S.F. Planning Commission Approves Controversial Projects
The San Francisco Planning Commission approved three controversial housing developments, including a long-delayed 495-unit tower on a valet parking lot in the Mid-Market neighborhood, a project with nine townhomes and a single-family home on one property in Chinatown and a 19-unit group home development near Dolores Park. The Mid-Market tower, 469 Stevenson, was nixed 18 months ago by the Board of Supervisors, and became a symbol of San Francisco obstructionism. But recent legislation, SB 7 (the “Environmental Leadership Development” program), makes it almost impossible for neighbors or politicians to delay or kill residential projects. It is the first project to be certified by Gov. Newsom under SB 7; certification will ensure any potential CEQA litigation raised by project opponents is resolved within 270 days of filling. The two townhomes and single-family home project in Chinatown fell under scrutiny by both the Commission and neighborhood groups for blocking almost 17% of sunshine for a nearby park utilized by many senior residents as their only outdoor green space. Multiple commissioners opposed the project but refused to vote it down. The group home development in Dolores Park was approved last year after reducing the total floors planned from six to five. State officials called this an illegal maneuver in January, and the sixth floor was restored and the plan approved. Under recently proposed legislation praised by pro-housing advocates, the latter two projects would not have to appear before the Planning Commission. (See related CP&DR coverage.)
State Sues Elk Grove Over Supportive Housing Project
Attorney General Rob Bonta has filed a lawsuit against the City of Elk Grove over a downtown supportive housing project that the city denied, claiming violations of the Housing Accountability Act, SB 35, and fair housing laws. The developer of the 66-unit project had sought a variety of waivers and concessions under the Density Bonus Law, including a waiver of a ground-floor retail requirement, but the city claimed the retail requirement was a "foundational land use regulation," not a waivable condition. The suit alleges that the Elk Grove City Council improperly claimed that the project did not meet the city’s zoning standards and was therefore ineligible for SB 35 ministerial review. In today’s lawsuit, the state seeks injunctive relief to require Elk Grove to approve the project and realign with state law. The developer had previously sued as well. (See related CP&DR coverage.)
Oakland Athletics’ Move to Vegas Likely Dooms Waterfront Stadium Complex
The Oakland Athletics announced efforts towards building a ballpark in Las Vegas, signaling the demise of a proposed mixed-use stadium development on the Oakland waterfront. The city of Oakland had previously been negotiating to keep the team in the city when the A's president announced the team entered a purchasing agreement last week on a 49-acre site in Las Vegas for a 35,000-seat stadium. Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao responded critically to the move, stating the city will end negotiations on a multibillion dollar deal to build an $11 billion stadium and residential development at Howard Terminal. The Oakland A's would still need a public-private partnership to finance the ballpark and 75% approval from MLB owners. Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo said in a statement the move would be beneficial to Southern Nevada and the state. The move follows the NFL's Raiders moving to Las Vegas and the NBA Warriors moving into San Francisco. (See related CP&DR coverage.)
Supreme Court Refuses to Review “Save Livermore Downtown” Suit
The California Supreme Court denied Save Livermore Downtown petition for review of an affordable housing development approved the City Council two years prior. The plan involves two four-story buildings comprising130 affordable units. This is the third court ruling against Save Livermore Downtown. The mayor of Livermore responded that he is troubled watching a small group "waste millions of dollars in carefully orchestrated campaigns." Save Livermore Downtown stated they will continue to advocate for appropriately planned and sited development projects. (See related CP&DR coverage.)
CP&DR Coverage: New Housing Laws Challenge Local Ballot-Box Zoning
Ballot-box zoning – the practice of adopting land use legislation by initiative and often requiring a subsequent vote to approve future projects – was once a predominant feature of the California planning landscape. Beginning in the 1970s – and accelerating during the ‘80s and ‘90s – ballot-box zoning was a critical component of that era’s growth management regime. Now, writes CP&DR's Bill Fulton, ballot-box zoning is running up against the recent state-level push to allow more housing production. And it may be that ballot-box zoning will lose. The big question that remains is whether the state’s aggressive housing production regime will pre-empt local voters’ power to restrict development via initiative.
Quick Hits & Updates
For the next 60 days, the drafted California State Rail Plan is available for public comment. The draft includes proposed investment strategies for economic growth, tools to bring equity to vulnerable communities statewide and address statewide climate goals. Alongside the public draft, Caltrans is providing virtual public workshops and Equity Priority workshops to cover the contents of the plan.
A Newport Beach-based company plans to fund a nightly first-class, private passenger train between San Francisco and Los Angeles with fares starting at $300 and going up to $1,000. The backers are negotiating contracts with Union Pacific Railroad Co. and Metrolink, with a projected service start of summer 2024.
The Santa Clara County Local Agency Formation Commission delayed for the second time a consideration of Gilroy's plan to add 55 acres to its city limits. LAFCO may deny the request, asserting the move is premature in the city's development. Gilroy plans to use most of the space for housing.
Following the threat of a lawsuit by the ACLU, the Los Gatos Town Council voted to revoke its censure of a planning commissioner over emailed remarks. The Council stated they did not consider the commissioner's First Amendment rights when censuring her for an email she sent blaming "rich, white, anti-housing men" derailing housing developments in Los Gatos.
A San Diego City Council vote approved the conversion of Fifth Avenue in Downtown San Diego as a pedestrian plaza, potentially banning cars and parking every day of the week. The area of downtown has been closed for vehicle traffic various hours five days a week since July 2020.
Management consulting firm McKinsey released a report on Los Angeles's state of homelessness, citing that, at the current rate, over 100,000 residents could be experiencing homelessness by the 2028 Olympics. The report studies the complexity of the issue in Los Angeles, finding population, growth rate and sprawl as contributing factors, citing a response must work to prevent homelessness, address people at various stages of homelessness, provide immediate support for those who experience "nonchronical" homelessness and tailored support for those who experience "chronic" homelessness.
The Culver City Council voted to remove protected bike lanes in the city, with another vote slated for the next two years, citing traffic as the main consideration in adding another car lane. The city must now propose modifications for the scrapped bike lane project for review by the California Environmental Quality Act.
A lawsuit filed against the city of Coronado by nonprofit Californians for Homeownership concluded with the court siding with the city. The original lawsuit claimed the city illegally refused ADUs permits with new, single-family homes. The court found that, of 89 permit applications for ADU filed in the city between 2013 and 2020, the city approved all but 14 simultaneous construction of ADUs and single-family homes.
In a survey by the League of California Cities, cities' efforts to reduce rates of homeless are stymied by increasing demand for housing and services. The survey found 85% of cities indicated they have programs to prevent and reduce homeless, and 8 out of ten cities are spending general funds to address the crisis. Furthermore, 90% of responders stated fiscal concerns over addressing the crisis longterm. Cal Cities Executive Director stated state funding is critical to slow the increase in demand and fund local programs.