State Promotes Regulations to Compel Insurers to Cover High-Fire Areas
The Department of Insurance has drafted regulations that would allow insurance companies to use predictive catastrophe models if, and only if, they increase writing of policies in wildfire distressed areas. The regulations, which would amend Prop. 103, are intended to stem the exodus of insurance companies from the state and, in particular, provide coverage in areas that face high fire danger. ZIP codes designated as high or very high fire-risk and those with substantial reliance on the FAIR Plan, would be subject to coverage mandates. Insurance companies using catastrophe models, which, critics say, have dissuaded them from covering high-fire areas, will be required to insure those areas at rates proportional to their coverage statewide. To complement the regulations, the Department released a statewide map that it developed showing areas where wildfire risk and FAIR Plan policies are concentrated. With this map, insurance companies will have direct knowledge of where they need to write more policies in the state in order to utilize catastrophe modeling in their rates that are subject to Department approval.

San Benito County to Consider Anti-Growth Measure
A ballot measure in San Benito County that aims to restrict new development on farming and ranching land unless approved by voters, driven by concerns over increased traffic and urban sprawl from Silicon Valley residents seeking cheaper housing has qualified for the November county ballot. Estimates are that the citizen group promoting the measure submitted over 2,800 valid signatures; nearly 1,000 more than were needed. The measure, tentatively titled Empower Voters to Make Land Use Decisions, reflects tensions between preserving rural landscapes and accommodating growth, as seen in debates over impacts on schools, infrastructure and local quality of life. Supporters argue for safeguarding the county's rural character and controlling development impacts, while opponents, including agricultural and business interests, warn of economic constraints and property rights issues. The Board of Supervisors now can choose to adopt the measure as an ordinance or allow the vote to move forward. This year's measure is a successor to 2022's Measure Q, which failed. Previous slow-growth measures in the county have succeeded.

Huge Swath of Eastern Mojave Desert Designated for Conservation
The federal government has designated a 3.5-million-acre region in the Mojave Desert as a "sentinel landscape," aimed at safeguarding wildlife like the Mojave desert tortoise. The initiative, led by federal agencies, promotes sustainable land-use practices near military installations. While the designation doesn't alter land ownership or management, it prioritizes funding for conservation efforts, including desert tortoise protection and habitat rehabilitation. Collaborative efforts involving federal agencies, NGOs and private partners aim to address various threats to desert wildlife, such as habitat fragmentation and climate change.

Demand for Rental Housing in Fresno, Inland Empire among Most Intense Nationwide
Forbes Advisor's analysis of rental markets in the 75 most populous metro areas found Fresno ranks 9th among the top 10 most competitive rental markets, characterized by low vacancy rates, high rental prices and significant decreases in vacancy rates from 2022 to 2023. Per every 100,000 households, there are 256.6 rentals available in Fresno while the prospective renter population is 35.6%. Of the cities studied, the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metropolitan area ranks 15 on the list of most competitive rental markets, followed by the Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade metro area at 19th, San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward at 20th, San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara at 22nd and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim at 24th. The study indicates that renters in California, particularly in cities like Fresno, face tough competition and limited options in their search for affordable housing.

CP&DR Coverage: Los Angeles Slow-Growth Group Goes 0-2 in Court
Fix The City, a limited-growth group active in Los Angeles, has lost an attempt to retroactively challenge the city’s Transit Oriented Communities guidelines. However, an appellate court did say in an unpublished ruling that Los Angeles must re-do its seismic analysis on a proposed apartment building in West Los Angeles. In ruling for the city, the appellate court quoted the California Supreme Court ruling in Travis v. County of Santa Cruz (2004) 33 Cal.4th 757, a case in which a property owner similarly challenged a county ordinance at the time it was applied to his property, not at the time the ordinance was adopted. Had the case been published, it would have set a precedent that extended Travis to third parties such as Fix The City. However, the appellate court chose not to publish the case. Fix The City lost a second appellate court case against the City of Los Angeles because of filing a lawsuit at the wrong time. The ruling would seem to put an end to Fix The City’s challenge to the city’s Expo Line Plan. And in an unpublished portion of the case, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles ruled that L.A.’s general plan encourages the construction of adequate infrastructure prior to the approval of new development but does not mandate it.

Quick Hits & Updates

The East Solano Plan, also known as California Forever, cleared a significant hurdle as Solano County certified their petition for a November vote. Backers submitted well more than the 14,369 signatures needed. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Google is exploring an affordable housing project at the former Orchard Supply Hardware site as part of its Downtown West development in San Jose, which aims to reshape a significant portion of downtown near the Diridon train station. Despite reassessing timelines earlier in 2023, Google remains committed to the ambitious mixed-use neighborhood, which includes offices, housing, shops and cultural amenities. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

The proposed amendment ACA-16, known as the green amendment, aimed to establish environmental rights including clean air and water in California's constitution but has been delayed for at least a year due to insufficient legislative support. Assemblymember Isaac G. Bryan postponed the measure to refine its language and garner broader backing, aiming now for a potential 2026 enactment, citing the need for more comprehensive and inspired wording to ensure its passage.

According to an analysis by RentCafe, adaptive reuse projects are gaining momentum across California, reflecting national trends, with 14,000 commercial properties converted to residence spaces this past year. Nationwide, 31% of those projects retrofitted office buildings into apartments, followed by hotel-to-residential at 21%, healthcare-to-residential at 17%, and retail-to-residential conversions at 11%. Los Angeles is set to become a national leader in converting commercial buildings to residential space due to an expanded adaptive reuse ordinance. Among 20 cities ranked for future conversions, Los Angeles ranks first, with over 5,800 units in the pipeline, with 1,700 converted from offices. 

A study of accessory dwelling units in San Jose found that there are approximately three to four informal units for every formal unit across the area, of which 78.2% were unpermitted ADUs from 2016-2020. Further, the study’s results show higher concentration of informal ADUs in neighborhoods with lower property values, higher density, greater overcrowding, and a lower proportion of White households, suggesting that socioeconomic and regulatory factors determine their development and frequency. 

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors have authorized the use of pre-approved plans for building accessory dwelling units in unincorporated areas, offering residents either a 800-square-foot or 1200-square-foot option. This initiative aims to expedite and alleviate housing shortages across the region while increasing property tax revenue to reduce a large budget deficit. 

A state audit of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) emphasizes the county’s need to improve its planning and oversight of capital projects in regards to transit systems and infrastructure through better communication about cost changes, hiring practices, and fiscal practices. 

The suburban city of San Dimas, in eastern Los Angeles County, adopted a new Downtown Specific Plan around its forthcoming stop on the A Line light rail line. The plan calls forsix districts with diverse development goals and standards, aiming to accommodate mixed-use spaces, historic preservation, and up to 3,687 new homes over a 20-year period.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority published the final environmental review for a critical 38-mile leg from Palmdale to Burbank. The board is expected to decide in late June on whether to approve the document, considering various route options and community concerns. The preferred route includes underground tunnels to minimize impacts on communities and environmental resources. If approved, this section would feature some of the longest train tunnels in the Western Hemisphere.

Housing construction in the Bay Area declined in 2023 due to increased costs, with permits dropping by 10% to 16,535. San Jose and San Francisco led in new housing permits, while smaller cities lagged behind their housing goals. The region is behind in achieving its housing goals, with only 5% of needed permits issued. Alameda County led in home construction, mostly targeting above-moderate income households. The slowdown in construction is primarily driven by a decrease in multifamily construction, while building low-income housing in the Bay Area costs an average of $817,000 per unit.

California's Fifth Climate Change Assessment team is pleased to announce the second round of tribal grant funding through the California Energy Commission's Tribal Research Grant Program. Funding through the Tribal Research Grant Program is available to support projects focused on climate research, Indigenous Knowledges, and similar projects California tribes prioritize. Applications are due July 31.

State auditors will investigate California's process for reviewing and approving cities' housing plans, focusing on housing elements submitted every six years, amid growing contention, especially in the Bay Area where a third of cities and counties are still non-compliant with state law. The audit aims to ensure consistent and clear standards, particularly as cities face stricter consequences for non-compliance, such as fines and loss of state funding, while the Department of Housing and Community Development welcomes the review to highlight its efforts to strengthen housing planning since 2017.

San Diego's Development Services Department approved a fee increase aimed at generating an additional $15.6 million annually, prompting concerns from developers and the business community about increased housing costs amid the affordability crisis, while the city council emphasizes the need for fees to reflect the full cost of services provided, especially as recent innovations and increased workload have necessitated more workers and resources within the department.

The Los Angeles Metro board approved the alignment for the extension of the C Line light rail through the South Bay despite resident opposition, advancing the project for further environmental analysis. The extension proposal, running along a BNSF freight corridor, aims to connect Redondo Beach and Lawndale to the transit network, sparking emotionally charged debates over the project's route and impacts on communities.