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CP&DR News Briefs November 5, 2019: Google Campus Details; Protecting Joshua Trees; Developer Fees; and More

Robin Glover / CP&DR Staff on
Nov 4, 2019
Google Provides More Details on Downtown San Jose Plan 
Tech giant Google submitted its first proposal for a San Jose transit village, dubbed “Downtown West.” The proposed development at the 80-acre site near Diridon Station would create add a massive transit oriented development to the growing area near the tech headquarters. Plans include 6.5 million square feet of office space; up to 300 hotel rooms; 3,000 to 5,000 residential units; 300,000 to 500,000 square feet of commercial and active uses; event center space totaling 100,000 square feet; and up to 800 rooms for short-term Google employee visits. Diridon Station will grow in the coming years, too: in addition to its current Caltrain, Amtrak, ACE, and Capitol Corridor services, it expects to add a BART station and potentially a high-speed rail line. The project has generated mixed reactions from the community: many city council members celebrate the boon to the local economy and the construction of much-needed units. However, groups like Silicon Valley Rising have said that Google needs to do more to address the potential displacement of existing San Jose residents as local housing prices rise. Both the San Jose Planning Commission and the city council will conduct planning, environmental, and policy reviews, and vote on the proposal in late 2020. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Environmentalists Seek Protection for Joshua Trees
The Center for Biological Diversity will ask the California Fish and Game Commission to designate the western Joshua Tree as threatened under the Endangered Species Act – a designation that would curb development on thousands of acres of private desert property. The petition argues that populations of the species are “likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future,” without special protection and management. Warmer, drier conditions have been hurting the species, which can live for as long as 200 years. Recent studies show that Joshua trees have almost all stopped reproducing, and that the range of Joshua trees is contracting. In Joshua Tree National Park, an estimated 2.5 million Joshua trees will likely lose upward of 90 percent of their current range in coming decades if warmer, drier conditions continue. In 2015, the conservation group WildEarth Guardians similarly petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list Joshua trees as threatened – and the service found the listing unwarranted. Conservation Director of the Center for Biological Diversity Brendan Cummings sees that rejection as a partisan result. “Given the failures of the federal government on climate change generally, and the Joshua Tree specifically,” he told the Los Angeles Times “action by California remains the best hope of saving this iconic species from extinction.”

Developer Fees Impede Construction Statewide 
High developer fees slow housing construction statewide, according to a new report released by the state Department of Housing and Community Development and the UC Berkeley Terner Center. The study was part of 2017 legislation that aims to identify how state lawmakers could cut fees on new homebuilding. Similarly, a 2018 U.C. Berkeley Terner Center Report found that in 2015, California’s local government fees on housing construction were nearly three times the national average. The most recent study finds that fees charged by developers statewide vary greatly per municipality, and can amount to as much as 18 percent of median home prices. However, the study also notes that local governments often depend upon these fees for infrastructure and services – in part because of property tax restrictions put in place by Proposition 13 in 1978. The study recommends that statewide legislators ask cities and counties to set standards for services and make their fees public. “At first glance, this study confirms what we have long suspected,” said Assemblyman Tim Grayson. “If we have any hope of lifting our communities out of this crisis, then our local fees must be aligned with our statewide production needs.”

Ranking California Cities’ Transit Access 
California metro areas top CityLab’s new public transportation ranking, with the San Francisco Bay Area coming in first, and the Los Angeles area landing at number ten. Notably, however, one California metro area got the second-worst ranking for public transportation: the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario area. The ranking is based on four variables: the share of households without access to their own vehicle, the share of commuters who take transit, the share of commuters who bike, and the share of commuters who walk. Data was pulled from the American Community Survey’s five-year estimates for 2017, covering all 382 of U.S. metropolitan areas. Though New York led on almost all metrics, it has a far smaller share of commuters who bike to work than most other cities. The ranking’s authors note that the top ten cities are much larger, denser, more expensive, and more congested, whereas the lowest-ranked metro areas are mainly younger, sprawling places in the Sunbelt. The authors also found that living in a car-free metro is positively correlated with the share of adults who are college graduates and the creative-class share of the workforce. Meanwhile, WalletHub ranked cities according to three key dimensions: accessibility and convenience, safety and reliability, and public transit resources. San Francisco nabbed the third-best spot for public transit, and Oakland and Los Angeles also came in high at 13th and 14th. California cities bottomed out the list as well: with Sacramento at 70th, Fresno at 79th, and Bakersfield at 87th. However, San Francisco’s number 3 rank doesn’t tell the full story: it ranked first in accessibility and convenience, indicating many people use transit, and that it’s often over capacity. But it ranked 80th in public transit resources, meaning it has fewer and older vehicles per mile traveled. 

Quick Hits & Updates
In a unanimous vote, the Los Angeles City Council approved an emergency moratorium on evictions as a stop gap measure before Assembly Bill 1482 takes effect on Jan. 1. The bill bans “no-fault” evictions and contains a provision that will cancel rent increases above the new limit 5% plus inflation rent cap, a measure Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Oct. 8. A wave of evictions in advance of the law alarmed tenant groups, prompting the emergency vote.
The North San Fernando Valley Bus Rapid Transit project, which would provide bus service from North Hollywood to Chatsworth, was considered at by the L.A. Metro board recently. The board decided to move forward with preliminary BRT studies after hearing from more than 70 speakers. Comments reflected widespread institutional support from groups including area Neighborhood Councils, Cal State Northridge groups, area healthcare institutions, climate groups, and area commerce groups. Those opposed were largely unaffiliated with formal groups. County Supervisor Shiela Kuehl, Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti were in attendance and spoke in support of the project.
As part of his "Green New Deal" for the city, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti appointed Rachel Malarich to the position of forest officer and mandated planting 90,000 new trees by the end of 2021. The project will grow what’s already the largest urban forest in the country. This project is part of the mayor’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2025. Other measures include a mandate for all new city-owned buildings to be all-electric and a goal to phase out styrofoam. 

The Coastal Commission unanimously approved Southern California Edison’s plans to dismantle the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, where canisters loaded with nuclear waste are being moved from “Wet storage” to “dry storage”. The permit will allow Edison contractors to begin removing major structures at the facility. Edison officials said the complete dismantlement will take eight to 10 years. Community members have been pushing for the dismantling of the station, which has not produced electricity since 2012 but continues to hold nuclear waste.

Los Angeles Metrolink released a report to the California High-Speed Rail Authority stating that it could double ridership, introduce zero-emission trains, and offer faster and more frequent trains – should it receive $9.4 billion in funding through 2028. These improvements to the rail lines from Burbank to Anaheim would be aimed at paving the way for the planned high-speed trains to eventually serve the corridor. The high-speed rail authority’s board will discuss the Metrolink report, as well as reports from the Central Valley and the Bay Area in Sacramento.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development announced that it wants input on implementing the Prohousing Designation Program, and has made a framework paper and survey available. The program is intended to incentivize jurisdictions to adopt policies that accelerate housing production. Prohousing jurisdictions will also be awarded additional points and preference in programs like the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities, Transformative Climate Communities, and Infill Infrastructure Grant. The paper and survey seeks feedback on HCD’s approach to prohousing policies.

A U.S. District Court judge dismissed Stanford University’s lawsuit against Santa Clara County’s affordable housing requirements. The county’s 2018 inclusionary housing ordinance requires that 16 percent of new market-rate housing units built on Stanford lands in unincorporated areas to be made affordable to low-income residents. The university sued, saying that the law was unconstitutional. However, the judge found that Stanford had not provided any basis to determine unconstitutionality. 

The Coastal Commission rejected a staff recommendation to exempt a section of Pacific Beach from San Diego’s new zero-minimum parking policy. This new policy allows developments within “transit priority areas” t build only as many parking spots that they think are necessary – including none at all. The policy also requires developers to provide transportation facilities like bike parking or bus stops, and to unbundle rental costs for parking spots from housing. Staf claimed that this reduction would reduce beach access, and recommended exempting Beach Impact Areas – but the commission sided with the city.
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