San Diego Region Retreats from Mileage Tax
The San Diego Association of Governments has committed to exclude a regional road user charge, or "mileage tax," from its 30-year planning documents. In a 15-4 vote, the SANDAG board eliminated the controversial per-mile driving fee from consideration in the 2025 Regional Plan and future plans, preventing agency staff and board members from pursuing legislation to implement the charge. Initially part of SANDAG's long-term vision, the local road user charge aimed to supplement dwindling gas tax revenue and reduce emissions. It would have been one of the first, if not the only, such tax in the country. The current transportation plan, adopted in 2021, envisioned charging drivers 3.3 cents per mile by 2030 but is in the process of removing the fee. The recent board action aims to prevent the charge from resurfacing in the 2025 Regional Plan, with concerns raised about fairness, privacy, environmental impact and the high cost of living in San Diego. Despite the vote, it remains uncertain if the action is legally enforceable, leaving the door open for future reconsideration.

Environmental Justice Advocates Settle with at Oakland Port
California Attorney General Rob Bonta negotiated a settlement with the Port of Oakland and Eagle Rock Aggregates, Inc. regarding the planned construction of a new 18-acre marine terminal less than one mile from the West Oakland community. Known as the Eagle Rock Aggregates Terminal project, the marine terminal will be used for aggregate stockpiling and distribution. In August, Bonta intervened in a lawsuit filed by the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), a local environmental justice organization, alleging that the Port's approval of the Eagle Rock project on February 24, 2022 violated CEQA in several ways. Through settlement negotiations the parties agreed to binding commitments to mitigate the Eagle Rock project’s air quality impacts and provide other benefits for West Oakland residents, including dust control measures and electrification.

Study Analyzes Patterns, Policies of Transit Oriented Development
A recent study by UC Berkeley's Terner Center for Housing Innovation analyzed housing near transit. The study, authored by Yonah Freemark, found, despite rising housing costs and limited federal support for housing, national policy can still play a role in financing new projects and laying the groundwork for investments, including land acquisition and site preparations. Transportation can be leveraged to enhance housing access, whether by concentrating housing near existing transit, building new transit near housing concentrations, or planning both concurrently. While federal policies aim to link transportation and housing, the success of integrated planning relies on engaged state and local governments, which have the authority to allocate limited affordable housing funds, prioritize transit investments and control land-use policies crucial for new residential development. The study concluded that, despite previous shortcomings in encouraging concentrated housing near public transportation, the new federal infrastructure funding presents an opportunity for cities and states to promote dense, accessible housing near transit stations, offering benefits such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions, integrated neighborhoods, preservation of natural land and lower overall living costs for households across the nation.

Report: Small Multifamily Projects Need Financial Incentives, Assistance
A paper out of UCLA's Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies for the San Francisco Planning Department studied the financial feasibility of 5-to-10 unit projects in majority single-family zoned areas in San Francisco and Los Angeles, concluding that Senate Bill 9 (SB 9) does not allow enough density on single-family zoned parcels for financial feasibility. Currently, SB 9 allows for up to four units per single-family land parcel. The study additionally supports the increasingly-popular single-stair or vertical shared access building codes for three stories and above residential buildings to encourage more affordable development without sacrificing fire safety. Another suggestion is a partial property tax abatement and subsidy program, concluding an 80 percent property tax abatement allowed the greatest reduction in observed financial feasibility gaps for 5- and 10-unit projects. Additionally, for nonprofit or small-scale developers, State-supported financing options would also reduce financial feasibility gaps. At a local level, revising regulations, implementing fee waivers and capping fees for development projects under 11 units, incentivizing shared ownership, streamlining the permitting process and supporting community-based coalitions could contribute to meaningful housing development progess. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

CP&DR Coverage: Fulton on This Year's Legislative Trends
A dozen land use bills related to housing have landed in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, and he has until mid-October to sign or veto them. That’s become the norm in the last few years in Sacramento. But there’s a pretty good argument that the Legislature is beginning to run out of things to do on housing – unless the lawmakers are willing to take on the California Environmental Quality Act. Bill Fulton writes that CEQA reform still has a ways to go. But, the legislature's recent efforts to expand ministerial decisions may be running out of steam.

Quick Hits & Updates

Mountain House is closer to becoming San Joaquin County's eighth city following an unanimous vote from the county's Local Agency Formation Commission, approving the incorporation of the county-governed community services district. The next step involves a vote by Mountain House residents in March 2024, with the potential benefits of incorporation including increased control over local governance, access to state and federal funding for infrastructure and the retention of property tax and sales tax dollars within the town.

The Los Angeles County city of Pico Rivera, under the Pico Rivera 2035 initiative, is advocating for a new commuter rail station and a 26-mile north-south bus rapid transit line as part of a larger effort to redevelop industrial land. The initiative aims to create a downtown hub, emphasizing micro electric vehicle production, and the proposed BRT line, backed by local, state and federal funds, is a central feature of the plan, with construction anticipated between 2029 and 2032.

One year after the Riverside County Transportation Commission adopted plans for a $1 billion passenger rail line connecting the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles, $5 million worth of funding is beginning to materialize through the federal Fiscal Year 2024 Transportation/HUD Appropriations bill. The proposed 144-mile rail line would use existing tracks, linking Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley, with plans for up to five new stations in Riverside County and a construction timeline potentially beginning within 10 years of completing the environmental study.

The Turlock City Council abandoned plans for a project involving 50 apartments made from shipping containers, reversing its decision due to a shift in program requirements that necessitate permanent housing rather than transitional. The project, seeking a $9.95 million state grant for the South Walnut Road initiative to serve seniors and veterans at risk of homelessness, faced opposition from nearby businesses and criticism for its high cost per unit, leading to the unanimous decision to rescind the proposal.

The Sacramento City Council's Law and Legislation Committee is leaning toward allowing cannabis consumption lounges as part of a pilot program, with a formal resolution expected in early 2024. The proposal, supported by three out of four committee members, aims to create legal spaces for cannabis use, particularly addressing challenges faced by renters and providing an alternative to smoking in private vehicles. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

The Baylands project, a 660-acre carbon-neutral community on the San Francisco-Brisbane border, is set to resume construction after pandemic-related delays. The redevelopment includes plans for nearly 4,000 homes, 6.5 million square feet of commercial space, 90 acres of solar panels, and 140 acres of parks. The development aims to be a "15-minute city," emphasizing walkability, biking and sustainability. Construction on the first phase is expected to begin next year, including 594 housing units, parks and retail space.

The Imperial County Local Agency Formation Commission has agreed to provide the City of El Centro with a proper California Environmental Quality Act process, including a comment period for a Negative Declaration, following an injunction hearing. Although the City's injunction request was unsuccessful, the primary intent was to ensure that LAFCO adheres to CEQA guidelines in its feasibility study for the expansion application by Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District, which includes annexing El Centro Regional Medical Center.

Vital Signs, an interactive website created by MTC/ABAG, serves as a comprehensive monitoring initiative in the San Francisco Bay Area. Led by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), this collaborative effort provides data, visualizations and contextualized narratives across various categories, such as land use, transportation, the environment, the economy, and equity, enabling users to analyze historical trends, regional variations and comparisons with peer metropolitan areas.

The National Park Service received legal approval to continue thinning trees and vegetation in Yosemite National Park as part of its prescribed burning projects. This decision comes after the Earth Island Institute filed a lawsuit in June 2022 against the park service, temporarily halting biomass removal and tree thinning efforts, claiming them to be commercial logging; however, the court dismissed the challenges, and the park service's projects will proceed to protect the park's natural resources and communities from wildfires.

Despite warnings from environmentalists and the state attorney general about worsening air pollution in West Oakland, the city's port has approved a 12-year lease for the construction of a sand and gravel plant by Eagle Rock Aggregates. The lease is expected to generate millions of dollars in annual revenue for the port, but concerns persist about the environmental impact on an area already suffering from disproportionately high air pollution and health issues.

The City of Sacramento is facing a lawsuit from the Sacramento County District Attorney accusing the city of not doing enough to remove homeless people from the streets, leading to a "collapse into chaos." Homelessness in California has become a significant issue, with more than 170,000 people homeless in the state, accounting for about one-third of the nation's homeless population. The lawsuit reflects growing frustration with homeless camps and progressive policies that have complicated their removal, despite the state's efforts to address the crisis.