The California State Transportation Agency announced that $2.4 billion from increases in the gas tax and vehicle fees will be spent on dozens of transit projects statewide, including works to prepare Los Angeles for the 2028 Summer Olympics. The money will be divided between six Metro expansion projects, including light-rail extensions to Torrance and Montclair, speeding up Amtrak Pacific Surfliner and Metrolink, and additional rapid transit service along congested corridors. In the Bay Area, the funds will help complete the BART line to San Jose and create new SamTrans express bus routes along the US 101 corridor. These funds are part of the $5.4 billion expected to be raised annually for road and bridge repairs and mass transit improvements that was approved last year by the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown. However, Republican activists are preparing to file more than 830,000 signatures in an effort to qualify a measure for the November ballot that would repeal the 12-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase, 20- cent diesel fuel excise tax increase, and new annual vehicle fees.

Audit Faults State’s Approach to Homelessness
The Legislatives Analyst’s Office released an audit finding the state’s response to homelessness needs to be improved. The audit was ordered last year in response to complaints from state Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority was shortchanging the Antelope Valley in shelter funding. The report found “California has more people experiencing homelessness than any other state in the nation, and it does a poor job of sheltering this vulnerable population.” According to the audit, California did not have a single statewide entity for addressing homelessness and no mechanism for coordinating the many homeless programs that the state funds until recently. The recently created Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council has no permanent staff and the audit recommends the Legislature provide funds for a staff, including executive director, and direct the agency to develop and implement a statewide strategic plan by next April.

Lung Association: Unhealthful Air Persists in California 
According to the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report, eight of the nation’s ten most polluted cities are in California.  Los Angeles/Long Beach is the most ozone-polluted city, and has been for nearly the entire 19-year history of the report. Bakersfield was second on the list, Visalia-Porterville-Hanford third, Frenso-Madera frouth, and Sacramento-Roseville fifth. San Diego-Carlsbad came in sixth, Modesto-Merced seventh, and Redding- Red Bluff was ninth. The only non-California cities on the top ten list were Phoenix which was eighth and New York which came in tenth. While California has the most cities on the list, it also has the most stringent environmental regulations. However, the Lung Association says California has done more than any other state to counteract air pollution. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland were 13th on the list of most ozone-polluted cities, tenth on year-round particle pollution and sixth on short-term particle pollution.  

UCLA Study Predicts Volatile Weather from Climate Change
According to a new study released by researchers at UCLA, California should expect more dramatic swings between dry and wet years as the climate warms. The study warns that California’s volatile climate will become even more volatile as human-cause climate change tinkers with atmospheric patterns over the eastern Pacific Ocean. While the long-term average of annual precipitation in the state is unlikely to change much, there will be more extreme wet years and more really dry years. Such sudden wings between drought and intense storms will increase the threat to aging dams and flood-control networks, accentuate the wildfire threat and make management of the state’s complex waterworks even more daunting. The scientists found California will experience a 100-200 percent increase in very wet years by the end of the century. In Southern California, the frequency of extremely dry years is expected to rise 200 percent.

Los Angeles Touts Progress on Green Goals
The City of Los Angeles has released its third annual Sustainable City pLAn progress report at Los Angeles Business Council’s annual Sustainability Summit. The city had an 11 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 and created 6,464 green jobs, a 31 percent increase over last year. In the third year of the Sustainable City pLAn, the city has met or exceeded 55 of the 61 targets set for 2017 and two goals set for 2025. The city has an ambitious goal of a 45 percent reduction by 2025. The reduction in GHG emissions is largely due to a shift away from coal-powered energy, as well as an increase in renewable sources. The city also launched the BlueLA Electric Car Sharing Program, the nation’s largest EV car sharing program for underserved communities and secured $35 million in state funding for Watts from the Transformative Climate Communities grant program which will fund affordable housing, urban greening, emission-free transportation, and energy efficiency retrofits.

Bay Area Cities Fare Well in Survey of Dog Parks; S. Calif Cities Do Not
The Trust for Public Land released its annual city parks survey and found that dog parks are among the fastest growing park amenities in the combined parks systems of the 100 largest US cities. There are currently 774 dedicated dog parks in the 100 largest cities, an increase of 38 over last year. Oakland is 7th on the list with 3.8 dog parks per 100,000 residents (16 parks), San Francisco 8th with 32 parks (3.7 per 100,000 residents, Fremont 12th with 6 parks, Sacramento 17th with 11 parks (2.2 per 100,000 residents), Bakersfield and Long Beach were tied 19th with 2.1 per 100,000 residents. Other California cities include Chula Vista (23), Fresno (34), San Diego (43), Stockton and San Jose (46). Towards the bottom of the list are Riverside and Anaheim (69), Irvine (84), Los Angeles (91), and Santa Ana (96).

Forest Service Bans Extraction in San Gabriel Mountains
The US Forest Service released a management plan that bans new oil, gas, mineral exploration and development in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. The plan prioritizes environmental protection over economic development, and even bans overnight camping along the East and North forks of the San Gabriel River and Aliso Creek Canyon due to the ecological toll. Rare and endangered species including mountain yellow-legged frogs, red-legged frogs and the Santa Ana sucker live in these “critical biological land use zones.” President Obama established the 346,000-acre monument four years ago.

Quick Hits & Updates
The Ninth Circuit court judges reaffirmed a lower court decision stating endangered wildlife would not be threatened by the housing development at Newhall Ranch and the EIR was properly administered. The Friends of the Santa Clara River and the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment filed a complaint in October claiming the US Army Corps of Engineers did not properly administer the development’s EIR. Grading for the project began late last year. Groundbreaking on construction for the project’s first two phases is scheduled to begin later this year. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Backers of the SoccerCity proposal in San Diego filed a lawsuit saying the rival SDSU West Initiative is violating state law by misusing the SDSU name and earning a place on the ballot by “cynically tricking voters into signing the petition.” The suit argues that San Diegans have been led to believe that the SDSU West proposal has been sanctioned by the university and violates the state’s Education Code, Government Code and Elections Code by using the SDSU name for private development. Friends of SDSU called the lawsuit a “desperate attempt” to “eliminate voter choice” about the use of the stadium site.

Oakland’s Port Commission is entering into exclusive negotiations with the Oakland A’s for the second time in four years for the Howard Terminal as a possible ballpark site. The first step will be to do a feasibility analysis to address both the challenges and what would be required approvals from the State Lands Commission, Bay Conservation, Development Commission, and other regulatory agencies that have jurisdiction over the port.  (See prior CP&DR commentary.)

San Francisco’s latest vision for Caltrain would alter the current alignment putting a new tunnel beneath Pennsylvania Avenue, starting at 25th Street, to avert problematic street-level rail crossings at 16th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh Street and Mission Bay Drive. The $6 billion plan would take until 2027 to complete. A study, after over three years of work, will be released this week. An earlier version of the plan, proposed by then mayor Ed Lee, would have demolished a portion of I-280 and rerouted the train through Mission Bay to help grow the neighborhood.

San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell announced the city is taking steps to become carbon-neutral by 2050. The first step is to plant 2,000 trees, which will cost roughly $4 million. Farrell says its imperative for cities to take up the mantle of climate stewardship because the federal government is reluctant to confront climate change or even directly acknowledge its existence. The city also announced that all public and private San Francisco Bay ferries and tour boats would shift to run on renewable diesel fuel made from organic matter to cut emissions by 22,000 metric tons a year.

Murrieta City Council upheld its approval of spending $5,000 to join a coalition of other cities and counties for Revitalize California Cities Tax Increment Financing membership. The goal is to have the state return a portion of Redevelopment Funds that were taken away in 2011.

Chula Vista’s Bayfront redevelopment has received the financial backing to begin its $1.1 billion hotel and convention center. Chula Vista and the Port of San Diego approved a development agreement, revenue-sharing plan and public subsidy for the project. Houston-based RIDA Development will put up $785 for the project, while the city and Port pay $343 million. Additionally the Port will forego ground lease revenues for 38 years, resulting in a $245 million subsidy. To fund their portion of the development, the city and Port created the Chula Vista Bayfront Financing Authority and will issue taxable and tax-exempt bonds.

A Washington, D.C., Circuit Court panel upheld a lower court’s ruling denying a challenge to the proposed North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians’ plans to build a casino on Highway 99 north of Madera. The panel reaffirmed an earlier ruling that the Interior Department has the authority to take the land into a trust, and the project complied with federal laws. One of the major concerns of those opposed to the proposed casino is that it does not sit on a tribal reservation but is 35 miles away.  

San Diego leaders have said preservation of existing low-rent apartments is part of a new initiative to solve the city’s affordable housing crisis. Countywide, more than 1,200 subsidized apartments have been lost over the last 17 years because their government-sponsored ret restrictions expired. Another 2,400 apartments face the same risk over the next half decade, including 1,300 within the city. Executive Director of the San Diego Housing Federation, Stephen Russell, said, “preservation is inherently more cost-effective than building new housing. So we have to preserve the housing stock that is there and protect the existing public investment we’ve made.” However, vice president of the local chapter of the Building Industry Association says the city should remain singularly focused on increasing housing supply.

The PolicyLink All-In Cities Anti-Displacement Policy Network is a group of city leaders finding solutions to improve affordability and reduce the burdens of evictions. The effort launched in late March and includes teams from ten U.S. cities, which met at the Summit in Chicago in mid April. San Jose is the only California city to participate.

The Trump administration has approved a new oil well and small pipeline in the Carrizo Plain National Monument in an old oil well that has been slated for restoration. The conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, are challenging the approval and say the project falls short of the high environmental standards required to drill on protected lands. However, E&B Natural Resources Management Corp., an independent oil and gas company, says the oil field has been around for decades and is in a previously disturbed area which minimizes land disturbance and is an environmental best practice.

Santa Ana City Councilmembers unanimously agreed to bring legal action to bring all 34 Orange County cities into a homelessness lawsuit under the jurisdiction of federal Judge David O. Carter, who has warned cities they need to expand homeless shelter options. The move would grant Carter the ability to follow through on his warnings about banning enforcement of anti-camping laws it city officials, especially south county city officials, don’t make progress in picking one or more shelter locations. Carter has repeatedly said Santa Ana has done its share to host emergency homeless shelters and services and its time for other cities to step up with a “proportional” share of services.

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) has prepared minor updates to its Technical Advisory on Evaluating Transportation Impacts in CEQA. A copy of the April 2018 Technical Advisory is available at on OPR’s Transportation Impacts (SB 743) webpage. OPR will continue to update the Technical Advisory as needed over time, and as more public agencies implement vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and provide real-world case studies. 

The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority purchased an 11-acre plot of land near the Angeles National Forest for $4.4 million in state and other public funds. The land provides a critical natural habitat, and an idyllic backdrop to Sunland-Tujunga’s residential communities. Authority officials say they will halt illegal vehicle access onto the land, clean-up dumped trash, and begin studying what habitat restoration efforts are needed. The land will be preserved as publicly owned open space. 

The California Air Resource Board is holding several community meetings they are holding across the state through May 11 to seek public input for the upcoming revision of the California Climate Investments funding guidelines. CARB wants to ensure that the guidelines best fit the needs of the communities that would be using them.

The California State Coastal Conservancy is soliciting applications for a new round of Climate Ready grants. The Conservancy seeks to support multi-benefit projects that use natural systems to assist communities in adapting to the impacts of climate change. Applications are due July 2.