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CP&DR News Briefs December 10, 2019: SCAG SCS; San Diego Stadium; Caltrans VMT, and More

Robin Glover on
Dec 9, 2019
SCAG Releases Draft Transportation Plan, Sustainable Communities Strategy
The Southern California Association of Governments released a draft of Connect SoCal, its Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy, for public review. The plan outlines SCAG’s vision over the next 25 years.and lays out measurable goals related to four core categories: economy, mobility, environment and healthy/complete communities. The report acknowledges SCAG will likely fall short of 2020 goals, but maintains “the transformative change we seek does not require a radical shift in course.” Instead, SCAG will continue to foster high-density development around public transit hubs by deregulating parking, promoting “housing supportive infrastructure,” and supporting private community investments. The plan emphasizes prioritizing funding for system preservation, extensive local investment in the transit rail network by increasing resources for bus service, implementing Metrolink’s Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion (SCORE) and completing the Link Union Station (linkUS). Included in the draft are federally mandated performance measures and targets in accordance with projected growth in employment population, and households at the regional, county, city, town, and neighborhood levels. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

San Diego Football Stadium Saga Coming to a Close 
San Diego State University will purchase the SDCCU Stadium (formerly Qualcomm) site for $86.2 million after the San Diego City Council voted unanimously to move the sale forward with a formal transaction document, which the council hopes to approve by January and close escrow by the end of March. “The city currently spends about $11 million a year to maintain and operate the Mission Valley Stadium site,” City Councilwoman Barbara Bry said. “That’s over $30,000 a day in taxpayer money every day that we delay this transaction.. We can’t afford not to move the project along in a timely manner.” The university intends to downsize the stadium but retain it for its football games; it intends to redevelop the rest of the site into a mixed-use satellite campus. SDSU must still get approval on the project’s environmental impact report, campus master plan and draft sale agreement from the California State University Board of Trustees. Previously, San Diego city officials objected to several key components of the satellite campus proposal, issuing a lengthy letter including concerns about traffic, the fate of a long-proposed bridge, and responsibility for a nearby flood zone. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

CalTrans Formally Adopts New Transportation Metrics
CalTrans announced what leadership is calling a “profound change” in how environmental impacts of transportation projects are measured. Previously, state agencies used the comparatively crude Level of Service (LOS) metric, which takes into account the amount of traffic delay caused by construction. When S.B. 743 passed, state agencies were required to find a better way to measure environmental impact. Caltrans decided on new measure Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) because it will take into account what LOS could not, namely new driving caused by building new roads and widening existing ones to drive down traffic delays. “This widespread response to new capacity is the reason we have been unable to reduce congestion in urban areas for more than a short time,” said Chris Schmidt, who manages Caltrans’ S.B. program. Two kinds of projects are subject to the change: Land use projects when they affect the state highway system and transportation projects on state highways. Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Francisco, and San Jose have already switched over to VMT; all cities must do so starting next July. Some transportation projects are exempt, such as projects in the State Highway Operation and Protection Program because it does not increase vehicular capacity. The next challenge agencies face is determining how to mitigate VMT impacts, a challenge officials acknowledge is tougher than with LOS. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Microsoft Venture Releases Vision for Unified Bay Area
Seamless Bay Area, a Microsoft-funded transportation planning project, released its first “vision map” for a hyperconnected Bay Area transit system. Seamless is attempting to solve the disconnected and often inefficient regional transit system, which only 12 percent of the Bay Area use for their commute.Conducted in partnership with Interline, the project is providing research and plans to equip lawmakers to back a future $100 billion bond to fund transit. The map offers the first picture of what it would look like to have “seamless” transit connections at multi mobility hubs with timed connections and integrated maps. Seamless also analyses the economic benefits of such a model. The project claims that the new system would increase job opportunities accessible by transit by 2.5 to 7 times, adding hundreds of thousands of jobs to transit accessible routes. It would also put millions of more people within a 60 minute transit commute to the region’s job centers. “The Bay Area’s existing transit is confusing, inconvenient, and inefficient, said Ian Griffiths, Seamless Director of Policy. “It’s time for the Bay Area to have a transit network that reflect’s our region’s tremendous wealth, innovation, environmental stewardship, and commitment to equity.”

Quick Hits & Updates
California localities authorized 142,000 residential housing units in September, a 22 percent increase from August and a 41 percent increase from a year ago. Multi-family units increased by 47 percent to 84,000 units, while single-family units fell by 2.3 percent to 58,000 units. The average for the first three quarters of 2019 is down11,000 units from the same period in 2018. To hit Gov. Gavin Newsom’s goal of building 3.5 million housing units by 2025, California would have to build 500,000 new homes per year. New construction around the state is a huge driver of the state’s economy, spurring growth in construction jobs and demand for construction materials and home furnishings.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed expressed disapproval for legislation that will double fees on new office construction that is projected to raise $400 million for affordable housing. Nonetheless, the law has enough support from city council to pass without mayoral action. Breed cited concerns the proposed fees are too high and would depress new construction. Without taking that into account, the mayor argued, the council’s optimistic projections are skewed upward. “I remain concerned that this legislation, while well-intentioned, will not produce the revenue it promises for affordable housing,” he said.

A portion of San Francisco’s Mission District will be designated a Native American Cultural District, pending approval by the Historic Preservation Committee. The area is home to several American Indian historical sites and programs like the Native American Health Center, the Friendship House, and the International Indian Treaty Council. “Cultural Districts are one of the most important tools we as a city have to proactively strengthen the cultural identities of neighborhoods and communities that face the pressures of gentrification and displacement,” said San Francisco Supervisor Hilary Ronen.

A federal judge ruled the Child Protection Act, a San Diego ordinance restricting where registered sex offenders can live, violates state law. While a state law passed in 2006 allows local governments to control where sex offenders can live, court decisions have since restricted local authority to convicted parolees. San Diego City Council was warned at the time of its passing that the California Supreme Court had already ruled against a similar ordinance, but the city will likely appeal the latest federal court decision.

According to an analysis by McKinsey & Co., high rent-to-income ratios in Los Angeles County cost the county’s economy as much as $36 billion a year. As Jonathan Woetzel, director of the McKinsey Global Institute notes, the problem is not lack of construction. “You can’t say L.A. doesn’t build,” said Woetzel. “It just doesn’t build affordable.” The report estimates $260 billion in public and private funds will be needed to meet goals outlined in the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), and advocates for a range of policy solutions from adopting cost-effective building techniques to easing the permit process for new residences.

San Jose officials voted, 8-2, to draft a controversial ballot measure that would tax properties valued $2 million or more. An attempt to pass a similar measure failed, but officials hope the current one will pass as it requires only a simple majority rather than a supermajority of voters. The downside is a simple majority can’t earmark money specifically for affordable housing. Instead money would go to the city’s general fund.

In a split decision, San Diego’s City Council voted to declare an affordable housing crisis that requires a $900 million housing bond. Voters will decide at the ballot box in November whether to support the bond measure, which would be funded by a property tax surcharge within the city. Detractors on the council said the subsidized housing units the bond would pay for--at $400,000 apiece--are too expensive. 

California will sue over new rules handed down by the Trump administration to divert more water to Central Valley farms, a directive state legislators say would imperil several fish species. At issue are competing environmental analyses between the state and federal agencies that share jurisdiction over the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Environmental analyses from the California Department of Water Resources and federal review initially both reported harmful impacts to several fish species. But feds pulled the report two days later for “additional review,” then issued a new report in October that said diverting water would not harm fish populations, raising suspicions among California water officials who expressed “concern for the scientific rigor” of the new report.

California Sen. Kamala Harris introduced the Wildfire Defense Act, legislation that would allow wildfire prone municipalities to apply for grants of up to $250,000 to pay for better infrastructure, land-use and evacuation route planning. Moreover, $10 million grants would be made available to communities with a plan in place to upgrade aging energy infrastructure with microgrids and battery storage. Earlier this year, the Senate approved $1.2 billion for wildfire suppression measures, $150 million for wildfire prevention, and $5 million to study wildfires’ impact on California’s wine industry.

An appellate court ruled Vinod Khosla, a billionaire venture capitalist, is not legally required to allow beachgoers continued access to Martins Beach -- despite decades of public access granted by previous owners. “Because the public’s use of the road and beach was thus permissive,” the court said in its ruling, “it did not ripen into a public dedication that would give the public a permanent right to use the property.” For now at least the status quo will continue. In 2013, a judged ruled that in order to block access, Khosla must obtain a permit from the California Coastal Commission, a permit for which he has not applied. And in a statement, the Coastal Commission signaled it will preserve public access to the beach.

A California appellate court found San Jose and 120 other charter cities must comply with California’s Surplus Land Act, which requires prioritizing affordable housing development on city property for sale or lease. In a unanimous opinion, Justice Eugene Premo wrote,, “We find that the state can require a charter city to prioritize surplus city-owned land for affordable housing development and subject a charter city to restrictions in the manner of disposal of that land, because the shortage of sites available for affordable housing development is a statewide concern.” As 50 percent of California live in charter cities, the ruling could have far-reaching implications.

The Gilroy City Council advanced a General Plan proposal, dubbed the preferred land use alternative, that adds approximately 7,000 housing units over the next 20 years in a city projected to grow by 12,000 to 25,000 residents by 2040. Residents and grassroots organization Gilroy Growing Smarter balked at previous plans that called for high-density six to seven story buildings accommodating 40 units per acre. The new proposal, which will likely come to fruition, reduces that number to 20 to 30 units per acre and implements building height restrictions.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development released a memo providing guidance to cities as they implement the No Net Loss Law, which requires cities to keep an adequate inventory of affordable housing sites open during all stages of planning according to the jurisdiction’s regional housing allocation. The memo details how changes in zoning, general plan updates, and developer approvals will be impacted by the law.

The High Speed Rail Authority filed a federal “record of decision,” finalizing a 23-mile track route between Shafter and Bakersfield. While the filing is a significant step, service between the two cities isn’t expected to begin until 2028 and there are significant infrastructure challenges ahead. The proposed bullet train station site is currently the headquarters of GET, Bakersfield’s public bus system, which will have to be relocate According to GET leadership, headquarter relocation plans are in their infancy, and between property acquisition, facility design, and construction, relocation is at least three years down the road.
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