public spaces require cooperation between city leaders and communities. Additionally a successful public space requires funding, programming and maintenance. The guide includes 17 case studies in one of these five models: Event-Based Models, Grassroots Partnerships, Public/Private Partnerships, Self-Governing Special Assessment Districts, and Maintenance/Technical Assistance Partnerships. Each case study has strengths and weaknesses, and the collection represents the range of organizations, space types, “use levels” and budgets.

Sacramento Seeks to Expand Urban Forest
The Sacramento City Council approved an ordinance to protect existing street trees and expand the city’s urban forest, which has historically been considered a nationwide exemplar. The ordinance will provide more clarity and accountability of how the city manages trees on public and private property. Additionally there will be a 15-day posting of a notice for city tree removals online along with a photo of the tree. The plan creates a funding source and regulations for planting new trees when older ones are removed. Fines can range from $250 to $25,000 a day for violations such as removing a tree without a permit or topping protected trees. Council members clarified a requirement that the tree removal permits are not issues before building permits, to ensure trees are not removed before a development is delayed or failed.

State Awards $37.4 Million for Agricultural Preservation
The Strategic Growth Council announced the awarding of $37.4 million in grants under the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALC) this year to permanently protect 18,988 acres in 14 California counties. This $37.4 million in awards (pdf) will protect 18,988 acres of irreplaceable agricultural land and, by limiting development, will reduce emissions by eliminating an estimated 47 billion vehicle miles. The Department of Conservation’s Division of Land Resource Protection developed guidelines for the program, conducted public workshops, and reviewed 26 agricultural conservation easements, and funding 20 of them. By preventing agricultural lands from being developed SALC helps avoid increases in GHG emissions. Monterey County had five easement projects and a planning grant approved, the most awards of any county. 

Developers in Limbo as S.F. Awaits Rules on Inclusionary Housing
In June, San Francisco voters passed Proposition C to increase the affordable housing requirement to 25 percent of units for new market-rate projects. The Board of Supervisors passed subsequent legislation ordering a feasibility that could change the requirement based on economic analysis. With the study still pending, a recent report by the San Francisco Business Journal finds that the delay has caused developers in the city to put projects on hold. The eight-member technical advisory committee that oversees the study was half appointed by the mayor and half by the Board of Supervisors. One major project in limbo is the 560-unit redevelopment of the former UCSF campus in Laurel Heights. The CEO of Prado Group, Dan Safier, told the Business Journal, “We will be considering the implications once the study has been completed and the Board has made its policy decision with respect to the study's findings." 

Updates & Quick Hits

A citizens group is challenging Menlo Park’s General Plan, claiming that a recent update was inadequate. Voters for Equitable and Responsible Growth allege that the city’s CEQA analysis violates the minimum standards for traffic, housing, climate change and quality of life for Menlo Park and the surrounding communities. 

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a 25-year gaming compact between the state and Jamul Indian Village setting the terms under which the tribe will operate its casino. The Hollywood Casino Jamul in eastern San Diego County should open by the end of the summer and should employ more than 1,000 people.

According to Zumper, rents dropped in San Francisco (1.4 percent), Oakland (2.6 percent) and San Jose (2.6 percent) since July. The drops continue a recent trend of flattening or falling rents.

The Sierra Club is threatening litigation against San Diego County if sevearl development projects in rural San Diego County go forward. The club says the thousand of acres of development would undermine region and state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change.

City of Sacramento is proposing a series of event-parking zones around the Kings’ new downtown Golden 1 Center area. The parking rates will be higher in a three-block radius around the arena.

While Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program, a bipartisan group of Assembly-members is renewing a request to audit the program. The goal is to provide more information to evaluate the success of the program before renewing for another decade.

The state released results of an audit of the City of Irvine for the performance review of the Orange County Great Park contract. The audit showed the consultants chosen did not apply rigorous standards, had poor transparancy, and the selection of the consultant was unfair. While Irvine disagreed with various conclusions, the city indicated it would implement asome recommendations.

Four law firms have teamed up with resident John Eng to sue Millennium Partners and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority in San Francisco for improper construction on the 58-floor condominium tower, which is now sinking into the landfill beneath it. The class-action lawsuit is seeking $500 million for the buildings 400 plus residents for diminution in value.

Contra Costa County supervisors approved, 4-0, a proposed half-cent transportation tax that would generate $2.9 billion over 30 years for the November ballot. The potential projects would include connecting East County with the Tracy area, Vasco road safety improvements, widening Highway 4 in Brentwood-Oakley area, bicycle and pedestrian-oriented projects, and helping bring BART east from Antioch to Brentwood.

The proposed Bay-Delta water tunnel project will now be directed to State Auditor Elaine Howle to figure out how the project has spent an estimated quarter-billion dollars on planning and how the state plans to finance the multi-billion-dollar program. The audit request came from two legislators who represent parts of the Delta, where opposition to the project is very strong.

The California Coastal Commission officials say the agency is resolving temporary cash flow problems triggered by timing of grant payments and reimbursements. The agency has a bridge loan that will help pay back a $1.45 million loan from the state Department of Finance.

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