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CP&DR News Briefs May 16, 2017: SGC Planning Grants; Bus Overhaul on S.F. Peninsula; Bay Area Housing Shortage; and More

Noemi Wyss on
May 15, 2017
The Strategic Growth Council Sustainable Communities Planning Grants & Incentives Best Practices Pilot Program awarded (PDF) $250,000 in Proposition 84 monies to six projects statewide. Of the 13 applicants, five were from the Bay Area, four from the Los Angeles area, two from Central Valley, and one each from Sacramento and Central Coast. The City of Arvin that incorporated a Water Element into its general plan. The County of LA won $41,000 for its Green Zones Program: Environmental Justice Ground Truthing in East Los Angeles & Florence-Firestone which aims to utilize sustainable land use tools and implementation measures to reduce and mitigate toxic pollutants from emission sources. City of San Jose won for its Bike Plan Outreach Strategy and County of Merced for its Integration of GHG Inventory. The fifth winner was County of Contra Costa for a Renewable Resource Potential Study that would identify potential for distribution-scale renewable resources such as solar, wind, biomass, and biogas. The final winner was the County of San Luis Obispo for its Oceano Eco-District Project that works with Habitat for Humanity for SLO County to provide an underserved community a clear path for projects that achieve resilience and GHG reductions.

Santa Clara VTA to Overhaul Bus Network
Santa Clara County’s Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) unanimously approved, on a 12-0 vote, major changes to its bus and light rail routes because of a $21.4 million operating shortfall. The VTA will increase fares by 50 cents over the next two years and the DASH line through downtown San Jose will be replaced by the Rapid 500 bus. The new bus schedules will coincide with the inauguration of BART service coming to the County with Milpitas and Berryessa stops. The redesign focuses on high-volume routes. In the current configuration, VTA considers 70 percent of routes to be “volume” routes, with the remainder as “coverage” routes that make the system accessible but do not attract many riders. That ratio will shift to 83 / 17 in the new configuration. While Uber and Lyft are luring people away from public transportation, stable gas prices and rising car purchases in Santa Clara County have also lead to the decline in ridership.

Report Details Low-Income Housing Shortage in Bay Area
A report from nonprofit California Housing Partnership Corp. and Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California found that in the Bay Area it is becoming harder for lower-income residents to find affordable housing. Rents and incomes in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Sonoma counties shows that each county is at least 10,000 rental units short of what it would take for everyone to find affordable housing. Residents who earn less than 50 percent AMI spend more than half of their monthly paychecks on rent. The report found that state and federal funding for affordable housing in the four counties analyzed have dropped 65 percent since 2008. California’s spending on affordable housing has gone down $1.5 billion since 2012.

Authors Clarify Controversial Study of Transit Oriented Development 
A study noted in last month's CP&DR news briefs has roused concern among planners in the Bay Area for reportedly conflating new transit oriented development with transit oriented neighborhoods. The original version of the study seemed to indicate that new TOD tended to hasten rates of gentrification in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. The study actually found the opposite. It turns out that there was significant displacement and gentrification in transit oriented neighborhoods, even where there was very little new development. According to an updated abstract, the study found “that transit proximity has a significant impact on the stability of the surrounding neighborhood, leading to increases in housing costs that change the composition of the area, including the loss of low-income households. We found that gentrification and displacement in rail station areas would only be likely to cause an increase in auto usage and regional vehicle miles traveled (VMT) when accompanied by a significant loss of population near transit.” Activists had used the original interpretation of the study to protest SB 375, which promotes new development near transit. The San Francisco Planning Department led the charge to encourage researchers to clarify their findings and terminology. 
Group Pledges $100 Million for Homeless in S.F.
Nonprofit group Tipping Point Community has pledged $100 million to cut the chronically homeless population in San Francisco in half over the next half-decade. The money will create permanent housing, improve aid for people with mental illness and other causes of homelessness, and help the city attract more state and federal funding. In the latest one-night homeless count, the city found 1,745 of the 6,686 people were chronically homeless (2015). The money was raised privately and will be given to city agencies, including the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. The 12-year-old organization raises millions of dollars annually to fight poverty, but this was the first large challenge.

Cox and Kotkin Release Brief on Millennials’ Prospects in California
Chapman University’s Center for Demographics and Policy released a research brief “Fading Promise: Millennial Prospects in the Golden State.” Co-authored by scholars Wendell Cox and Joel Kotkin, the brief discusses how California millennial are facing “unprecedented economic challenges and, according to many predictions, diminished prospects.” This is primarily because housing prices in California have risen to 230 percent of the national average, while salaries remain lower than key competitive states. This has lead to significant out-migration, primarily by younger families in their late 30s and early 40s. The report covers a variety of statistics including homeownership rates, numbers of millennials living with parents, population change, and how to bring more millennials into the housing market and thereby restoring middle-class prosperity in California.

El Monte Envisions Transit Oriented Downtown
The City of El Monte is moving forward with plans to revitalize downtown through its proposed “Downtown Main Street Transit-Oriented Development Specific Plan” funded by a grant from Metro. The plan includes a 115-acre area that would generate 2,200 residential units and 500,000 square feet of commercial by 2035. Eight guiding principles have steered the process including mixed-use, pedestrian and TOD village, central shopping district, enticing place for investment, variety of housing opportunities, expanded and improved public transportation system, blend of old and new, balanced system of multimodal streets, and entryways at key intersections.

Landfill Discovers Mapping Mistake, Runs Afoul of Coastal Zone
Tajiguas Landfill in Santa Barbara County has been trying to expand for 15 years, but last-second discovery of a miscalculation about the location of a key boundary line means the project is “dead in the water” according to Ed Easton of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy. Planners initially discovered the mistake two months ago as they were preparing paperwork to seek financing for the $110 million construction project. They discovered the state’s Coastal Zone Boundary line was 173 yards further inland than planners had believed. This means all permits are null and void. Environmental groups have been trying to get Tajiguas decommissioned since the late 90s.

Quick Hits & Updates
Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) has filed paperwork seeking a 2018 ballot measure to overturn SB1, the 10-year, $54.2 billion transportation funding bill that would raise the state’s gas tax by 12 cents a gallon, increase taxes on diesel fuel and impose new annual fees on vehicles. The Attorney General’s office needs to give the measure a title and summary, then organizers must collect 365,880 voter signatures to qualify.

The California Supreme Court will hear two cases that challenge the North Coast Railroad Authority’s stance that federal laws preempt it from having to conduct an environmental review on its project to restore a railway stretching from Arcata to Napa County. Friends of the Eel River and Californians for Alternatives for Toxics filed the cases in Marin County Superior Court nearly six years ago and are saying the June 2011 environmental review of the 142 mile section of the whole 316 miles is incomplete.

The Safeguarding California Plan: 2017 Update-California’s Climate Adaptation Strategy covers water, food, transport of goods, and daily lives around climate and weather. The report is looking for feedback and comments on the working draft. Workshops will be held at UC Merced May 16, Metro Center in San Francisco May 22, Coachella Public Works Department May 30, SCAG in downtown Los Angeles June 3, and two workshops in Auburn and San Diego in June that have not been finalized.

The Santa Monica City Council has approved the Lincoln Neighborhood Corridor Plan that will add a bus lane to the street from I-10 to Ozone Avenue. The $2.9 million plan will improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety.

Developers of the controversial Lilac Hills Ranch submitted paperwork to San Diego County planning department in the hopes of keeping the project alive. The 1,700 home and retail shops in the hills of Valley Center went to voters in November and was rejected by 63 percent of the county. The County got a new stormwater management permit, which makes the project viable, and developers have included requested infrastructure improvements, such as a new fire station, in their new plan. 

A San Francisco Superior Court Judge has ordered a landlord to pay the city nearly $2.4 million in penalties for violating state housing law. The judge found that Anne Kihagi and her associates had “purposefully destroyed their tenants’ quiet enjoyment and any sense of sanctuary through their long, continued and unrelenting campaign of harassment, reductions in services, and unlawful and fraudulent evictions.” Kihagi and family members have invested $24 million in San Francisco real estate with a collection of 50 units.

An appeals court found that building a parking lot in place of a 54-year-old garden on the campus of the College of San Mateo frequented by students, teachers and others would have a significant environmental impact and therefore either a full EIR or a description of steps the district would take to reduce environmental effects to “insignificance”. The court ordered the college to consider these environmental impacts. 

San Bernardino International Airport has inaugurated commercial operations with an international commercial passenger flight with Volaris to and from Guadalajara. At SBD, the primary business is private business jet travel, with five maintenance, repair and overhaul businesses for general aviation. However airport officials say the number of aircraft annually taking off and landing have reached 48,000 in 2016, double the number in 2013.

A developer is suing the City of Palo Alto for assessing unlawful and excessive fines in Santa Clara County Superior Court. John Tze and Edgewood LLC, the owner-developers, received at least 72 citations totaling more than $700,000 for failing to land a grocery store at the Edgewood Plaza shopping center after the Fresh Market vacated. City officials say Edgewood broke a 2012 agreement that allowed it to build homes on the condition that a grocery store would be provided. The owner argues they are complying by reserving the building for a grocery store and no other use.

The City of San Jose Deputy Director of Housing Tim Jones resigned in early May, two weeks after being hired. Jones was previously accused of mismanagement and financial abuse when he ran the Richmond Housing Authority.

A new analysis of the proposed Bay-Delta water tunnels, now known as WaterFix, indicates that the project might make life worse for fish even though the two primary goals of the project are restoring imperiled native fish and improving water deliveries to farms and cities. The USFWS and National Marine Fisheries Service released draft studies detailing how the tunnel might affect fish protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Gov. Jerry Brown sent a letter to President Trump asking him to transfer oversight of environmental reviews to the state rail authority instead of the Federal Railroad Administration. This “delegation of federal authority” would give the state final approval and potentially speed up the process.
Los Angeles City Council voted to approve a new law that eases the process in legalizing “bootlegged” apartments- existing units that were created without the city’s approval. In the new law, the units are only allowed if they guarantee affordable housing and meet all fire, life, and safety codes.

Mayor Eric Garcetti will co-chair the LA Sustainability Leadership Council with UCLA Chancellor Gene Block to help advance the goals laid out in Sustainable City pLAn. The Leadership Council will provide vision, leadership, guidance, and support for the pLAn, the SLA GC, and other important sustainability initiatives.