U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear California Rent Control Case
The United States Supreme Court rejected a significant property-rights challenge to rent control laws in New York City and California, which permit tenants to remain in below-market-cost apartments for extended periods. New York landlords sued, arguing that rent regulation and long-term occupancy violated the Constitution's prohibition on taking private property for public use. While Justice Clarence Thomas issued a partial dissent, the majority found insufficient evidence that landlords were unable to evict tenants for specific reasons. The ruling's impact could have directly affected around 1 million apartments in New York City and potentially influenced California. Despite recent interest from the court's conservative majority in bolstering property rights, rent control has been upheld as property regulation rather than governmental seizure. Challenges to property rights, including developer fees, have emerged in California, reflecting broader debates over governmental takings and private property rights.

Tribes, Farmers Reach Agreement on Use of Klamath River Water 
The Interior Department, tribal nations, and farming groups have reached an agreement regarding the governance of the Klamath River, flowing through California and Oregon, seeking harmony between irrigation needs and environmental revival. Signed by the Klamath Water Users Association and tribal representatives like the Klamath, Yurok and Karuk Tribes, the deal emphasizes enhancing ecosystems and ensuring water dependability for agriculture. Historically, conflicts over water distribution between farmers and tribes have intensified during droughts, with tribes advocating for salmon preservation. The pact includes a $72 million infusion, drawn from the bipartisan infrastructure law, for upgrading agricultural infrastructure and ecological initiatives in the Klamath River Basin. Notably, the agreement fosters cooperation among stakeholders who have grappled with communication barriers in the past, aiming for comprehensive ecological renewal and improved water supply management.

State Considers Cessation of Fracking Statewide
The California Conservation Department has proposed halting the issuance of permits for well stimulation treatments, commonly known as fracking, across the state. The department's Geologic Energy Management Division aims to safeguard life, property, public health, safety and environmental quality by prohibiting new permits for fracking. Most fracking activities occur in Kern County's oil fields in the Central Valley, where over 2,200 permits have been granted, contributing to about 12% of oil and 17% of natural gas extraction in the state. Fracking involves injecting liquids into bedrock at high pressures to access natural gas and petroleum, emitting pollutants and posing risks of oil spills and harm to marine life. Concerns over fracking's impacts on mental well-being and its contribution to climate change have intensified public dissatisfaction, prompting the proposed regulation. The public and oil industry can provide written feedback on the proposal, with a public hearing scheduled for March 26, reflecting Californians' long-standing desire to move away from fracking toward a safer, sustainable future.

Package of Housing Bills Introduced in State Senate
State Senator Nancy Skinner introduced her 2024 Housing Package aimed at addressing California's housing crisis through legislation promoting more housing creation, reduced costs and expanded homeownership. The package includes SB 1211, facilitating the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in multifamily housing properties, SB 1210, which caps utility hook-up fees on new housing units and SB 1212, prohibiting corporate entities from purchasing single-family homes. SB 1211 aims to boost the ADU market by allowing more detached ADUs on multifamily properties, while SB 1210 seeks to lower housing costs by capping utility hook-up fees and allowing payment over a 10-year period. SB 1212 aims to increase homeownership opportunities by preventing large investors from buying single-family homes.

CP&DR Legal Coverage: Private Regulation of Short-Term Rentals; CEQA Exemptions
In an unpublished ruling, the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld a preliminary injunction against the Arrowhead Lake Association’s new rules preventing short-term renters – and homeowners who are not members of the association – from accessing the privately owned Lake Arrowhead beach. The case still must be tried on the merits, but the appellate court said the homeowners challenging the new rules are likely to win – and, in the process, the justices shot down comparisons between the Lake Arrowhead Association and formal local government bodies – at least as far as the definition of a short-term rental is concerned.

It’s not unusual for neighboring residents who dislike a project to use the California Environmental Quality Act process as a way to try to stop the problem no matter what is environmental impact. And it’s not unusual for elected officials to give angry neighbors what they want, again by using CEQA. It is a bit unusual for an appellate court to call everybody out, however. And in a ruling that could have widespread consequences for tiering of environmental impact reports, that’s just what the Fourth District Court of Appeal has done in a case involving a proposed recycling plant in San Diego County. The opinion is important because it allows a exemption to tier off of a programmatic environmental impact report.

Quick Hits & Updates

The Los Angeles Metro Board of Directors certified the environmental impact report for the Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transit Project, connecting Dodger Stadium to downtown LA via a gondola system. Despite opposition from residents and concerns over transparency and costs, the project moves forward pending consideration by other agencies before construction approval.

A Kern County Superior Court judge upheld a preliminary injunction requiring Bakersfield to maintain water flow in the Kern River to protect fish habitats, ruling against the city's attempts to dismiss claims related to public trust and fish and game code violations. While the judge sided with environmental groups on some claims, such as the classification of Bakersfield's diversion structures as dams, he rejected others, including allegations of public nuisance and failure to fulfill trustee duties, prompting potential amendments to the lawsuit.

A company pursuing a large-scale sand and gravel mine near Santa Clarita is suing the State Water Board over a permit needed to use the Santa Clara River for its plan to mine 56 million tons of aggregate, delaying discussions on potential concerns regarding the operation's proximity to the river. The lawsuit alleges discrepancies in the board's decision-making process, while opponents raise concerns about increased traffic, air quality degradation and water usage associated with the proposed mining operation.

City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo estimates that Measure HLA, a proposal to make pedestrian and active transportation improvements in Los Angeles, would cost the city at least $3.1 billion over the next decade. Proponents of HLA criticized Szabo's analysis, calling it a "last-minute electioneering ploy," while supporters voiced frustration with the city's handling of traffic safety concerns. (See related CP&DR commentary.)

The City of Berkeley has been fined $4 million for mishandling a developer's application to build housing units on the old Spenger's parking lot, with $2.6 million going towards violating the Housing Accountability Act and $1.4 million reimbursing the developer for attorney's fees. The legal battle, spanning six years, involves conflicts over historic preservation, housing affordability, and environmental concerns, highlighting the complexity of development projects in the area. The fine will go into the city's affordable housing trust fund.

The California Conservation Department has proposed a regulation to halt the issuance of permits for well stimulation treatments, commonly known as fracking, across the state. The department cited concerns about air and water pollution, oil spills and the use of toxic substances in fracking fluids -- as well as increasing public concern -- as reasons for phasing out permits.

A recent poll in San Francisco reveals that over half of voters are concerned about crime, drugs and homelessness, with nearly three-quarters feeling the city is heading in the wrong direction, which could impact Mayor London Breed's reelection prospects. Despite a 7% decrease in reported crimes last year, 69% of respondents believe crime has worsened. Voters support financial incentives to revitalize downtown, with 84% backing incentives for small businesses and 81% for large businesses, along with 71% supporting tax incentives for businesses moving into vacant spaces.

The Oakland Ballers minor league baseball team have chosen Raimondi Park as their home field for the Spring 2024 season, with plans to host 48 home games starting in June. They aim to revitalize the park, investing $1.6 million in upgrades to create a premier venue for professional and youth baseball and softball, supported by descendants of baseball legends associated with the park.

The Office of Attorney General Rob Bonta is supporting the City of Eureka in its legal battle against the Citizens for a Better Eureka's attempts to block affordable housing developments downtown, arguing that the city complied with environmental regulations and housing policies. This move comes as Citizens for a Better Eureka files motions seeking preliminary injunctions to halt planned affordable housing and transportation projects, citing violations of the California Environmental Quality Act.

A new Zoning Reform Tracker from the Othering & Belonging Institute of UC Berkeley documents zoning reform efforts across the country, hoping to follow and log any potential anti-density zoning ordinances promoting race and class-based discrimination in housing. The Zoning Reform Tracker focuses primarily on municipal zoning reform efforts, encompassing both a database and interactive webmap.