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CP&DR News Briefs July 28, 2020: Plan Bay Area; Caltrain in Peril; Clean Water Act; and More

Robin Glover on
Jul 27, 2020
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments released the Plan Bay Area 2050 Draft Blueprint, a "package of 25 transformational strategies that aim to make the Bay Area more affordable, connected, diverse, healthy, and vibrant for all." Strategies are either public policies or packages of investments that could be advanced on the local, regional or state levels in four "topic areas": Transportation, Housing, Economy, and Environment, with expected revenues of $783 billion from 2021 to 2050. Under the plan, over 75 percent of transportation spending would go toward maintaining the existing system; 97 percent, or $166 billion of the housing budget, would fund affordable housing production, envisioning up to 400,000 “permanently affordable” units; $33 billion for expanded childcare support, and a $53 billion environment budget distributed approximately evenly for adaptations to Sea Level Rise, retrofitting existing buildings, and protecting conservation lands. The Blueprint projects the continuation of a downward trend in housing and transportation cost burden, anticipates preserving 100 percent of the area's affordable housing, and increased investments in high-resource areas that will benefit low-income households.
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Ballot Measure Controversy Imperils Caltrain
A ballot measure that would keep Caltrain afloat amid plunging ridership may not make it on the November ballot, spurring fears that the system may be forced to shut down for lack of funding. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors declined to introduce a 1/8-cent sales tax measure that would have raised $100 million a year. Caltrain's board says it will have to consider "serious cuts in service" unless it receives a major cash infusion or can restore roughly 30 percent of riders by the end of year. The measure is in a political tug-of-war: San Francisco Supervisors want more control of Caltrain's leadership and operations, with one supervisor calling additional funding "taxation without representation." But the board's decision not to introduce the tax measure doesn't necessarily kill it. Supervisor Matt Haney is attempting to revive the tax proposal. Alternatively, the Board of Supervisors could take it up as an emergency measure that would require a two-thirds majority to move forward. Under board rules, that action would have to be taken by July 31.

California Pushes Back on Weakening of Federal Water Regulations
California joined 19 other states and the District of Columbia in a suit against the Environmental Protection Agency, alleging that the agency's new rules violate the federal Clean Water Act and decades of precedent. President Trump in 2019 issued an executive order directing the change, which reduces the scope and time for review than typically occurs before infrastructure projects like natural gas and oil pipelines, hydroelectric projects, housing and commercial land development, and wastewater treatment plants. The rule applies to all projects requiring federal approval that may result in the polluting of waterways. States were required to certify that the projects satisfied state law and water-quality standards. An attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council said the rule "eviscerates" states' ability to influence hundreds of projects each year. The EPA said in a statement, "the agency's final rule increases the transparency and efficiency of the certification process." The changes are among several steps the Trump administration has taken to roll back the Clean Water Act, including ending federal protection in January for millions of miles of waterways. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Federal Regulators Complicate Dam Removal Plan on Klamath River 
Plans to demolish four massive hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River are in jeopardy after federal regulators declined to approve a license transfer that was a precondition of a deal struck between the PacifiCorp power company and Klamath River Renewal Corporation. PacifiCorp wants to sever itself from the any costs associated with the dam, but regulators are making it a condition that PacifiCorp stays on as a co-licensee. That could jeopardize the entire deal because PacifiCorp's removal was an element necessary to gain the support from public utility commissions in both Oregon and California. The project, estimated at nearly $450 million, would reshape California's second-largest river and empty giant reservoirs. It could also revive dwindling salmon populations the Northern California Indians depend on by reopening hundreds of miles of potential habitat. The transfer of PacifiCorp's hydroelectric license was seen as the first major hurdle to getting the dams removed. Federal regulators must also approve a request to decommission the dams before work can begin, possibly as early as 2022.

CP&DR Coverage: Regional Planning & Social Justice 
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 proposed 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. CP&DR's Josh Stephens spoke with Richardson about his agenda and the role that a regional planning organization like SCAG can play in reducing racism and lifting up disadvantaged communities on the CP&DR podcast.

Quick Hits & Updates
Construction can begin on a 20-story apartment building in San Diego's Bankers Hill now that a Superior Court Judge tossed out a lawsuit that claimed the project harms community character and blocks views. The judge's ruling on the 204-unit building could discourage similar lawsuits by groups of residents who oppose tall buildings and dense housing in their neighborhoods.

The Department of Housing and Community Development awarded more than $279 million from the Infill Infrastructure Grant program for infrastructure to support the development of affordable and mixed-income housing. The awards will fund projects like new water and sewer lines, new curbs and gutters, soil stabilization, and grading improvements.

Apple will release $400 million this year toward affordable housing projects and homeowners assistance programs in California as part of the company's multiyear $2.5 billion commitment to easing the state's housing crisis. Projects launching this year include four projects throughout the Bay Area that will create more than 250 new units of affordable housing.

Lake Tahoe's Squaw Valley ski resort is considering changing its name to remove the word "squaw," a derogatory term referring to Native American women. Regional California tribes have asked for the name of Squaw Valley Ski Resort to be changed numerous times over the years, but the idea is now gaining momentum amid a national reckoning over racial injustice and inequality.

Grants and loan opportunities offered on a competitive or first-come basis by California state agencies and departments can now be accessed at the California Grants Portal, a tool created by the California State Library. Grants are searchable by category and keywords as well as by eligible applicant types. Subscriptions and new grant announcements are also available.

HCD has released its Notice of Funding Availability calendar for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Nearly $2 billion in state and federal funding will become available in the next 12 months to address housing, homelessness, COVID-19 response, and community development. Two federal CARES Act NOFAs, totaling $60.7 million will be available for the Emergency Shelter Grant and Community Development Block Grants programs.

The Public Policy Institute of California issued a recommendation that forest management should be part of any economic recovery bill that aims to invest in workforce development and infrastructure. The recommendation follows a recent MTI report that outlines a host of environmental benefits from improved air and water quality to the potential to employ thousands of workers in region in low opportunity regions.

A ballot measure that would block hotel development on a vacant parcel in St. Helena may be tossed out by City Council despite garnering enough signatures to make the ballot. A city attorney report says the measure is too vague, and falls short of the legal standard required under California Law. Developers have offered as much as $20 million to buy the property from the city.

Caltrans has agreed to lease state-owned land adjacent to Interstate 15 to Xpress West, a significant milestone toward plans to build 170 miles of electric rail that would connect Las Vegas and Apple Valley in San Bernardino County. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, construction was expected to begin on the rail line later this year. Completion is expected in 2023.

South El Monte and Montebello both had their housing plans approved by the Department of Housing and Community Development. Montebello, which hasn't had a state-approved housing plan since 1997, identified a number of vacant commercial and industrial sites to be used for housing. South El Monte's housing plan imposes minimum density standards of 20 units per acre for all commercial-residential zoned properties.

A state audit of HCD's mobile home oversight found the department failed to conduct full inspections at more than half of California's mobile home parks over the last decade. In addition to finding inadequate inspection rates, the auditors said inspectors were unresponsive to complaints, often did not share important information, and failed to tell residents about their rights and resources available to them that may have prevented evictions.
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