The American Planning Association included six California projects among its recipients for 2019 Excellence Awards and Achievement Awards, presented yesterday at the APA National Conference in San Francisco. 

Carolina Martinez of the Environmental Health Coalition and the Paradise Planning Partnership in National City won the Advancing Diversity and Social Change award, one of five 2019 National Planning Excellence Awards. The project was recognized for its comprehensive plan to clean up the city's toxic living environment and provide affordable housing near transit. The APA called the Paradise Creek Partnership "one of the largest and most significant developments in National City that has become a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization….the Paradise Creek Apartments shows how fiscal policy can achieve environmental justice by extending investments to the most disadvantaged communities. Most important, Paradise Creek demonstrates community-based planning at its best, with residents working together to create the community they want to live in."

Achievement Awards for best practices included the Cottage Home program in Clovis, which boosted the community’s affordable housing and San Francisco’s “Sustainable Chinatown” project, which improved affordable housing projects while also educating communities on sustainable initiatives. An Achievement Award for public outreach went to Southern California’s Go Human Pop-Up Events, which raised awareness of traffic safety and helped communities reimagine new street infrastructure. Finally, an award for transportation planning went to the Lake Tahoe community spanning Nevada and California for its transportation implementation plan which used cell phone data rather than traffic data to create a clearer picture of travelers through the region. 

San Diego Sued for Attempt to Reduce Downtown Parking Requirements 
An advocacy group sued the City of San Diego for its measure to eliminate parking requirements for future developments, claiming that the measure passed without necessary environmental reviews. The ordinance, approved by the city council in March, removes the typical parking space requirements for multi-family homes built within a half-mile of transit hubs. San Diego mayor Kevin Faulkener touts the measure as a necessary step to drive down housing costs and increase the use of mass transit. But the group that filed the lawsuit, CREED 21, argues that the measure is premature, and that the city should improve public transportation before restricting parking. Mayoral hopeful Kevin Briggs leads this group. “Taking away parking spaces and forcing people to give up their cars so developers can build luxury high-rise condos in every neighborhood is no way to help hard-working San Diegans make ends meet,” Briggs told NBC 7. “It is a recipe for gridlock, air pollution, and gentrification.”

Newsom Relaxes Environmental Rules to Prepare for Wildfires 
Following two consecutive years of record-breaking wildfires, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to waive environmental regulations on 35 forest management projects. The governor cited a February Cal Fire report that recommended streamlining environmental regulations to mitigate future wildfire risk. This would expedite fuel reduction measures such as the removal of dead trees and brush clearance to create fuel breaks and defensible space around communities. Experts refute the notion that logging and fuel breaks will reduce risk of fire, arguing instead for fire mitigation efforts that focus one homes – such as replacing flammable roof material and clearing vegetation around buildings. In total, the projects will cost $35 million. The governor’s office also reported an impending announcement for a $50 million community awareness campaign to protect homes. “The increasing wildfire risks we face as a state means we simply can’t wait until a fire starts in order to start deploying emergency resources,” Newsom said in his announcement, as reported by the L.A. Times. “California needs sustained focus and immediate action in order to better protect our communities.”

Sacramento Approves Package to Lure MLS Team, Build Railyards Stadium
In advance of Major League Soccer’s upcoming vote to expand its franchise, the Sacramento City Council unanimously approved a $33 million incentive package to build infrastructure around a planned $252 million downtown railyards stadium. This is the latest move in Sacramento's ongoing efforts to lure a team, with Sacramento and St. Louis considered frontrunners in the expansion bid. The incentive package is comprehensive: it includes $5.4 million of development fee waivers and tax rebates, and will create a special financing district around the stadium site to capture tax revenue to pay for its $27.2 million in proposed infrastructure. It also promises that the city would build that infrastructure – including streets, walkways, and sewers – and would then rebate future property taxes to cover the costs. Finally, the city would rewrite its sign ordinance to allow the team to build six digital display boards throughout the city. City officials will present this package to franchise officials in Los Angeles before they make their selection. “We’ve checked all the boxes,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg told the Sacramento Bee. “We have demonstrated to the league that we want this. We are absolutely the right choice for the league.”

Study Finds Loss of Thousands of Affordable Units in L.A. County
The California Housing Partnership found that between 1997 and 2018, 5,256 affordable units in Los Angeles County were converted to market rate – making up over one-third of the 15,044 affordable units converted statewide. Many affordable units are built through the federal Low-income Housing Tax Credit program, which grants tax breaks to developers of low-income units. But these tax credits expire after 10 years, and some owners are allowed to convert units to market rate after 30 years. The report estimates that at least 14 Los Angeles developments built in the 1980s and early 1990s have soon-to-expire affordability agreements, putting an additional 12,121 homes at risk of losing their affordability status. Authors of the report urge local leaders to strike deals with developers to prevent the conversion of existing affordable units.


Quick Hits & Updates 
A poll by Change Research showed that 61 percent of Bay Area respondents support Senator Scott Weiner’s SB 50 transit-housing bill. SB 50, which recently passed its first committee in Sacramento, proposes changing zoning codes to build taller denser structures near public transit and increase affordable housing and tenant protections. The survey, which reached 3,379 Californians, was conducted online between April 6 and April 9.

San Francisco’s cap on new office space may delay the construction of the final Transbay tower. The city’s Proposition M, which limits the amount of new large office space approved each year to 875,000 square feet, has created a backlog of office space development in the recent tech boom. If approval of the final tower is delayed, it may take years before construction begins on over 300 units of affordable housing that would come at no cost to the city.
 The project has been in the works for three years and would include a 190-room five-star hotel, 165 market-rate condos and 325,000 square feet of office space, which has already been leased to Salesforce.

The LA County Board of Supervisors voted to extend a temporary rent control measure until the end of the year. The ordinance, which prevents landlords from raising rent by more than 3 percent in most apartments built before 1995, was set to expire in June. County officials hope that the extension to December 31 will give them time to create a more permanent ordinance while protecting tenants.

In a special election last week, Alameda residents voted to turn a former federal office site into a wellness center for seniors and homeless people. Voters approved the Measure A homeless center over a competing measure to convert the site to public space. Critics of the opposing Measure B bill, which proposed turning the site into public parks, suggested that the park was an alternative to inviting homeless into the city rather than a legitimate proposal in itself.

A Los Angeles City Council committee will vote on two drafts of a proposed ban on donations from those seeking approval on new development projects. This move comes two months after the Ethics Commission endorsed such a ban, and after a year of continuous public investigations of city officials who accepted donations from involved parties before key development votes.
The radio show Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, sued the Beverley Hills School District on behalf of school officials as part of an ongoing battle a planned subway tunnel under Beverley Hills High. The lawsuit claims that the district violated the state’s Public Records Act by failing to release records of public funds used to lobby the Trump Administration against the subway project. (See prior CP&DR commentary.)

Following Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia’s call for a waterfront revitalization project, local businesses proposed construction of an aerial tramway dubbed “The Wave” that connects the city’s downtown to its waterfront. The project’s plan estimates a four-stop Gondola system serving up to 4,800 people per hour. The project team will seek grant funding before asking the city for funds. Should the tramway get approved, it will require a two-year permitting process and one to two years of construction before opening.

A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel denied a bid from home-sharing platforms Airbnb Inc. and HomeAway to override liability for illicit housing in Santa Monica. This ruling maintains a city ordinance that holds the companies responsible for booking unlicensed rentals. Both companies argue that the ordinance makes their operations impossible, because it would require them to monitor and remove unregistered listings. The ruling is the latest setback in their efforts to avoid regulation in cities around the globe.

Tenants in Los Angeles and Orange counties faced the highest rent inflation in 11 years last month, according to the Consumer Price Index. The 5.5 percent annual inflation rate topped the national increase for rents. It’s also the largest rent increase among the two dozen metro areas tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, ahead of Atlanta’s 5.2 percent and San Diego’s 4.9 percent. 

In the latest development in negotiations between the Los Angeles Angeles and the city of Anaheim, the Angels have hired a consultant to assess development opportunities around the stadium. The Angels are particularly interested in acres of parking areas around the stadium for the development of restaurants, hotels, and entertainment centers in a future stadium complex. For the city, this represents a positive move in their efforts to keep the Angels long-term.

A recent Apartment List study found that more than 120,000 Bay Area residents spend at least three hours commuting to work. The study, compiled from 2017 Community Survey microdata, compared commutes of workers across the Bay Area. It classified those who commute over 90 minutes one way as “super commuters.” The study found the highest concentration of super commuters on the edges of the Bay: 11 percent of Stockton and Lodi residents travel over 90 minutes one-way. In the more central cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and Hayward, 4.8 percent of workers face three-plus hour daily commutes.  

Facing the termination of the 710 freeway extension project, the cities of Pasadena and Alhambra are preparing plans for the development of leftover freeway stubs. Pasadena has hired a consultant to negotiate the release of the 710 freeway ditch from Caltrans for future development. Alhambra city officials hope to covert their 50-acre stub to park land, but many citizens still oppose the closure of the stub, citing traffic concerns.

The Long Beach city council unanimously approved a feasibility study for a gondola system to bring visitors to the Queen Mary ocean liner. This comes in response to Urban Commons’ proposed “Queen Mary Island” development project in the 54 acres around the ship, which will include a boardwalk, cafe, bars, and 700,000 square feet of retail space. 

President Trump signed the Santa Ana River Wash Land Exchange Act, which will let the Bureau of Land Management trade 327 acres in the wash area for 310 acres owned by the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District. This swap advances a land-use plan for the 4,500-acre Santa Ana River wash area, allowing for more mining, boosting water conservation, and increasing protections for natural habitat.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced that his proposed penalty to withhold gas tax proceeds from cities that fail to meet their planned housing goals won’t take effect until 2023. Following criticism for what many see as an extreme measure to reach statewide mandates, Newsom released legislation that gives cities four years to amend their processes for setting regional housing goals. If approved, the governor’s mandate would withhold funds for road repairs and public transit from cities that fail to update their plans by 2023.

The California Supreme Court declined to review the appeal of San Francisco landlord Anne Kihagi, leaving the landmark 2017 tent abuse ruling in place. In 2017, a state judge fined Kihagi $5.5 million for bullying tactics and abuse in the 50 rent-control units she has purchased throughout the city of San Francisco since 2013. Since the ruling, the state has auctioned many of her properties and told tenants to send their rent checks to City Hall.