State Casts Shade on Controversial San Diego County Development
Attorney General Xavier Becerra is urging the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to deny, at least temporarily, approval of a large South County development because of concerns about impacts to wildlife. In a letter to the board, Beccera points out that the Otay Ranch project is just one of many large new developments within the same "very high fire hazard severity zone." In June, the Board of Supervisors voted to approve Village 14, a 1,226-home and development in Otay Ranch. The current project, known as Village 13, would add 1,938 residential units, 40,000 square feet of commercial space, a 200-room resort, parks and a fire station to the vicinity. Beccera questioned the county's reasoning for not creating a robust evacuation plan, but stops short of making demands or require a particular course of action. "We appreciate your consideration of our comments and respectfully request that you refrain from certifying the FEIR (final environmental impact report) and approving the project until the FEIR is revised accordingly," Becerra wrote.
Sweeping Changes to Bus Service Coming to Los Angeles County
The NextGen plan to restructure Los Angeles' Metro bus system was approved by the Metro Board of Directors on a 10 to 1 vote. The plan, which has been in the works for nearly three years, will increase frequency of buses and restructure bus routes to put more buses in areas with the greatest demand. Metro will make changes to service over its next three planned service changes in Dec. 2020, June 2021, and Dec. 2021. When the plan is fully implemented, the number of Los Angeles County residents who could walk to bus lines running every five to 10 minutes is projected to more than double to almost 2.2 million. To fully implement Next Gen, Metro will need to increase service back to pre-pandemic levels. Metro staff are due to deliver a plan to the Board later this year on how the agency plans to increase service while dealing with funding issues related to the pandemic.
Bay Area Considers Housing Options for 4 Million More Residents
San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR) investigated what it would take to house the estimated 4 million people who will move to San Francisco by 2070. The resulting report, Model Places, used land use data to assign every part of the nine-county Bay Area to one of 14 "place types" based on urban patterns that occur throughout the region--from urban spaces and residential suburbs to industrial areas and dense downtowns. To keep pace, and make the region more affordable, the Bay Area will need almost 2.2 million housing units by 2070. Among the report's key findings: roughly 84 percent of the land in the nine-county region is in rural and open space or agriculture. Twenty-six percent of that land is already protected as parks or habitat. About 75 percent of the urbanized land lies in primarily single-family residential neighborhoods, representing 69 percent of the region's total housing stock. Additionally, the kinds of dense, mixed-use areas that support walking and high-quality transit make up only 1 percent of the urbanized area but are home to 5 percent of residents and 29 percent of jobs. Attempts to overturn the ban have failed over the years, but a campaign that started last year and picked up speed with calls for ending systemic discrimination prompted a compromise: opening the park to a limited number of non-residents for a year before putting the ban to a public vote in 2022.
CP&DR Coverage: Planners Confront Wildfire Danger
California’s wildland-urban interface (WUI) — liminal zones where homes and streets give way to forests and chaparral — has expanded, largely in the forms of suburbs on the urban fringe. Research firm Corelogic estimates that, of the 10 most fire-prone metro areas in the country, seven are in California, led by the Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Diego metro areas. All told, an estimated 11 million people live in the WUI statewide. Nearly 2 million homes worth hundreds of billions of dollars are at “elevated risk” statewide. Sprawl is thus, simultaneously, the cause and victim of climate change. And those numbers are growing. Since 1993, roughly half of California’s new homes have been built in the WUI. The combination of development patterns and increased incidence of fires means that an average of 5,000 homes are lost to fires each year in California, a tenfold increase from that of the second half of the 20th century. Planners are waiting to see whether this year’s disasters prompt soul-searching.
Quick Hits & Updates
An alliance of trade groups and the high desert city of Hesperia are suing to block protections granted to western Joshua trees by state authorities. The lawsuit is not challenging the merits of whether Joshua trees should be protected. Rather, it argues that the original petition to protect the species did not meet minimum requirements of the California Endangered Species Act. The California Construction and Industrial Materials Association is the lead plaintiff.
The Better Market Street project, which envisions turning San Francisco's iconic street into a car-free thoroughfare, will still be implemented but likely in a scaled-back version. Under a new proposal, the city will keep the current curb, and bicyclists will share a lane with vehicles rather than ride on a protected sidewalk lane. The proposed changes will save the city $63 million, but it will still cost nearly $130 million.
The Los Angeles Metro Board of Directors approved a motion to delay its 605 Freeway Corridor Improvement Project, and to study alternatives that would preserve more homes. In August, Metro announced that the project would impact more than 1,200 properties - including more than 200 homes in the city of Downey.
The Port of San Diego released its Port Master Plan Update (PMPU) and is soliciting public comments until mid-November. Specifically, the plan update addresses allowable land use and activities by providing a mix of goals, policies and standards. The next step is a public board workshop to present feedback and to obtain direction on the revised update.
Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADoT) received the National Parking Association's 2020 Innovative Organisation of the Year award for innovation in its approach to parking in the city. LADoT's Community Assistance Parking Program (CAPP) allows individuals to pay off parking citations with community service or a commitment to supportive services like job training. Since 2017, 3,600 citations have been resolved via CAPP.
Major changes to a proposed light rail line between Van Nuys and northern San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles may be in the works. The final environmental impact report indicates that LA Metro is now considering building the East San Fernando Valley line in two phases due to increasing construction costs expected to total up to $2.2 billion, versus the $1.6 billion identified through local and state sources.
Conservation groups sued the City of Santee for approving Fanita Ranch, a 2,600-acre housing development that would put 3,000 homes in an area designated as a "very high fire hazard severity zone," by CalFire. In addition to the fire danger, the plaintiffs cite concerns about the projects impacts on sensitive species and wildlife connectivity; the site is designated critical habitat for multiple "threatened and rare species.”
A coalition of government agencies and environmental groups has completed an $18 million deal to purchase Tilton Ranch, an 1861-acre property in South Coyote Valley near Morgan Hill. The region has been a flashpoint for battles between developers and open space advocates dating back to the 1980s, but now the property will be preserved for wildlife habitat, hiking, horse riding, and mountain biking.
California emitted 425 million metric tones of carbon dioxide in 2018, about 1 million more than 2017, an Air Resources Board inventory found. The uptick in 2018 was mostly due to a decrease in the use of hydroelectric power due to dryer conditions in the winter of 2017-18, said a board spokesman, who said that was partially compensated by increases in solar generation and other green measures.
California house prices hit their fourth consecutive record high after a 17.6 percent year-over-year gain. The median sales price for an existing single-family house in California was $712,430 in September versus $605,680 a year earlier. Realtor groups say historically low mortgage rates and the pandemic's push to own larger living spaces are fueling the rise in home prices.
The Oakland City Council unanimously approved a controversial policy that prohibits homeless people from encamping within 50 feet of playgrounds, parks, sports fields, places of worship, schools, houses, or businesses. Beginning in January, if encampments are shut down, people will be offered a temporary shelter bed and 72 hours notice before an encampment is removed.
The Walnut Creek City Council approved "Rethinking Mobility," a transportation strategy plan aimed at increasing the use of BART, ride sharing apps, dockless scooters, bicycles, and the city's bus network. Among the plan's 13 goals are working with businesses to offer special discounts for transit riders, adding dedicated bus lanes, adding more amenities for cyclists, and reducing the number of parking spaces required for new housing developments.