Senate Democrats Introduce Mini-Package of Housing Bills
California Senate Democrats have announced a new legislative housing package that aims to boost housing supply with more moderate proposals that reduce planning costs and streamline approval processes. Scott Weiner's Senate Bill 902, his followup to SB 50 would allow local governments to skip the environmental review process for projects up to 10 units if buildings are located close to jobs and transportation. Senate Bill 995 expands the streamlined CEQA process to smaller housing projects with 15 percent affordable units. Cities would be encouraged to streamline duplex construction for homeowners who qualify in smaller neighborhoods under Senate Bill 1120. The bill would also allow them to divide their lots to build two duplexes, for four units total. Another bill, SB 1085, targets the "missing middle": cities and counties would be able to grant a density bonus if developers agree to allocate a number of units for a project as affordable and below 30 percent of the market rate. The package does not include new state dollars to building low-income housing - a reality brought on by an estimated $54 billion budget deficit.
Los Angeles Ordered to Clear Homeless Away from Freeways
Under a preliminary injunction issued by a U.S. District Court judge, Los Angeles city and county officials have been ordered to provide shelter or alternative housing to the roughly 7,000 Los Angeles residents who live under or in the immediate vicinity of a freeway. Of the estimated 60,000 homeless across Los Angeles County, those near freeways face special risks, the judge wrote in the ruling, not only from contracting COVID-19, but also from exposure to pollution, carcinogens, and being hit by cars. It's unclear how city, county and homelessness officials will respond to the order, though the injunction stipulated guidelines on what shelter must be offered. Housing options must provide security, medical staff, showers and other hygiene facilities, and enough space to maintain social distancing. Officials have until Sept. 1 to relocate freeway-adjacent campers. While city and county officials don't have legal authority to force homeless people into shelters, they are allowed to enforce anti-camping laws to relocate them at least 500 feet from freeways.
Frequency and Cost of Wildfires Grows Over Four Decades
In California, record-breaking fires in 2017 and 2018 destroyed communities and dominated headlines across the country. A newly developed data set that catalogs wildfire damages dating back to 1979 places California's recent devastating fire seasons into broader historical perspective. The Nature Conservancy analyzed data from Cal Fire and the state's resource assessment program and determined that recent spikes in fire activity is part of a four-decade trend of not only increases in wildfire frequency and in areas burned, but also an increased rate of change over per-decade averages. For example, there were 3,356 fires during the last decade (2009-2018), which is 1.4 times greater than the per-decade average for the prior 30 years (1979-2009). Burn areas saw the same 1.6 times increase. But from the first decade of the analysis to the last--between 1979 and 2018--the last decade's fires burned twice the area (7.08 mil acres) as those in the first decade (3.37 mil acres). Similarly, costs have increased over time, with Southern California bearing the brunt of those shifts. In the 80's, fires did $30 million in annual damages (calculated by average replacement cost for structures). From 1999 to 2010, that sum ballooned to an average of $1 billion annually. In 2018 alone, fires cost an estimated $4.5 billion on areas in which the state takes fiscal responsibility.
CP&DR Coverage: De Facto CEQA Reform Has Already Arrived
Despite perennial calls to reform CEQA in order to facilitate infill development, CP&DR’s Bill Fulton argues that CEQA reform has essentially already arrived. In recent years, cities have shifted away from issuing mitigated negative declarations and have adopted more widespread use of exemptions. Data from the Office of Planning and Research shows that issuance of MNDs has declined by over 50 percent since 2008 while use of exemption have pushed up about 30 precent in that time span. Fulton calls it “a revolution.”
Quick Hits & Updates
Two nonprofit advocacy groups filed legal action against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to secure stricter air quality standards in Imperial County. The EPA has justified its decision to weaken air quality standards by saying that pollution from Mexico is the primary cause of the county's poor air quality. The litigants emphasized the county's ability to limit its smog by taking steps like switching agricultural equipment from diesel to solar.
In a split vote, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners approved bond issuance for the Tahoe South Event Center, the final step in the project's approval process. Tahoe Township proponents cited the expected annual economic impact to Douglas County's south shore of $40-$60 million, an estimated tax surplus of $1 million, an additional 550 year-round employment opportunities for local, 800 construction jobs for two years, plus economic diversification.
A new report from National Center for Sustainable Transportation at University of California, Davis outlines benefits that accrue to individuals, households, and communities from decreased dependence on cars. Private transportation accounts for nearly $10,000 or 15 percent of the average Californian's budget--second only to housing as the largest fixed cost. California could avoid $8.2 billion in public health costs by one estimate, just by using infill to promote a shift away from driving.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center are suing the Trump administration for failing to protect the Humboldt marten. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service missed a stautorary deadline by which it was required to make a final determination on whether to list Humboldt martens for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Inspired by a proposed office expansion that would add 95,000 acres of office space and just 24 homes, a Mission District representative on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is championing a rezoning plan that would limit office space to the ground floor level of new buildings. While the proposed project technically meets the block's urban mixed-use (UMU) classification, the intention behind UMU was a more even balance. Planning commissioners have unanimously backed the rezoning effort with minors. Commissioners excluded Dogpatch and Portrero Hill, which is currently under consideration for over 2,000 homes and thousands of square feet of office space on the decommissioned Portrero Plant site. Commissioners also amended the proposal to spare projects approved before Feb. 11.
In hopes of attracting financial backers, the Sites Project Authority will scale back its plans for an ambitious reservoir project in Colusa County. Under the new approach, the price tag will be cut roughly 40 percent from $5.1 billion to $3 billion, and the reservoir's size will shrink by 15 percent. The amount of water the reservoir is expected to deliver on average was cut in half from 505,000 to 243,000 acre feet.
A federal judge blocked the Trump administration's plan to pump more water through the San Joaquin River Delta. The ruling will create immediate impacts on water supplies: San Joaquin Valley's farm irrigation supplies were already curtailed by a dry winter, and will lose an estimated 52,000 acre-feet of water this spring. The preliminary injunction lasts until May 31 unless it's extended.
Several housing developments - many of which included plans for affordable units - in Monterey are on hold after Monterey Peninsula water officials denied the city's request for additional water reserves to serve those apartments. The city stands to lose 181 affordable housing units without the additional water. Of 303 units slated for construction across six sites, only 92 at a single site will move forward. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
The California High Speed Rail Authority's first phase will generate $46 billion in labor income and $131 billion in economic output over the course of the project, authority officials announced recently. Since its inception in 2006, CHSRA reports $3.6 billion in labor income up to $9.2 billion in economic output.
Two land use officials in California have gotten themselves in trouble indirectly related to the COVID-19 crisis. In a special two-hour remote meeting, the Antioch City Council voted unanimously to remove Ken Turnage from his seat on the city planning commission following an off-color social media posting about "culling the herd" during the COVID-19 crisis. The comments fueled an online viral uproar that culminated in the local builder's booting from his appointed commission term. Separately, in Vallejo, Planning Commissioner Chris Platzer appeared to chug an alcoholic beverage and then toss a cat that he had presented to his webcam. Platzer resigned from the commission soon thereafter.
Landlords are challenging the legality of strict eviction bans that some California localities have passed that go beyond state eviction moratoriums to include banning late fees, giving tenants up to a year to repay back rent, and forbidding the posting of three-day pay up notices. While some cities have backed off after the threat of legal challenges, Costa Mesa said through a representative the city has no intention of easing restrictions.
A real estate consultant has agreed to plead guilty to a racketeering charge for running point on a criminal conspiracy to bribe a Los Angeles City Council member in exchange for support for major redevelopment projects. At the center of the allegations is the planned redevelopment of the Luxe City Center Hotel.
After a three-year planning effort, San Diego has released a draft document outlining the city's plan to upgrade its 5,700 acres of parkland and 13 reaction centers. The new parks master plan, which is currently available for public comment, is "focused on increasing access to all parks for everyone, regardless of their age, race, ability or geographic location," a city statement said.