Caltrain Seeks to Stay Solvent via Ballot Measure
Officials have reached a deal to throw Caltrain a lifeline amid plunging ridership. The deal allows a ballot measure on a 1/8-cent sales tax increase to held fund Caltrain to be placed on the November ballot in three counties--San Mateo, San Francisco, and Santa Clara. If approved by a two-thirds majority of voters in all three counties, the tax measure would generate an estimated $108 million per year for Caltrain. Without the funding, officials predict that the railroad might have to cut its service, or even temporarily shut down. Still, multiple governing groups balked at a new tax, and only agreed to approve the measure after Caltrain pledged to distance itself from San Mateo County's transportation agency, SamTrans, by acting more like an independent entity than it has in the past.
Anti-Development Group Sues Los Angeles over Dubious Approvals
AIDS Healthcare Foundation is suing the city of Los Angeles to stop real estate developments vetted under Councilman Huizar, who was recently indicted by federal prosecutors for pay-to-play schemes involving real estate developers. In its lawsuit, AHF argues that the city should pause projects reviewed by Huizar or Englander, another former councilman who accepted bribes from developers. Although AHF mentioned four projects tied to the federal case, the lawsuit leaves the door open to blocking other projects, saying that "it is highly likely that the approvals of other real estate projects are similarly tainted," and calling for a "top-to-bottom review" of whether committee decisions were corrupted. Whether the city can legally stop these projects could depend on a long list of factors, including how far developers are in the building process and what kind of approvals they have obtained.
Freight Mobility Plan Seeks to Upgrade Statewide Transportation Network
California Department of Transportation has released its California Freight Mobility Plan2020. The plan's scope addresses immediate and long-term policies, strategies, and investments necessary to support the good transporting network via truck, train, ship, airplane, automobile, bicycle, foot, or robot. Officials said the effort incorporates emerging technologies, such as e-commerce, 3-D printing and autonomous vehicles that could change how industries interact with freight networks. Caltrans said the plan's seven overarching goals are economic prosperity through increased system efficiency, productivity, and workforce production; environmental stewardship; healthier communities by mitigating the negative impacts of the freight system; increased safety among workers and infrastructure resiliency; asset management; connectivity and accessibility; and multimodal mobility through improved network efficiency and travel time reliability.
San Diego Missed Housing Targets by 50%
San Diego fell far short of its housing production targets, according to the city's newly released 2020 Housing Inventory Report. The city missed building targets by nearly 50 percent. Despite the housing shortfall, the report isn't all bad news. Data trends in the report show that new housing initiatives might be working. New construction starts, which are measured by the number of building permits issued, saw the second-highest number between 2010 and 2019, with permits for 5,221 units. Affordable housing production doubled from 2018 numbers to a total of 940 affordable housing units. Other highlights from the report include the San Diego Housing Commission preserving or rehabilitating 707 at-risk affordable housing units; updating community plans to increase capacity for 74,000 additional units; permitting 627 "companion" units; and 273 affordable units are being produced as part of the city's affordable housing density bonuses.
CP&DR Podcast: Race & Planning in California
CP&DR welcomed a panel of Black planners to share their personal perspectives on the current historical moment and on the future of planning in the era of Black Lives Matter for the CP&DR podcast. Issues including segregation, economic disparities, environmental justice, housing justice, and a great many others fall within the purview of urban planning. Planners face, more so now than ever before, the opportunity not only to promote equity but also to correct historic injustices--especially those that marginalize and disadvantage Black Americans.
Quick Hits & Updates
The Department of Housing Community Development sent a letter to Simi Valley warning that the city must resume public hearings on land use items or risk a revocation of the city's housing element compliance. The letter marks the third time that the state has sent a notice of potential Housing Accountability Act violations to Simi Valley. At the center of the violation is the continued delay in approval for a proposed 278-unit apartment complex with affordable housing.
Inglewood's City Council voted unanimously to approve the environmental impact report for the future Clippers' arena. The approval comes seven after the release of the report, which found that the Inglewood Basketball and Entertainment Complex would bring traffic and jobs to the area while ruling it would not contribute to gentrification of its surrounding neighborhood.
Federal prosecutors have brought new bribery and money laundering charges against Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, who was arrested and charged with racketeering in June. The new changes expand on earlier allegations that Huizar aided real estate developers in exchange for bribes to include political donations as part of a bribery scheme to win approval for an Arts District project, and a proposed arrangement with a development company to hire the councilman after he left office.
Two separate plans for 1,000-plus new single family homes in Antioch and Pittsburg received key approvals to move forward. With 1,777 homes, the Atherton subdivision is the biggest single residential development the city has approved (and did so unanimously) in 10 years. In a more contentious proceeding the Pittsburg Planning Commission approved a 1,500 home project that had been in the planning stages for over 10 years by a one-vote margin.
The city of Arcata and the Yurok Indian Housing Authority announced an affordable housing project is now fully funded after securing an Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities award grant--the first of its kind to be awarded to a Native American Tribe. The grant will fund the construction of 36 units of affordable housing in additional to several bicycle lanes, accessible walkways, a one-mile multi-use trail, and a pedestrian bridge that will connect tribal residents to surrounding neighborhoods.
In a deal rich with historic significance, the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County closed escrow to purchase 1,199 acres in Big Sur as part of a $4.5 million acquisition of tribal lands. It represents the first time that the Esselen Tribe has regained any of its former territory more than 200 years after being stripped of their land in the late 1700s. Tribal leaders say they plan to build permanent homes or businesses on the property.
Dublin, California's fastest growing city, rejected a mixed-use project that would have added 566 homes. After years of the developer working with the city, holding meetings to hear from the community and modifying plans, the council rejected the proposal outright, saying the project wasn't a good fit for Dublin.
The Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians want to build an 8,400-bed prison on its remote reservation next to the Salton Sea and lease it to the state. The $2 billion project would be the largest prison in California, and one of the largest in the country. Under the proposal, the state and then staff would run the facility and pay the tribe an annual rent of nearly $175 million. The project would bring at least 2,000 jobs and more financial security to the tribe.
San Francisco supervisors delayed approving 15 parcels in a major rezoning plan known as 'The Hub' that is expected to bring thousands of new housing units. The plan will be on pause for six months while City Hall conducts a racial and social equity analysis that looks at the potential for increased pressure on the roughly 21,000 existing rent-controlled units in the area. Three major Hub projects will move forward, including a 31-story residential building, a 45-story mixed-use building, and a 55-story project.
Los Angeles County is considering using parks and libraries as alternative learning for students while school campuses are closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposal asks the Department of Parks and Recreation to report back to the Board of Supervisors to provide staffing, supervision, and programming to children in unincorporated areas of the county.
A federal judge rejected an environmental group's lawsuit challenging the amount of toxic chemicals found in groundwater around Vacaville. The district court judge ruled that the group attempted "to stretch the [Resource Conservation and Recovery Act] statute well beyond its application." The city had been preparing to pay for additional treatment of groundwater, but shelved those plans after a 2014 state court decision.