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CP&DR News Briefs July 21, 2020: Los Altos Fights SB 35; S.F. Housing Ballot Measure; High Speed Rail to S.F.; and More

Robin Glover on
Jul 21, 2020
Los Altos Fights Against Housing Obligations under SB 35
The Los Altos City Council voted unanimously to appeal an April court ruling that the city unlawfully rejecting a project that sought approval under SB 35. If upheld, Los Altos would be forced to approve a building with 15 residential units--including two low-income units--and ground floor office space. (See CP&DR's coverage of the Los Altos case and SB 35 battles in Silicon Valley here.) "While the City Council recognized and is supportive of state-wide efforts to increase the supply of housing, this oversized, 5-story mixed-use project... does not comply with downtown zoning requirements," Los Altos officials wrote in a news release. The judge who ruled on the case found Los Altos acted in bad faith. In its news release, the city proposed working with the developer to come up with an alternative project better suited to the site. A representative from California Renters Legal Advocacy Fund expressed surprise at the city's decision to appeal. "I thought the trial court ruling here was very clear, and that the requirements of state law were very clear." The case could have broad implications for other cities, developers, and courts grappling with how to apply SB35, projects like the redevelopment of Vallco Shopping Mall in Cupertino. The city's appeal will freeze enforcement of the judge's order, which means for now the project remains on hold.

San Francisco Considering Ballot Measure to Create 10,000 Affordable Housing Units 
A proposed ballot measure that would create 10,000 permanent units of affordable housing in San Francisco is gathering support among the Board of Supervisors. Because of Article 34, a 1950 California law that states no "low rent" housing development without a voter majority, voters will need to approve the units to move forward. (A repeal effort has been launched by State Senators Ben Allen and Scott Weiner and will be on the November ballot this year). If approved, Preston plans to finance the affordable housing project through the revenue generated by a proposed increased real estate. The tax is also on the November ballot. This measure would increase the tax on real estate sales greater than or equal to $10 million from 3 percent to 5.5 percent. For sales equal to or above $25 million, the tax would increase from 3 percent to 6 percent.

State Releases Vision for Bay Area Segment of High Speed Rail
The California High Speed Rail Authority rolled out further details for its vision for high-speed trains between San Jose and San Francisco, though funding remains largely an open question. CAHSR is calling for 220-mph trains from the Central Valley to the Peninsula. Service between the Bay Area's largest cities, scheduled to begin in 2031, is expected to take less than 45 minutes, including the stop in Millbrae near San Francisco International Airport. The details are part of an environmental review for the Bay Area segment of the Los Angles-to-San Francisco project. The new document identifies a range of impacts the line could have on the area. Rail officials ultimately decided to share existing tracks with Caltrain through the densely populated Peninsula area. Even so, as many as 62 homes and 202 business may have to be displaced to upgrade the tracks and build new infrastructure, according to the report. The high-speed train, which will run in close coordination with Caltrans, will run twice an hour during peak times, and eventually four times an hour, officials say, at a cost slightly than Caltrain's at $10.50 a ride.

Caltrans Plan Promotes Active Transportation Statewide
Caltrans released Toward an Active California, its first-ever statewide bike and pedestrian plan. The plan's stated vision is that "by 2040, people in California in California of all people in California of all ages, abilities, and income can safely, conveniently, and comfortably walk and bicycle for their transportation needs. That would be a dramatic change for California communities. The plan acknowledges that Caltrans can't reach its goals alone and and lacks the jurisdiction to implement local policies; it can, however, influence infrastructure decisions made at the local level and provide expertise when local departments are understaffed or need assistance. The plan's four overarching objectives are safety, increasing walking and bicycling mode shares, maintaining high quality infrastructure, and investing in communities that are most dependent on active transportation and transit. Caltrans hopes to double the number of trips made by walking, triple those made by bike, and double transit use by the end of this year. All of this should be helped by the recent passage of S.B. 1, which will bring an influx of cash for repairing and maintaining roads.

National Update: Feds May Weaken National Environmental Regulations
President Trump announced that he will attempt to roll back National Environmental Policy Act rules, which give the public the right to review and comment on a project's environmental impact before it can move forward. Among the major proposed changes: the rule will allow agencies to exempt categories of activities that do not require environmental assessment, and caps environmental impact reviews to one or two years. It also eliminates the need for agencies to analyze a project's indirect or "cumulative" effects on the environment and specifying that they are required to only analyze "reasonably foreseeable" impacts. The s revisions, if they hold up in court, are expected to lead to more permitting for pipelines and other projects that worsen greenhouse gas emissions. The final rule is not likely to be safe from the Congressional Review Act, which Congress can overturn a federal agency's rule-making, and under federal regulatory law, a Democratic president and Congress could eradicate the NEPA rollback with simple majority votes on Capitol Hill and the president's signature. (See CP&DR commentary.)

CP&DR Coverage: Equity & Regional Planning

Immediately upon his election to the presidency of the Regional Council of the Southern California Association of Governments in June, Long Beach City Council Member Rex Richardson introduced a resolution to declare racism a public health crisis and, therefore, a top priority for SCAG. The resolution was adopted nearly unanimously, setting the tone for an agenda focused on equity and social justice. 

Quick Hits & Updates

California's last redevelopment agency, the Ford Ord Reuse Authority was officially disbanded, leaving thousands of acres of undeveloped land to individual jurisdictions. Several abandoned Army buildings remain, but funding has dried up due to the coronavirus pandemic. Originally, the agency had planned to build housing on a large scale, but plans were scaled back. Nevertheless, the director pointed to several successes: the Fort Ord State Park, the cleanup of thousands of acres of land, and the establishment of a Veterans health care facility. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Appealing a June court ruling that struck down
San Diego County's Climate Action Plan would be "throwing good money after bad," said one of several Board of Supervisors who have spoken out against defending the plan again in court. The Board voted unanimously in a closed session to decline to appeal the case, ending a nearly decade-long court battle that has cost the county nearly $1 million.

In a bid to make rail transit systems car-free, as opposed to a car-less leg of a commute, the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority announced plans to cut the total number of parking spaces at its five stations by just over 1,600 spaces. LA Metro, which will operate the line, directed the authority to reduce parking to make the land available for housing construction down the road. The authority will collect feedback before finalizing plans, which will then undergo environmental review.

To combat housing discrimination and affirmatively further fair housing, the Department of Housing and Community Development has identified a multi-pronged approach that includes recommendations and action steps to address the 10 impediments to fair housing choice identified through the 2020 AI process. The recommendations and action steps outlined in the Final 2020 AI will inform HCD's efforts to affirmatively further fair housing, following guidance from state fair housing law, including Assembly Bill 686.

A judge ruled that the City of Salinas acted legally when it refused a church's request to move across the street to a larger building that would accommodate a growing congregation. Salinas had zoned the street in question as retail-only to revitalize downtown. The case is a test of the relatively new Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act passed in 2020, prohibits local governments from implementing zoning and other land use regulations that place a "substantial burden" on a religious organization.

The Costa Mesa City Council backed away from approving a ballot proposal that would loosen Measure Y, a 2016 initiative requiring voter approval of development projects that meet at least one of a host of requirements, to exempt affordable housing projects or create geographic areas of exemption. Instead, the city will form a citizens advisory group tasked with creating a consensus about how to accommodate growth in the face of steep housing goals.

A new $2-billion plan for property near the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, next to the Beverly Hilton, would transform a key stretch of Beverly Hills. The complex, called One Beverly Hills would feature 8 acres of gardens and water features, the bulk of which would be open to the public. There would also be a 10-story ultra-luxury hotel building, and 340 residences in two towers as high as 32 stories.

A Supreme Court decision has solidified Native American tries' right to first priority of Klamath River water. Tribal officials say dams in the river. Farmers who divert water from the Klamath sued the federal government in 2001; an appeals court decision to reject the farmers' claim guarantees that the Hoopa, Yurok and Klamath tribes have enough water to ensure that fish populations remain alive.

Los Angeles City Council passed a $100-million rental assistance package that would provide up to $2,000 in rental assistance for low-income households that can prove they've been affected financially or had health problems due to COVID0-19. While the relief effort is the largest passed in the country to date, experts say it falls short.

According to an estimate by UCLA's Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, about 365,000 households countrywide have lost their jobs, do not qualify for unemployment, and are at risk of losing their homes once anti-eviction moratoriums expire.

High-Speed Rail Authority director is pushing back on an L.A. Times story that framed a $1.6 billion contract delay as a regional food fight. Boris Lipkin, Northern California Regional Director says the decision to delay is actually twofold: the pandemic spooked bidders, who asked for more time to evaluate the market. Secondly, if Democrats sweep in the 2020 election, the project could see an influx of cash like the $3.5 billion the Obama Administration provided in 2008.

Mayors in Los Angeles, Oakland, Stockton, Compton, and five other U.S. cities said they will work to launch a universal basic income pilot program. The coalition, named Mayors For A Guaranteed Income, was founded by Michael Tubbs, the 29-year-old mayor of Stockton who launched a UBI pilot last year that gives $500 monthly to 125 residents. Tubbs said the pandemic and the unrest caused by the death of George Floyd pushed him to announce the coalition now.

A toll increase for seven Bay Area bridges did not require the two-thirds majority needed for a tax increase, a state appeals court ruled. The increase was approved by 55 percent of the voters on the local ballot in 2018. An anti-tax group sued, arguing that the toll was a local tax because it funds programs that would benefit the general public. California allows the state to charge fees to users of state property. Bridge tolls are a fee for "entrance to or use of state property," and therefore are not a tax, the presiding judge said in the 3-0 ruling.

Under a $14 million deal secured by the Northern Sierra Partnership, nearly 3,000 acres of rugged forest land north of Lake Tahoe will be preserved. The land was owned by a patchwork of timber companies and other private owners that were willing to sell. California's state parks department has all but stopped acquiring new land in the last decade, leaving the land open to potential development by private buyers. The purchase is part of a multi-year effort funded by Silicon Valley tech leaders to acquire 100,000 acres between Lake Tahoe and Mount Lassen for wildlife, public use, and water conservation.

Two powerful environmental activist groups have filed a joint petition to protect Quino checkerspot butterflies under the California Endangered Species Act. With urban sprawl, the butterfly has lost more than 75 percent of its historic habitat, and is now found only in southern San Diego County and southwestern Riverside County in the United States. Several major developments totaling more than 6,500 acres and several miles of President Donald Trump's border wall are planned on the butterfly's dwindling habitat.

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