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CP&DR News Briefs April 21, 2020: Joshua Tree Protection; Charter Cities Court Case; Bay Area Sea Level Rise; and More

Robin Glover on
Apr 19, 2020
State Recommends Imperiled Joshua Tree for Federal Protection
California's iconic Joshua tree is a step closer to permanent protected status after securing a recommendation from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Last year, the federal government denied protected status under federal law, partly because state and local programs already provide the trees some protection. Conservation groups are pushing for more protection: the hardy trees, belonging to the yucca family, thrive in the Mojave Desert's arid conditions, but climate models consistently project rising temperatures and increasingly erratic precipitation patterns that would push Joshua Trees and many other native California species into higher elevations. And the department's recommendation raises an inviting possibility: as the first species under consideration primarily on the grounds of climate change forecasts, Joshua Trees could set a precedent for other species that will be driven to higher elevations to avoid rising temperatures. It would also throw up another permitting roadblock for development projects that would remove western Joshua trees.

In Housing Case, Court Upholds State Power over Charter Cities 
The California Supreme Court declined to hear Anderson v. City of San Jose, bolstering the state’s authority to use the Surplus Land Act to compel charter cities to prioritize affordable housing on their surplus land. The appeals court decision, which overturned a Santa Clara County Superior Court ruling, referenced recent case law and legislation illustrating the scope of California’s housing crisis as grounds to demonstrate that the state’s interest in providing affordable housing with surplus government property is more substantial than identifiable municipal interests, therefore clearing the bar set for statewide preemption. The decision may bring clarity to similar cases. In 2017, for example, Huntington Beach prevailed in a lawsuit with arguments that closely track those made in Anderson v. City of San Jose, in which the city claimed its right as a charter city to flout state-mandated goals. That clarity and the fact the Surplus Land Act was expanded for local agencies in the fall through AB 1486 could be a bellwether for more affordable housing in the future. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Detailed Report Enumerates Effect of Sea Level Rise on Bay Area Infrastructure 
An alarming 700-page report on sea level rise commissioned by a consortium of state and Bay Area agencies warns that "the Bay Area is at a tipping point, poised between a growing body of information... and the beginnings of irreversible impacts" from rising sea levels. The report is based on a rise of 48 inches, a level supported by a previous study in which that level could arrive as early as 2060. The findings highlight specific aspects of the approaching threat to how the region functions. The access points to four major bridges would be affected; runways at San Francisco and Oakland airports would be largely under water; nearly 31,000 jobs planned for north San Jose would need to be relocated; and 78 miles of protected bicycle trails would be off-limits. "All these different aspects of the region are interconnected," said Dana Brechwald, who oversaw the study's preparation. "The solutions aren't going to be one size fits all."

Quick Hits & Updates 

After weeks of sparring over how many hotel rooms the city should lease and who should move into them, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and the city's board of supervisors have agreed to lease more than 8,000 hotel rooms to house the city's homeless and frontline workers. The emergency ordinance, which received unanimous approval, requires fulfillment by April 26. Officials worry San Francisco's progress from strict shelter-in-place policies will unravel if COVID-19 takes hold in the city's homeless population.

Given the extraordinary nature of the COVID-19 emergency, the Department of Housing and Community Development's Asset Management and Compliance Branch is providing guidance related to asset management and compliance functions for projects in HCD's portfolio. Landlords and property managers can find information regarding relief requests, reporting requirements, compliance monitoring and COVID-19 response best practices. The guidance will be in effect beginning April 16 and re-evaluated on a continual basis.

HCD released an updated draft of Streamlined Ministerial Approval Process Guidelines. The draft incorporates new legislation from 2019 and technical clarifications to the initial document created under SB 35, which requires the availability of a simplified approval process for developments in localities that have not yet made sufficient progress towards their RHNA requirements. The public comment period ends May 18.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced the closure of 74 miles of city streets to nonessential car traffic. City officials hope to make it easier and safer for walkers, bikers, and runners to practice social distancing. Oakland has also opted to keep its nearly 6,000 acres of parks open.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will withdraw a proposed rule that would have protected sage-grouse populations in California and Nevada under the Endangered Species Act. The decision impacts roughly 3,000 birds and the birds' habitat, which 4.5 million acres of high-desert along the California-Nevada border.

Redwood City is a step closer to ferry service after the Water Emergency Transportation Authority approved entering into a memorandum of understanding with the City and Port of Redwood City. The route is backed by the Bay Area Council as a means to decongest Highway 101, along with currently ongoing projects like building a carpool lane and electrifying Caltrain.

Under a new measure being promoted by a Santa Ana coalition, apartment landlords would have to cap rent increases at 3 percent, applied retroactively since November 2017, and landlords would not be able to evict teachers or students during the school year to bring in another tenant or to sell the property. The law would establish a new rent control board to enforce the new measures.

Pleasanton's proposed Costco development was hit by a second CEQA lawsuit from Pleasanton Citizens for Responsible Growth. This follows a previous lawsuit that set the project back for over a year of additional environmental analysis and public review as part of a settlement over a lawsuit in 2018.

Businesses along the Port of San Diego tidelands are requesting the agency waive rents for 90-days--or face financial ruin, they say. The roughly 800 tenants are largely in the hospitality and retail sectors, including restaurants, hotels, harbor tours, sportfishing, and yacht clubs/marinas. The port is anticipating $30 million in lost revenue -- many rents are sales-based -- and faces the prospect of much more if it waives minimum rent requirements.
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