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CP&DR News Briefs April 26, 2022: Cities Sued Over Housing Elements; Burbank Skirts SB 35; Joshua Tree Remains Unprotected; and More

Mckenzie Locke on
Apr 26, 2022

Realtor Group Sues Six Cities over Unapproved Housing Elements
Californians for Homeownership, a nonprofit organization connected to the California Association of Realtors, sued six cities located in Los Angeles and Orange counties for failing to meet an October 15 deadline to approve updated housing elements that outline how they will accomplish housing requirements over the next decade. The cities include Bradbury, La Habra Heights, Manhattan Beach, Vernon, South Pasadena, and Laguna Hills. The lawsuit is associated with state regulations that increase punishments for local governments that do not adhere to state housing requirements. The nonprofit is aiming for a court order that necessitates quickly-certified and lawful housing elements, which would be certified by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Burbank City Council Thwarts Potential SB 35 Project
The City of Burbank may be attempting to intentionally prevent an Orange County-based developer proposing to redevelop a Burbank landmark into a townhouse complex from accessing the streamlined approvals process awarded through SB 35. In its effort to purchase Pickwick Bowl and Gardens and build 98 townhomes, MW Investment Group has suggested that it will designate 10 of the homes as affordable for low-income residents, which would make the project automatically eligible for SB 35's incentives. SB 35, adopted in 2018, restricts cities from rejecting multifamily housing that includes affordable units. Council members argued that the project did not comply with the city's existing land use regulations and was therefore not subject to SB 35 as proposed; the developers could apply for a general plan amendment instead. Attorneys for MW Investment implied that legal action pursuant to the Housing Accountability Act may be forthcoming.

State Declines to Consider Protected Status for Joshua Tree
In response to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity suggesting climate change's impact on the Joshua tree, the state Fish and Game Commission recommended against identifying the species as threatened. If the Joshua tree avoids this designation by the time the commission reveals its final decision, local jurisdictions will have the power to limit the expansion of commercial, residential, and energy projects on land where Joshua trees sit. Currently, about 40 percent the Joshua tree's range is on private land, and endangered species laws would apply. However, the commission's recommendation suggests that the renewable energy industry may make more use of Joshua tree land, even though it's faced criticism for doing so.

LAO Makes Recommendations for New Student Housing Grants Program
A new report from the Legislative Analyst's Office analyzes Gov. Gavin Newsom's list of campus projects that may be awarded first-round grant funding under the Higher Education Student Housing Grant Program. In addition to providing key background information on Gov. Newsom's project list, which would total $488 million, the authors provide several recommendations moving forward, such as for the Legislature to contemplate a different approach that considers other measures of affordability or approves more projects in the first round. The authors also recommend that the Legislature implements measures that would reduce risks in the case of cost overruns and discusses other approaches to alleviating the stress of college finances of low-income students and improving existing infrastructure.

Warehouse Project in Ontario Meets with Legal Action
A recently approved logistics center plan and general plan update that permit over five million square feet of industrial development on south Ontario dairy land are facing pushback from environmental and farming organizations. First, the Center for Community Action Environmental Justice sued the city of Ontario for disregarding public health and agricultural land vitality, hoping that the San Bernardino Superior Court will reject both the project and the general plan updates. A week later, signatures are compiling to repeal the city council's approval of the South Ontario Logistics Center Specific Plan. While those in support of the project cite job opportunities, many community members are concerned that diesel trucks will supplement low-paying jobs to further harm the community. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

CP&DR Legal Coverage: Conservation EIR Alternatives; Short-Term Rentals
An appellate court has ruled that the environmental impact report for a Livermore development project – a project approved by the city council in that notoriously slow-growth city – was inadequate because it didn’t consider the possibility of purchasing the property for conservation. The First District Court of Appeal found that the RFEIR should have considered the possibility that the land could be purchased for conservation from two possible funding sources – one a mitigation fund created by the giant Dougherty Valley housing project and the other mitigation fund created by the expansion of the Altamont Landfill.

A regulation restricting the availability of short-term rentals in Manhattan Beach prompted a suit from an AirBnb host who argued that the restriction required Coastal Commission approval. The court sided with the plaintiff in a case that hinged on whether short-term rentals are considered "hotels or motels" under the city's ordinances.

Quick Hits & Updates

The town of Los Gatos has sued Santa Clara County for fraud, breach of contract, and negligence over a 1,300-foot section of Shannon Road, which allegedly required millions of dollars in repairs. The road, known for its cracking pavement and originally owned by the county, was handed to Los Gatos following its 2018 annexation, along with maintenance responsibilities. Los Gatos believes that the county failed to make meaningful repairs and intentionally made the road's problems the town's responsibility.The town is seeking $5.5 million in damages.

Most U.S. residents, including urban dwellers, believe that high density increases pollution, traffic congestion, and crime, according to a new poll from YouGov. Though city dwellers were more likely to say that high density is more environmentally friendly, most said that it's better for the environment to build houses farther apart.

California could shrink its water use by over 30 percent by increasing usage efficiency, according to a new study by the Pacific Institute. Researchers also found that urban areas could reduce the depletion of rivers and aquifers by investing in local projects that would recycle wastewater and capture stormwater.

The Berkeley Planning Commission voted, 5-4, to endorse a zoning change that increases the height limit for new BART housing on top of parking lots at two stations from 7 to 12 stories. This would increase the maximum number of housing units from 2,400 to 3,600.

A campaign in support of a San Francisco affordable housing measure that could end up on the November ballot has begun, with housing advocates and elected officials responding to the Board of Supervisors' rejection of a measure proposed by Mayor London Breed in January. The Affordable Homes Now measure would accelerate the approval process for new projects.

Researchers at UCLA's Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies have released a report that analyzes the relationship between eligibility for al fresco dining services and street and sidewalk conditions throughout Los Angeles and proposes solutions to make outdoor dining more accessible. Findings demonstrate that neighborhoods of color frequently feature narrower sidewalks, which makes it difficult to expand business participation.

Los Angeles is a founding member of a new multi-city partnership launched by the The World Economic Forum to promote urban aerial mobility and tackle congestion, inclusivity, noise, and privacy.

About one in five Airbnb listings in Los Angeles over one year violated city policy, according to a report from Better Neighbors LA, a coalition that represents hotel employees and tenants. The report suggests that nearly two-thirds of Airbnb listings may have violated regulations and recommended that the city actively enforces its short-term rental law through targeted fines.

The West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project is suing the Port of Oakland, maintaining that its open-air sand and gravel plant, which is currently under construction, will add air pollutants, harming nearby residents' health. The environmental group hopes that construction will halt, though port officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In collaboration with Spin, Bakersfield has introduced 125 new e-bikes in order to supplement public transit with sustainable and accessible transportation options. The city implemented the program with a $700,000 state Active Transportation Program grant, which will assist with maintenance and operating costs and allow for subsidized discounts for students and low-income residents.

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