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CP&DR News Briefs September 3, 2019: Google's San Jose Plans; Paradise Valley Nixed; Wiener vs. Cupertino; and More

Brett Simpson on
Sep 2, 2019
Google Reveals Details of Downtown San Jose Plans 
After two years of buying property around downtown San Jose, tech giant Google unveiled the first details of its downtown revitalization plan. Google, in partnership with a developer, plans to create a transit-oriented village around the forthcoming Diridon Station. Plans include space for 3,000-5,000 new homes and 6.5 million square feet of office, retail, arts, education, cultural, and hotel uses. The Diridon area will also include about 15 acres of parks and green space, including extended creek trails and new greenways along the Guadalupe River and the Los Gatos Creek. To fast track development, Google hopes to invoke the 2011 state law AB 900, which streamlines large projects that meet certain requirements. That means they’ll need at least $100 million in investment, to generate no net new greenhouse gas emissions, and create both construction and highly skilled jobs. Google will submit its formal application for the mixed-use plan to the city in October, and the review process will extend through most of 2020. Google was met with local protestors outside of City Hall, who expressed fears that the village which would only raise rents and displace existing residents. But Google is determined to work with the community. “We heard loud and clear that you don’t want to step out of what will be the second biggest regional transit center in the country into a Google campus,” said Alexa Arena, director of real estate development at Google, according to the Mercury News. “And we don’t want that either.” (See prior CP&DR coverage.) 

Riverside Planning Commission Rejects New Community of Paradise Valley
Dealing a major, and perhaps fatal, setback for a development plan 20 years in the making, the Riverside County Planning Commission voted to recommend that the Board of Supervisors deny a proposed development near Coachella Valley. The proposed town, dubbed Paradise Valley, would add 8,400 new homes to the area. But environmental, resident, and tribal groups have expressed concerns about developing an area so close to Joshua Tree National Park – citing critical habitat loss and harm to the natural landscape. The Planning Commission recommended five major changes to the current plans: emergency access, environmental impacts, affordable housing, and utility feasibility. The developer plans to address these concerns in revised plans before facing the county board of supervisors next month.

Wiener Calls Out Cupertino for Skimping on Housing at Vallco Mall
In the latest escalation of a standoff between the City of Cupertino and state officials over the proposed redevelopment of Vallco Mall, California Senator Scott Weiner accused the City Council of illegally attempting to cut the number of homes allowed on the site. Despite objections from the council, approval of the developer’s initial plans were streamlined under state law SB 52. Still, the City Council voted to block the development project earlier this year after a local group, Friends of Better Cupertino, sued. Last month, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) threatened to sue Cupertino for noncompliance with its state-mandated housing goals should it fail to approve the development. In response, the City Council just approved only 620 units on the 13-acre parcel – far fewer than the initially planned 2,402 housing units for the site. Current state mandates require Cupertino to build 1,064 new units by 2023. The original plans also included 1.8 million square feet of offices and 400,000 square feet of retail. But the council also banned office development and restricted building heights to 60 feet – which critics say will make it harder to finance affordable housing. “We do need office space in the Bay Area. We have a growing economy," Senator Scott Weiner told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Office is a good thing as long as there is housing.” (See prior CP&DR coverage.) 

Additional Fremont BART Station Approved 
After forty years of delays and budget shortfalls, the BART Board of Directors greenlighted construction of a third Fremont station. The forthcoming Irvington Station was first proposed in 1979 to fill a mid-city transit gap between Fremont Station and South Fremont/Warm Springs. But it has faced a series of obstacles: ten years ago, the city of Fremont hoped to fund the station through bonds from the California Redevelopment Agency, but former Governor Jerry Brown dissolved the agency in 2009. But in 2014, Alameda County voters approved Measure BB, a transportation sales tax increase that will provide a budget for the $122 million project. The project will break ground in 2022, and estimates show that the new station will serve 1,900 commuters per day by its planned 2026 opening. This approval joins BART’s regionwide expansion plans, including a recently-approved new San Jose Station.

Report: Federal Opportunity Zones Rely on Local Land Use Policies 
Community benefits from Opportunity Zone investments will largely depend on local land land use and zoning regulations, according to an analysis of three major Opportunity Zone cities from Urban Institute. Last year, the Trump Administration approved a tax incentive for investment in developing designated “Opportunity Zones,” identified by low incomes, high poverty rates, and high unemployment rates. Urban mapped land use permitting in three such areas – Fresno, California, Cleveland, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. – to compare local strategies for accelerating local economic development. It found that in all cases, the success of the program depended on local planners’ ability to adapt investments to the specific needs of their community plans. For instance, Fresno had already adopted a new zoning code as part of its strategic general plan to encourage development near transit. As such, they focused their Opportunity Zone requests for targeted infill areas near transit to encourage development even where the market is slow. By contrast, in D.C., the development market is hot – so cities must ensure that Opportunity Zone development benefits the full community. Importantly, the analysis finds, all areas attempted to mitigate potential harm and gentrification from new zoning. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Quick Hits & Updates 
The Alhambra City Council voted unanimously to adopt a draft general plan of its growth vision for the next 20 years. Major changes include a commitment to adopt a preservation ordinance that will create a city historic commission and a citywide historic resources survey. The council also agreed to further lower the maximum height of new buildings in the Central Business District from 10 stories to five stories. Some councilmembers expressed concerns that taller buildings would add more traffic to Main Street, while others said it the new height limitations may limit the city’s ability to build new housing.

Targeting a downtown revitalization to attract more traffic and customers, the Del Mar City Council unanimously approved upgrades to the Del Mar Plaza Specific Plan. The Plaza Specific Plan has been in place since 1987, and the council has been working on major updates to accommodate new growth since last year. Changes include eliminating square footage limits on restaurants, allowing new signs for businesses, a new parking plan, and using adjacent “quasi-public” spaces for special events. Since 2017, sales at the plaza have decreased by 24 percent, and several retail locations are vacant.

Plans for the Los Angeles Metro Gold Line foothill extension to Pomona will move forward after the project received $126 million from the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments Governing Board. The grant, which fully funds the project, will allow the Construction Authority to extend the 31-mile light rail into Pomona, and allows for the option to continue the line into Claremont and Montclair if an additional $500 million in funds becomes available within two years. The Construction Authority plans to finish the line into Pomona by 2025. 

Southern California's Metrolink commuter rail service reached nearly 12 million riders last year – its highest annual ridership ever. The new record follows a five-year trend of steady ridership increases, and adds 247,000 boardings from last year. Officials cite an increase in marketing investments, discounts to offset decreasing ridership, and trial rides for Earth Day and Bike Month as contributors to the uptick. They also cite a strong local economy and more workers commuting through Los Angeles Union Station.

Electric scooter company Scoot has blocked drop-offs in two of San Francisco’s poorest neighborhoods, the Tenderloin and Chinatown, according to a new report. This move comes despite Scoot’s commitments to the contrary: as a condition for joining the city’s scooter pilot program, Scoot specifically promised it would prioritize serving the Tenderloin and Chinatown as “communities of concern.” The company claims that it decided to shut off these areas after concerns expressed for older people in the community, and about narrow sidewalks.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has launched an investigation into San Francisco’s affordable housing practices, according to reporting from the San Francisco Chronicle. The Chronicle reported that HUD has asked for copies of decade-old city laws related to affordable housing development. This may be related to a city policy called the Neighborhood Preference Program, which requires the city to earmark 40 percent of affordable units for residents already in or near the district where a new building is being built. But HUD has criticized this policy, saying the program may violate protections against racist housing practices.

 Marking one of the largest-ever settlements involving water quality on the North Coast, Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur Kevin Harvey will pay $3.76 million in penalties for bulldozing a protected wetland to build a vineyard in Mendocino County. According to state officials, Harvey violated state and federal law by filling in the protected North Fork Ten Mile River watershed on his 4,500-acre ranch west of Highway 101 near Laytonville. Because restoration will be impossible, the new vineyard will remain in place and half of the penalties will fund two stream restoration projects in Mendocino County.

Ranchers in Point Reyes National Seashore may be allowed to expand their livestock operations and cull local elk populations, according to a draft environmental impact statement for agricultural land management proposal just submitted by the National Park Service for public comment. The statement proposes new rancher-friendly rules for over 28,000 acres of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Key among these proposals include an extension of grazing leases, a diversification of livestock operations, and and allowance of 10 to 15 elk to be killed every year by ranchers. Allow proposals are pending public comment.

Several environmental groups have sued the Forest Service over plans to remove trees and brush from a 1,200 acre stretch of Los Padres National Forest. The Forest Service cites wildfire risk mitigation and overall forest health for its planned clearance areas, which border several towns along the Ventura-Kern county lines. However, groups Mountain Communities for Fire Safety, Los Padres Forestwatch and the John Muir Project contend that the plan may increase fire risk, and would allow commercial logging in a would-be protected area.

In the latest ruling in a months-long legal battle between Governor Gavin Newsom and the City of Huntington Beach over compliance with statewide housing production mandates, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge denied the city’s request to dismiss the state’s lawsuit. In January, at the governor’s request, the state filed a lawsuit against the city for failing to build enough homes to accommodate a growing population. The city pushed back, arguing that new housing production should be a municipal decision. 

San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal officially reopened its bus deck for operations after nearly a year. Last September, just weeks after opening, the $2.2 billion center was abruptly shut down after workers discovered a crack in a steel beam over Fremont Street. The center and its 5.4 acre rooftop garden reopened July 1, but bus services were delayed until drivers could be trained on the expansive deck operations.

A proposed senior housing community won’t be built in Simi Valley after the City Council upheld the Planning Commission’s denial of the proposed 51-unit townhouse. This decision comes despite acknowledgements from many councilmembers that the city needs more senior housing. In April, the commission denied the project on grounds that the moderate density zoning wouldn’t have fit into the single-family neighborhood, and that the market-rate units would have been too expensive for city residents.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released its environmental report on the new $1 billion dam project near Pacheco Pass in Santa Clara County. The project, the state’s first major dam since 1998, was devised in response to the recent five-year drought, which left the area particularly vulnerable to water scarcity issues. Environmental groups have strongly objected to the costly project, citing risks to local wildlife and watersheds.

In response to the Trump Administration’s recent announcement of major scale-backs of the Endangered Species Act, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has threatened to sue the administration. The plan, put forth by the Interior Department last week, changes the way the 50-year-old conservation law is administered. The changes were proposed to ease regulations on new business ventures. However, it will likely make it harder to win new protections for wildlife, as well as maintain safeguards for the 16,000 species currently protected under the law. In addition to Becerra’s potential lawsuit, state lawmakers are speaking out in support of the proposed SB1, which would protect environmental regulations eased by the current federal administration. 

In the first appellate decision to address environmental review under SB 375’s Sustainable Communities Environmental Assessment (SCEA) process, the California Court of Appeals rejected challenges to a project based on zoning uniformity. The case, Sacramentans for Fair Planning v. City of Sacramento, came after Sacramento approved a high-rise condominium project inconsistent with the City’s general plan and zoning code standards. Despite the plaintiff’s objections, the court upheld the city’s use of SCEA to perform a streamlined environmental review of the development – ruling that the city did not need to provide specific land use regulations in order to streamline review, but rather establish a regional pattern of higher-density development.

In the state’s latest stand against the federally-supported Cadiz Inc. Mojave Desert groundwater pumping project, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will force the project to withstand further environmental review. When the Trump Administration took office in 2016, it waived many of the environmental reviews for the project put into place by the Obama Administration. However, now Senate Bill 307 will require the State Lands Commission to determine that a project involving the transfer of groundwater won’t adversely affect the environment.

The Glendale City Council approved a feasibility study for a new trolley line to run through the city’s downtown. Earlier this year, city staff revealed two possible routes for the system that’s estimated to cost between $250 million and $300 million. Depending on which option the city selects, the line is estimated to draw between 1,400 and 5,000 riders a day – still a wide estimate for the early-stages project. The city still needs to find funding for the project – it won’t receive Metro sales tax incentive funding. Fare revenue is estimated to cover only half of the annual cost of keeping the line running. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

As part of its efforts against a citywide affordable housing crisis, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved legislation eliminating several fees for affordable housing developments and accessory dwelling units (ADUs). According to Mayor London Breed, who introduced the legislation, permitting fees for such projects can range from $100,000 to $150,000. Under a one-year program, the department of building inspection will waive fees for inspections, plan reviews, record retentions, and site surcharges.