Housing Advocates Sue Huntington Beach Again
California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund (CaRLA) has filed a lawsuit against the city of Huntington Beach in a challenge to the city's rejection of multiple development proposals that complied with the city's zoning requirements, potentially in violation of the Housing Accountability Act and other state statutes that compel cities to apply objective standards to project decisions. CaRLA is applying the same playbook it used in a successful suit against Los Altos, in which a judge ruled that Los Altos was not acting in good faith when it denied a project and multiple appeal rounds on shifting, nonobjective grounds. In the Huntington Beach case, the city revised its Specific Plan to re-designate what had been high-density housing to half the number of units allowed to be developed, spurring extended litigation over whether the city violated Housing Element requirements. Subsequently, the city rejected proposals that met land use standards in both the General Plan and the Specific Plan, and went on to reject appeals on subjective grounds like safety concerns and neighborhood character. (See related CP&DR coverage.)
San Francisco Strengthens Ban on Pandemic-Related Evictions
San Francisco landlords will be permanently barred from evicting tenants if they can't pay rent due to coronavirus-related issues, like job loss or getting sick from the virus, under legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors. Mayor London Breed already issued an emergency order that bans evictions, eliminates late fees and interest, and gives tenants more time to pay their back rent during the public health emergency. The new legislation will extend those measures permanently amid fears that thousands of eviction filings to give tenants three days to pay rent or face eviction would be forthcoming as soon as restrictions are lifted. Lawmakers have gone on the record saying they will work to set up a Rent Resolution Fund to help landlords offset the burden of unpaid rent. Funding could come from a proposed November ballot measure that would double the city's transfer tax on real estate above a $10 million threshold. Despite record job loss due to the pandemic, about 97 percent of residential tenants in San Francisco paid their May rent, according to the largest survey of its kind.
Alameda Voters May Lift Ban on Multi-Unit Housing
City of Alameda voters will have the opportunity to lift a ban on multi-unit housing construction that was added to the City Charter with a ballot measure in 1973. In recent years developers of large housing projects have used state regulations to sidestep the ban, but triplexes and fourplexes are still prohibited. Before the state passed legislation to encourage new housing, Alameda did not have multi-family housing construction for decades. The move to change the city's charter is in response to California's housing crisis and the need for more places to live, Mayor Marily Ashcraft said. Alameda City Council is spearheading the effort to prepare language for a November ballot measure. Any change in the charter would just be the first step: the council would still need to select neighborhoods and approve zoning law changes for housing to get built. The council had nearly unanimous consensus to push the bill forward.
CP&DR Coverage: Pandemic and Public Space
In recent weeks, cities throughout California have fast-tracked programs and permitting schemes to allow restaurants to set up dining areas in parking lots and on sidewalks. Cities are also allowing fitness and yoga studios to take over public space for classes. Most ambitiously, some cities are closing off streets to traffic entirely in order to allow residents to walk, job, and ride bikes — either for fitness or for commuting — without having to compete with cars. These “al fresco” programs are not without controversy, as critics fear that they may overlook disadvanaged communities.
Quick Hits & Updates
Demand for real estate in San Francisco's affluent suburbs has skyrocketed in recent months - surprising brokers who say the coronavirus outbreak is leading to a surge of interest from San Francisco city-dwellers looking to spread out. Expensive neighborhoods have emptied as residents escape during virus shutdowns, while less affluent areas like the Tenderloin district are crowded with hundreds of tents.
Plans to redevelop CityView Plaza in downtown San Jose are a step closer to fruition after the San Jose Planning Commission voted to approve a 3.8 million-square-foot office development proposal that will now go to City Hall for final approval. Council members--who are also considering a petition to declare the site a historic landmark- are expected to vote on the project sometime this summer.
California Air Resources Board announced two new grants available to cities, one for planning and one for implementation of transportation projects that meet green and accessibility targets. Through the Sustainable Transportation Equity Project (STEP), CARB has up to $22 million available for disadvantaged and low-income communities in California.
The City of San Jose opened its first "bridge" housing community for the homeless-- 40 tiny homes with a bed, a desk, some storage, electricity, and air conditioning. Each house, which costs around $6,500 to build, will provide shelter for 60 days while residents prepare to transition into permanent homes.
The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved two motions that will redirect over $500 million in 'arts fees' from now-cancelled or planned cultural events and instead make the money available as grants to arts organizations and spaces that have been economically devastated during the pandemic.
Southern California's largest landlord organization has filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles aimed at overturning anti-eviction rules put in place in the wake of the coronavirus. The suit is the latest in a string of suits against local governments in the region that have passed rent stabilization programs and eviction moratoriums due to the pandemic. In at least one case, the City of Upland rescinded its eviction protections under threat of litigation.
Reversing course again in a 30-year-old battle over protection of the weasel-like Pacific fisher, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service has moved to deny protections for the animal in large swaths of its territory in California and Oregon. A federal judge overturned the service's most recent refusal to list the species in 2018, but in declaring the northern and southern populations two distinct species, the government has effectively limited protection to as few as 100 animals.
The UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies recently launched an initiative to combine innovative research with practical strategies to tackle housing affordability in the Los Angeles region. The Randall Lewis Housing Initiative will have a research arm that will focus on housing supply and tenant protections, an event-convening component, and will produce policy briefs.
Circulate San Diego released a report hailing the success of San Francisco's Home Bonus Program, a program that provides incentives for developers who choose to build affordable units as a part of their projects. The analysis of 20 months of program data compiled by Circulate San Diego shows that beginning in 2016, the program has seen triple-digit increases in applicants and affordable home production over the previous program.
The Eno Center for Transportation released a comprehensive report that seeks to accelerate the development of congestion pricing programs in the U.S. that advance sustainability and equity goals. Intended for elected officials, civic leaders, advocates, and agency professionals, the report addresses the political and communication hurdles that arise when developing a congestion pricing program.
Long Beach's General Plan won recognition for "Efficient and Sustainable Land Use" in this year's 2020 Sustainability Awards by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). The "exemplary and innovative" plan received praise for its focus on expanded transit access, greenhouse gas reduction, and practical housing solutions that address overcrowding while creating attractive and vibrant spaces.
Facebook joined forces with SamTrans in 2018 to begin an environmental impact study for the Dumbarton Rail Corridor, initiating a long-sought after revitalization. Now Facebook is "reassessing this long-term commitment," according to a statement, citing the need to address "the immediate needs of people in the community struggling with the economic impacts of the pandemic." City officials have said they will urge Facebook to continue with the project.
Developers of a proposed 18,000-seat soccer stadium in downtown Concord have walked away from a $100,000 exclusive negotiating agreement with the city. The company said a combination of the economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with community opposition led to the decision. Besides the stadium, a hotel, convention center, and offices had been considered for the property as part of a multi-use sports complex. (See related CP&DR coverage.)