San Mateo Ruling Could Limit Effectiveness of Housing Accountability Act
Renter and housing advocacy groups’ efforts to sue the city of San Mateo were stymied by a judge’s ruling that San Mateo did not violate SB 167, Housing Accountability Act (HAA), when the city rejected a condominium development proposal on the grounds the project violated the city’s multi-family design guidelines. In a petition to the judge, plaintiffs San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation and California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund— YIMBY groups that have waged a campaign to “sue the suburbs” for more housing -- argued the San Mateo rejected the proposal on subjective, discretionary grounds --a precedent that would allow cities to reinterpret guidelines as a pretext to prevent new developments, precisely the outcome HAA is designed to forestall. The judge disagreed, calling the city’s guidelines objective, and said ruling against the city would be a sweeping negation of local agency discretion, interfering with the city’s core decision-making abilities and violating the home rule doctrine of the California Constitution. A petitioner wrote, “California’s housing shortage is a statewide catastrophic failure of local decisions over the last half century, that negatively impacts millions of Californians. Local decisions on housing development have been a major factor in preventing new housing to alleviate the shortage, so each local decision to disapprove of a development adds up to increased rents around the region.” The mayor noted this is San Mateo's first development proposal rejection in 30 years.
Sacramento Area Transportation, Sustainability Plans Receive Approvals
The Sacramento Area Council of Governments received federal approval for its 2020 Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (MTP/SCS). The plan invests $35 billion into transportation by 2040 to accommodate projected growth of 620,000 new people, 270,000 new jobs and 260,000 new homes.In a separate action, both the SACOG board and California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (CDHC) have approved SACOG’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation Methodology. This year those allocations increased significantly. The CDHC commended SACOG for its methodology, calling it “clear and transparent.” “We are delighted that our Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy has been unanimously approved by the SACOG board. This plan lays the groundwork for the Sacramento region to prosper over the next 20 years by growing sustainably and making smart investments in our transportation network to help all people get to where they want to go more easily,” said James Corless, SACOG’s executive director.
Homelessness Dominates Concerns of Los Angeles Residents
Homelessness and housing affordability top the list of Los Angeles’ most serious problems, according to a Los Angeles Times poll. Ninety-five percent of voters said homelessness was a serious or very serious problem; eighty-seven percent said housing affordability was a serious problem. By contrast, between 2% and 7% of voters said homelessness should be a top priority in 2005, and housing affordability didn't make the top five most important issues. Focus groups shed light on voter attitudes: “It’s all over L.A.,” said Justine Marine, a student who participated in a focus group. “You can be in a good neighborhood, and it could be right around the corner. You can’t escape it.” Veteran pollster Peter Hart said, "people are living with this on a daily basis. It's very direct and personal. It's not like crime, where people say it happened in this neighborhood or another part of town." Thirty-eight percent of respondents indicated homelessness or housing insecurity touched their lives personally or through someone they know. This year alone, homelessness increased by 12 percent to 59,000 in Los Angeles County and 16 percent in Los Angeles to 36,000. While those polled broadly agreed lack of affordable housing contributes significantly to the problem, many are skeptical and frustrated with the government’s inability to provide adequate shelter. Sixty-six percent of respondents said the Proposition HHH bond measure and the Measure H sales increase had been spent “ineffectively,” and 41 percent doubted Los Angeles could address the problem.
Business Group Devises $4.2 Billion Investment Plan for Fresno
At the California Economic Summit in Fresno, the Central Valley Community Foundation announced a 10-year investment plan to attract $4.2 billion in public, private and philanthropic investments to revitalize Fresno. The initiative, named Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy (D.R.I.V.E.) is comprised of 18 projects, many of which focus on infrastructure and housing. Specifically, the plan calls for expanding the University of California San Francisco Fresno campus, building a 6,000-acre industrial park, an 11-mile transit corridor in north and central Fresno, and 12,000 affordable housing units. The initiative also calls for low- or no-interest loans for 20,000 minority households. Investment targets are $5.3 million investment in transportation/transit and 3.8 million affordable housing from public and private sources. As one of the fastest growing regions in the United States with 20 percent population growth since 2000, Fresno ranks last among 59 major cities in economic and racial disparity according to the Urban Institute.
San Francisco Considers Vacancy Tax for Commercial Properties
Commercial property landlords in San Francisco may have to pay a ‘vacancy tax’ for storefronts that are vacant for more than 182 days at a time. If the tax measure passes in March, the fee would start in 2021 at $250 per linear foot, rise to $500 in 2022 and then double to $1,000 for each year after that. Landlords would be allowed to apply for exemptions, such as after a disaster or if they are making improvements to the property, and the tax would apply only to the city’s 30 or so neighborhood commercial corridors. “We’ve been grappling with the issue for years and … it seems like nothing has been all that effective,” said Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee. The author of the proposal says a few “bad actors” are keeping buildings empty to inflate rent prices. Landlords disagree: “You can’t make us more motivated to fill that space than we already are,” said a local real estate investor, and an investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle found that many small business owners say San Francisco’s high cost of doing business are why businesses are moving out of San Francisco in the first place.
CARB Releases Guidelines for Sustainable Communities Strategies
The Air Resources Board staff released the Final Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) Program and Evaluation Guidelines, along with staff’s response to comments received. These Guidelines outline how CARB evaluates Metropolitan Planning Organization’s SCSs pursuant to the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (SB 375). The initial draft guidelines were released in early December 2018 and discussed in a public workshop on December 12, 2018 in Sacramento with satellite locations at Fresno and Los Angeles. In late March 2019, a second draft of the guidelines was released and a public workshop was held on April 3, 2019 in Sacramento to discuss comments received and CARB’s response to comments. In mid-September 2019, a final draft of the guidelines was released to solicit feedback on changes made to the Guidelines. Over the three week comment period, CARB received thirteen comment letters. Responses to comments are also released along with the Final SCS Program and Evaluation Guidelines.
Quick Hits & Updates
The Compton City Council announced a new land use and development specific plan for the 760 acres surrounding its Artesia train station. According to the plan draft, the area will go from large commercial tracts of warehouses and vehicle retailers to small blocks, and include up to one million square feet of new development with 4,803 housing units, 219,187 square feet of retail space, 129,000 square feet of cultural facilities and 217,073 square feet of office space. Parks, paseos, and a restored creek are also part of the plan.
The Gaslamp Quarter Association submitted a proposal to San Diego city officials to create an eight-block “pedestrian plaza” modeled off the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. If implemented, several blocks of Fifth Avenue would be closed to car traffic. The $40 million project has support from the district’s council member and the Circulate San Diego Director of Policy.
The Anaheim City Council voted against making the Angel Stadium appraisal public and against a 30-day review of a final lease proposal. Mayor Harry Sidhu claims the proposals have already been vetted by the Council and no further review is necessary, but dissenters argue there’s a difference of hundreds of millions of dollars depending on how the eventual deal is structured, whether around enumerated or unenumerated land. The team’s net profit is estimated at $19 million a year. Under the current agreement, the city has netted $1.6 million from the stadium in the past nine years.
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to double a fee on office development from $28.57 to $69.90 per square foot on large office developments. Biotech and smaller developments received special consideration and lower increases, but their fees will roughly double as well. Fee revenues are expected to total $385 million over the next five years, and will go toward affordable housing. The city expects a modest downturn in office space development and for development costs to increase by 6 percent.
The San Jose City Council is expected to approve a $93 million deal to purchase 937 acres in Coyote Valley. The city’s general plan allowed for up to 30,000 jobs there that will now need to be moved elsewhere, city planners say, but have not put forward alternative locations. San Jose will retain ownership of 296 acres, and the rest will go to the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority. Restoration plans and trail construction are projected to take 10 years and cost more than $100 million from a mix of public and private funds.
Despite significant pushback from community residents, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved a 193-unit development in the Excelsior on Ocean Avenue The four-to-six story residential structure will be comprised of 193 homes, a 6,000-square-foot childcare facility and 121 underground parking spaces. A community group and critics of the plan claim the city bypassed appropriate review processes and with only 25 percent of units priced below market rate, the project exacerbates growing gentrification in the area.
Despite increased tourism in recent years, approximately one-third of parking spaces in downtown Santa Monica remain empty at peak times. The data is from nine parking structures and the Main library parking lot in downtown Santa Monica. Five years ago there were 1,100 spaces available during the city’s busiest hours. Now that number is 1,800, raising questions as to whether downtown space is being utilized efficiently.
The Los Angeles Transportation Department revoked the license of Uber’s motorized bike and scooter subsidiary Jump. Uber has until Friday to appeal the suspension, after which it can no longer rent electric scooters and bicycles. The permit limits how many vehicles Uber may have in circulation and bars them from riding in restricted areas. Los Angeles officials claim Uber violated the permit by refusing to share data necessary to determine whether the company was complying with city regulations.
A Superior Court Judge ruled the Los Angeles Clippers will be allowed to build their proposed Inglewood stadium without having the city-owned land vetted as a potential site for affordable housing. The ruling essentially blocks affordable housing and park developers from bidding on the land. A community group sued last year, claiming the city violated the California Surplus Act, but the 22-acre site--acquired with Federal Aviation Administration’s grant money--is under the LAX flight path. The judge’s ruling is in line with the FAA’s opposition to residential redevelopment in that area due to noise exposure.
The Army Corps of Engineers reports alarm after studying a dam that protects Victorville, Hesperia, Apple Valley and Barstow. Dam failure would endanger 16,000 people and $1.5 billion in property as many as 100 miles away, engineers who are calling for structural improvements including raising the dam, hardening the dam, or both. Experts say these findings and recommendations are especially urgent as climate change increases risk of severe storms.
The Los Angeles City Council is taking steps to protect renters in a one-mile radius of new market-rate and “luxury” residential developments.The council member who motioned for the proposal argued that new developments often strengthen a neighborhood’s economy but negatively impact its residents. Proposed protections (the ordinance has not yet been drafted) include requiring new developments to reserve 30 percent or more units to Section 8 renters, a three-year cap on rent increases around new projects, and a website that would help tenants find affordable housing opportunities in their neighborhoods.
Jeffrey Tumlin, founding director of Oakland’s department of transportation and current Director of Strategy at Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, will be the new director of San Francisco Metro Transit Authority, According to the mayor’s office, Tumlin will be focused primarily on public transportation and on delivering safer streets beginning Dec. 16. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
In conjunction with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Democratic California representatives Jesus Garcia and Mark Takano launched the Future of Transportation Caucus. According to a press release, the new caucus is “dedicated to creating a vision for the future of our transportation system that emphasizes equity, access, and sustainability.” The caucus will hold briefings and forums to generate awareness and policy discussions. Four of the 21 rank-and-file caucus members are California representatives: Jared Huffman, Alan Lowenthal, Mark DeSaulnier, and Gil Cisneros.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a higher fee for developers that according to estimates will raise $400 million for affordable housing within ten years. The proposed fee hikes met resistance, but a graduated fee schedule secured broad support for the measure. Buildings approved before Sept. 10 will pay $52.50 per square foot; between Sept.11 and Jan. 1, 2021, $60.90 per square foot; and after January 1, $69.60 per square foot.