Proposed City in Solano County Submits Signatures for Ballot Initiative
California Forever has submitted enough signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot that would permit the company to develop a city of up to 400,000 people on roughly 17,500 acres of land the company has purchased in Solano County. The project submitted upwards of 20,000 voter signatures to the Solano County Registrar of Voters, approximately 60% more than required to get it on the ballot. The project targets several thousand acres currently zoned for agriculture, proposing medium-density urban development to address high housing costs and job scarcity. Plans for the development include a mix of homes, green spaces, a downtown area and job opportunities, starting with 50,000 residents within a decade. The initiative awaits verification of signatures. A poll conducted in March found that 70% of residents said they “would vote no if the election were held today.” (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Two National Monuments to Gain Significant Acreage
President Biden will expand the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, earning praise from Indigenous leaders, politicians and conservationists. The additions, including the 13,696-acre ridge known as Molok Luyuk, aim to bolster federal protections and enhance access to open spaces for underserved communities. Notably, the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument's expansion of over 105,000 acres on the southeast edge of the existing monument extends towards densely populated areas including Pasadena and the San Fernando Valley, addressing historical disparities in green space access. Meanwhile, the inclusion of Molok Luyuk into the Bereyessa Snow National Monument, encompassing over 300,000 hilly acres northwest of Sacramento, honors Indigenous heritage and promotes co-stewardship for biodiversity preservation. Overall, these moves align with broader conservation goals, aiming to protect 30% of lands and coastal waters by 2030, as advocated by international scientists and adopted by California.

State Population Rises for First Time in Four Years
California gained population for the first time since 2020, rising by 0.17% or over 67,000 people between January 1, 2023, and January 1, 2024, totaling 39,128,162 individuals. Factors contributing to this growth include a decline in deaths post-pandemic peak, eased immigration policies under President Biden and shifts in domestic migration patterns. While lost residents to other states during the pandemic, this trend reversed in 2023, resulting in a net gain of approximately 116,000 residents. The state lost 505,000 people to other states last year, down from 692,000 in 2021. Meanwhile, 414,000 people moved to California from other states, up from 337,000 in 2021. Last year, the state had a net gain of 114,000 international immigrants, close to pre-pandemic numbers. Although Los Angeles and Orange counties experienced modest growth last year, projections suggest slower, steady population growth compared to previous decades. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

EV's Linked to Drop in Bay Area Carbon Emissions
New research from UC Berkeley shows a steady decline in carbon dioxide emissions in the Bay Area between 2018 and 2022, attributed to the adoption of cleaner transportation options like hybrid and electric cars alongside improved fuel-efficiency standards. The lead researcher noted that while the 1.8% average annual decrease may seem modest, sustained over 20 years, it could significantly contribute to meeting the state's carbon neutrality goals by 2045. The study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, highlights transportation as the largest local source of carbon dioxide in the Bay Area, emphasizing the importance of clean transportation policies. This study is unique in its focus on the broader region and its direct linkage between electric vehicles and reduced emissions, showing a stronger correlation than previously anticipated.

California Cities Rate Poorly in Access to Nature
A Washington Post analysis highlights disparities in access to nature among U.S. cities, describing a shortage of green space in many California cities. Utilizing the NatureScore tool developed by NatureQuant, the analysis examines various environmental factors to assess nature access and its impact on health. In California, San Francisco receives an average NatureScore of 52.3, outperforming Los Angeles and Carson but falling short of cities like Boston and Washington, D.C. Conversely, Southern California, including Los Angeles and Carson, exhibits some of the lowest NatureScores in the country, reflecting inadequate green infrastructure. The analysis reveals a correlation between population density and NatureScore, with denser cities generally having lower scores. Additionally, socioeconomic disparities are evident, as areas with higher poverty rates and lower levels of education and diversity tend to have limited nature exposure.

CP&DR Coverage: Berkeley Reverses Course on Zoning, Density
The city of Berkeley has historically been a laboratory for the rest of the state and the nation. Its liberal citizenry trailblazed issues like banning indoor smoking or encouraging the legalization of marijuana, and its students have famously led political movements and made all manner of academic discoveries. In the planning world, Berkeley is also known for being the birthplace of single-family zoning, in 1916. But, over 100 years later, that type of zoning has come under attack for being exclusionary—and deeply conservative. Critics say it prevents apartments and multi-family dwellings from being built in many neighborhoods and undermines social justice. While the state of California has also adopted similar laws to increase housing construction such as SB 9 and SB 330, Berkeley’s City Council may soon go even further by considering a plan to rezone the entire city.

Quick Hits & Updates

In the first quarter of 2024, California's construction plans for multifamily housing hit a 10-year low, driven by a 22% decline in permits compared to the previous year. This slowdown, attributed to rising interest rates and economic uncertainty, contrasts sharply with the robust construction seen in previous years, contributing to a rental market where vacancies are on the rise despite rents flattening after significant increases during the pandemic.

A pro-housing group, Californians for Homeownership, is challenging the City of Orange's state-approved housing plan, claiming it fails to demonstrate how over 3,000 needed homes can be built on land with current deed restrictions. The lawsuit alleges that the city's housing element relies on non-vacant sites with restrictions preventing development, and seeks a court order for the city to revise its plan. This comes amidst a surge in "builder's remedy" applications seeking to bypass the city's zoning rules for housing developments.

The Adaptation Planning Grant Program, part of the Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program, has extended its application deadline, with Pre-Application Interest Forms now due by May 20 and the Main Application Form due by June 3. This initiative aims to support vulnerable communities in developing climate resilience through funding for climate adaptation planning efforts.

Governor Newsom and Attorney General Bonta brokered an agreement with the City of Malibu to ensure compliance with the state's Housing Element Law by September, aiming to expedite the approval of a housing plan that would accommodate 79 units, 47 of which must be affordable to low- and very low-income households.

State wildlife commissioners voted to list the Southern California steelhead trout as endangered, expanding protections for the fish under the state's Endangered Species Act due to declining numbers and threats like habitat loss. Despite opposition from water agencies concerned about project delays and water supply limitations, the decision aims to address environmental challenges and enhance conservation efforts.

The San Diego Sports Arena (currently the Pechanga Arena), slated for demolition and redevelopment, has been designated a historic resource by the city's Historical Resources Board, recognizing its role in the Midway District's development, its association with a local sports legend, and its New Formalism architectural style. While the designation does not prevent demolition, it prompts an evaluation process to consider alternatives that could reduce impacts to the historic resource, amid plans for redevelopment in the area.

The California Tahoe Conservancy, along with state agencies and preservation nonprofits, is acquiring a 31-acre site in South Lake Tahoe, including a 1970s-era Motel 6 and a vacant restaurant, for $15.4 million to protect the lake and its surrounding wetlands. The acquisition aims to restore the site to its natural conditions, including marsh and meadowlands, to enhance water quality and provide habitat for local wildlife.

The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), settled lawsuits with both the City of Goleta and the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors regarding student housing, requiring UCSB to construct an additional 3,500 student beds by 2029, adhere to the 2010 Long Range Development Plan and provide funding for community-serving projects in Isla Vista.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition reveals its annual report, "The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes," a shortage of 7.3 million affordable rental homes for extremely low-income families in the US, resulting in nearly three-quarters of such renters being severely cost-burdened, spending over half their income on rent. The study found there are 1,282,835 extremely low income renter households in California, the highest in the country.

Developers of a proposed gondola from Union Station to Dodger Stadium face legal and political challenges as they aim to complete the project before the 2028 Olympics.

Stockton's City Council approved the South Pointe Village housing project, a significant step towards downtown and waterfront redevelopment, with at least 520 housing units planned. The project aims to revitalize the area with market-rate housing and amenities, potentially catalyzing further development in the downtown core.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council is considering protecting deep-sea corals in several areas off Monterey Bay, including Sur Ridge, Año Nuevo Canyon or Ascension Canyon, due to their habitat importance. These restoration efforts come after the 2016 incident where a dry dock damaged coral in Pioneer Canyon, aiming to compensate for the loss and enhance coral habitats in essential fish habitat conservation areas while minimizing impacts on fishing activities.

Environmentalists and community activists have sued the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority over the approval of an environmental review, while the Los Angeles City Council has approved a traffic study to potentially delay the project, prompting concerns about the impact on the historic Los Angeles State Historic Park and surrounding community.