Bay Area Adopts $1.5 Trillion Regional Vision for 2050
The Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission adopted Plan Bay Area 2050 and its associated Environmental Impact Report. The unanimous votes by both boards cap a nearly four-year process during which more than 20,000 Bay Area residents contributed to the development of the new plan. Defined by 35 strategies for housing, transportation, economic vitality and the environment, Plan Bay Area 2050 lays out a $1.4 trillion vision for policies and investments to make the nine-county region more affordable, connected, diverse, healthy and economically vibrant for all its residents through 2050 and beyond. Housing strategies would produce roughly 400,000 new permanently affordable homes by 2050 and seeks to preserve another half-million permanently affordable homes. Transportation strategies include transit-fare reforms that would reduce cost burdens for riders with low incomes, and the plan's economic development strategy seeks paths to economic mobility through job training and a universal basic income. With a focus on climate change, strategies also are crafted for resilience against future uncertainties, including protection from hazards such sea-level rise and wildfires. Among the features that distinguish Plan Bay Area 2050 from previous regional plans is an associated Implementation Plan that details the specific actions ABAG and MTC can take in the next five years to put the new plan into action. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

S.F. Supervisors' Rejection of Apartment Complex Draws Criticism, Investigation
The Department of Housing and Community Development is looking into the legality of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' decision to deny a previously approved 495-unit apartment complex, with 118 affordable units, in the city's SoMa neighborhood near the Powell Street BART station. The property is currently a department store parking lot. The board upheld, 8-3, an appeal of the proposal, maintaining that the project's 1,129-page environmental review was inadequate and needed to be revised. Critics have called the development "a monster" and claim that it does not include enough affordable housing and that it will cast unduly intrusive shadows at certain times of day. These arguments have been lambasted by many supporters of HCD Director Gustavo Velasquez is considering whether the board violated the Housing Accountability Act or the California Environmental Quality Act. The city is divided on the project, with Mayor London Breed criticizing the board's decision, while numerous community members are concerned that the project will drive gentrification in the low-income neighborhood because most of the units are market-rate.

Concord Approves Developer for Massive Base Redevelopment
Concord City Council unanimously approved to make the Seeno family's Discovery Builders the new developer of the Concord Naval Weapons Station's redevelopment project. The group will now be in charge of constructing 13,000 homes and millions of square feet of office and retail space on the 2,300-acre property. Moving forward, Seeno companies and the city will decide on finances and a more specific plan for the site's redevelopment, which could span the next few decades. If the environmental report shows no major concerns, the Navy will likely transfer the land to the city in the next two years. Meanwhile, environmental groups and housing advocates are continuing to fight the proposal and the council members who approved it. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Judge Blocks Housing Developments in Fire-Prone Area of San Diego County
A series of rural housing developments planned for areas at high risk to wildfires in San Diego County will not move forward after a San Diego superior court judge blocked the proposal. Judge Richard S. Whitney sided with the Sierra Club and many other environmental organizations with the support of California Attorney General Rob Bonta. The Jackson Pendo Development Company submitted a plan to construct 1,119 upscale homes, retail shops, an elementary school, and a fire station on multiple unconnected parcels on Proctor Valley Road, east of Chula Vista and south of Jamul. Judge Whitney found that the development, named Adara at Otay Ranch, raised greenhouse gas, wildfire, and affordable housing concerns. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors originally approved the plan in 2019 alongside local firefighters.

Coverage: Cities Look to Commercial, Mall Conversions to Meet Housing Goals
Cities, developers, and lawmakers are trying to figure out whether there might be a common solution to the housing crisis and the pandemic-related work-from-home phenomenon: Can excess office and retail space be used for housing? Many cities in California’s major urban areas, where housing pressures are most acute, are being required through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation program to zone for significant numbers of additional units. This year, lawmakers advanced several bills meant to promote the use of property currently zoned for commercial uses. The American Planning Association endorsed those bills in part because they would help cities meet those RHNA goals. Mapping and research firm Urban Footprint estimated that SB 6 – which would have allowed for residential development on virtually all commercial properties statewide – would have created a zoned capacity for 14.2 million units and that 14% of those units would be market-feasible, for a potential 2 million units.

Quick Hits & Updates 

While the Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to develop the Oakland A's waterfront ballpark at Howard Terminal, obstacles for completing the project remain. Their 4-1 approval is non-binding, the final environmental report is yet to be completed, and the board and the team still have to agree on a public financing plan and development agreement.

Santa Ana is the first Orange County city to put rent control into law after decades of housing advocacy matched by objections from landlords and developers. Landlords will not be allowed to increase rent by more than 3% each year, and tenants will now be more protected against eviction threats. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

The Palo Alto City Council voted 5-2 to increase the cost of building commercial and research and development projects in order to pay for affordable housing construction. The city's impact fees will increase from $39.50 to $68.50 per square foot.

Opponents of California High Speed Rail are urging a state appeals court to squash the project by denying billions in bond funds for construction, which has already begun in Fresno County and the central Joaquin Valley. The court will decide if a piece of 2016 legislation contradicts Proposition 1A, which approved a $9.9 billion bond for the project.

The San Diego Association of Governments is proposing to make public transportation free while charging a per-mile fee to drivers as soon as 2030. The $160 billion idea includes sectioning off highway lanes for buses and carpools and expanding a high-speed transit system.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences from UC Berkeley School Professor Joshua Apte proves that air pollution levels between city blocks vary depending on proximity to emission sources, including automobiles, factories, and power plants. Their findings further understandings of an intersection between racial and environmental injustice, as high air pollution levels are found not just in communities but city blocks primarily populated by people of color.

New research published by Patrick Adler and Richard Florida that analyzes the geographic origins of "urban tech" start-up enterprises suggests that their locations depend on both the amount of existing tech action and the size of metro areas. According to "The Rise of Urban Tech: How Innovation for Cities Come from Cities," urban tech firms are largely concentrated in specialized tech hubs, like San Francisco, or large cities, like New York and Beijing largely because of their potential for expanding innovation.

Proposed walls to protect residents from sea level rise in San Mateo County might cause severe floods, according to a new study from the Stanford Natural Capital Project. As sea levels could rise by 7 feet in the next 80 years in the Bay Area, many officials are looking to walls or levees as a defense mechanism. Researchers found that building a seawall might just cause more water to flow into communities that are not protected.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board notified Mark West Quarry that it may have to pay a $4.5 million fine for multiple violations of the Clean Water Act because they are further endangering salmon populations in tributaries of the Russian River. The operator of Mark West Quarry allegedly allowed 10.5 million gallons of highly turbid stormwater from its operations flow into Porter Creek from September 2018 through May 2019.

Young renters' real estate decisions depend heavily on price, not location, according to an analysis of a Lending Tree compilation of Census Bureau housing demographics for 50 large metropolitan areas. Young renters are more attracted to living inland, where it's about 14% less expensive to live compared to Los Angeles-Orange County.

Environmental advocates are celebrating initiatives in Sonoma County aimed at minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and urban sprawl by stopping the construction of new gas stations. The Regional Climate Protection Authority, which organizes climate goals in Sonoma County, approved a resolution asking officials to ban new gas stations, and an application for a new gas station in Santa Rosa has been withdrawn.