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CP&DR News Briefs April 28, 2020: Cities' Fiscal Pain; Ballot Measures Struggle; Developer Sues Sacramento; and More

Robin Glover on
Apr 27, 2020
Covid-19 Crisis Set to Cost Cities $6.7 Billion over Two Years 
Even if stay-at-home orders are lifted by June 1, California cities will lose at least $6.7 billion over the next two years according to an estimate compiled by the League of California Cities. That number is likely to be far worse. Gov. Gavin Newsom and public health officials have signaled that bans on large gatherings and travel will likely extend well into summer. Already, cities are reporting budget shortfalls, prompting layoffs, furloughs and cuts to basic services. Of the $5.8 billion that went to California in the last federal aid package, most went to counties. Only Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose saw any relief money, and even they aren't allowed to use money for anything other than coronavirus-related expenses. The League of California Cities asked Newsom and the state legislature last week to help cities cover budget shortfalls. Newsom plans to unveil a new budget proposal next month. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Ballot Measures for Local Funding Slumped in March 
According to a recent analysis of the March 3 election, over half of local measures on the ballot didn't pass muster among local voters, who, collectively, turned out in record numbers for a spring primary election. Among the 293 measures were 150 school bond measures including 122 school bond measures seeking a total of $17.4 billion. There were 89 city, county, and special district fiscal measures, of which 45 were add-on sales tax measures and 27 parcel taxes, substantially more than ever before in a spring primary election. The number of measures increased year-over-year from 89 in June 2016 to 111 in June 2018. Greater numbers did not translate into greater success, however. Only 96 passed, a departure from the much higher passage rates in years prior. School bonds in particular fared poorly. Over half of the measures weren't even close to passage. Forty-five passed, authorizing a total of $6.636 in school construction bonds out of the total $17.4 billion requested. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Developer Sues Sacramento County over Climate Action Plan 
In an unusual role reversal, a developer is filing suit against a county government for not being environmentally sensitive enough with a project. Tsakopoulos Investments is suing Sacramento County for approving Mather South without a climate action plan in the final EIR. In the suit, Tsakopoulos attorneys note that the county has never adopted climate change significance thresholds that could provide a point of reference in an EIR for a project like Mather South. As approved, Mather South would be an 848-acre project with up to 3,522 residential units, a 28-acre environmental education campus with 200 family units, a 21-acre research and development park and 21 acres of retail. As the developer for nearby Jackson Township, a 1,391-acre project that is currently undergoing its own EIR review, Tsakopoulos has an interest in ensuring Mather South is sharing environmental impact costs. Tsakopouls is asking for a judge to issue a temporary restraining order to keep Mather South from moving forward AND set aside its approvals and EIR.

Housing Advocates Identify Shortfall of 1.3 Million Affordable Homes 
The California Housing Partnership has released a report that shows the depth of housing need across California. The report describes a rapid increase in rents that in combination with a dramatic decline in state and federal funding has led to a shortage of 1.3 million affordable homes. Despite the 2017 Housing Package, state funding remains well below 2012 levels; at the federal level, tax reform brought about a 13 percent dip in Low-Income Housing Tax Credit housing production and preservation. Median rent in California has increased 40 percent since 2000 while median renter household income has only increased by 8 percent, and 79 percent of extremely low-income households are paying more than half of their income on housing costs compared to just 0.4 percent of above moderate-income households. Meanwhile, California spends nearly four times more on homeowners than renters.

Quick Hits & Updates
San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced the appointment of Eric Shaw as Director of the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development. He replaces Acting Deputy Director of Housing Dam Adams, who had served since July 2019. Mostly recently, Shaw served as an advisor to the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services where he coordinated community planning and engagement activities associated with recovery from the 2018 Camp Fire. Prior to his work at Cal OES, Shaw was the Director of the Office of Planning for Washington, D.C.

Following Oakland's "Slow Streets" announcement, San Francisco's MTA has announced its own slow streets program. Phase 1 announced 12 candidate streets up for consideration for the program, which allows for local vehicle access and maintains usual right-of-way laws.

Friends of the Los Angeles River co-founder Lewis MacAdams died of complications related to Parkinson's disease. As the group's first president, MacAdams successfully lobbied the federal government for $1.6 billion to restore the LA river. Friends of the Los Angeles River has grown to 40,000 supporters, and a 7-foot-high monument of MacAdams' likeness overlooks the river's edge in a park that bears his name.

The Los Angeles Department of City Planning released the framework for a new program that would simplify the approval process for sit-down restaurants seeking to serve alcoholic beverages. The proposed Restaurant Beverage Program would shorten the time for city approvals from months to a matter of weeks. The program would allow qualifying restaurants to receive over-the-counter approvals and pay approximately $4,000 for a permit to serve alcohol—significantly less than the permit’s current cost of $13,000. These measures are in line with Los Angeles’s broader efforts to help local and family-owned businesses prepare for the economic recovery ahead.

Despite coronavirus concerns and nearly empty trains, Caltrain has no plans to back away from ambitious plans to electrify and double the size of its fleet by 2022. A proposed half-cent sales tax continues to wind its way through the approval process. If passed, the measure would generate $100 million in cash per year, which Caltrain would use to expand service from 92 trains a day to 168 trains a day by 2022.

An analysis of climate planning documents from 23 California cities details competing policy agendas as cities have predominantly focused on mitigation strategies rather than an integrated mitigation and adaptation plan. The Mineta Transportation Institute findings suggest promising steps that both municipal and state governments can take to support integrated actions at the local level.

Following years of dispute and gridlock, industry leaders, environmentalists, and community leaders came together to develop a new "transition zones” to both promote development and ward off gentrification the San Diego neighborhood of Barrio Logan. The plan involves identifying four land uses for the five-block transition zone: "maritime commercial," "community commercial," "neighborhood commercial" and residential.

Faster Bay Area is on hold indefinitely amid uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus. An affirmative vote, which would have been cast this coming November, would have levied a once-cent sales tax to generate $100 billion over 40 years. Faster Bay Area will have to go to the sidelines until a future election yet to be determined, the three groups behind the initiative said in a letter.

The West Hollywood Planning Commission voted to eliminate on-site parking requirements for 100 percent affordable housing developments. The vote is in line with new state law AB 1763, a directive that requires only .5 spaces per unit if the building is within a half mile of a major transit stop.

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has begun an eight year decommissioning process after a radioactive leak caused the plant to cease production eight years ago. Environmental hazards will remain, however, until a suitable location for the plant's radioactive nuclear waste becomes available.
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