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CP&DR News Briefs September 10, 2019: L.A. TOD Lawsuit; Zoning & Housing Production; Bay Area Freaks Out Developers; and More

Brett Simpson on
Sep 8, 2019
Group Sues to Block Los Angeles Transit Oriented Development Program 
A Los Angeles anti-development group filed a petition in Los Angeles Supreme Court targeting the city’s aims to increase affordable housing and density near transit stops. The group, Fix the City, objected to the city’s recent approval of a seven-story, 120-unit apartment building in West LA. The development was approved under new transit-oriented communities (TOC) guidelines created under affordable housing Measure JJJ, passed in 2016. The TOC guidelines allow developers who agree to build affordable units to construct higher and denser buildings than what’s typically allowed in city codes. Fix the City has sued Los Angeles over a number of planning proposals, including a plan to increase density along the Expo line, and an update to the Hollywood Community Plan. City planners largely consider the new TOC guidelines a success: this year to date, almost 8,000 housing units have been proposed through the program – over 1,600 of which are affordable. A spokesperson for Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti called the program a “lawful and essential” boon to affordable housing production.

Study: Strict Zoning Restricts Housing Development 
California cities with stricter land-use regulations see the lowest amount of new housing growth, according to a recent study from George Mason University. The study’s authors examined regulations and housing construction in 249 cities from 2012-2018. They found that the suburban areas of Dublin and Irvine, two of the least-regulated areas in the state, experienced the most rapid housing growth in that period. Their relatively lax regulations included smaller minimum lot sizes for single-family homes, higher building height limits, and higher percentages of land zoned for multifamily housing. In the state’s major cities like San Francisco and San Diego, more relaxed land use regulations are belied by strict building height limits and opposition to building from local residents. And, according to the study’s authors, these cities tend to have both urban growth boundaries and density restrictions. “In some places, you can’t build out but you can build up, and in others you can’t build up but you can build out. In a lot of California, you can’t do either one.” said Salim Furth, senior research fellow at George Mason University, according to US News.

Developers Wary of Working in Bay Area 
California commercial and multi-family developers are optimistic about future building, but are reluctant to build in the Bay Area, according to a new survey released by the UCLA Anderson School of Management and law firm Allen Matkins. The biannual survey projects a three-year outlook for the state’s commercial real estate industry and forecasts potential opportunities and challenges facing the office, multi-family, retail, and industrial sectors. The data showed that Bay Area residential developers have pulled back on new development in the last six months, citing an unsteady market in Silicon Valley, the East Bay, and San Francisco. One possible cause of this pessimism may be the growing movement toward rent control in the Bay Area. Governor Gavin Newsom recently backed San Francisco-based Assemblymember David Chiu’s rent cap bill AB 1482. The change may also be due to hefty construction costs in the Bay Area: according the the San Francisco Planning Department, San Francisco has nearly 73,000 units “in the pipeline,” but only 8,500 of those are under construction. The authors of the study predict that “if uncertainty is causing the building of multi-family projects to wane in the Bay Area, it will only exacerbate the housing shortage there.”

Report: ‘Boomerang Kids’ Prevalent throughout California 
Roughly 37 percent of young Californians between 18 and 34 live with their parents, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. These numbers are highest in two areas: high-income coastal suburbs and lower-income inland areas. In coastal suburbs like Mission Viejo in Southern California, rates of milllenials living with their parents are as high as 55 percent. These are mainly white, affluent young workers who can’t still can’t afford the median home prices of $700,000. Low-income inland stay-at-homers, in areas like Imperial County or Fresno and Merced, are more likely to be Latino, and are often providing essential financial support to their families. More than 40 percent of California stay-at-homers are enrolled in school. “This has, I think, surprised many of us, including myself,” Richard Fry, a senior researcher with the Pew Research Center, told Cal Matters. “Clearly in certain areas rents have gone up, and he cost of living independently has increased."

Quick Hits & Updates 
California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) Director Ben Metcalf is stepping down, according to an announcement from the agency. The director says he will continue to address the affordable housing crisis in his future career. HCD’s Chief Deputy Director Doug McCauley will serve as Acting Director until a new Director is appointed. (See further CP&DR coverage.)

The California High-Speed Rail Authority released its preferred alternatives for building Northern California lines. The Authority recommended Alternative 4 for the San Jose to Merced line, which will follow an existing Union Pacific Rail corridor from San Jose and Gilroy before continuing to a dedicated high-speed rail alignment through Pacheco Pass. In the San Francisco to San Jose project section, Authority staff recommends Alternative A, which includes a light maintenance facility on the east side of the tracks in Brisbane and does not include additional passing tracks in the middle of the corridor. Authority staff will seek public comments on its recommendations through September.

The City of Anaheim launched a development initiative to incentivize investment and new building along the Beach Boulevard corridor. The initiative offers flexible development rules for the sale or lease of land in hopes of attracting new retail, restaurants, and residential communities to the 1.5 mile stretch. The city hopes to attract new developers, as well as streamline existing plans to begin construction as soon as 2020.

The Coastal Commission criticized a proposal from the San Diego Association of Governments to place railroad tracks in a trench next to coastal bluffs in Del Mar. The bluff trench is one of several ideas being considered by the regional planning agency to safeguard tracks on an eroding coastline. Other possible solutions to avoid landslides and erosions include moving the line as much as a mile inland or tunneling up to 270 feet below ground. The Coastal Commission claims that the trench plan would violate many Coastal Act policies, and supports pursuing the various tunnel options.

Most teachers in San Francisco and San Mateo County cannot afford to rent where they teach, according to a new report compiled by the Council of Community Housing Organizations (CCHO). The report, titled “Who Will Teach Our Children?”, examines variables like median incomes, teacher pay, and average rent and home prices. The report noted that teacher salaries vary widely, depending on district, subjects taught, and years of experience. But overall, they found that even the highest-attaining teachers would end up paying more than 37 percent of their income toward the median home rates in the area. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

The number of “super commuters” – people who drive over 90 minutes one way – is growing statewide, according to an analysis of census data by Apartment List. The analysis found that in 2017, 41 out of 58 counties saw at least moderate growth in the share of the workforce supercommuting, with particularly high rates in the Bay Area. The report cites a lack of housing in dense cities, so that people can no longer afford to live where they work.

Despite protests from opponents and critics, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board narrowly voted 4-3 to name the city’s Chinatown Muni station after the late Rose Pak. Pak, who fought tirelessly for the 1.7-mile Chinatown extension before her death three years ago, has received criticism for her political tactics and controversial messages. Protestors asked that the station bear only the name “Chinatown.” 

In a move to address the local housing crisis by increasing the number of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) offered citywide, the city of San Diego created a 42-page handbook for homeowners interested in adding ADUs to their backyards and garages. The handbook covers zoning rules, parking requirements, the city’s approval process, and the details of the city’s new subsidy program established last year.
In the latest development in a showdown between Cupertino and state government, the Cupertino City Council promised to take all necessary steps to meet its production goals. Earlier this month, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) threatened to sue the city over a potential housing law violation if it failed to approve development plans at the Vallco Shopping Mall site. In May, city officials rescinded its specific plan for the Vallco Development that would have added 2,402 homes – easily bringing it into compliance with the state mandate to add 1,064 new housing units by 2023. These plans were green lighted under the statewide SB 35 housing streamlining law. But a local lawsuit, still pending, threatens to halt the project and dissolve the plans. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Citing concerns about crime and traffic, San Jose residents are pushing back against a proposal to build a four-story, 147-unit low-income senior housing project. The plans aim to serve a vulnerable population at risk of displacement in the growing affordable housing crisis. However, its proximity to single-family homes drew pushback from community members who oppose increased density and crime risks from housing at-risk populations. To get Measure A bond funding from the county, Charities plans to set aside nearly 50 units for formerly homeless seniors.
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