Settling a court battle, downtown San Diego’s semi-independent planning agency, Civic San Diego, will lose much of its authority. The settlement ends a years-long legal battle between the city and Martusa Baxamusa, a former Civic San Diego board member who alleged that the agency lacked oversight and abused its powers by expediting approvals for certain developers. Civic San Diego, which arose out of the dissolution of the state’s redevelopment agencies, has agreed to transfer powers back to the city, including its planning and permitting of downtown projects and its administration over the downtown parking district. The city continues to deny any wrongdoing, and claims the settlement is a positive step. “We’re pleased with this tentative settlement agreement, which will elevate the planning and permitting services the city provides to our urban neighborhoods,” city spokesperson Katie Keach told the San Diego Union Tribune. “This agreement will enhance our efforts to tackle the housing crisis, create jobs and improve the quality of life in our communities.”
Water Board Adopts New Rules for “Waters of the State"
The State Water Resources Control Board adopted new definitions and procedures for waters of the state. This is the board’s latest effort to safeguard the existing water regulatory process against the Trump administration's current efforts to scale back the reach of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s regulatory powers. The new rules, entitled "Procedures for Discharges of Dredged or Fill Material to Waters of the State", strengthens protections for "waters of the state" and develops uniform definitions and procedures across California's Regional Water Quality Control Boards for regulating discharges of dredged or fill materials. Notably, the change formally adopts the Corps’ expansive definition of “wetlands,” which will strengthen protections for arid portions of the state not covered under federal jurisdiction. It also establishes a regulatory process for the submission, review, and approval of applications to discharge dredge or fill material to "waters of the state.”
Feds Pass Drought Plan; Imperial Irrigation District Sues
The same day Senate and House approval seemed to conclude the long-negotiated seven-state Colorado Drought Contingency Plan, California’s Imperial Irrigation District (IID) sued to block the plan. IID's lawsuit, filed in a state court, asks for further environmental review before the plan’s approval. IID has repeatedly refused to agree to the plan until the federal government provides $200 million to restore the at-risk Salton Sea. Earlier this year, California’s other prominent water agency, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), agreed to take over IID's delivery cuts in order to move the plan forward. Additionally, California Senator Dianne Feinstein committed to work with the Department of Agriculture to help IID find the funds it needs to restore the Salton Sea. Despite IID’s latest bid to halt the agreement, MWD’s director Jeffrey Kightlinger is confident that the plan’s final signing ceremony will still take place in the coming weeks. “I don’t think the lawsuit changes anything on the ground,” he told the Los Angeles Times. (See prior CP&DR commentary.)
More Cities Come into Compliance with New Housing Laws
The Department of Housing and Development (HCD) announced that cities and counties are making progress toward compliance with state housing laws. HCD attributes the uptick to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s February meeting with mayors from non-compliant cities and counties. Since this meeting, three of these cities have become compliant, and 14 others have committed to specific actions toward compliance, or submitted drafts. "Strong local planning is key to building a California for All, and the progress thus far is encouraging," said Department of Housing and Community Development Director Ben Metcalf in the release. "We are seeing meaningful efforts by cities and counties that weren't in compliance to get back on-track and plan to meet the housing needs in their communities.”
Quick Hits & Updates
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) released its annual report analyzing the state’s 2018 investments from cap and trade funds in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF). Last year, the state invested $1.4 billion in various projects to reduce the effects of climate change on California communities – over double the total 2017 investment. CARB estimates that the 2018 investments will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by almost 37 million metric tons. This amounts to about what would be produced by burning four billion gallons of diesel fuel, or “roughly equivalent to taking eight million cars off the road for a year.”
San Francisco District Four Supervisor Gordon Mar proposed a resolution to block Senator Scott Weiner’s SB 50, which will increase density and allow for taller buildings near transit hubs. Mar represents the city’s Sunset District, which notably contains predominantly low-density, single-family housing. Mar’s opposition claims that Weiner’s bill doesn’t contain affordability provisions and displacement protections – but Weiner responded that the opposite is true. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to oppose Sen. Scott Weiner’s SB 50 housing bill, arguing that the bill would create more market-rate housing without protecting or promoting affordable housing.
To Mountain View Whisman school board unanimously approved a $56 million agreement to lease out a 144-unit subsidized apartment buildings for its employees for the next 55 years at least. This move makes the Whisman school district one of a growing number of bay area districts that are using affordable housing as a tool to attract and retain top talent for its workforce. The Mountain View Environmental Planning Commission will review the plan at its April 17 meeting, and it will go before the city council for final approval May 7.
A poll conducted by Mercury News and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group revealed that nearly two-thirds of Bay Area residents believe that quality of life has gotten worse in the past five years. Respondents cite high housing prices, traffic jams, and high homelessness rates among the reasons for worsened conditions. Forty-four percent of the polls respondents report plans to move away from the area in the next few years, and 6 percent plan to leave the area this year.
The Santa Cruz City Council is considering invoking eminent domain to claim several private properties for a highway expansion project. The city has completed design plans for key expansions in high-traffic areas of Highway 1 and Highway 9, and, and if it fails to begin construction by 2020 it risks losing funding from a State Transportation Improvement grant. City officials estimate that in order to make that date, they need agreements with all property owners by July. To justify the purchase, the city must also make the case that the claim is necessary and in the public good.
The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) released SB 2 Planning Grants Program Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for approximately $123 million. The Planning Grants Program provides one-time, over-the-counter grants to local governments to update a variety of planning documents and processes that streamline housing approvals and accelerate housing production. Over-the-counter applications will be accepted for an eight-month period ending November 30.
A new report shows that San Francisco surpassed New York as the world’s most expensive place to build. According to the report, conducted by consulting company Turner & Townsend, costs rose because of an increase in demand from the tech sector, a shortage in construction labor, and a spike in steel prices attributed to U.S. and China tariffs.
The City and County of San Francisco entered into a $500,000 agreement with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for information and planning assistance to safeguard the city against future weather extremes, including heat waves and storms. This is a first-of-its-kind local agreement between city officials and local researchers; typically, municipalities use national weather and climate data for their planning analyses. City officials hope it will help them decide where to direct future infrastructure investments, including fortifying San Francisco International Airport, upgrading highway drainage, and re-engineering seawalls.
The Fresno County Local Agency Formation Commission approved adding a new 1,035-acre area to Clovis's northeast side. More than 500 acres of the land are already designated in the city’s general plan for business development, with another 325 acres for residential projects and 225 acres of parkland and open space. Consultants for the city projected that by the time it is built out in 2035, the area could generate about 6,100 jobs.
California cities are eligible to apply for up to $200,000 in grants under Proposition 68, the $4 million parks and water bond from the California Department of Parks and Recreation. To apply for the grants, cities must respond to the Department’s mailed letter seeking information for fund allocation by June 3rd. After this, the grantee must submit an adopted resolution to the Office of Grants and Local Services (OGALS by November 1, 2019; the grantee must submit the application to OGALS by January 31, 2020; and the OGALS contract must be signed and submitted back to OGALS by March 31, 2020. More information can be found on the department’s webpage.
Representatives of the Port of Oakland’s maritime industry raised concerns about the Oakland A’s new waterfront ballpark plan. Port commissioners are currently negotiating a deal for the baseball team to acquire Howard Terminal on the Oakland Inner Harbor, and install a 34,000-seat stadium and housing project. However, groups like the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association and San Francisco Bar Pilots Association are concerned about ship safety from decreased visibility around the site, and about the future economic viability of the port itself.
The California Natural Resources Agency will be accepting project proposals for the Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program from April 12, 2019 through June 17, 2019. Approximately $6.7 million in awards will be funded by this program. Applicants submitting the most competitive proposals will be invited to participate in the next level of the process in late summer or early fall 2019.
The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) announced the release of the SB 2 Planning Grants Program Notice of Funding Availability for approximately $123 million. The Planning Grants Program provides one-time, over-the-counter grants to local governments to update a variety of planning documents and processes that streamline housing approvals and accelerate housing production. Over-the-counter applications will be accepted for an eight-month period ending on November 30, 2019. HCD’s technical assistance team will work closely with regions, sub-regions, and counties to help jurisdictions identify activities and provide tools that will accelerate housing production.
A recent Ecological Journal study found that two Southern California mountain lion species could go extinct within 50 years. The study cites a precipitous decline in genetic diversity caused by inbreeding issues: The apex predators face major man-made blockers to their roaming needs in the form of freeways, cities, and private properties. The study’s authors urge Los Angeles County to construct wildlife land bridges over major freeways and wildlife corridors around private areas to help intermix two declining populations.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Development approved $124 million in recovery funds for the 2017 California wildfires and mudslides. These funds support the state of California’s disaster action plan, which will address outstanding housing, business, and infrastructure damage in affected Southern California counties.
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an overhaul of its inclusionary housing ordinance, with updates promising to generate as much as $1 million per year. The existing ordinance, which required developers to build affordable units or pay fees for affordable unit construction, only raised $25,000 per year. The updated fines will apply to construction of all new homes, rather than only to multiple-home developments. It also tiers the fees based on the development’s size – generating more revenue for with each increase in square footage.
The Los Angeles City Council settled a court case securing the property rights of homeless people in the Skid Row area. The rare non-unanimous 10-2 decision, applauded by homeless advocates throughout the city, maintains a 2016 injunction that prevents police and city workers from confiscating possessions of homeless people without notice.
California cities earned top-20 spots in the Trust for Public Land’s 2018 dog park rankings: Oakland and San Francisco claimed 7th and 8th, respectively, Sacramento claimed 18th, and Bakersfield and Long Beach tied for 19th. The rankings measure the number of dog parks per 100,00 residents.
Bay Area job growth accounted for 81 percent of new jobs in the state of California in the first two months of 2019, according to the state Employment Development Department. So far this year, the state of California has added 20,500 jobs, and 16,600 came from the Bay Area. These numbers are driven in most part by rapid hiring in the tech sector.
San Francisco’s New Housing Inventory Report showed that housing construction in the city declined by 41 percent in 2018, to only 2,600 units. However, more than 3,000 new units authorized this year remained unbuilt – which may signify that new homes built will increase in future years. Notably, the report also found that only one-quarter of these new units were affordable, down 56 percent from last year.
The Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery has released a request for comments on a number of questions related to wildfire liability. All comments will play an important role in informing the Commission’s report to the legislature. Stakeholders can respond on the Governor's Office of Planning and Research (OPR) website. Responses are encouraged by 5:00 pm on Monday, April 22 to help inform the next Commission meeting on Monday, April 29.