State Updates Complete Streets Guidelines, Requiring Consideration of Active Mobility
Caltrans released its long-awaited guidelines for the design of complete streets last month; they are effective immediately. "Design Information Bulletin #94 - Complete Streets: Contextual Design Guidelines" offers specific standards and best practices" to support the design of comfortable and convenient streetscapes by utilizing space-efficient forms of mobility such as people walking, biking, rolling, or accessing transit." The guidelines state that agencies must account for road users who are not in cars when designing and upgrading streets, acknowledging "the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists should be given special consideration, as their forward movement is physically taxing and opportunities for rest and shelter are of special importance." The guidelines address many of the state's diverse contexts, from urban cores to rural areas. The guidelines are explained an illustrated in a "storymap" published by Caltrans.

Court Cites Anaheim for Denial of Transitional Housing Project
An Orange County court ruled in favor of the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), determining that the City of Anaheim violated state housing laws by denying a permit for transitional housing for homeless women with mental health disabilities. The dispute arose when Grandma’s House of Hope, an established nonprofit, sought to open a facility in the Anaheim Colony Historic District, but faced opposition from neighbors and a denial of a conditional use permit by the City Council. Governor Gavin Newsom hailed the ruling as a victory against discriminatory housing policies, emphasizing the importance of transitional homes in addressing homelessness. The court's decision highlighted violations of several housing laws by Anaheim and nullified the city's illegal permitting rules, with further proceedings to determine potential remedies. While the city expressed concerns about neighborhood integrity, the ruling underscored the imperative to uphold fair housing practices and provide housing for all community needs.

Major Lithium Project Breaks Ground at Salton Sea
The recent groundbreaking for the Hell's Kitchen 1 plant marks the beginning of the $1.85 billion project in the Salton Sea area, blending lithium extraction with geothermal power. Despite potential legal challenges, developer Controlled Thermal Resources plans up to seven plants atop a vast lithium brine reserve. The project promises to produce renewable energy and 25,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide annually, enough for 415,000 electric vehicle batteries. Despite enthusiasm from dignitaries and officials, including White House energy advisor John Podesta, concerns persist over environmental impact and tribal consultation. The project's economic potential, including job creation and revenue generation, is touted, but legal hurdles loom as community groups challenge environmental reviews and compliance with zoning laws. A nonprofit group called Comite Civico del Valle is suing, claiming that the facility's permits were issued without proper consideration for the health effects on local residents and that it will overuse water from the nearby Colorado river.

State Certifies Brisbane Housing Element over Housing Advocates' Objections
The Department of Housing and Community Development delivered a rare piece of good news to the city of Brisbane regarding its housing element laws. Despite complaints from pro-housing groups about delays in the redevelopment of the Baylands, HCD ruled in favor of the city. Although Brisbane missed a deadline related to publishing an environmental study, HCD determined that there is still time to complete the necessary approvals by January 2026. This decision comes amidst a significant number of cities and counties in California being out of compliance with housing element laws, leading to concerns about affordable housing availability. Despite these concerns, Brisbane officials remain committed to moving the Baylands project forward, which represents a substantial portion of the city's housing obligations. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

YIMBY Law Sues Los Angeles for Denial of 100% Affordable Housing Project
YIMBY Law filed a second lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles for unlawfully delaying a 100% affordable housing project consisting of 190 homes on Wilbur Ave in Reseda, a single-family-only neighborhood. This legal action follows a similar lawsuit in January 2024 concerning a project on Winnetka Ave. The projects were originally eligible for streamlined approval under Mayor Karen Bass's Executive Directive 1 (ED1) but faced delays due to a revision exempting single-family-only neighborhoods, enacted after the project submissions. According to the lawsuit, and despite advocacy efforts and community support, the planning commission and city council unlawfully stalled these affordable housing projects. YIMBY Law stressed their aims to ensure the approval and streamlining of these projects and others under the original form of ED1.

CP&DR Coverage: Cities Anticipate Impacts of Brightline High Speed Rail
Last month, Brightline West, a privately developed high-speed rail line connecting Rancho Cucamonga with Las Vegas, received $2.5 billion in private activity bonds from the U.S. Department of Transportation, bringing the $12-billion project one step closer to groundbreaking. All told, the project has received nearly $9 billion in federal loans and grants. Regardless of whether the train arrives, the city believes that this sort of development is appropriate for Rancho Cucamonga no matter what. The city is required to zone for 10,525 additional units according to its 6th Cycle Regional Housing Needs Allocation. Burris said that it makes sense to concentrate development in a few key areas so that it does not encroach on the city’s vast swaths of single-family neighborhoods. 

Quick Hits & Updates

Sonoma County is backing a proposal for a Center for Climate Action as part of the redevelopment plan for the historic Sonoma Developmental Center property, aiming to create a collaborative space to address climate crisis challenges. Funded by a $250,000 grant from the California Coastal Conservancy, the initiative aims to attract stakeholders and private enterprise to tackle climate issues, amidst negotiations for redevelopment of the site, which could include housing units. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Three California Assembly members have proposed a $1 billion bond act to support the expansion of ports to accommodate the development of massive wind farms off the state's coast. The proposed bond, aimed at enhancing port capacity for assembling, constructing and transporting wind turbines, is considered critical for offshore wind projects, aligning with California's goal to transition to 100% clean energy and the projection of offshore wind farms supplying 25 gigawatts of electricity by 2045.

After two previous rejections, the city of Davis received approval for its Housing Element from the California Department of Housing and Community Development. The approved plan includes various initiatives such as promoting affordable housing, streamlining development processes and preserving affordable housing. While the approval is a significant step, the city acknowledges challenges ahead, especially regarding meeting future housing requirements without sufficient infill sites.

Oakland-based developer oWow filed an application to modify previously approved plans for the redevelopment of 960 Howard St. in San Francisco's Central SoMa neighborhood per a recently enacted provision in state Density Bonus Law. Originally greenlit as a three-story office building with a 9-story residential addition, the project now seeks to add 16 stories, for a total of 274 rental units, including 42 designated as affordable housing.

According to a new study by SPUR, California's housing crisis is exacerbated by a decentralized governance system, with multiple agencies and regional processes leading to misalignment and complexity. SPUR's report advocates for state-level reform and offers 11 recommendations to streamline governance and address the housing shortage effectively.

San Francisco supervisors rejected a challenge to the redevelopment of a former medical library in Pacific Heights, paving the way for the project to proceed without an environmental review. The proposal aims to preserve the building's facade and add two towers for housing, a decision that could have implications for future housing construction in the city.

According to a newly published study from the University of Illinois Chicago, 15,000 U.S. cities will experience significant depopulation by 2100. The study anticipates the southern coast of California will lose population while the northern coast gains a larger population. This trend necessitates a shift in urban planning away from growth-focused strategies, states the study's senior author.

The latest National Seismic Hazard Model predicts that nearly three-quarters of U.S. states, including California, face the risk of damaging earthquakes in the next century. Southern Alaska, California and Hawaii have over a 95 percent chance of experiencing damaging earthquakes, while even parts of the Mississippi Valley have up to a 90 percent chance.

The Conservation Fund closed a $16 million deal to purchase Richmond Ranch, a 3,654-acre property near San Jose, from Z&L Properties, with plans to convert it into a nature preserve with hiking trails, safeguarding critical habitat for Tule elk and other wildlife and serving as a vital link in the Bay Area Ridge Trail. The property's acquisition by conservationists marks a significant win after Z&L's earlier purchase disappointed South Bay conservationists, with the ranch expected to be jointly managed by the Santa Clara County Parks Department and the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency.

The Biden administration is allocating $426 million for a project to build a marine terminal in Humboldt County, facilitating the construction and deployment of hundreds of massive turbines for an offshore wind farm 20 miles off the state's coast. This initiative marks a significant step forward in California's efforts to establish offshore wind farms, with plans to generate thousands of jobs and contribute to the state's goal of achieving 100% clean electricity by 2045.

The Inland Empire, consisting of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, emerged as California's top job creator over the past four years, adding 128,400 jobs since 2019, primarily fueled by the logistics industry's growth driven by the push for online shopping. This growth accounted for 20% of the state's new jobs while comprising only 9% of the total employment in California, with other regions like Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento also experiencing significant job increases.