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CP&DR News Briefs Nov. 24, 2020: San Jose Downtown; Klamath Dam Removal; Housing Agency Disarray; and More

Robin Glover on
Nov 24, 2020
San Jose Envisions Intensive Residential & Commercial Development Downtown
Downtown San Jose is poised for a dramatic uptick in development and activity from a transit-rich neighborhood that goes beyond Google's proposed Downtown West project near the Diridion train station and SAP Center. City officials released a development plan--to be phased in over 12 years--that would add 13,000 residential units, up to 13.7 million square feet of office space, 1 million active use and retail square footage, and up to 300 hotel rooms. The amount of office space could accommodate 55,000 workers. The development vision for the Diridion Station area calls for a diverse range of building heights and a push for much greater densities. Buildings could be as high as 290 feet tall, while other sections would have buildings no taller than 65 feet or 90 feet. The city report recommends a goal of 25 percent of all housing to be affordable once the western downtown area is completely built out--well above the city's generic goal of 15 percent affordable housing. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Klamath River Dam Removals Set to Proceed 
A new agreement between Berkshire Hathaway's Pacific Corp, Oregon, California, and the Yurok and Karuk tribes has revived plans to remove Klamath River Dam in 2023. The project would reopen hundreds of miles of waterway along the Oregon-California border and restore the salmon population that once flourished and sustained native tribes. In July, U.S. regulators stalled plans, concerned that the nonprofit entity formed to oversee the project wasn't equipped to handle budget shortfalls or accidents. The new plan adds Oregon and California as equal partners and adds a buffer of $45 million to the project's budget. The agreement retains the liability protections for PacifiCorp's customers that were established in 2016's Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, and allows PacifiCorp and Berkshire Hathaway to walk away from the aging dams without installing expensive fish ladders to modernize and bring the structures into compliance with current regulations.

Audit Finds Inefficiencies among State Housing Agencies 
In a newly released report, state auditors eviscerated California's housing agencies' approach to planning and financing affordable housing. The report points to cumbersome and at times misaligned requirements between the 4 agencies: Housing and Community Development (HCD), the Housing Finance Agency, the Debt Limit Committee, and the Tax Committee. Auditors called for eliminating one agency altogether by merging the Debit Limit and Tax Committees, citing overlapping and redundant review processes. At the same time, HCD lacks adequate enforcement authority to ensure that jurisdictions comply with state law when they review affordable housing projects. The lack of a comprehensive plan allowed one agency to mismanage and ultimately lose $2.7 billion in bond resources. Since developers routinely cobble together resources from multiple funding streams across agencies, the misaligned requirements can slow development and increase project costs. The report is categorical: "The State needs a timely enforcement mechanism--such as an appeals process developers can use--for situations when local jurisdictions fail to approve eligible affordable housing projects. Without substantial changes to address these issues, the State will continue to face a patchwork of local housing efforts that limit Californians' access to affordable homes.”

Los Angeles Planning Commission Runs Afoul of Housing Accountability Act 
District Square, a 577-unit residential project planned in South L.A., must be allowed to go forward and was denied "in bad faith," according to Superior Court Judge James Chalfant. The South Los Angeles Area Planning Commission turned down a developer's application last year, saying it lacked affordable housing and would spur gentrification. Lawyers for the project's developer said in their lawsuit that city planning rules do not require any affordable housing on the District Square site, which is planned on an empty lot next to a light rail station.The commission's lawyer stated publicly that without a more concrete rationale, the decision was in violation of the Housing Accountability Act. The judge also criticized the Department of City Planning, saying staffers failed to complete a determination letter on the commission's decision within the legal deadline.

CP&DR Commentary: Calculating California's Housing Need
 A report recently released by the Embaracadero Institute contends that California's housing need has been dramatically overstated, giving possible ammunition for slow-growth advocates. Bill Fulton unpacks Embaracadero's methodology, saying it might be correct -- but probably isn't -- and that the state needs both market-rate and affordable units. Josh Stephens throws up his hands, arguing that a precise calculation is beside the point. A housing crisis is a housing crisis, and California needs a lot of units no matter how you run the numbers.

Quick Hits & Updates 
A review by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management that opened up over one million acres of California land to oil and gas drilling is being challenged in a lawsuit. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Governor Gavin Newsom, among others, filed the suit in which they said the review underestimates the percent of new wells that would be drilled using fracking, ignores the best available science in evaluating the impacts, and doesn't mitigate the impacts of oil and gas.

Conservation groups filed a notice of intent to sue over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to lift protections for gray wolves. The notice argues that the basis for the decision is unscientific and lacks sound legal theory. It cited a peer review commissioned by the government that was at odds with the delisting proposal. While the gray wolf population has grown substantially, their current roaming range is a small fraction of the wolves' historical habitat.

The Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission appears likely to back off from a telecommute mandate that would have encouraged Bay Area employers to make 60 percent of their workforce remote on any given workday. The MTC will consider a revision to the mandate that would instead require companies to shift their commuters from cars to other modes, setting a cap on a company's workers traveling to the office in a car at 40 percent by 2035.

The Riverside City Council took a first step toward bringing a zero-emission streetcar to Riverside's Innovation District. The proposal seeks to secure the funding of a feasibility study by November 2020 to analyze possible alignments, estimate ridership projections and begin community engagement. As part of the proposal, TIGm, the manufacturer would commit to moving their headquarters to Riverside.

A wildlife crossing that will span 10 years of the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon is set to break ground next year. Experts who study big cats and other endangered fauna in Southern California have sounded the alarm for years that busy freeways are devastating for wild animal populations. In the case of mountain lions and pumas, not only do many die when they try to cross the freeway, inbreeding is a problem wildlife crossings may resolve. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Using funding from California's Project Homekey program, Los Angeles City Council has voted to convert a series of largely vacant hotels into housing. The properties will provide shelter for up to 536 unhoused persons when operational. Separately, the City's Housing Authority is acquiring five additional buildings to create 214 interim housing units, while Los Angeles County will purchase nine hotels to housing more than 600 people.

Brightline has revealed more details about its planned high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and Vegas. Plans on a newly launched website show work on the rail line is expected to begin this year and culminate in 2024, but the project schedule is reliant upon Brightline selling $3.2 billion in bonds toward the $8 billion project by Dec. 1. Otherwise, California will put the funds back into the state's affordable housing fund.

A state audit of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) indicates that a lead contamination cleanup surrounding Exide, a former lead battery recycling facility in Vernon, is behind schedule, over budget by millions, and woefully insufficient. The audit estimates approximately 100,000 people live in the area surrounding the facility and are thus at risk of lead exposure. DTSC's data indicate that a significant majority of properties had dangerous levels of lead contamination.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have released the draft environmental report for a proposed North Hollywood-to-Pasadena rapid bus line. The $267 million, 18-mile project is open for a public review period through early December. If all goes according to plan, the line will be in operation by 2024, connecting the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

The Public Policy Institute of California has come out with recommendations for partnerships between Southern California cities and San Joaquin Valley farms that it says could help alleviate groundwater overdraft in the valley while building drought resilience in Southern California. PPIC explores ways to ease the San Joaquin Valley's transition to groundwater sustainability, while shoring up Southern California's ability to withstand droughts.

San Diego will ease nearly a dozen taxi regulations to help the industry survive both heightened competition from rideshare services and the falling demand since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The City Council lowered requirements for experience for cab drivers, eased parking rules, and allowed for the use of older vehicles, among other issues.
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