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CP&DR News Briefs December 18, 2017: CEQA Study; Gas Tax Alternatives; S.F. Design Guidelines; and More

Noemi Wyss on
Dec 17, 2017
The Senate Environmental Quality Committee released a study examining how state transportation, parks, and other projects were handled under CEQA over a five-year period starting in FY 2011/2012 to 2015/2016. Ninety-four state agencies were surveyed and 47 of those served as a lead agency at least once during the five-year period. The study found 1 percent of projects required detailed analyses under the law and less than 1 percent of them were sued. A majority of the state projects subject to CEQA completed a Categorical Exemption (87.8 percent) and approximately 6 percent filed a negative declaration or mitigated negative declaration. Sen. Bob Wieckowski, chair of the committee who commissioned the study, said “This extensive review of state agencies clearly finds that CEQA is doing what Gov. Reagan and the Legislature hoped it would do when they passed it in 1970 — providing transparency, accountability and reducing harmful impacts to our environment as we undertake important projects to enhance our state.” The study did not examine private developments. 

Study Anticipates Shift Away from Gas Tax
A new Caltrans study, the “California Road Charge Pilot Program Report” estimates the effects of abandoning the current gas tax to a system where drivers pay based on their odometer readings. The report include a road charge experiment with 5,000 volunteer drivers that had their mileage monitored over nine months of driving. Caltrans Deputy Director Carrie Pourvahidi said next year the state will send out a request to technology companies for ideas on a simple communication system at gas stations or electric charging stations that can instantly tell how many miles the car has driven. While other states have looked at switching to a per-mile road tax, California seems to be the first to look at point-of-purchase technology. Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature passed a controversial set of tax and fee increases this year but are still struggling to come up with adequate per-gallon pump revenues as more cars get higher mileage. Some environmental groups say the pay-per-mile concept would help reduce vehicle miles traveled, it would also have a negative effect of hitting lower-income communities harder.

San Francisco to Update Urban Design Guidelines
The San Francisco Planning Department released a new set of temporary guidelines with 24 parameters that will help guide the look and feel of the city’s future. The Design Guidelines are categorized into site design, architecture, and public realm. The guidelines include recognize and respond to urban patterns (S1); create, protect, and support view corridors (S4); harmonize building designs with neighboring scale and materials (A3); design active building fronts (A8); locate and design open spaces to maximize physical comfort and visual access (P2); and program public open spaces to encourage social activity, play, and rest (P6). Jeff Joslin, director of current planning with the city, said “the primary goal here is to improve the predictability and consistency in the review of design qualities of the projects… Contributing to the clarity and certainty of future projects will both encourage development, and improve the efficiency of review.That efficiency will translate directly into bringing down project costs, while adding design quality.” The planning commission will hear an informal presentation on the guidelines Jan. 11.

Los Angeles to Adopt Linkage Fee on New Market-Rate Units
The Los Angeles City Council approved the funding of more affordable housing through a new linkage fee on construction projects that is estimated to generate up to $100 million per year. City officials say Los Angeles was the only major city in California without such a fee. Mayor Garcetti says the initiative will allow ensure the city “grows for everybody, and when we see luxury condominiums go up we can make sure there is money paid in to build housing for the rest of us as well.” Those opposed to the fee argue it will actually slow down affordable housing construction. Developers could potentially pay up to $15 per square foot for residential projects and between $3 and $5 per square foot for commercial projects.

S.F. May Face Ballot Measure to Upzone SoMa
Affordable housing group Todco and urban think tank SPUR are proposing a ballot measure that would temporarily relax the cap of new office space in San Francisco to allow a wave of office development South of Market. The office space approval cap was established in 1986 and capped the approvals at 875,000 square foot a year. The two groups say the cap will block city efforts to upzone Central SoMa, a 17-block area. The Central SoMa plan is expected to be approved by Board of Supervisors next year, and property owners in the area have proposed 5.5 million square-feet of new office construction. The ballot measure would require all development fees to be paid when a project is approved, rather than when the building permit is pulled, meaning community benefits and fees that add up to about $2 billion would be fast-tracked. The proposed measure was submitted to the city attorney for a 15-day review, and after that proponents have until Feb. 5 to gather 18,970 signatures to place the measure on the June 5 ballot. 

Homelessness Rises Nationwide, with Surges in Calif. Metros
According to new data released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development homelessness increased 0.7 percent nationwide from the year before. During a one-night count in January, 553,742 people were found living outside or in shelters across the country. HUD officials say the surge in homelessness is almost entirely increases in cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, and Sacramento, all of which face shortages of affordable housing. Overall, the nation’s homeless numbers are 13 percent lower than they were in 2010. However, Los Angeles reported a nearly 26 percent rise in homelessness this year over 2016 and Oakland 39 percent increase since 2015. HUD Secretary Ben Carson says the federal governments needs to work more with nonprofits, faith-based communities, state and local governments, and the private sector to address the problem. According to the report, family homelessness was down 5.4 percent from last year and 27 percent lower than it was in 2010.

S.F. Mayor Ed Lee, Champion of Affordable Housing, Passes Away 
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee passed away last Tuesday morning after suffering a heart attack at the age of 65. Gov. Jerry Brown called Lee a “true champion for working people who epitomized the California spirit”. In 2011 Lee cut payroll taxes for six years on a blighted stretch of Market Street and lured thousands of tech jobs and workers to the city. The area now has been redeveloped with new offices and hotels and has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. More recently, Lee focused on the homeless crisis opening Homeless Navigation Centers and creating a new Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. The Board of Supervisors approved one of Mayor Lee’s final land-use initiatives: to fast-track construction of shelters for homeless people. Lee also wanted to declare a citywide emergency but several supervisors contested and ultimately delayed the vote until January. 

Quick Hits & Updates

Sacramento City Council voted unanimously to approve a new construction timeline and design plans for expanding the Sacramento Convention Center. The council supported adding a large ballroom to the plans and allowing the center to be closed for 18 months so work can be done quicker than initially planned. Renovations would begin in early 2019 and continue until fall of 2020. The city is also planning on renovating the adjacent Community Center Theater and a new 350-room hotel.

Santa Cruz City Council has referred 99 potential housing solutions to a subcommittee for prioritization and feasibility. The council set aside $15,000 for six-month city tenants’ legal support fund and directed city staff to investigate city-owned lands, such as parking lots, that could be used for housing development. The subcommittee is expected to return with a housing-related strategy by March 27.

San Francisco’s Central Subway won’t be completed until 2021, more than a year later than the city insists the line will be ready, according to a new report from the main contractor, Tutor Perini Corp. The report also says the $1.6 billion project is running tens of millions of dollars over budget. 

Sacramento and Ontario are the two finalists for a $35 million grant from the cap-and-trade program aimed at developing green infrastructure in low-income communities. The Sacramento plan would add a range of housing units in the River District as well as a new light-rail stop, bikeways and several other projects.  

The approval of a commercial development next to California’s oldest continuously lived-in neighborhood has led to a petition to recall two San Juan Capistrano City Councilmembers, Mayor Kerry Ferguson and Councilman Derek Reeve. The recall supporters say the redevelopment of the former Ito Nursery into a shopping center would irreparably damage the adjacent Los Rios Historic District. 

Los Angeles City Planning Commission is considering new land use and zoning regulations for stations around San Fernando Valley’s Orange Line busway. The proposed Transit Neighborhood Plan would target five stations: Sherman Way, Reseda, Sepulveda, Van Nuys, and the North Hollywood terminus. The stations would include low and multifamily residential, mixed-use commercial, and some would include incubators or light manufacturing.

Social Bicycles (SoBi) will launch its electric-assist bike share program in Davis, Sacramento, and West Sacramento May 15, 2018. The program will open with 300 e-bikes and add an additional 600 over the summer. The launch is a public-private partnership between SoBi, SACOG, and the cities.

After three years of debate, the San Diego City Council failed to reach an agreement on short-term rental regulations. Multiple proposals were discussed in the hopes of reaching a consensus but after more than four hours of debate and more hours of public testimony, the nine-member council could not secure the required five affirmative votes. 

The City of San Diego launched a new initiative focused on supporting entrepreneurs from low- to moderate-income communities. The initiative includes a new facility, which will open next summer to support entrepreneurs that earn about $30,000 to $70,000 a year to give them a better chance at success. The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation in Southeast San Diego, a and Connect, a start-up support company, are putting up $2.5 million over the next three years to help finance the program.

Sacramento’s Regional Transit board unanimously agreed to reduce student fares next month from $55 per month to $20 in hopes of boosting sagging ridership among teens. The proposed cuts only apply to K-12 students as the colleges already have deeply discounted fares through contracts between SacRT and the colleges.

A Los Angeles City Council committee recommended Peebles Corporation, MacFarlane Partners and Claridge Properties to to develop the 2.24-acre Angels Landing site, arguably the most significant development site in downtown Los Angeles. The proposed project includes one 88-story tower and a 24-story structure that would be connected by a sky bridge. The two towers would include 400 apartments and 250 condominiums with 20 apartments set aside as affordable housing.