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CP&DR News Briefs November 10, 2020: Richmond Housing Suit; Pandemic and Mortgages; Santa Rosa Housing; and More

Robin Glover on
Nov 10, 2020

Environmental Groups Sue Richmond over Housing Approval
A coalition of environmental groups including the Sierra Club is suing the East Bay city of Richmond over its approval of a mixed-use project that would add 1,450 homes and more than 400,000 square feet of commercial space on the Point Molate peninsula, the site of a former military base. The plaintiffs say the city's EIR is inadequate, and goes on to say that the project is inconsistent with the city's general plan, thereby rendering it "invalid." The proposal calls for reserving about 70 percent of the Point Molate site--193 acres--for public parks and open space. Along with housing and commercial space, the plan includes building a fire and police station and rehabilitating existing historical buildings into a "live-work" village. The plaintiffs and their allies have suggested an alternative: building some commercial space, including a hotel, while keeping most of the property open as accessible land and moving housing to downtown.

Pandemic Causes Homeowners to Fall Behind on Mortgage Payments
A new report by the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected homeowners’ inability to pay mortgages, signaling an unprecedented housing crisis and revealing huge racial disparities among homeowners. The report analyzes data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey, collected between April and July 2020, to examine the magnitude, pattern and causes of the housing crisis. The report indicates that about 5 million, or 8 percent, of American homeowners were unable to pay their mortgage on time. In comparison, during the Great Recession, there were approximately 3.8 million foreclosures, early-stage delinquent mortgages peaked at 3 percent. Compared with non-Hispanic whites, Black people and Hispanics had two to three times higher odds of experiencing housing hardships, the researchers noted.

Santa Rosa Adopts Slate of Pro-Housing Policies
With a series of unanimous city council votes supporting urban development, Santa Rosa is on a path to a significant transformation of its housing policy. The city continues to rebuild in the wake of devastating fires in 2017. A number of fee reductions and incentives have been offered to developers through the High-Density Multifamily Residential Incentive Program, such as reduced capital facilities fees (CFF), reduced park fees, deferred water and wastewater fees, along with reduced inclusionary affordable housing requirements for downtown. Officials said the application process time has been reduced from 10 months to three months, and application fees were reduced due to permit streamlining from $24,000 in entitlement fees to $9,000. Santa Rosa adopted a "housing by right" policy, and adopted a Downtown Station Area Specific Plan, surrounding its SMART Rail station, that moved the city away from density and height standards, and reduced minimum parking requirements. 

CP&DR Coverage: November Ballot Measure & Elected Office Results
Throughout the state, voters chose to reject new development plans and approve extensions to existing growth limitations – often by overwhelming margins. There were a few exceptions around the state, including an increased height limit in San Diego and policy changes to permit more development in major corridors in and Monterey Park. (A similar policy change in San Mateo appears to have failed.) Measures to change local zoning ordinances to permit cannabis sales were too close to call in two cities, Pomona and Encinitas. Local rent control measures were defeated in Burbank, Culver City, and Sacramento, while Sacramento also rejected a strong-mayor charter amendment.

Quick Hits & Updates 

After failing to block the CityView Plaza project in downtown San Jose last year, a preservation group is once again taking aim at the project--this time with a California Environment Quality Act lawsuit. A previous effort to block the project sought and failed to have a Bank of America designated as a historic landmark. Now, the preservationists want to challenge the city's decision and begin a new environmental impact report. The proposed remake of CityView Plaza calls for a 3.79 million-square-foot office campus with three 19-story towers.

San Francisco's Housing Authority has climbed out of a $30 million financial deficit and is no longer in default with the federal government, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Housing Authority's improvement comes as the city has just completed its $2.2 billion Rental Assistance Demonstration program, which included the renovation of much of the city's housing stock.

To reduce ozone pollution and comply with federal standards, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved an ozone-reduction plan from the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The plan calls for a 30 percent reduction in on-road emissions by 2026, followed by a 40 percent reduction by 2032.

The California Supreme Court has agreed to take up a challenge to the legality of a $3 toll hike on Bay Area bridges. The case will determine whether $4.5 billion will be used to improve regional transportation options, $200 million of which is currently in escrow. If the measure is upheld, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission plans to fund transit expansion, express lanes, sea-level rise adaptation, and traffic relief.

Public hearings for zone changes to a General Plan Amendment in California City are delayed after a lawsuit was filed against three council members for allegedly taking bribes to deny permits to a cannabis company. The hearings for the zone changes would rezone three lots from agricultural zones to cannabis cultivation sites.

A $1.25 million study focused on transforming parts of San Diego's Mission Bay into marshland will take place--the result of a years-long battle between environmental groups and recreation advocates who hoped to use the land for golfing or camping. The study by no means ensures the Mission Bay's fate: it only lengthens the city's decision process by 18 months before a final declaration is made.

A bankruptcy plan by Exide Technologies, which operated a now-closed lead-acid battery smelter in Vernon that is responsible for brain-damaging lead across a swath of southeast Los Angeles County, would allow the site to be abandoned with the remediation unfinished. The Trump administration, through the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, has agreed not to oppose Exide's plan, leaving state taxpayers with the bill for California's largest environmental cleanup.
A recent move by Mill Valley to sell open space to advance affordable housing projects didn't last long. The City Council shelved the concept after opposition from residents and concerns about lawsuits. City officials say they are still exploring other avenues.

San Francisco sales tax revenue is down 43 from last year--the result of a steep population decline during the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurant and bar sales were down 65 percent as indoor dining was prohibited, while food and drug sales were down 8 percent. Other metrics like falling apartment rents and busy moving companies further suggest population decline, though it's too early to tell how many people have left.

A newly approved master plan is set to guide the development of new green space in Los Angeles' Exposition Park over the next 25 years. A big "greening" feature will be a conversion of surface parking lots along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard that would be relocated into a below-grade structure, capped by more than 14 acres of new green space at surface level.

San Diego has further loosened rules for accessory dwelling unit construction, eliminating all parking requirements and allowing property owners to construct extra granny flats if they agree to rent restrictions on at least one of them. The rule loosening was just part of a package of reforms aimed at boosting housing construction. Other updates include height allowances for rent-subsidized units, and increased resident caps for student housing.

The City of Stockton has released a suite of resources for property owners who may be interested in building accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, on their property. Community members looking to build an ADU may choose from three different floor plans: Studio, 1 bedroom, and 2 bedroom. Also available free of charge is a "Guide to Building Accessory Dwelling Units," to assist in the preparation of building permit submittal.
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