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CP&DR News Briefs March 23, 2021: San Diego County Development; Single-Family Zoning; SANDAG Goes Big on Transit; and More

Robin Glover on
Mar 23, 2021
State Joins Lawsuit to Stop Greenfield Projects in San Diego County
Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined lawsuits against two proposed developments in San Diego, both Otay Ranch Village projects that were approved by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Village 14 would place more than 1,100 homes on a two-lane road within five miles of 68 recorded fires. Village 13 would construct more than 1,880 homes on a site that’s repeatedly burned. During public hearings, San Diego County Fire Chief Tony Mecham testified that residents could be safely evacuated in the event of a large fire. The Otay Ranch Village lawsuits are just two of several lawsuits Becerra has joined to block developments with heightened wildfire risk. Becerra back court challenges in Lake County that includes 1,400 homes. He also taken aim at the proposed Paraiso Springs Resort in Monterey County.

More Bay Area Cities Reconsider Single-Family Zoning
Oakland and South San Francisco could soon join the ranks of California cities that have either eliminated single-family zoning or are considering it. South San Francisco is the first city in San Mateo County to explore ending single-family zoning through the upcoming general plan update. Single-family units make up 67 percent of the city's total units and 33.8 percent of the total land area, compared to duplex, triplex and fourplex housing, which combined constitute 8.1 percent of total units and 1.5 percent of the land. Oakland is in the early exploratory phase, and it’s unclear how soon the city could actually see a change in zoning if the council votes to begin the process. The Oakland City Council voted unanimously to direct city staff to study allowing fourplexes in neighborhoods currently zoned as single-family housing. See related CP&DR coverage of Sacramento and Berkeley.)

SANDAG Proposes Doubling of Transit Investments, to $55.9 Billion 
The San Diego Association of Governments Board of Directors is considering a proposal for the upcoming 2021 Regional Plan that would double investments in transit from $25.9 billion to $55.9 billion. According to SANDAG forecasts, access within a half-mile of fast and convenient transit will triple for people in historically underserved communities under the plan. There are significant increases in freeway operations and maintenance under the plan, increasing from $10 billion to $18.6 billion. New investments that did not exist in the last plan are assumed in the funding strategy — such as $4.8 billion for transit fare subsidies for low-income and youth populations, and $5 billion for mobility hubs and flexible fleets. The total cost has come down to $163 billion over 30 years, down $14 billion from the previous projection.

Google Ramps Up Development of Commercial Space in Bay Area
Google announced it will invest more than $1 billion in properties and development across California, including two that are already underway in the Bay Area. In the Bay Area, Google is planning to include at least four major development projects in the billion-dollar property enterprise: Bay View, a Google campus in Mountain View at the NASA Ames Research Center is an existing development that Google intends to complete. The project will total 1.1 million square feet. Likewise, Charleston East is an existing Google campus in Mountain View that will total 595,000 square feet upon completion. In Sunnyvale, a Google office building will total 182,500 square feet. The building will include mass timber materials that are being used in new methods of construction. Finally, plans call for a San Francisco development effort that is described as an ongoing capital project.

CP&DR Coverage: Town-Gown Troubles in Sacramento 
UC Davis’ $1.1 billion Aggie Square project was approved by the University of California Board of Regents in November of last year. University officials and local elected leaders say the project will be a catalyst for revitalization of both the adjacent UC Davis Medical Center and Oak Park, the surrounding Sacramento neighborhood. But Oak Park residents have sued, reflecting their concern about the project’s potential impact to neighboring Oak Park. At the same time, the university has committed to a novel use of revenue from an enhanced infrastructure financing district to provide affordable housing. Many of the neighborhood’s residents are low income, people of color and renters, advocates said, and could be displaced or otherwise harmed by the demand for housing in the area likely to be caused by Aggie Square.

Quick Hits & Updates 
COVID-19 has made it difficult to assess the impact of Opportunity Zone tax breaks, according to the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan Washington, DC think tank. Part of the 2016 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the tax break rewards people for investing in businesses and property in over 8,000 struggling census tracts selected by states. So far, there appears to be little to no impact on economic activity in distressed communities according to the Brookings analysis. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

The University of Southern California and the city of Los Angeles are partnering to launch an urban trees initiative aimed at improving the health and quality of life for residents in parts of El Sereno, Ramona Gardens, and parts of Lincoln Heights. USC researchers will guide where the city and others plant trees, using the university's computer models, air sensors, and other tools to maximize the trees' impact.

A new report from SPUR seeks to answer how the housed and unhoused can coexist in public spaces like parks to begin shifting the narrative to how planners can "design and manage public spaces to allow people of all backgrounds to find joy, belonging and safety." The report comes with an accompanying toolkit of public engagement exercises for city agencies, nonprofits, and others to use in public meetings.

New research published in the Urban Studies journal establishes a causal link with data, for the first time, between greater numbers of parking spaces and more driving. The chicken-or-egg conundrum of which comes first-- parking spaces or cars--was tested in an unusual circumstance in which housing lotteries in San Francisco allowed researchers to collect data that showed unequivocally what has long been suspected. People with access to parking are more likely to own a car.

A long-running debacle resulting from San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer's decision to suspend $18,000 a day payments to lease a vacant downtown building is now the subject of another lawsuit. Wilmington Trust has filed a cross-complaint suit against the city of San Diego for unapproved renovations. The asbestos-ridden 19-story high rise, which was to become a new workspace for city employees, has cost taxpayers more than $50 million to date.
As part of the American Rescue Plan Act—a $2 trillion bill passed by Congress in March—Caltrain will receive $52 million of the $1.25 billion designated for transit funding in the San-Francisco area. San Mateo’s Charles Stone said the $52 million would go toward electrification, station improvements, and the agency’s budget shortfall that has accrued over the course of the pandemic.

In a ruling that could have significant implications for water agencies statewide, an Alameda County Judge has ordered the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to continue providing irrigation water to ranchers who lease its pasturelands over the agency’s objections. LADWP defended its stance on the grounds that the Sierra Nevada watershed is increasingly unreliable.

An urgency ordinance proposed by El Dorado County Supervisors that would restrict chain stores like Dollar General in the county was voted down at a Board of Supervisors meeting. The vote amidst a project application for a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General that is currently being processed by the county. That application and two others in the works are creating a growing controversy among city leaders and residents, who cite concerns for the loss of rural character in the county. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Drawing on PG&E settlement money, Santa Rosa and Sonoma County have pooled resources to create $20 million housing fund, overseen by a joint city-county agency called “the RED,” for short. The RED is focused on “gap funding”: the district’s policy is to fund only up to 10 percent of a project’s total cost.

Despite being sued in 2019 for years of lacking affordable housing, the City of Clovis has not built a single unit that fits the state’s standard of low-income affordable. The state goal for Clovis in the 2013 to 2023 RHNA cycle is 3,466 that are supposed to fit in the low income and very low income categories, but as of 2020 only 87 affordable housing had been built.

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