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CP&DR News Briefs June 9, 2020: San Diego Parking; Infill, Equity, Sustainability; Housing and Houses of Worship, and More

Robin Glover on
Jun 7, 2020
Coastal Commission OK's Elimination of Some Parking Requirements in San Diego
A San Diego policy to effectively wipe out parking requirements for new housing projects built near mass transit cleared a key hurdle when the California Coastal Commission approved allowing the change in the city's beach areas. Commission members rejected recommendations from their staff, who said the new policy shouldn't apply to a large swatch of Pacific Beach because it could worsen the area's already chronic parking shortages. The new policy eliminates rules requiring developers to create at least one parking spot per unit for most projects and more parking for larger apartments. It also requires developers, who are free to build parking spots if market studies show there is strong demand for it, to "unbundle" the cost of a parking spot from monthly rent. The only neighborhoods eligible for the new policy are those near transit hubs, which are defined as being located within half a mile of a trolley line, a bus rapid transit station or two high-frequency bus routes.

Report Identifies Nexus of Sustainability, Housing, and Equity for Infill Development 
The Planning and Conservation League releaseda reportEquitable Infill Incentives, with the aim of developing a menu of criteria for directing California’s housing and infrastructure investment in a way that will achieve housing, environmental, health, and equity goals simultaneously. Based on consultations with cross-interest experts and government agencies, the report recommends VMT reduction as a superior proxy metric for GHG reduction and downstream conservation, public health, and social equity gains from improved land use. To qualify for “infill” incentives, a project should meet (or be projected to meet) a minimum VMT threshold or be within half a mile of a transit stop; not be on areas deemed essential to protecting public health; conform to local regulations; and not include demolition of rent controlled units, historic structures, or older housing that may still be viable. For cases in which demolition is warranted, cities should replace and increase the number of affordable housing units within the project site or within a half-mile radius. Finally, the report recommends substantial assistance for tenants displaced by demotion, including assistance with finding comparable housing within a half mile of the project, funds for relocation and rental assistance for 36 months, and right of first return to occupy a comparable unit in the new development at the same rent.

Study Identifies Potential for Housing on Land Owned by Religious Institutions 
As cities grapple with where and how to build more affordable housing, identifying land that could support new development has become a top priority. The UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Studies analyzed one option that provides a potential solution: expanding the ability of religious institutions to build housing on their land. Faith-based organizations often own underutilized land and/or structure which could be used to expand the supply of affordable housing. A Terner Center analysis finds that approximately 38,800 acres of land statewide--roughly the size of the city of Stockton--are used for religious purposes and potentially developable. A significant share of that acreage (45 percent) is located in the state's "high" or “highest" resource opportunity areas, signaling an opportunity for building housing in neighborhoods with lower poverty rates and greater economic, educational, and environmental amenities. Using their land assets for affordable housing would provide significant untapped benefits for the organization from supporting the organization's charitable missions to providing revenue that can stabilize the organization's finances. Yet faith-based organizations face severe challenges in leveraging their property for housing, including limited financing options, regulatory barriers, and limited real estate knowledge.

CP&DR Coverage: Housing Legislation
Led by Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, the leadership of the state Senate is quickly pushing through a new set of five planning and environmental review bills designed to speed up housing approvals. Many of the bills are focused on expanding exemptions under the California Environmental Quality Act – a tactic that is being used with increasing frequently around the state. The bills are scheduled to be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, June 9. Meanwhile, a less coordinated set of four bills on the Assembly side are also moving through that house’s committees. At the same time, an expansive CEQA bill carried by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, failed to make it through the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality but may be reconsidered soon.

Quick Hits & Updates 
With a wave of evictions predicted as Covid-related renter protection orders come to an end across the country, renters living in single-family homes and smaller multifamily buildings are more likely to be negatively affected but have fewer federal protections, according to a recent study from Harvard University. Only 12 percent of the units in small rentals (2-4 units) are covered by the CARES Act eviction moratorium, and by one estimate nearly 20 percent of renters in small multifamily apartments may have difficulty paying full rent if at-risk wages are lost.

A federal judge has rebuffed an attempt by the Trump administration to dismiss a 17-state lawsuit - led by California, Maryland, and Massachusetts - that challenges the administration's attempts to weaken protections for endangered and threatened species. The U.S. District Court judge said states made a sufficient case that they would be injured by the rule, and will allow the case to go forward.

Despite promises to the contrary, consultants for the California High-Speed Rail Authority say when service starts in 2028, the train will operate at a loss and the state will absorb the cost. This contradicts the language in Proposition 1A, passed in 2008 to fund the project, that appeared to explicitly ban subsidies.

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.

Ford Ord, in Monterey County,will receive the National Federal Facility Excellence in Site Reuse award from the Environmental Agency for transforming the former Army base into a thriving environmental, economic and community asset. The EPA said that from start to finish, the development at Fort Ord has been a model that will benefit other large redevelopment projects in the future. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

A former top deputy to L.A. City Councilmember Jose Huizar has agreed to plead guilty to a racketeering charge, while the FBI says he played a central role in a "criminal organization" at City Hall. The wider scheme involved city officials, developers and their associates who conspired to exchange bribes of cash and gifts for a leg up for development projects.
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.

Despite documented evidence of the continued presence of harmful chemicals on the site, a Mountain View property is slated for imminent removal from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's list of Superfund sites. The "delisting" announcement comes as construction on a 226-unit apartment complex approved by Mountain View City Council in 2019 is likely to begin soon.

The city of Hollister was put on notice in a letter from the California Department of Housing Community Development, which stated the city must void or suspend its growth management program or be in violation of the Housing Crisis Act of 2019. Under the act, which became effective Jan. 1, localities are prohibited from enacting new regulations that might limit housing. HCD previously told Hollister its housing element was under review.

The San Jose Historic Landmarks Commission is working to protect San Jose's former courthouse from demolition. Built in 1973, the building was designed by a master architect in the brutalist style, and embodies San Jose modernism. But its spare design is not universally beloved, and preservationists will have to make the case (again) to save it as city council considers a 3.4 million-square-foot office campus on the same space.

The U.S. Department of Energy has agreed to remove 10 contaminated buildings at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. The lab's location in the hills above the San Fernando and Simi Valleys for years posed a considerable risk in the event of a wildfire followed by heavy rainfall. The debris will be transported out of state to a radioactive waste facility for disposal, officials said.

Wildfires in California are becoming more frequent and more severe, but a study finds that housing in burned areas is paradoxically going up in value. These neighborhoods are predominantly white and affluent, further subverting expectations: typically, low-income urban communities of color are disproportionately vulnerable to climate impacts.