Newsom Proposes Loosening of CEQA for Homeless Housing
Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing waiving CEQA regulations for cities and counties that want to convert hotels into homeless housing using federal coronavirus relief funding. His plan was sent to the California Legislature to be added to the state budget negotiations in the form of a "trailer bill" addition to budget talks. It could have a huge effect in cities like San Francisco, where more than 1,100 hotel rooms are housing homeless people as part of the governor's "Project Roomkey" initiative, which has acquired 15,000 hotel rooms statewide. San Francisco Mayor London Breed has expressed support for the plan; hotel industry leaders say they want to examine the proposal before taking a position on it. Homeless organizations have said it could be a win-win in the future, ensuring revenue for hotel owners who might struggle in the economic downturn while at the same time creating cheap homeless housing. Project Roomkey has received a chilly welcome in some California cities that are currently suing the state to prevent vulnerable homeless from taking up residence in their city. For previous CP&DR coverage of CEQA and homelessness, click here.
“Split-Roll” Prop. 13 Measure Qualifies for November Ballot
A measure that would revise Proposition 13 has qualified for the November ballot, having garnered well over the million signatures required for inclusion on the ballot. If passed, the measure will allow cities to assess property taxes on commercial and industrial properties at their full market value as determined by regular assessments. Since 1978 when Prop. 13 passed, cities have only been allowed to reassess property value for taxation purposes when those properties are sold. The new initiative, dubbed "Schools and Communities First," would maintain the Prop 13 limits for small business, agricultural land, and residential property. Backers of the initiative say as much as $12 billion each year could be made available for schools and local government through the revised tax policy. (See prior CP&DR commentary.)
Cities May Sue Oil Companies over Climate Change
A panel of federal judges ruled that California cities and counties can sue oil companies for damages related to climate change in state court, where cases may be easier to win than at the federal level. The decision was in response to a suit brought by five cities and three counties, including San Francisco, that are seeking financial help to build seawalls and strengthen infrastructure in preparation for rising seas and extreme weather. The Ninth Circuit Court also validated a separate ruling by another federal judge who allowed California courts to take up climate cases submitted by the counties of San Mateo, Marin and Santa Cruz and the cities of Richmond, Santa Cruz and Imperial Beach (San Diego County). None of the legal efforts has yet to be deliberated on their merits - that may soon change now that the procedural matter of jurisdiction appears closer to being settled.
Quick Hits & Updates
At least 40 California cities have banded together to lobby for direct federal money to cities with fewer than 500,000 residents on a per capita basis to be used to replace lost revenue due to impacts of COVID-19. The group, which calls itself the California Mayors Coalition, cited the $6.7 billion in expected lost revenues to the State's 482 cities - the overwhelming majority of which did not meet the 500,000-resident threshold needed to receive funds from the CARES Act. (See related CP&DR commentary.)
A judge sided with Metro and the Federal Transit Administration against Beverly Hills High School, ruling Metro it did not act in bad faith in its decision to tunnel the Purple Line subway extension under Beverly Hills High School. The judges ruling notes that transit authorities fulfilled their obligation to thoroughly document the selection process. (See related CP&DR commentary.)
Under a new bill that passed committee and will go to the State Senate floor, distressed restaurants and nonprofits that have experienced a 40-percent drop in revenue or have limited their capacity to accommodate social distancing will have increased bargaining power with landlords. The bill would prohibit landlords from evicting tenants, allow tenants to walk away from leases with minimum financial penalties, and give them a year to pay back rent. (See related CP&DR commentary.)
Faced with a state budget deficit, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed "pausing" three-quarters of a billion dollars worth of renovation work planned for state buildings in downtown Sacramento. According to the budget summary, "With an increased remote workforce, the administration... will evaluate the state's real estate portfolio to determine which agencies and departments may be able to reduce lease space."
The Sacramento Transportation Authority voted to endorse a half-cent sales tax measure, which is expected to generate $8 billion for transportation improvements. The Board of Supervisors will take the measure up next in July, voting to formally put the tax, called Measure A, on the ballot.
The Del Mar City Council will consider a resolution to seal a 464-page EIR that was prepared for a blufftop resort that didn't pass muster at the ballot box. The developer asked for the draft EIR to be kept on file for future use, but opponents of the resort say the draft EIR study failed to take into account crucial climate change factors like increased storm intensity and bluff erosion.
Under a plan put forward by a coalition of environmental and municipal groups, the decommissioned Potter Valley Project would be completely overhauled to improve Eel River fish passage and fisheries. The plan calls for one of the two dams--Scott's Dam--to be removed altogether, draining Lake Pillsbury. To move forward, the group will need approval from the FERC.
To meet growing regulatory challenges, the California Geologic Energy Management Division launched an initiative to standardize buffer zones between oil facilities and sensitive sites like schools, residences, and hospitals. The initiative has been opposed by the oil industry but praised by environmental activists.
The Santa Barbara City Council voted to move forward with an expedited accessory dwelling unit plan to speed downtown housing development, a move seemingly spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council plans to vote on all 20 amendments by July 21 - a full six months earlier than expected.
Los Angeles City Council will take up a proposal that would use "Art Development Fees," or fees paid by developers of large projects to fund public art events, as relief grants to small art organizations. Ordinarily those fees would go toward festivals, art exhibitions, and cultural diversity events, but could now be critical to keeping art and cultural institutions solvent until COVID-19 closures are lifted.
Upon learning Gov. Gavin Newsom and Oakland Coliseum director Henry Gardner were in talks of using the Coliseum as a potential "surge site" for treating COVID-19 patients, the Oakland A's baseball team said the A's will defer rent payment until they "have a better understanding of when the Coliseum will be available for our use." Gardner says the agency has "every expectation" the payment would be made on time.