San Diego Moves Forward with Pro-Density Plan
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced a proposal to slash height and density limits within a half-mile of high frequency rail stations on land parcels already zoned for multi-family housing--in exchange for community benefits, such as below-market units, neighborhood plazas or pedestrianized streetscapes. The proposal bears similarity to one vetoed last year by Mayor Faulconer, but moderates the initial proposal in ways that have garnered business community backing, most notably by raising affordable housing income thresholds to 60 percent, up from 50 percent under the previous proposal, as well as additional treats like a faster permitting process and lower fees. But developers would still be restricted in two notable ways--one being compliance with setbacks and another being floor-to-area ratio, or FAR. Instead of height and density restrictions, developers would be subject to total square footage, a move meant to incentivize smaller, cheaper homes. The proposal has received widespread support from business and community groups, as well as unanimous support from city council. 

Southern California Cities Falling Far Short of Housing Goals
Southern California cities and counties do far better at planning for housing than they do at meeting housing goals, particularly at the lower income range, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Daily News and the Orange County Register that gives A through F ratings to California jurisdictions based on RHNA, or Regional Housing Needs Assessments, targets versus actual number of permits issued. The analysis used data from 2018 progress reports to extrapolate where cities were in the late 2013 to late 2021 RHNA cycle--whether “on track” to be in compliance by end of cycle or not on track, and weighted results to reward cities that were very close to target in the bottom two income tiers, had improved substantially over previous years, or had a larger than usual burden (10 percent or greater). Of 538 jurisdictions scored, over half received an A grade for fulfilling moderate and above moderate income housing permits (defined as between 81 and 120 percent of median income). Yet only 47 (9 percent) received a grade of A for very low income housing and just 70 (13 percent) received an A grade for low income housing.

Los Angeles to Limit Developers’ Donations to City Candidates 
The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to approve a law that will limit campaign contributions from real estate developers to key government officials while the city weighs key approvals for building projects. The move is largely in response to an FBI raid conducted three years ago that turned up correspondence between developers and officials that showed developers were steering decision-making with regards to zone changes and height allowances.. In support, one council member said, “Doing nothing will cost us the trust of Angelenos. It is the public’s trust that is the foundation of everything we do.” Critics both on and off the council say the law is more an inconvenience than a solution because, like SuperPACs, developers can still host fundraisers and bundle contributions from other donors. As real estate developer Tom Gilmore put it, “[the ordinance] is a nice PR stunt at best … I don’t think it’s meaningful to block developers from giving $800 checks [to candidates] while still allowing them to raise $20,000.” A critic on the council didn't mince words, calling the law “piecemeal crap.”

Quick Hits & Updates 

The Sacramento City Council voted unanimously to fund a $47 million renovation to Old Sacramento’s waterfront. There are three revitalization projects planned, though only two are funded with the $47 million. One project is an events venue that would hold up to 5,000 people with an open-air space, planned for completion by Aug. 2023. The second is a Museum Event Deck project--another events venue with waterfront views--planned for completion by May 2022. The third project, dubbed the River Dock Renovation, is pending additional funding.
The Goleta City Council approved a new housing policy that requires developers to designate at least 20 percent of units as affordable housing for all projects with at least five units. Within the policy is a provision allowing council discretion to reduce that amount to 15 percent. Development projects that are already underway will not be affected.
Insufficient parking is spelling trouble for a $250 million Palm Springs arena project. An initial study by a tribe that owns the building land site purported to show that parking in the area and planned on-site parking structures to sufficient to absorb event traffic. But when Palm Springs commissioned its own consultant review, the new analysis said Palm Springs streets and parking would be overwhelmed even by conservative estimates of one car for every five event attendees. The proposed arena is on land owned by a tribe, but the city will have to absorb traffic, parking, and public safety costs. Analyses show that after on-site parking structures are accounted for, 1,603 spaces would still be needed, and if filled by event attendees, would choke off parking for local businesses and other tourist attractions.
The Bay Area Council Foundation launched a request for proposals to offer $2 million in funding for local governments to support innovative projects that address climate change-related threats and help safeguard the state against wildfire, drought, flood and extreme heat events. Cities, counties, and special districts may apply for rewards of up to $200,000 of a mix of public and private funds.
The Institute for Local Government launched the Housing and Public Engagement Toolkit, a resource to help California local governments establish more trust and transparency by collaborating with and engaging their residents on housing-related issues. The robust report offers high level and granular public engagement strategies, policy considerations, and funding opportunities.
The League of California Cities convened with more than 100 committee and caucus stakeholders at an annual meeting at which they developed and released five strategic advocacy priorities for 2020 that fell under five broad umbrellas: affordable housing, homelessness prevention and assistance, fiscal sustainability, disaster preparedness, and public safety. The League is a nonprofit that advocates for cities and provides education and training services to elected and appointed city officials.
BART’s South Bay extension won’t be realized until April 2020 at the earliest, four months later than previously promised by BART and Valley Transportation Authority. BART has declined to designate a hard 2020 target for opening South Bay’s Milpitas Station and Berryessa Station. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
After two years of gains, last year Los Angeles rail ridership dipped 4.2 percent, a downward trend that has continued into 2019 across all rail lines. While data shows all U.S. cities are experiencing declining public transportation ridership, Los Angeles rails have been particularly impacted in past years by closures, mechanical issues, and delays that make it hard for commuters to depend on. “We had one shot to get it right and have a good experience and have folks come back,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said at a Metro board meeting last week. “I think we certainly did not achieve that.” Metro buses, which account for two-thirds of LA’s public transit ridership, have been hit even harder on almost all routes, including those in Santa Monica, the San Gabriel Valley, the Antelope Valley, and Orange County. (See prior CP&DR commentary.)
Political scientists studying the public trade-offs between ‘districtwide’ versus ‘at large’ elections found that district elections, like those implemented after the California Voting Rights Act, tend to produce more equitable results, while citywide elections tend to produce more efficient results. To come to that conclusion, researchers looked at the number of multifamily housing permits issued and found that before the Voting Rights Act, affordable multifamily housing - the kind California cities desperately need but homeowners often reject - was approved more frequently, but were disproportionately located in districts that were ‘logrolled,’ meaning city officials were ignoring that district’s preferences to gain political advantage elsewhere. Conversely, district elections produce fewer housing permits, but the permits are more equally distributed across districts and the housing more affordable.