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CP&DR News Briefs May 12, 2020: State Population Growth; Delta Lawsuits; Mountain Lions; and More

Robin Glover on
May 10, 2020
State Population Growth Flattens; Inland Areas See Most Gains
California added only 87,494 residents in 2019 to bring the state's estimated total population to 39,782,870 people as of Jan. 1, 2020, according to new population estimates and housing data released by the California Department of Finance. California's population grew by only 0.2 percent, continuing a historically slow growth trend since the Great Recession. Growth remains strong in the interior counties of the Central Valley and the Inland Empire, while remaining modest in the Bay Area, and slowing to near zero and even negative in most of the coastal counties. Los Angeles County, the state's most populous county, has now lost population the last two years, dropping 0.3 percent in 2018 and 0.1 percent in 2019. Changes in population rankings for cities reinforce the movement towards inland counties; Modesto passed Santa Clarita as 17th largest city. Elk Grove is now the 27th largest city passing Rancho Cucamonga, Garden Grove, and Santa Rosa. Rosevelle is now the 40th largest city passing Pasadena. California's statewide housing growth, as measured by net unit growth in completed housing units for 2019, was 94,662 units making 2019 the first time the state has added more housing units than people. Total housing in California reached 14.3 million, a 0.7 percent increase.

Newsom’s Sacramento Delta Plan Draws Lawsuits 
Three of the most powerful groups in California water sued the state this week over Gov. Gavin Newsom's two-month-old plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Environmental groups are charging the administration with not doing to protect endangered species. Meantime, beneficiaries of diverted delta water filed their own lawsuits over restrictions on water pumping that will result in significant new restrictions on supplies. A spokeswoman for Newsom's Natural Resources Agency said the administration "stands behind" its plan for operating the Delta. Rounding out the triumvirate of litigation is Gov. Newsom's feud with the Trump administration. Newsom announced in February he would sue the federal government over Trump's plans to deliver more water through the Delta. The status quo - the voluntary settlement agreement brokered by Gov. Jerry Brown's administration - appears to be falling apart. At least according to the State Water Contractors who said Newsom's plan "effectively ends the historic Voluntary Agreement process that brought together water agencies, regulators and conservation groups to tackle decades-old water resource problems.”

State Moves to Give Mountain Lions Protected Status
Regulators have taken a significant step toward adding mountains lions to the protected list under California's Endangered Species Act. Mountain lions were granted "candidate status" in six regions by the state Fish and Game Commission, which puts the big cats as little as one year away from protected status. The decision is only applicable to areas between the Bay Area and regions of Central and Southern California, where biologists estimate there are fewer than 500 lions. If the lions are added to California's endangered list, the state will be required to draft a recovery plan that include infrastructure changes like wildlife crossings. Currently, protections are being granted in piecemeal fashion in the courts. A 1,750-acre home development proposal in Temecula, for example, was blocked because the proposal did not adequately preserve areas where mountain lions cross under a freeway. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Census Data Suggests Shortage of 1 Million Homes for Poorest Households
The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s recently released annual report suggests that improvements in the economy have mostly favored full-time workers and stockholders, and have not resolved the longstanding needs of low-income people who continue to struggle to find affordable and accessible housing - particularly in California. No state has an adequate supply of rental housing affordable available for extremely low-income households (residents with incomes at or below the poverty line or 30 percent of area median income, whichever is greater), the data shows. The shortage ranges from 8,202 rental homes in Wyoming to nearly one million in California, where there are 23 affordable homes for every 100 extremely low-income renter households. The states with the greatest percentage of extremely low-income renter households with severe cost burdens are Nevada (81 percent), Florida (79 percent), and California (77 percent).

CP&DR Coverage: Developers Prevail in SB 35 Suits
The battle over implementing SB 35 is playing out most ferociously in Silicon Valley – and in two new court rulings over the past month, both written by the same judge, developers have won the latest round. Both cases revolve around the question of how cities must apply objective design standards in an SB 35 case – and the rulings suggest that cities apply objective design and planning standards in a very clear way in order to stay out of legal trouble. 

Quick Hits & Updates 

UC Berkeley is facing criticism from local officials and some members of the community as it begins the scoping process for its new long-term development plan, which proposes to expand the university community by 23 percent in the next 15 years. UC Berkeley says it has no choice in the timing, as the university is required to conform to CEQA laws despite limited community engagement due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

After years of legal battles and decades of neighborhood complaints, a West Fresno meat-rendering plant will shut down permanently by 2023 or incur hefty penalties. potentially clearing the way for housing and green space in a historically underprivileged part of town. Texas-based Darling Ingredients looked to be moving its plant to a more rural area until a relocation deal with the city fell through.

The California State Transportation's $95 million grant to Inglewood for an elevated people mover to serve the new SoFi Field NFL stadium brings the amount of total secured funds to roughly $330 million of the nearly $1 billion needed to complete the project. Design plans are already underway, and officials say they don't expect the coronavirus pandemic to alter or delay construction plans. Inglewood expects to have the trains running sometime from 2024 to 2026.

Los Angeles Metro's Crenshaw Line Northern Extension is supposed to break ground in 2041, but West Hollywood City Council is considering bumping up construction by as many as 15 years. West Hollywood is expected to contribute up to 25 percent of capital costs within the city to fast-track the project. Officials have their on multiple funding sources, but no specific funding from West Hollywood has been approved thus far.

Amidst a housing crisis, Santa Monica emerges as a bright spot for its successful Affordable Housing Production Program (AHPP). A study published in the Housing Studies Journal found that inclusionary housing production by market-rate developers jumped by 15 percent in Santa Monica since the city adopted its 2010 General Plan, which included provisions that tied allowances in Floor Area Ratio, height and density to affordable housing unit requirements. 

Despite last year's rainy reprieve, researchers who analyzed tree ring records, meteorological records, and climate models concluded that California is in 'megadrought' conditions not seen for 400 years, with one key difference: rising temperatures. The study, published in Science journal, corroborates what scientists have long warned policymakers: extreme warming will prolong natural dry cycles in the Western U.S. and areas of Mexico.

A judge in Riverside County threw a lifeline to imperiled Southern California mountain lions, blocking a proposed 270-acre development in Western Riverside County. Part of the development sits on one of the only passages left for wildlife to move between coastal and inland mountains. The ruling came just days before state officials voted on whether to grant mountain lions protection under the Endangered Species Act.

UC Berkeley released initial conceptual drawings for a 16-story housing complex and park at Peoples Park, a landmark in the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s. The design tries to balance the need for student housing, supportive housing and services for people who are formerly homeless, with the need for open space, according to the project's website. The City of Berkeley is considering increasing the zoning density to allow up to three 12-story buildings in the near vicinity.

In a bid to restore dwindling fish populations in the Klamath River, a nonprofit group is spearheading the removal of four dams in Northern California and Southern Oregon. The massive project, which was set into motion in 2016 and just received key approvals from the State Water Board, will normalize water temperatures, reduce fish disease, and reduce toxic algae growth.

Laguna Beach officials are bucking a county directive to house homeless people at local hotels during the ongoing pandemic. While not the first city to oppose the order, Laguna Beach is the first to file a lawsuit. The county announced plans to fight the lawsuit, according to a statement from the OC Emergency Operations Center. OC officials secured 76 rooms at the Laguna Hills Inn as part of a roughly 550-bed countywide plan.
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