Bay Area Racetrack to Close; Development Potential Uncertain
The owners of Golden Gate Fields, which straddles the border between Albany and Berkeley, announced that the horse racing track will close at the end of this season in December. The closure potentially prompts a struggle between open space advocates and developers hoping to take over the 140-acre waterfront property. The track opened in 1941. Some developers have eyed the area for a potential commercial center, while parks advocates hope to see the space incorporated into neighboring McLaughlin Eastshore State Park. Zoning rules for the site bordering both Berkeley and Albany currently prohibit new housing on the property, only including zoning permissions for commercial uses such as restaurants. Both cities would need to update their master plans before changing zoning laws. Berkeley's master plan dates back to 1986. Albany, on the other hand, requires any changes to the park be approved by voters. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Coastal Commission Clashes with City of Santa Cruz over Housing Project
A seven-story, 175-unit housing project proposal in Santa Cruz could set a precedent on the Coastal Commission's decision-making between state requirements for housing and coastal standards for development. The project sits along the San Lorenzo River, prompting Coastal Commission review and a standoff between the city's planning department and the Coastal Commission who has the final vote on the project. The project currently includes only 15 affordable units, prompting the California Coastal Commission Central Coast district supervisor to say that few number of affordable units does not warrant potential project impacts to coastal characteristics like the view and community character. City staff have responded that there will not be any impact to local character in the area. The Coastal Commission will meet with city staff in the coming weeks and the developer to let them know their recommendation.

Los Angeles to Explore "Park Blocks"
Los Angeles City Council voted to move forward with a "Park Block" pilot program, based on Barcelona's transformation of street surface area into public space. The vote directs the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to locate a site for the first "Park Block" of allocated portions of the street for expanded open space. The proposal would, in part, attempt to eliminate "cut through" traffic on local streets, thereby reducing vehicular traffic and freeing up street space for other uses through methods of tactical urbanism. The Department of Transportation will also develop public outreach and a community application process for future sites with priority given to neighborhoods with higher rates of vehicle collusions and less access to outdoor space. They will also located funding and potential staffing necessary for a citywide program. According to a city report, "[Park Blocks] can create instant public open space with substantial shade, outdoor recreation, greening and storm water capture in communities desperate for parks."

Conservation Group Makes Major Acquisition on S.F. Peninsula
One of the Bay Area’s largest private conservation properties will become a public space after the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District gained permission to purchase the coastal Cloverdale Ranch. Moving forward, 6,300 acres of San Mateo County’s rolling hills are set to become a park. In the 1990s, the conservation group purchased part of the property to prevent housing developments on the green space. Now, the $16 million purchase, over half of which was funded by grants, marks one of the largest transfers of private-to-public property. As well as providing an open space for residents to enjoy, the regional district plans to improve wildlife protection and has contributed to the state and federal goal of conserving 30% of land and waters by 2030.

CP&DR Coverage: Midseason Legislative Update
Despite cries of "legislation fatigue" from some municipal planning departments, the state legislature is moving forward with dozens of bills related to land use, including a bevy of housing bills. Essentially every housing bill that was introduced at the beginning of the session has advanced out of its house of origin. Bills must pass the legislature by Sept. 14. and be signed by Oct. 14.

Quick Hits & Updates

Last-minute amendments to a bill in San Francisco allowing single-family homes to convert to smaller-scale apartments postponed the Board of Supervisors' Land Use and Transportation Committee's recommendation of the bill. Neighborhood groups from affluent areas pushed back against the bill in a public hearing, causing an additional barrier for the bill's passage.

Fresno City Council unanimously approved the Capital Projects Department, a new department under Mayor Jerry Dyer's new budget designed to speed up engineering and oversee large infrastructure and construction projects. The department will be funded by $50 million in state budget allocation for downtown infrastructure and $250 million over the next three years, as well as $6.3 billion moved from the Public Works and Public Utilities departments.

A new study by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission found the cost of protecting San Francisco's shoreline from sea level rise will be approximately $110 billion by 2050. The study found the money presently available for the type of projects to protect the homes, businesses, airports and infrastructure on the shoreline is only $5 billion.

The Coastal Commission delayed discussion of a zoning amendment for the controversial Magnolia Tank Farm, a mixed-use project located in Huntington Beach including 250 residential units, a hotel with affordable rooms and a new park and recreation. The City Council approved the zoning amendment in 2021 to change the land from public use to infrastructure, residential, commercial and open-use despite a risk of increased flooding, according to the Coastal Commission.

In new poll findings, Sacramento residents cited the region's top priorities are increasing housing affordability and reducing traffic congestion. 49% of respondents find their own neighborhood unaffordable, with another 79% respondents thinking first-time homeowners will have a difficult time buying a home in five years.

The California Transportation Commission approved funding for three large proposed projects with SB 1, or gas tax, funding. The projects are billed as applicable to California's Climate Action Plan for Transportation Investment calling for projects to decrease vehicle miles (VMT) travelled even as two of the three projects involve highway expansion. Critics claim these projects will increase VMT statewide.

The proposed reopening of the largest gold mine in California met with an overcrowded public hearing including a discussion of environmental impacts of the city in Nevada City. The company behind the project seeks to reopen the mine closed in 1956, stating no environmental concerns despite many community members stating the project will disrupt life and health in the area.

Seven downtown business filed a claim against the city of San Diego for $2.5 million in damages due to the ongoing homelessness crisis in the downtown area, asking the city to remove encampments or face court. The claim follows the city's new controversial ban on homeless encampments in parks, riverbeds and waterways, and transportation areas within two blocks of shelters.

A group of tenants filed suit against the owner of their 712-unit rent-controlled West Los Angeles apartment building, accusing the company of misusing the Ellis Act, a state law enabling landlords to exit the rental market, initially to convert apartments into condominiums. The owners of the building originally posted notices of evictions to all residents for the addition of fire sprinklers and safety upgrades.

The state's first settlement under the Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482) prompted a San Jose-based landlord to agree to lower rent for several tenants and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and penalties for raising rent more than 150% on average for 20 tenants and evicting six tenants during the pandemic. AB 1482 prohibits a rent increase of more than 5% plus the percentage change in the consumer price index, or 10% overall -- whichever is lower. The law also protects tenants from unjust eviction.

Only 74 San Francisco property owners -- or 2.6% of eligible properties -- have paid the city's retail vacancy tax since it went into effect last year. In addition to exempt properties, thousands of landlords and tenants did not submit filings for their parcels. The tax created $667,847 in revenue in 2022 for a small business assistance fund, a much smaller revenue than previously projected. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge found the Santa Clara Valley Water District incorrectly claimed they were exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act, putting the second phase of their new dam project for Pacheco Reservoir on hold.

According to a new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, as of February 2023, seven in ten Californians say housing affordability is a large issue in their local housing landscape. This marks the highest percentage of respondents to say housing affordability is a major problem since 2017. 72% of both Democrats and Republicans and 75% of independents also state housing affordability is an issue. Six in ten Californias are very concerned, with another 27% somewhat concerned, that the cost of housing will prevent younger generations from buying a local home. That is an eight point increase since 2004.

The Supreme Court allowed a number of California county and city cases against oil companies to continue, rejecting five additional appeals by oil companies in five other states. The original cases filed by local governments in the state seek damages from over 30 companies profiting off oil.

A Chicago-based developer formally withdrew its application for one of the biggest life sciences developments in Emeryville. The project was slated to be one of the first mixed-use buildings including housing units and medicine and healthcare real estate, including 30 affordable units.

An audit of San Francisco's affordable housing agency found the organization is not spending money as fast as it accrues funds. The study found that it is taking the city between $800,000 and $1 million per unit and five years to build affordable housing. The report cited delays due to the city's project approvals process.