The San Diego Association of Governments will discontinue its TransNet transportation project and draft a new long-term transportation plan from scratch. TransNet, which promised highway and transit projects like the Mid-Coast Trolley Extension, suffered significant delays, ballooning costs, and falling revenue projections since voters approved it in 2004. As recently as a year ago, SANDAG board members insisted that they could deliver all promised projects in TransNet. However, in the recent board meeting where it officially terminated the project, SANDAG announced a $22.1 million gap between revenue and cost expectations for the TransNet project. SANDAG’s new executive director, Hasan Ikhrata, asserted that no current plan would meet the state’s aggressive greenhouse gas goals. However, failing to update their plan means non-compliance with state and federal update requirements, and may jeopardize access to millions in government funds. Supporters of the move welcome Ikhrata’s candidness in the face of a failing project. Steve Vaus, mayor of Poway and SANDAG’s board chair, told the Voice of San Diego, “The good news is that the public is getting an unvarnished truth, and I think that signals a new day at SANDAG.”
Lawsuit Seeks to Undo San Francisco’s South of Market Plan
In the latest of lawsuits targeting new land use policies in San Francisco, the Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium is challenging the rezoning of San Francisco’s Central South of Market area. Last month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors ended seven years of debate with a rezoning plan in SoMa that would allow for 9,000 more housing units and enough office space for 30,000 workers. The suit claims that the plan’s environmental study didn’t account for the effect of neighborhood changes on public services like police, fire, and recreation. Additionally, the lawsuit argues that the study didn’t analyze the “grave earthquake dangers” of the area, much of which is built on fill. Additional lawsuits may still be filed from groups like the South of Market Community Action Network and Central SoMa Neighbors, which oppose taller denser structures and claim the plan will lead to higher rents and further gentrification. Developer One Vassar LLC also plans to sue, arguing that the plan should require more height and density. Still, even if projects are all approved, Proposition M, which caps yearly new office space approvals, will prevent them from winning entitlements at once.
Report Finds Housing Production Shortfalls Statewide
A report from Beacon Economics revealed significant disparities between many cities’ housing goals and actual housing production. The report found that, roughly halfway through the current Regional Housing Needs Allocation cycle, only 25.9 percent of proposed units have been created across all income levels statewide. The report also found that many cities fall dramatically short of low-income housing targets. For example, the report estimates that at current rates, cities including Santa Clara, Irvine, and Burbank wouldn't achieve their low-income housing targets until after the year 3000. Furthermore, the report exposes flaws in the current process for determining how much housing a local jurisdiction should create. The report claims, “By relying on past trends in household formation, the current housing needs assessment fails to capture the extent of housing demand in the state.” For instance, all nine jurisdictions that earned the "A-plus rating” for their housing targets had a target that averaged only 0.7 new units per 100 persons. By contrast, cities that earned an F had much more aggressive targets: an average of 3.3 units per 100 persons. Authors of the report warn that based on these findings, even if cities do meet current goals, it won't close the housing gap statewide.
L.A. Metro to Consider Congestion Pricing, Tax on Rideshare
Los Angeles Metro’s board of directors approved a 12-24 month feasibility study of a congestion pricing policy in the area, and will include an investigation of equity issues created by the policy. Additionally, a separate board motion decoupled congestion pricing and ride-hailing revenues from 2028 Olympics project acceleration, instead prioritizing “low-risk” revenue sources, like state and federal money. Metro is also considering studying a tax on Uber and Lyft rides in Los Angeles county as a strategy to manage congestion and fund transportation projects before the 2028 Olympic Games. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority claims that the ride-hailing tech companies don’t pay their fair share to maintain public streets despite their contributions to local congestion.
Army Corps Estimates $725 Billion in Damage to Los Angeles from Mega-Flood
A catastrophic flood could cause $725 billion of damage across the Los Angeles Basin, warns an analysis published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The analysis responds to the U.S. Geological Survey’s predictions that the region’s risk for a rare mega-storm, or ArkStorm, has increased. The corps, which presented its findings to L.A. County residents, predicts that potential effects from extreme runoff from the San Gabriel Mountains would overwhelm the 60-year-old Whittier Narrows Dam. Corps officials warn that should the dam fail, flooding could extend from Pico Rivera to Long Beach, affecting as many as 1 million people with water as deep as 20 feet. Additionally, a recent study by UC Irvine researchers argued that the risk of dam failure is likely to increase in a warming climate. Citing the risk of significant loss of life and economic impacts, the corps classified the Whittier Dam project as their highest national priority. To prevent such catastrophe, the corps is seeking up to $600 million in federal funding to upgrade the three-mile-long dam, which would require congressional approval.
Quick Hits & Updates
The members of the Strategic Growth Council elected Kate Gordon as its new chair and public member Michael Flat as its vice-chair. Gardon is the newly appointed director of the Office of Planning & Research. She succeeds Ken Alex, the former OPR head, as SGC chair. (See prior C&PDR coverage.)
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is facing criticism for failing to disclose a downtown condominium owned by his wife, resulting in a potential conflict of interest. Liccardo participated in key votes on a controversial Google development under a mile from the condominium. Under California law, public officials must disclose their income, financial interests, properties, and investments, including assets belonging to their spouses. The mayor claims that his failure to disclose the property was an unintentional mistake.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed formed a council of city representatives to prepare for the opening of the Golden State Warriors’ new Chase Center arena in Mission Bay. The council convenes more than a dozen departments like the Municipal Transportation Agency, the Fire Department, Public Works, and the Department of Building Inspection. They are collaborating to issue permits, complete inspections, and prepare for an influx in transportation in the area.
Los Angeles County officials are seeking to take ownership from the federal government of 40 miles of flood-control channels along the Los Angeles River. This move responds to the Army Corps of Engineers’ concerns that sections of the river have not been maintained due to dwindling federal funds. County officials claim that they can expedite maintenance and water conservation improvements.
The City of Long Beach is inviting the Los Angeles Angels to develop a new ballpark on a waterfront site. The Angels opted out of its lease at Angel Stadium in Anaheim last October, and the lease is up after the 2020 season. The city of Long Beach has not determined whether a ballpark would be feasible for the site, or whether taxpayers would contribute to the construction costs, which are currently estimated between $700 million and $1 billion.
The U.S. Geological Survey issued a report showing that nearly 200,000 people live, work, or pass through California’s volcanic hazard zones on a daily basis. The report estimates that an eruption has a 16 percent probability in the next 30 years, and would have major statewide impacts by disrupting major electoral transmissions lines, hydro and geothermal power production, and natural gas transportation pipelines. Furthermore, the report shows that California’s drinking water supplies would face severe consequences from a potential eruption.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority is preparing a response to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s threat to cancel $929 million in federal grant money for its planned Los Angeles-Bay Area line. The Authority faces a March 5 deadline to respond to the threat, and, despite the federal government’s threat, claims that it remains committed to the rail project.
Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT) announced a plans for a $115 million facility expansion. The expansion, dubbed FATforward, will focus on expanding parking and the international terminal. This comes in response to a recent Master Plan Update, which confirmed a 45 percent growth in airport traffic in the past decade. The project, slated to begin in early 2021 and open by the fall of 2022, is expected to generate 1,220 jobs and $182 million in economic activity.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo announced that he is in talks with Elon Musk’s Boring Company about plans for an underground link between the city’s airport and its main transit hub, Diridon Station. The city has long searched for alternative options to a costly traditional rail link, and foresees growing traffic with the advent of Google’s expansive new campus plans near Diridon Station in the coming years.
A San Francisco property owner is suing San Francisco in both state and federal court over a ruling that he must build an exact replica of a famed home that formerly occupied the site. The Department of Building Inspection ruled in December that owner Ross Johnston illegally demolished the historic 1935 home of modernist Richard Neutra, and the City Planning Commission unanimously turned down his application to build a 4,000-foot home in its place.
Joint Venture Silicon Valley's annual economic survey shows an increase in traffic, real estate development, and salaries in the south San Francisco Bay and Peninsula areas. Notably, the survey found that commute times have increased by more than 20 percent over the past ten years. Additionally, median home increased by $330,000 to $1.2 million. More positively, the median household income reached an all-time high, growing by 5 percent last year to $118,400 annually.
According to an analysis by the San Francisco Chronicle, a recent slowdown in new market-rate residential property in San Francisco has affected funding for the city’s affordable housing. The Chronicle found that the amount of fees that market-rate housing and office developers pay toward the city’s affordable housing fund fell 70 percent since the 2015-2016 fiscal year. This slowdown may affect the viability of projects still in the design and development phase this year.
Disability activists sued the city of San Diego and several ride-sharing scooter companies, claiming that the city’s failure to regulate illegal scooter use on sidewalks discriminates against disabled citizens. The lawsuit argues that those who ride or abandon scooters in San Diego block disable citizens’ access to the public right-of-way. This lawsuit emerged just as the San Diego City Council began debating regulations for motorized scooters throughout the city.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy for withholding information about radioactive substances on San Francisco’s Treasure Island. The D.C. environmental watchdog group claims that the U.S. Navy has delayed disclosing public information about past cleanups on the island – particularly by Tetra Tech EC, which faced fraud accusations from its cleanup at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.
The American Planning Association and the American Institution of Certified Planners named Joel Albizo as their new CEO. Albizo succeeds James M. Drinan, JD, who retired last fall after five years as CEO. Previously, Albizo acted as CEO of the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards, a regulatory body that establishes licensure standards for landscape architecture practice.