The Trump Administration is suing the California State Water Resources Board for alleged failure to comply with California Environmental Quality Act by approving an increased tributary flow for native salmon and steelhead in the San Joaquin River. The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Interior, claimed that the Board’s plans failed to provide an accurate project description and masked its potential environmental impacts – particularly on the federal New Melanos Dam Project. But many environmental groups believe that the flow increase to 40 percent still doesn’t do enough to support fish species, citing the board’s research showing that restoring salmon and steelhead will require a 60 percent flow. Fishing and environmental groups alike lambast the lawsuit, claiming it threatens to states’ rights by claiming authority over California watersheds. “California has authority over the waters in the state and exercises that through the State Water Resources Control Board,” said President of the Golden Gate Salmon Association John McManus, according to reporting from the SF Bay Area Independent Media Center.
Bay Area at Risk for $98 Billion of Damage in Major Quake
A U.S. Geological Survey report finds that a major earthquake along the San Andreas Fault would cause over $98 billion in damage to the city of San Francisco and the surrounding area. Scientists at the Menlo Park USGS Earthquake Science Center modeled how today’s city infrastructure would withstand the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that leveled the city in 1906. Their findings were grim: despite the city’s stricter building codes, more earthquake-resistant technologies, and better emergency preparedness, the tenfold population increase since 1906 leaves the area still vulnerable. Researchers also warn that their projections may be underestimated: their model uses census data from nine years ago and doesn’t account for aftershocks. Based on their data, researchers warn residents to be prepared at all times for at least 72 hours without access to water or electricity. They caution that the area is overdue for a quake, estimating that there is a 72 percent chance that a quake greater than or equal o a magnitude 6.7 will hit the Bay Area before 2043. “It may be that the whole system is on edge and ready for a new active cycle,” Glenn Biasi, co-author of the paper and supervisory geophysicist at USGS told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The whole system is loading up, and we don’t know when it will unload.”
Farmers Lose Suit to Undo Critical Habitat Designations
In a decisive victory for the Endangered Species Act, a U.S. District judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging protections for 1.8 million acres of imperiled species habitat. In 2016, the Fish and Wildlife Service designated the land tract under the Endangered Species Act to protect two species of high-altitude frogs, as well as Yosemite toads. Last year, three farmers' coalitions – the California Cattlemen’s Association, the California Wool Grower’s Association, and the California Farm Bureau Federation – challenged the designation, saying that it failed to consider severe burdens on local farmers. The coalition argued that they should have been involved in consultations prior to the designation. But the judge overruled their claims, saying that though their involvement “may have been prudent,” it was not in fact required by law.
Groups Sue to Block Coastal Drilling
The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Bureau of Land Management in federal court over a recent Trump administration effort to loosen regulations against drilling and fracking. The lawsuit alleges that the bureau is violating the federal Freedom of Information Act by failing to provide public records about plans for leases for oil drilling and fracking in the Bay Area and along the Central Coast. The group is especially concerned about potential fracking in Monterey, San Benito and Fresno counties, and have been seeking these records of the bureau’s plans since August 2018. The new leases contain federal land and underground mineral rights managed by the bureau on approximately 400,000 acres in 11 counties extending from Contra Costa County in the north to Monterey County in the south, including the western Central Valley. For representatives of the center, fracking poses potential water contamination risks. "Californians have every right to know the details of this destructive plan,” Clare Lakewood, an attorney for the center, told SF Gate."And it's deeply worrying that the BLM is refusing to release them."
Los Angeles Area Fares Poorly in Nationwide Pollution Rankings
The American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report found that the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area has the worst ozone pollution in the nation – a distinction the area has earned for 19 of the report's 20-year history. Between 2015-2017, the region was also ranked seventh-worst for number of unhealthy particle pollution days, and fifth-worst for total annual particle pollution. According to the report, the average number of unhealthy ozone days increased in Los Angeles-Long Beach compared with last year. The same was true for 16 other cities listed among those with the worst ozone pollution in the country. including New York, Chicago, San Diego, and Denver. The report notes the growing impacts of global climate change on nationwide health: "“This year’s report covered the three warmest years in modern history and demonstrates the increased risk of harm from air pollution that comes despite other protective measures being in place,” the report said. "The Clean Air Act must remain intact and enforced to enable the nation to continue to protect all Americans from the dangers of air pollution.”
Quick Hits & Updates
The Oakland A’s have reached a tentative $85 million agreement to buy half of the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum site from the County of Alameda. Representatives of the team maintain that they still intend to build a new waterfront ballpark at the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal. They hope to develop the Coliseum site into a multi-sport complex, and build parks, a technology campus, and 3,000 units of housing.
Completion of the San Francisco Central Subway line extension will likely delay until 2020, according to a federal monitor report. This is the latest in a series of delays for the 1.7-mile extension, which was originally planned to open in February 2018. The report cites five main causes of the new delays: contractor fights, worker shortages, cost overruns from past delays, unexplained water leaks on the line, and insufficient staffing for final tests.
The San Diego Planning Commission unanimously approved a proposal for new zoning regulations to encourage more mixed-use projects. Currently, blended residential, commercial, and industrial developments have required special city approval. The proposed zoning policy would classify mixed-use as a new type of city zone. The proposal, which faces approval from the city council next month, is the latest in Mayor Kevin Falcouner’s aggressive set of housing reforms – including last month’s removal of parking requirements for new housing near mass transit stops.
Following a January executive order to survey state lands for development, Gov. Gavin Newsom will solicit bids from developers to build affordable homes on at least three state-owned properties. This effort seeks to overcome the rising cost of land statewide: UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation found that from 2000 to 2016, land prices more than doubled in San Francisco and almost tripled in Los Angeles. Newsom's plan involves asking affordable housing developers for low-income project concepts. Approved projects would then enter into long-term lease agreements with the state. “My administration is using every tool at our disposal to combat the housing affordability crisis families face,” Newsom said in his announcement, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Peninsula Open Space Trust purchased $11 million of land totaling 937 acres from timber company Big Creek Lumber. The Palo Alto nonprofit group’s purchase covers two major parcels of land: 320 acres adjacent to Butano State Park which will likely become parkland, and 607 acres near the Aptos hills which the trust plans to sell back to Big Creek Lumber under a stricter environmental agreement than state and federal laws require.
California state lawmakers proposed a bill to set an April 1, 2020 deadline for a public access plan to Hollister Ranch near Santa Barbara. The proposal, AB 1680, comes a year after a controversial deal struck between coastal officials and ranch owners limiting beach access to landowners, their guests, visitors with guides, and those who could boat or paddle in. Now the state is working on an updated plan that would cement recreation, science, and education opportunities at the beach area. If the state fails to update the plan by the April 2020 deadline, a 1982 public access program for the area will go into effect.
The Los Angeles Planning Commission unanimously rejected local businessman Vince Lambert's bid to turn 32 Venice Beach apartment units into hotel guest rooms, citing the city’s affordable housing goals. Last year, a Superior Court judge ruled in Lambert’s favor, and his testimony cited old building permits and city codes that allowed him to turn the units into an “apartment-hotel.” Since, the city council has adopted new rules to allow only Airbnb-style rentals on renters’ “primary residences,” and Lambert lost a bid to turn the building into a hotel. Lambert plans to appeal the commission’s decision with the city council.
San Bernardino County and several environmental groups filed lawsuits against the City of Fontana, claiming the city violated state environmental laws by approving a 3.4 million-square-foot warehouse complex. The lawsuits claim that the the West Valley Logistics Center project will add more than 6,000 daily vehicle trips through the area – increasing local air pollution, noise, and traffic. Additionally, environmental groups say the project will harm habitat for the coastal California gnatcatcher and destroy a wildlife corridor between Jurupa Hills and Rattlesnake Mountain.
The Los Angeles Metro board conducted an alternatives analysis of possible routes for a bus rapid transit line between North Hollywood and Pasadena, and found that a street-running route is the most viable option. Metro’s analysis compared this route with freeway-running routes and hybrid street-and-freeway routes. Though the street-running route would take the most time, the analysis found that it will attract the most riders, and connect the greatest number of destinations.
Major League Soccer announced it will expand to 30 teams, officially inviting the cities of Sacramento and St. Louis to join its franchise. Both cities have competitively vied for inclusion for months. Earlier this year, Sacramento offered the franchise a $23 million comprehensive incentive package to build around a $252 million stadium.
In efforts to preserve affordable housing in the city, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance to give nonprofits the right of first refusal to purchase multifamily residential buildings. The proposal, called the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA), would give nonprofits such as the Mission Economic Development Agency or the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Coalition the first opportunity to buy a building with three or more residential rental units. The ordinance must pass a second vote and be signed by the mayor to go into effect.
The California Housing Finance Agency announced its pilot accessory dwelling unit funding program in Clovis, providing $2.5 million to fund the Clovis Cottage Home program. The agency is partnering with the nonprofit Self-Help Enterprises, which will provide finances to individual homeowners/borrowers, service the loans, and collaborate with Clovis to market their program.
The Choice Neighborhoods Program HUD posted the FY19 Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants NOFA on April 10 with up to $5,000,000 for Planning Grants, including Planning and Action Grants. These grants support locally driven strategies that address struggling neighborhoods with distressed public or HUD-assisted housing. Successful applicants address housing, people, and neighborhood goals through a comprehensive “transformation plan.” Applications are due on Monday, June 10.
The California Strategic Growth Council's Climate Change Research Program staff will be visiting institutions of higher education throughout the State in early May, hosting Research Roundtables and Listening Sessions. Staff hope to hear from researchers, non-traditional research partners, and stakeholders about the program’s future investments in climate research that engages and benefits communities in California. Key institutions and dates include: UC Berkeley on May 1, UC Davis on May 2, UC Merced on May 3, CalPoly, San Luis Obispo on May 7, UCLA on May 8, and San Diego State University on May 10.
Citing the success of last year’s measure to limit scooters, San Francisco will consider doubling its scooter allowance numbers. Last year, officials temporarily banned scooter use citywide following complaints of reckless driving and blocked sidewalk traffic. San Francisco’s measures may serve as a model for successful control of scooter use for cities facing similar complaints statewide.
Fresno Housing Authority Commissioner Terra Brusseau is being pressured to resign after she opposed a Clovis low-income development project on the grounds that the area might not be the “best place” for diversity. Community leaders call her remarks racist and offensive to the economically disadvantaged. The commissioner claims that her remarks were misconstrued, and does not plan to resign.
Napa County supervisors unanimously passed watershed protection regulations, potentially jeopardizing the growth of the wine industry in the region. The proposed rules aim to protect trees and the hillside watershed, which have faced erosion and increased sediment deposit into reservoirs. New regulations would prohibit development next to streams or land with at least 30 percent slope, limit the number of trees that could be removed, and require open space be set aside when trees must be removed.
The Santa Monica City Council temporarily banned two forms of affordable housing downtown to accommodate more kinds of renters. The ban halts approval of market-rate micro apartments smaller than 375 feet – also known as single-room occupancies (SROs) – for 45 days until the council devises a measure to address their overabundance. The ban was placed to halt production of six apartment complexes downtown that offer 363 SROs, 95 percent of which are at market rate. The council also banned approval of extremely low income housing (ELIs) for eight months, citing data showing that ELIs make up 45 percent of current affordable housing production.
NASA released a report saying that its 2010 agreement with the Department of Toxic Control to clean up the notoriously contaminated field lab at Santa Susana, north of Los Angeles, by is “not achievable.” The agreement, which set a 2017 deadline, requires NASA to cleanup soil background levels on the 2.500-acre site. Initially, the remediation project’s cost estimates were $209 million, but have since soared above half a billion dollars. The Department responded that it will hold NASA “accountable” for violations.