Legislature Moves to Prop Up Transit Agencies
With transit agencies around the state facing severe budget shortages, caused largely by decreased ridership and farebox recovery compared to pre-pandmeic levels, the legislature tentatively agreed to make $2 billion in state general funds available to transit agencies statewide. The move is a restoration of funds that were cut in Gov. Newsom's January budget proposal. The legislature is also proposing that $1.1 billion in cap-and-trade funds be available, over three years. The state funds represent compromise compared to what agencies asked for: $5 billion through 2028. Many agencies are currently facing "fiscal cliffs" that might necessitate dramatic cuts in service. BART and Muni, in the Bay Area, are threatening to cut service as early as this fall in the absence of state subsidies. The move must be approved by Newsom; Thursday is the deadline to pass the state budget.

Disneyland Proposes 30-Year Build-Out of Anaheim Resort
Disneyland detailed a 30-year expansion plan for potential new projects within the park, including tax revenue, anticipated tourism and potential added job benefits of the expansion. Disneyland did not release details, but renderings indicate development of new attractions and hotels on current parking lots on the west and southeastern sides of the Disneyland/California Adventure campus. Disney hopes "to evolve the way we entertain today and mix together theme park, entertainment, shops, restaurants and hotels." The projects, which would not add more square footage than what si currently allowed, would require amendment of Anaheim's 1994 Resort Specific Plan, which governs the park and its surroundings. According to the DisneylandForward website, the current plan separates land uses too strictly:"'traditional' district/zone approach does not allow for the diverse, integrated experiences theme park visitors now seek, severely limiting Disney’s ability to continue investing in Anaheim." Disney first announced the project in 2021, and has since been working with the city of Anaheim to update the planning approval process in the resort district. Disneyland plans to present an environmental impact study to the City Council in early 2024. In a study by Cal State Fullerton, during a typical 4-year construction period for Disneyland, the park generates 4,500 jobs, $11 million in tax revenue and $1.1 billion in economic output in Anaheim for every billion dollars spent. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

State's Water Supply May be Less than Estimated
A report by California State Auditor found the Department of Water Resources overestimated the state's water supply and fails to account for climate change in forecasts, despite its acknowledgment over a decade ago that it needs to improve forecasting methods. The audit also found the Department of Water Resources has not created a comprehensive plan accounting for more droughts for the State Water Project, the water system between Northern and Southern California, supplying water for 27 million state residents. The Department of Water Resources relies on historical climate data without factoring in extreme weather patterns like increased rain, snow and flooding and severe and prolonged drought. The audit recommended a number of changes to the department's methods, including more adept forecasting, reevaluating data for specific projects like the State Water Project and developing long-term plans for mitigating the impacts of climate change.

California Downtowns Recover at Disparate Rates
Recovery for some California downtown cities has accelerated much faster than others, according to a new study by the School of Cities at the University of Toronto recording data via cellphone usage. Bakersfield's downtown recovery rate is 125%, followed by Fresno at 121%, San Diego at 99%, Sacramento at 75%, San Jose at 67% and Los Angeles at 65%. San Francisco trails at 31% in pre-pandemic levels of foot traffic. San Diego's downtown prior to the pandemic and presently relies on tourism and residential development, aiding in its recovery. Events like Comic-Con and a diversifying use of downtown, including an emerging biotechnology industry, have helped the area regain foot traffic. San Francisco's downtown, conversely relied on office workers, many of whom now work remotely. San Francisco leaders have been working to revitalize their downtown and propose alternative uses for the spaces. Downtown Los Angeles's office occupancy rates presently lie at 47% of pre-pandemic levels, with rental rates below 2019 levels. The downtown area is also seeing less tourism, with average monthly visits at 10% below the pre-pandemic average but gradually increasing.

CP&DR Coverage: Supreme Court's Wetlands Decision Unlikely to Affect California
In Sackett v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the definition of a wetland subject to regulation by the federal Clean Water Act – a topic that has been the subject of intense legal and bureaucratic debate for decades. By a 5-4 vote, a majority of the court said that, to be subject to regulation, a wetland must be connected to bodies of water in a ways that makes the wetland “indistinguishable” from the water bodies – in other words, they must be connected on the surface. Wetlands that are not connected to water bodies on the surface are not subject to Clean Water Act regulation. The California Water Resources Control Board was quick to respond to the ruling, saying that the state’s own clean water law, commonly known as the Porter-Cologne Act, remains in place and will continue to define wetlands expansively.

Quick Hits & Updates

Due to ongoing droughts, impacts of wildfires and infrastructure developments like dams and road encroachments, the Southern California steelhead will stay on the federal Endangered Species list according to National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Fisheries five-year plan. Two state agencies are solidifying plans to remove two dams in Ojai and Malibu to increase the fishes' habitat by 15 miles.

The warehouse and site of the deadliest fire in Oakland's history was demolished and a housing nonprofit purchased the property with the intention of developing a low-income housing complex. The plans include a memorial to the 36 victims of the 2016 fire.

The Alameda County Transportation Commission -- representing the East Bay local governments, AC Transit and Bart -- approved a $5.1 million grant to fund the design, environmental review and engineering work to repair the Berkeley Marina historic pier. The pier closed in 2015 due to safety concerns and eroding concrete and requires a $121 million-worth restoration.

A downtown Los Angeles-based company was fined $4 million and fives years probation for the over $1 million bribes from their Chinese real estate developer owner to then-Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar. Huizar accepted over $1 million from February 2013 to November 2018 in exchange for his support of a 77-story skyscraper in his district.

The California Supreme court announced it will hear the oral arguments in the legal battle over Monterey County's Measure Z, a ban on hydraulic fracturing or fracking, prohibiting new oil and gas wells and phasing out wastewater disposal wells. Voters approved Measure Z in 2016, with six oil companies including Chevon subsequently suing and overturning the measure in December 2017 and upheld again in October 2021. A group of advocates for the measure appealed to the Supreme Court.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge ruled against the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's plan to reposition over 2 million cubic yards of soil for earthen levees and introduce tidal flows in the Ballona Creek wetlands. The court ordered the agency to pause any project activity as it failed to report any flood control designs associated with the project.

Of more than 180 U.S. cities analyzed, WalletHub found Fremont the best city to raise a family, followed by Irvine as the third best city to raise a family. The analysis found San Bernardino one of the worst-scoring cities to raise a family, using metrics like health and safety, access to good education and childcare and affordability.