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CP&DR News Briefs July 6, 2021: O.C. Housing Lawsuit; Hunters Point Complications; Coachella Valley Rail Service; and More

Mckenzie Locke on
Jul 6, 2021

Orange County Cities Proceed with Lawsuit Over Housing Allocation
The Orange County Council of Governments filed a lawsuit against the Department of Housing and Community Development over its housing requirements for the upcoming Regional Housing Needs Allocation cycle. The HCD determined that Southern California will have to build 1.34 million homes by 2030, while Orange County cities believe that the department severely overestimated the amount of new housing required and believes that 651,000 new housing units is more accurate. In its lawsuit, the council of governments maintains that the HCD did not follow appropriate guidelines to provide a correct estimate and used inaccurate population forecasts and vacancy rates for the region. Meanwhile, the cities must submit their updated general plans by October to accommodate the housing requirements set by the HCD.

New Lawsuit over Toxins Threatens to Stall Hunters Point Redevelopment
A group representing 9,000 environmental justice advocates in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood filed a lawsuit to stop the construction of 12,000 new homes proposed for Hunters Point shipyard and its surrounding Candlestick Park over concerns about gentrification and the health impacts of toxic pollutants. The group asks that Lennar Corporation and FivePoint Holdings press pause on the current construction unless the developers prove their commitment to preventing a major release of toxic pollutants at the site contaminated from Cold War ships carrying atomic-bomb fallout. The Navy, which is in the process of cleaning up the shipyard, and public health officials have previously rejected the claim that the site’s toxicity is connected to community health inequities in the area that is predominantly home to people of color and working-class residents. A hearing is scheduled for July 29, but the San Francisco Department of Public Health stated that freezing construction due to dust release is unlikely because the developers must already adhere to city health codes. 

Proposed Passenger Train Route from Los Angeles to Coachella Valley Moves Forward
The proposed development of a 144-mile train route from Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley looks promising after having gone through environmental review, which officials consider to be a meaningful achievement for the rail service’s progress. The estimated $1 billion plan--sponsored by Riverside County Transportation Commission, in collaboration with the Federal Railroad Administration and Caltrans--would have stops in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties and make two round-trips per day. If completed, the rail service would not only expand public transportation options and increase access to jobs but also save over 107,000 car trips per year, limiting both traffic and pollution. Moving forward, the project must go through an additional review of the proposed station locations and existing infrastructure along the route, and it will require federal funding.

Report Cites Role of Greenbelts in Mitigating Wildfire Damage
A new report from the Greenbelt Alliance, The Critical Role of Greenbelts in Wildfire Resilience Today, presents the case for protecting and growing greenbelts in areas threatened by wildfires. The report recommends to legislators the expansion of four types of greenbelts: open space and parks, agricultural and working lands, zones placed inside communities, and recreational greenways. The group’s research suggests that strengthening greenbelts will protect wildlands from wildfires, increase wildfire resilience and defense, protect biodiversity, and foster green spaces inside urban areas. Their approach also includes concentrating growth in existing cities and towns in order to limit wildfire risk to residents and confront the housing crisis.

CP&DR Commentary: Multiple Cities Embrace Multi-Family
CP&DR’s Bill Fulton parses the numbers on California’s recent housing production statistics. California’s four largest metropolitan areas – with a population of approximately 30 million people – produced about 76,000 new housing permits during the pandemic year, down about 5% from the year before. For the four largest metro areas in Texas – with a population of 20 million, or about two-thirds of California’s – the total number of new housing permits during the pandemic year was about 190,000 or almost 2 ½ times as much. In the three coastal metros, more than 60% of new housing construction is now multifamily.

Quick Hits & Updates
In an effort to increase available and equitable housing, the City of Oakland will participate in a nationally-funded program that provides services to address the housing crisis in cities with populations under 500,000. The city’s Housing and Community Development Department will share its ideas with several other smaller cities throughout the US to increase resource availability and innovation knowledge.
Northern California has borne the brunt of the state’s extensive wildfire damage, totaling over 4.2 million acres in 2020 due to an extreme fire season, according to an analysis by the San Francisco Chronicle. Siskiyou County and Shasta County were the hardest hit areas, losing 540,000 and 420,000 acres in the past decade, respectively. California is home to 31.6 million acres of forestry, but the reciprocal relationship between climate change and deforestation threatens the state’s expansive tree cover, and hot, dry conditions are in place for an unrelenting 2021.

The Center for Biological Diversity is urging the US Fish and Wildlife Service to consider California’s Santa Ana speckled dace and Temblor legless lizard for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The fish, which is native to Southern California streams, and lizard, which lives in a small area of the San Joaquin Valley, face several threats, including dams, invasive species, oil and gas drilling, and climate change. 

The White House released a statement that details the legacy of systemic racism in the housing market and emphasizes the evils of exclusionary zoning laws, which are to blame for over 30% the racial wealth gap, helped form “heat islands,” increase housing prices, and jeopardize children’s health and well-being. The authors communicated that existing policies are embedded with discriminatory practices that particularly harm Black families and wrote that the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan would tackle these inequities by expanding affordable housing, implementing a community-based approach, and reforming exclusionary zoning.

Malibu Coast Vintners and Grape Growers Alliance Inc. filed a lawsuit alongside John Gooden, president of Montage vineyards, in response to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ decision to ban all new vineyards located in the Santa Monica Mountains. The petitioners argue that the ordinance has legal faults and hope that the California Environmental Quality Act will be considered in court to protect the area that has faced extensive damage from the 2018 Woolsey Fire.

Los Angeles and San Jose were two cities considered in research from the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies on the amount of space occupied by roads in US cities. Researcher Adam Millard-Ball, in considering how public space could be reimagined due to and following the pandemic, determined that US roads — which average 55 feet wide — composed an average of 18% and up to 30% of city land area.

The San Diego Association of Governments is considering a road charge for each mile driven within California that would replace its gas tax, whose effectiveness is diminishing due to the rise in electric and fuel-efficient vehicles, and fund part of its $160-billion plan to develop public transit. SANDAG expects that the plan, which reflects proposed statewide initiatives, would produce $34 billion for transportation infrastructure improvements but is still contemplating how to charge drivers.

The electric bike share company Bcycle will expand its operations in Santa Barbara and establish docks and two kiosks along the waterfront, in the Funk Zone, and on Coast Village Road. The Coastal Commission voted unanimously to reject an appeal filed by a local resident over worries about the docks’ interruption of ocean views.

The Port of San Diego and the City of Chula Vista approved essential documents for the Gaylord Pacific resort and its nearby convention center, two parks, and streets, paving the way forward for a huge, $1.23 billion waterfront project proposed for completion as early as 2025. After this step, the port, city, and the authority must file a Validation Action and then issue Authority Bonds to begin construction, which is projected to take place by late 2022.

The final environmental impact report for the Bakersfield to Palmdale section of California’s high-speed rail project is complete and will be submitted to the High-Speed Rail Authority’s Board of Directors for review starting on August 18. If approved, the 80-mile segment will be the first in Southern California to be environmentally cleared and will bring the statewide approval total to 300 miles.

Results from a public opinion poll about California’s high-speed rail project evidence weakening public support for the transit system. While 41% of voters voiced their support for continuing construction, 42% expressed that resources should be dedicated elsewhere, such as to local rail projects in dense city centers. The results act as reasoning for state legislators who are challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request to use $4.2 billion in voter-approved bond funding for the first segment of the system from Merced to Bakersfield.

Community group Save Livermore Downtown is suing the city for its approval of a 130-unit affordable housing development, maintaining that the city’s proposal does not align with its Downtown Specific Plan and needs a more comprehensive environmental review to consider existing contamination at the location. Save Livermore Downtown requests for the court to negate the city’s approval of the Eden Housing development until it resolves the issues raised by the lawsuit. The group also believes that the project will increase traffic congestion, produce insufficient parking, and change neighborhood character.

Union City City Council approved a proposal by Newport Beach-based developer Integral Communities to construct nearly 1,000 apartments and condominiums, including affordable units, on 26.5 acres near BART’s Union City Station. The development aligns with Union City’s attempt to transform the industrial area into a neighborhood with high-density housing and commercial development. The city has conducted toxic cleanups and approved multiple policy changes to accommodate this project, such as raising the average density in the area.

The City of Oakland could sell its 50% share of the Oakland A’s current Coliseum site to the African American Sports and Entertainment Group, an Oakland-based developer that prioritizes economic prosperity for the Black community. While the A’s hope to purchase the city’s share for full ownership to develop housing, offices, retail, and parks, the AASEG wants to work with the A’s to build a Black business district and bring a Black-owned football team to the city. 

The San Diego Association of Governments is prioritizing high-speed rail and high-density housing in its $160 billion long-range transportation plan. Simultaneously, four cities — Coronado, Solana Beach, Imperial Beach, and Lemon Grove — are suing SANDAG for its existing housing requirements, though housing expansion would be central to forming the denser, walkable neighborhoods promoted by the transportation plan.

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