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CP&DR News Briefs March 7, 2017: SANDAG Investigation; Statewide Environmental Regulations; Transportation Funding, and More

Josh Stephens on
Mar 6, 2017

Board members of the San Diego Association of Governments are calling for an independent investigation into the agency’s flawed forecasting of revenue projections from a tax increase that it sponsored on the November ballot to pay for transportation investments. The agency reportedly over-estimated revenues — by $4 billion out of an estimated total of $18 billion —possibly to make the tax more appealing to voters. When the over-estimation was discovered, it was reportedly withheld from board members. “None of us are suggesting the result of such an examination is a foregone conclusion — it may indeed exonerate SANDAG — but for the public to be well-served an impartial and thorough examination must be conducted,” wrote Poway Mayor Steve Vaus and six other board members, according to Voice of San Diego.

Legislators Seek to Shore Up Environmental Protections
Responding to expected weakening of federal environmental law under President Trump, members of the California legislature are moving to incorporate existing federal protections into state law. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon introduced legislation that would enshrine federal rules on air quality, water protection, endangered species into California law. He is promoting a related bill that would require the federal government to give the state first dibs on any federal lands that it wishes to sell to private developers. Roughly half of California’s land is owned by the federal government, including national parks and rural land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The bills’ other authors include Sens. Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park), Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). 

PPIC Survey Shows Mixed Support for Road Investments
In a recent statewide survey by the Public Policy Institue of California, 61 percent of Californians say that spending more money on the maintenance of roads, highways, and bridges is very important for California’s future quality of life and economic vitality. At the same time, a majority of Californians (54%) oppose the governor’s proposal to do so. His transportation funding plan would provide $43 billion of additional spending for state and local transportation projects, with money coming from a new $65 vehicle fee and an increase in gasoline and diesel taxes. Republicans are overwhelmingly opposed to the governor’s proposal and independents are divided. Among Democrats, a slight majority (53%) favor the plan while 42% oppose it. Among Californians who oppose the governor’s proposal, 64% say that the wiser use of existing funds is the best way to significantly improve the quality of the state’s roads. Only 30% say that both wiser use of existing funds and more state funding is needed.

North Coast Tribal Site to be Protected
An important Native American site on a remote stretch of the North Coast will be protected under a plan announced by the Save the Redwoods League. The plan pertains to 870 acres that includes what is considered the “creation site” of the Kashia people, a tribe that now numbers roughly 1,000, 100 miles north of San Francisco at Stewarts Point. The plan places a permanent conservation easement on the land, preventing development and ensuring that the Kashia have access to the site in perpetuity. The land is undeveloped but currently used for grazing. 

Parties Spar Over Accordable Housing Legislation in S.F.
A coalition of affordable housing and tenants organizations in San Francisco has voiced opposition to State Sen. Scott Weiner’s SB 35, a bill designed to require local jurisdictions to facilitate the development of more housing and encourage cities to meet the requirements of their respective Regional Housing Needs Assessments. The opponents claim that Weiner’s bill would give too much freedom to developers and would result in an excess of market-rate development at a time when affordable housing is needed. The coalition claims that streamlining “approvals equates to a monetary value conferred to developers, by cutting capital-risk and development timelines” but does not necessarily make housing more affordable. Meanwhile, Supervisors Ahsha Safai and London Breed have introduced an ordinance designed to make the city’s rent-controlled units more available to middle-income earners. It would allocate units according to income tiers to ensure that they do not go only to low-income earners.

Berkeley Promotes ‘Micro-Housing’ for Homeless
Berkeley City Council approved unanimously the “Step Up Housing” initiative co-sponsored by three council members to encourage “supportive housing” for homeless and very low-income people with city help. In December, the council endorsed a proposal from Mayor Jesse Arreguin and councilman Kriss Worthington to explore supportive housing for homeless, disabled, and veterans in the city and allowing tiny homes to be displayed for a week to a month. The report refers to 160-square-foot MicroPAD (Prefabricated Affordable Dwelling) produced by Panoramic Interests in San Francisco. The approved proposal identifies city-owned parcels for assisted-living modular micro-unit buildings, amends the permitting and approvals process to easy creation of below-market housing, starts a competitive bidding process for development of up to 100 units, arranges for management and operation of the buildings by a non-profit, and establishes need-based criteria for eligibility. While the legislation now is simply about “100 units of housing in an expedite manner” it is assumed to be aimed at microhomes. The two sites being bid on by developers are both parking lots.

Stockton Promotes Non-Residential Developments
The Stockton City Council adopted an incentive program for non-residential developments. The new program is part of an effort by local officials to generate additional revenue and more jobs. The new incentives will allow non-residential facilities to defer payment on public facilities fees that go towards city projects such as street improvements, fire and police stations, and water and wastewater connections. To qualify for the program, developers must be facing gees that exceed $20,000. The fee deferrals will be extended until a certificate of occupancy is issued to the developer and will last up to a maximum of two years from the issuance of the first building permit.

Quick Hits & Updates

The California Air Resources Board is hosting workshops on updates to Senate Bill 375 regional passenger vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets for California's Metropolitan Planning Organizations. The workshops will be held in Los Angeles March 7, Sacramento March 9 (also webcast), and Fresno March 14. 

The California Natural Resources Agency’s Urban Greening Grant Program has released its application and guidelines and is hosting eight of technical assistance workshops around the state between March 13 and March 28. Each workshop will include a formal presentation and breakout sessions designed to provide help and guidance in preparing grant applications.

Bay Area Rapid Transit reports that ridership was down 5.2 percent in December and 4 percent in January, foretelling a budget deficit for the year of $15 million to $25 million. The board is considering ways to cut costs and increase revenues, possibly by increasing base fares.

Los Angeles Metro's Expo Line Phase 2 Light Rail, a 6.6-mile-long project with seven stations has received recognition for sustainable performance from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI). The project earned the Envision rating system’s highest award level—Platinum. It is the first Metro project that is Envision-verified.

This week the Coastal Commission will consider a plan to restore a group of cottages at Crystal Cove in Orange County. The cottages, which predate the Coastal Act by decades, fell under public control in 1979, and are considered historic. 

Los Angeles Metro has released four alternatives for “run-through” tracks at Union Station. The tracks would enable Amtrak, Metrolink, and future high-speed rail service to provide continuous service to points both north and south of Los Angeles. 

The City of Glendale is considering options for a streetcar line, funded by a $200,000 planning grant from the Southern California Association of Governments. The proposed route would run diagonally through Burbank and then run north-south along Glendale’s Brand Boulevard. 

The Los Angeles Conservancy has awarded Survey LA its Chairmans Award for 2017, the organization’s highest honor. Conducted by the L.A. Department of City Planing, Survey LA is a multi-year project to analyze and catalog the city’s historic resources. It has analyzed over 800,000 parcels and is believed to be the largest such effort of its kind in U.S. history. 

Responding to changing commuting patterns in the Sacramento region, Sacramento Regional Transit is considering a wholesale redesign of its bus system. A new design would serve employment centers such as Rancho Cordova and Folsom and have less emphasis on downtown Sacramento. A study will begin this summer. 

Facing a threat that the federal government may withhold a promised $647 million to electrify the Caltrain corridor, Caltrain officials have extended the contracts of contractors set to work on the project. Though funding is still uncertain, the extension prevents the automatic termination of the contracts. 

An investment group has submitted a roughly $1.3 billion proposal that would keep the Raiders in Oakland to the NFL. Details of the proposal have not been released but it reportedly calls for a combination of public and private funds to renovate the Oakland Coliseum. 

San Francisco supervisors rejected, 9-1, an appeal filed against a plan to manage roughly 1,000 acres of natural areas in the city. the vote means that the plan, which calls for strategic removal of up to 18,000 trees, can go forward. the appeal had been filed by the San Francisco Forest Alliance, which felt that the plan went too far. 

The Clear Lake City Council unanimously adopted an update to the city’s general plan that is designed to guide development through 2040. the plan is designed to accommodate population growth of 1.4 percent annually and the development of over 600,000 square feet of retail in the city of 15,000.