State Rescinds Certification of Portola Valley's Housing Element
The Town of Portola Valley, an upscale enclave on the San Francisco Peninsula, has lost its housing element certification from the state due to its failure to approve changes allowing denser housing and more multifamily development, deeming it ineligible for state grants for housing and transportation until it adopts a compliant blueprint. Under state mandate, Portola Valley must accommodate 253 units, with 152 being affordable, yet it's been slow to adjust, despite pressure from state officials. The town's reluctance to vote on denser housing raised concerns from the Department of Housing and Community Development about its commitment to housing affordability, especially as it hosts prominent tech figures and faces challenges in rezoning amidst staff turnover. The Portola Valley Town Council has pushed the vote on allowing denser housing a number of times, citing short staff and an inability to rezone at this time. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

OPR Survey Details Pace of General Plan Updates
The Governor's Office of Planning and Research released its 2023 Annual Planning Survey results, with 327 of 529 cities and counties in California responding, representing 68 percent of California's population and responding to questions on general plan updates to air quality and emission reduction. The average update to jurisdictions' conservation, open space and noise elements was approximately 14 years each. Their land use elements on average were last updated 11.6 years ago. The most steadily updated elements were housing at an average of 3.2 years and environmental justice every 5.3 years, although environmental justice elements became a requirement in 2018 under SB 1000. Conversely, jurisdictions reported they plan to update their conservation, open space and noise elements in 4.9, 4.8 and 3.4 years on average, respectively, and land use in the next 3.8 years.

Church Claims San Diego Illegally Blocked Expansion
All Peoples Church is taking legal action against the San Diego City Council's decision to reject permits for a new facility in Del Cerro, citing violations of federal protections for religious institutions. The church filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court, alleging infringements on its rights under the Religious Land Use And Institutionalized Persons Act and the First Amendment. Seeking to override the city's decision, the church is also pursuing financial damages. The dispute stems from the council's denial of permits for a 900-seat sanctuary and other facilities on a vacant 6-acre lot. Despite unanimous support from the Planning Commission, the project faced opposition from a community group and ultimately, a majority vote against it by the City Council. The complaint challenges the decision's legality and questions the motivations of Councilmember Raul Campillo, who represents Del Cerro and led the opposition against the project.

Oakland Drafts Downtown Plan with Multifaceted Goals
After nearly a decade of anticipation, the City of Oakland has unveiled a comprehensive plan to revitalize its downtown, aiming to boost density, vibrancy and address racial and economic disparities. Covering 1.45 square miles, the plan focuses on incentivizing private construction of housing, offices and cultural spaces over the next 20 years. It envisions new office and residential towers, revitalizing light industry and creating cultural zones to preserve Oakland's arts scene. The proposal aims to meet projected housing, cultural, employment and recreational needs while emphasizing racial and economic justice. However, questions linger about feasibility, especially amidst Oakland's budget deficit and the uncertainties brought by the pandemic. Despite adjustments, some critics argue the plan may not fully address post-pandemic realities or sufficiently tackle issues like affordable housing. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Suit Challenges Latest Ruling on Federal Clean Water Regulation
A lawsuit has been filed challenging the federal government's interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court's May 2023 ruling on waters of the United States (WOTUS), specifically targeting the "adjacent wetlands" provisions of an amended rule issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The lawsuit, brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of Robert White, argues that the agencies are unlawfully asserting jurisdiction over private land in disregard of the Supreme Court's decision, which set forth a narrower standard for wetlands regulation under the Clean Water Act, requiring wetlands to have a continuous surface connection to regulated navigable waters. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

CP&DR Coverage: Legislature Considers New Crop of Housing Bills
California’s upzoning frenzy may be coming to an end. But that doesn’t mean that the legislature is done promoting housing. This year’s bills, though, exhibit pragmatic approaches. Rather than seek headlines (and draw ire of slow-growth advocates), this year’s bills largely address nuances that, perhaps, only developers could love. At least, that’s the hope of many legislators. Many planners, however, probably hope that the power goes out in Sacramento when this year’s crop of land use bills are being voted on.

Quick Hits & Updates

The City of Los Angeles is launching an initiative to support Legacy Businesses, defined as small businesses operational for at least 20 years, by offering benefits such as technical assistance and grants of up to $20,000. The program aims to preserve the cultural and historical significance of these businesses, with applications opening in fall 2024 and technical assistance beginning in January 2025, alongside four online information sessions in March to guide interested businesses.

In a significant victory for the California Forever project in Solano County, a judge denied a motion by remaining landowners accused of conspiring to inflate property prices, citing evidence of a price-fixing conspiracy provided by messages among property owners. The "California Forever" project aims to create a new city from farmland near Fairfield, sparking debate over the role of the ultra-rich in city-building and the use of agricultural land for development.

San Francisco is capitalizing on declining office values by negotiating discounted leases and potential purchases of office buildings in the Mid-Market neighborhood. By securing favorable terms, including concessions on rent and tenant improvements, the city aims to consolidate its office leases, revitalize the area and accommodate the space needs of several city departments.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) is updating California's fair housing plan, including the Analysis of Impediments (AI) to fair housing choice. As part of this effort, a Community Needs Assessment survey has been launched to identify housing, community development and supportive service needs in the state. The survey will help determine resource allocations and prioritize program activities and supportive services and it will be open for responses until May 1, 2024.

An independent audit revealed financial mismanagement and misuse of taxpayer funds at HomeRise, a major housing provider for San Francisco's formerly homeless population, prompting the organization's CEO to pledge resolution of the identified issues. Despite efforts to address concerns, the report underscores the need for collaboration between HomeRise and city agencies to reform financial practices.

Upgrades to Bay Area wastewater treatment facilities, totaling at least $11 billion, may be necessary to comply with anticipated stricter environmental regulations, particularly aimed at reducing nitrogen levels to prevent harmful algae blooms. The costs, averaging $4,000 per household, could be borne by consumers through increases in wastewater bills, with efforts underway to secure additional funding from federal and state sources to mitigate the impact on residents.

Sunnyvale's 2023-31 Housing Element has been certified by the state Department of Housing and Community Development, outlining plans for accommodating nearly 12,000 new housing units and implementing various programs to address housing needs. Additionally, Sunnyvale will host an Earth Day Festival on April 20, coinciding with the grand opening of its new civic center, featuring sustainability-focused activities and information from local organizations.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, along with other California National Parks like Joshua Tree and Mojave, rank among the most polluted in America due to ozone pollution and wildfire smoke, according to a report from the National Parks Conservation Association. Wildfires have caused extensive damage to these parks, destroying sequoia groves and threatening wildlife. Pollution from population centers, agricultural and industrial operations and transportation facilities exacerbates the poor air quality in these parks, although there have been some improvements noted since 2019 attributed to the implementation of clean air regulations.

The Orange County Transportation Authority is proposing additional measures, including constructing a half-mile-long retaining wall and adding more boulders along San Clemente's coastline, to protect the train tracks from landslides and ocean waves. The plan, estimated at $200 million, aims to address immediate vulnerabilities along the coastline, although concerns have been raised about the efficacy of armoring the coastline versus utilizing sand as a buffer to protect the rail line.

A new ranking from Architectural Digest highlights the emergence of upscale living in 115 U.S. cities, focusing on factors like activities, properties, dining, income, diversity and safety, with Irvine, Carlsbad and Chula Vista the top three rising luxury cities. These cities offer a blend of luxury properties, high-income households and diverse cultural amenities based on data from sources like Redfin, Yelp, the U.S. Census Bureau and the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program.