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CP&DR News Briefs August 4, 2020: Flood Risk; Housing Crisis & Planning; San Diego Housing Bond; and More

Robin Glover on
Aug 3, 2020

State Flood Maps May Have Blind Spots; 1.1 Million Properties at Risk
Northern California--where most of the state's water supply originates--has been exceptionally dry this year, part of an unfolding decades-long "megadrought" affecting much of the West. While the focus of attention is naturally on managing drought, two new studies suggest that flood maps vastly underestimate the state's flood risk. Most major floods in California are associated with atmospheric rivers, or narrow concentrated bands of atmospheric moisture, that produce prodigious amounts of rain. A new study suggests warming atmospheric rivers--a result of climate change-- will dramatically increase both intensity and volume of precipitation. Warmer storms produce less snow and more rain, adding to potential runoff. The combined effect could overwhelm levees on rivers and storm water management in cities. A second study by the First Street Foundation presents new estimates of current and future flood vulnerability across the US with updated models and a better accounting for climate change and sea level rise. The takeway from this work is that the state and its federal partners may have underestimated the number of properties at substantial risk of flooding by half. The study estimates 1.1 million properties are at risk, and another 150,000 properties will join them in the next 30 years.

Calif. Planning Roundtable Envisions Solutions to Housing Crisis
The California Planning Roundtable (CPR) released a roadmap Planning to House California: Beyond 2020 exploring ways cities and counties can create favorable conditions for increased housing production. The first principle--start with a plan--recommends allowing for flexibility within an objective framework. I.e., cities should (and must under SB 35) require objective design guidance for building form and site design, but allow for variation of density and scale in different contexts. The report recommends cities to embrace and zone for housing in all forms: rather than focus on housing type when crafting zoning laws, metrics like floor-area ratios or units per acre opens up a wider range of possibilities. With those standards in place, cities can then facilitate by-right housing and use CEQA for streamlining housing projects. The adoption of by-right zoning means that housing projects are ministerial in nature and not subject to CEQA review. Finally, the authors address how to pay for the infrastructure and amenities that complete communities. Impact fees, a common mechanism, are often high at the margin, do not raise sufficient revenue, and exacerbate the housing affordability challenge. CPR sees a need for more funding tools from the State and fiscal incentives for cities that meet RHNA housing goals.

San Diego Places $900 Million Housing Bond on Ballot
The San Diego City Council voted to place an affordable housing bond on the November ballot, but rejected measures for publicly financed elections and for pro-union construction deals. The $900 million housing bond measure would pay for the construction of roughly 7,500 new affordable housing. 2,800 of those units will be for the formerly homeless, while the rest would be for veterans and senior citizens. In addition to the local money it would raise, the measure would help San Diego secure matching state and federal funds devoted to homelessness and affordable housing. If passed, the measure would cost homeowners approximately $115 more per year. Supporters of the publicly financed elections measure said the goal was reducing the influence of developers and labor unions on city elections. Supporters withdrew, without comment, the proposed ballot measure that would have reversed a partial city ban on "project labor agreements," or pro-union construction deals.

CP&DR Coverage: SB 35 Draft Implementation Guidelines
Among both litigation and confusion, the Department of Housing and Community Development has issued updated draft guidelines for cities and counties to implement SB 35, as well as an updated list of jurisdictions that are required to adopt what HCD is calling the “Streamlined Ministerial Approval Process”. About 95% of the state’s jurisdictions must accept SB 35 applications for at least some projects.

Quick Hits & Updates 
A California Court of Appeal issued an opinion finding no merit to a lawsuit alleging that the City of Santa Monica's at-large elections system violated the California Voting Rights Act by diluting the Latino vote. The ruling reverses a lower court opinion that favored the plaintiffs and ordered the city to switch from at-large to by-district elections. The Court of Appeal noted that even if the city switched elections, the 30 percent Latino population would fail to win a majority.

Preserve Our Rural Communities, a grassroots organization in San Benito, has ended a ballot measure campaign for an initiative that would have overturned the city's decision to rezone 16 rural/agricultural zones to commercial zones. One of the bill co-sponsors cited the pandemic and "uncertainty about our economic future" as reasons to table the initiative.

Building on the success of Project Roomkey, HCD has announced a NOFA for $600 million in Homekey Funds. Homekey is the next phase in the state's response to protecting Californians experiencing homelessness who are at high risk for serious illness and are impacted by COVID-19. The funds will go toward purchasing and rehabilitating housing that can be converted into interim or long-term housing.

Three Palo Alto City Council members are requesting that the state reconsider its requirement that the Bay Area roughly double the number of housing units in the next RHNA cycle. The letter, which argues the process is moving too fast and that the numbers are too aggressive, responds to a June 9 determination by HCD that the Bay Area has to plan for 441,176 units between 2023 and 2031.

Coronado's bid to lower its RHNA allocation failed after five San Diego County jurisdictions voted down the city's appeal, with 55 percent voting against Coronado. The city was assigned 1,001 new housing units, up 2,000 percent from the previous cycles.

Sacramento County leaders dropped their plans to put a half-cent transportation sales tax on the November ballot after a poll showed the measure was unlikely to pass. Measure A was projected to raise $8 billion over 40 years for road and transit improvements. Officials cited the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic and social unrest following police protests.
A controversial inspection plan for San Onofre's nuclear waste was given the green light by the California Coastal Commission. The approved inspection plan, which calls for 16 percent of the 73 storage containers to be inspected for cracks, means more than 1,700 tons of nuclear fuel will remain housed behind a seawall just off the coast.

Sacramento's housing authority has agreed to pay $7,500 for violating the Fair Housing Act under a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The agreement resolves allegations that staff acted unlawfully when they delayed installing grab bars in a unit in response to the tenant's request. Agency employees will undergo mandatory training on fair housing as part of the agreement.

In a blow to the Trump administration, a federal district court judge ruled that California's cap-and-trade agreement with Canada's Quebec province is constitutional. The decision said the Trump administration had "failed to identify a clear and express foreign policy that directly conflicts with California's cap-and-trade program." The agreement between California and Quebec to link markets that aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions dates back to 2013.
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