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CP&DR News Briefs December 22, 2020: Endangered Species Act; Population Growth; Otay Ranch Development; and More

Robin Glover on
Dec 22, 2020
Feds Narrow Definition of “Habitat” for Endangered Species Act Protection
The Trump administration finalized its adoption of a regulatory definition of “habitat" for purposes of species protection under the Endangered Species Act, likely narrowing the range of lands that can be protected. The new definition stipulates that even if an area could, by human restoration or other artificial means, contain requisite features of habitat, the absence of features will disqualify the area from being designated as protected habitat under the act. The rule protects habitat currently occupied by a given endangered species but does not include lands that might be restored in the future. Critics argue that the new definition may exclude lands that are not currently critical habitat but that could become critical habitat in the future, depending on the effects of climate change and other factors. The new definition will become effective on January 15, 2021, less than a week before the inauguration of the new administration, and will apply only to habitat designations occurring on or before Jan 15.

California Population Growth Remains Flat; L.A. County Loses 40,000 Residents 
The California Department of Finance reports that California saw a net gain of only 21,200 new residents from July 2019 to July 2020. Not since 1900 has California seem such a low growth rate. Los Angeles County reported a net loss of 40,036 residents, more than any other county in the state. COVID-19 has affected the declining growth trend in several ways: directly in terms of 6,000 excess deaths over the 12-month period and indirectly as work and travel patterns dramatically shifted. Declining birth rates contributed; high home prices and wildfires also played a role in population changes, the report said. Realtors who market to Californians moving out of the state say the cost-of-living paired with increasingly available remote work has sped up the out-migration that began pre-COVID. (See prior CP&DR commentary.)

Approval of S.D. County Greenfield Development Raises Concerns 
San Diego County will move forward with controversial Otay Ranch Village 13, relying on the testimony of a Cal Fire Unit Chief who said the development is the safest of the projects brought before the board. The proposed development, which would feature 1,938 homes, a hotel, a school, and 40,000 square feet of commercial space, and over 1,100 acres of preserved open space met resistance from environmental activists and Attorney General Xavier Beccera. Both questioned building such a large development in a fire-prone area, though Beccera said he would not bring legal action from the state if the project moved forward. Moreover, some critics expressed concerns about the development’s inclusion of carbon offsets to meet its greenhouse gas goals. Carbon offsets are part of a controversial countywide Climate Action Plan that was struck down by an appeals court several months ago. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

CP&DR Coverage: San Mateo’s Slow-Growth Ballot Measure 
The narrow passage of Measure Y, a ballot item extending previously implemented height and density caps on developments in San Mateo, could hinder the city’s quest to build more housing and alleviate the severity of its housing crisis, critics say. More legalistically, the measure’s passage may make compliance with San Mateo’s housing target under the Bay Area’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation, expected to be around 5,000 units, all but impossible. The measure, which won by 43 votes out of 45,000 cast, caps citywide building heights at 55 feet (about four stories) and residential density at 50 units per acre. It also mandates that 10% of any development be affordable housing. Measure R, an alternative measure that would have provided the City Council with more flexibility in allowing dense development around transit stations, failed despite receiving vastly more financial support. 

Quick Hits & Updates 

San Francisco has given Genentech the green light to add up to 4.3 million square feet of campus space over the next 15 years. The company has around 15,000 employees, with 10,000 in the Bay Area. Around half have been working remotely, but many workers continue to go to labs, according to a spokesperson. Genentech is working on 10 therapeutics that could potentially lessen the effects of COVID-19.

Google unveiled a new tool that maps 'hot spots' in cities related to the heat island effect. The Tree Canopy Lab, which piloted in Los Angeles, uses aerial imagery and Google's AI to figure out where every tree is in the city. It then generates an interactive map along with additional data on which neighborhoods are more densely populated and are more vulnerable to high temperatures. The hope is to blunt the effects of climate change, including saving lives during heat waves.

The San Diego City Council approved the development of a 195-acre development with 430 affordable housing units and 4,300 housing units total. The plan, which is intended to transform an existing golf club into a walkable, transit-friendly neighborhood, also includes 55 acres of parks, a Metro trolley stop, and 5 miles of trails. The broader area will have a major focus on open space, with 100 acres of parks and trails, and 47 acres of protected riparian area long the river.

Sacramento is looking to block marijuana dispensaries, massage parlors, check-cashing shops, and tobacco retailers from opening along two sections of downtown Sacramento streets. A proposed ordinance would prohibit new storefront cannabis dispensaries, as well as new delivery-only dispensaries.

A controversial proposal to build a gas station and restaurants on a vacant lot was unanimously rejected by Sacramento City Council. City staff and the Planning and Design Commission were at odds over the proposal, with city staff recommending the council deny it. The community rallied against the project, citing concerns that the project would serve interstate drivers instead of the neighborhood. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

The whiteback pine, which dots the California landscape in Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Lake Tahoe, will become the first tree recommended for protection under the Endangered Species Act because of climate change. A combination of fungus, bark beetles and wildfire has ravaged the population. More than half of all standing whiteback pines are dead as of 2016.

The Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) is fighting to retain ownership of the school after records revealed that Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) holds the title for significant portions of the school's grounds. The records were discovered during an eminent domain claim for a planned subway tunnel beneath the campus. Now BHUSD legal representation is threatening to sue for $750 million if LAUSD takes further steps to exert ownership of the land.

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to approve Promenade 2035, a $1 billion project that will replace a shopping mall in Warner Center with a "downtown district" that will include a new sports arena, two hotels, a 28-story office tower and more than 1,400 apartments. The project's developer agreed to set aside 5 percent of the project's housing units for very low-income families and another 5 percent for "workforce" housing, targeting households up to 150 percent of area media income. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Businessman Samuel Leng, a Torrance-based real estate developer, pled guilty to felony conspiracy for campaign money laundering, admitting he bribes eight politicians just as his apartment project was under review at Los Angeles City Hall. The guilty plea comes more than four years after a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed a network of more than 100 people who donated more than $600,000 on Leung's behalf before the project was approved in 2015.
A biotech office developer has purchased more than 8 acres of waterfront land to build an R&D site along the San Diego Bay. The investment group, IQHQ, has secured five city blocks--or around two thirds--of the eventual development site known as Manchester Pacific Gateway.  The firm hopes to build a "dynamic, waterfront urban life science city," that includes a 17-story tower, a museum, and 3 acres of greenspace and rooftop decks.
California has reallocated nearly $600 million in private bonds from a Las Vegas train project to affordable housing needs after the rail company failed to get enough investors onboard. With the reclaimed bonds, the state will have enough to fund about a third of projects that didn't receive any bond awards this year, according to an analysis by the nonprofit California Housing Partnership.