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CP&DR News Briefs May 11, 2021: Federal Wilderness Protection; Google Complex; Caltrain-BART Merger; and More

Robin Glover on
May 11, 2021

U.S. Senate Could Designate 600,000 Acres of Wilderness in California
A legislative package introduced in the U.S. Senate could add 600,000 new acres of federally protected wilderness in California and would expand protections for more than 1 million acres of public land. The Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Irwindale will, if the package is successful, be the center of a new 50,000-acre national recreation area covering foothill areas of the San Gabriel Mountains and portions of the San Gabriel River and the Rio Hondo. The three bills would add add more than 109,000 acres to San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and designate 30,000 acres of wilderness that was left out when President Obama designated the monument in 2014. It would also designate more than 583 miles of river — including 45 miles of San Gabriel River tributaries, as well as Little Rock Creek — as “wild and scenic rivers,” a protection that prohibits dams or new mining.

San Jose Google Complex Takes Step, Clashes with Sharks
Google's proposed San Jose megacampus cleared a crucial hurdle with the unanimous approval of the city's planning commission. Now, it's up to the San Jose City Council next month to decide whether the project moves forward, but city leaders have long signaled their strong support for the massive project. But despite widespread support from the city and community, Google’s project and proposed development surrounding it have one very vocal opponent: the San Jose Sharks. The NHL’s San Jose Sharks say they want 4,800 parking spaces in exchange for their approval of Google’s proposed downtown campus—nearly 2,000 more than what the city promises to maintain during construction. =Nevertheless, the planning commission sided with residents, affordable housing advocates and public transit proponents who urged them to move forward with the project and step away from San Jose’s long history of over-parking.

BART and Caltrain Explore Merger
A merger with BART is one of the concepts Caltrain’s board is considering this year as it overhauls the railroad’s management. Caltrain’s governing board agreed to study and recommend changes to its management structure as part of a deal struck last summer to put a sales tax measure supporting the railroad on the November ballot, which voters approved. Over the coming decade, the two rail agencies are set to offer increasingly similar services. Caltrain has plans to eventually run express trains every 15 minutes along its soon-to-be-electrified tracks. Both agencies also have their sights set on major infrastructure projects: Caltrain wants to extend its tracks to the Salesforce Transit Center in downtown San Francisco, and BART officials are pitching a second transbay crossing. Additionally, the $6.9 billion BART extension through downtown San Jose would create two new connection opportunities in the South Bay, at Diridon Station and a planned Santa Clara stop.

PPIC Evaluates Cities’ Drought Preparedness
A new report from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) says that as California’s droughts get more intense due to climate change, most cities are well-prepared for droughts, but many small communities are vulnerable. The state’s large urban areas have made major investments in improving drought resilience by diversifying their supply sources—including water reuse, recycling, and stormwater capture—and expanding conservation efforts. Because of this, urban areas often experience drought impacts later than other sectors. Although California has added almost 10 million people since 1990, the amount of water used in cities has remained roughly the same. But small rural communities—many of them communities of color—are ill-prepared to manage drought, often due to financial constraints. Communities that rely on shallow wells are especially vulnerable to dry conditions and regional groundwater over-pumping.

CP&DR Coverage: Napa Quarry Wins Appellate Court Approval
Thirteen years after submitting its original application, Syar Industries has won an appellate court ruling under the California Environmental Quality Act permitting the company to move forward with the expansion of a quarry in Napa County. The project’s opponents are considering appealing to the California Supreme Court. The 91-page appellate court ruling, originally issued at the end of March but published in late April, was a slam-dunk win for Syar Industries and Napa County. The court found that the project opponents, organized as Stop Syar Expansion, had failed to exhaust administrative remedies on all five challenges and – in any event – would lose on the merits even of the administrative remedies had been exhausted.

Quick Hits & Updates

Apple will add nearly 4,000 jobs in greater San Diego through 2026, a likely boon for the county's universities, which will feed the company the software and hardware engineers the company needs. The schools have recently announced expansion plans as well: UC San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering is constructing two large research buildings, and will be launching a new curriculum called A.I. Tools for Engineering. San Diego State University is considering expanding its engineering school to the Mission Valley satellite campus.

UCLA's annual Quality of Life Index found a growing number of Los Angeles County residents between 18 and 49 believe the area's cost of living threatens their ability to make ends meet, get ahead, or gain financial security. The index found that young residents reported having a lower quality of life than older residents, and researchers think the pandemic may have exacerbated that disparity.

While the Los Angeles economy declined faster than in many other regions, LA has bounced back quicker, according to a new analysis from the Public Policy Institute of California. As of March 2021, employment in Los Angeles has recovered 64% of losses during the first three months of the pandemic, compared to 59% statewide. However, unemployment is still 10.9%—much higher than the statewide 8.2%.

Amid pushback from residents, the Fremont City Council on Tuesday unanimously rejected a developer’s proposal to build 13 homes on long-vacant land adjacent to Interstate 680. The plan called for two-story houses with four bedrooms, ranging in size from 2,181 to 3,106 square feet.

Despite residents voicing opposition, the Livermore Planning Commission recommended the development of the 130-unit, 4-story Eden Housing project in the city’s downtown core. With a park situated in-between, the two buildings will contain one-, two- and three-bedroom rental apartments for people with incomes that are 20% to 60% of the Alameda County median income.

Six projects in Sonoma County received $5.8 million in grants from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation matched by an additional $11.7 million from four cities, the county parks system and a private foundation — the largest joint investment in recreational lands since 2008. The projects will add 145 acres of new and enhanced parks and trail extensions from Healdsburg to Petaluma and out to Bodega Bay.

The Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission signed off on the initial phase of the remodel of Pershing Square. The most visible of the proposed changes is the removal of a café building, creating space for a landscaped plaza with outdoor seating. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

LA Metro is taking steps to plan out a northern extension of the Crenshaw/LAX Line to Hollywood. Metro is studying three potential alignments for the project, all of which run between Expo/Crenshaw Station and Hollywood.

Huntington Beach will not sue the state over state mandated housing goals; the city council voted 5-2 to indefinitely postpone fighting the mandate after not taking action on initiating a lawsuit in March.

Pasadena’s ADU Program earned high marks from a Utah-based organization that recognizes ambitious feasible, and scalable solutions to housing affordability. The city earned a Top 10 finalist spot for its Comprehensive Assistance’ for financing, designing, permitting, and constructing a new ADU in the city.

The Los Angeles City Council is considering a proposal that would curtail the use of wood-frame construction for larger developments in densely-populated neighborhoods in an effort to reduce the city’s vulnerability to wildfires. Hillside neighborhoods across the city could be impacted by the changes, as could portions of Highland Park, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Los Feliz, and Pacific Palisades.

The Dublin City Council unanimously voted to allocate $10 million to a proposed affordable housing project that will be located close to the West Dublin/Pleasanton BART station. The project will have two, five-story buildings with 308 total apartments built out in two phases.

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