A bill that is shaping up to be one of the most far-reaching pieces of planning legislation in years has won unanimous backing from the state Senate Transportation and Housing Committee. Senate Bill 303 by Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego) would:
• Require general plan housing elements to cover a 10-year period and be updated every five years;
• Require zoning needed to carry out the first five years of the housing element be in place at the time of element adoption;
• Mandate that every element of the general plan be updated every 10 years;
• Require cities and counties to make findings regarding each identified housing site's development capacity.
• Prohibit a City Council or Board of Supervisors from rejecting or downsizing a project that is consistent with the housing element unless the council or board casts a 4/5ths vote and makes specific findings.
Local government representatives and the California Chapter of the American Planning Association have expressed serious reservations about the bill, which they say is infeasible for many local governments to implement. One question raised in a committee bill analysis concerns funding for the extensive amount of planning and environmental review that local governments would have to perform.
In a column for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Ducheny wrote, "We need to ensure that our local governments across the state are doing their part, as is already required under state law, to meet the housing demand for California, not just waiving a finger in the direction of parcels that will never realistically support the homes they're identified for."
However, the bill met significant resistance in late April at the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality, where lawmakers argued over the bill's likely impact and who would pay for implementation. Numerous amendments to SB 303 have been proposed.
The state attorney general's office has sued San Bernardino County because the county did not consider the global warming impacts of a newly adopted general plan.
The state filed the lawsuit in mid-April, days after three environmental groups filed a similar lawsuit against the county. That suit argues that the county should limit development in remote areas.
The county adopted the general plan in March after a four-year process. County officials noted that there are no state guidelines for addressing global warming in the planning process.
Prospects for a liquefied natural gas terminal off the coast of Malibu dimmed dramatically in April. First, the State Lands Commission voted 2-1 to reject an environmental impact report for the project and deny a lease of state waters for the project's pipelines. Three days later, the Coastal Commission voted unanimously to reject the EIR and project permits.
The project proponent, Australian mining company BHP Billiton, still has some recourse in court and with the federal government. Company officials have not been forthcoming about their strategy in light of the rejections and, in fact, the company refused to participate in the Coastal Commission's hearing.
Both the State Lands Commission — composed of Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, Controller John Chiang, and Deputy Finance Director Anne Sheehan, who supported the project — and the coastal panel concluded that ships and gas processing would have unacceptable impacts on air quality in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Coastal commissioners also cited likely impacts to birds and marine species.
BHP Billiton proposes a 970-foot-long, floating port 14 miles off the coast. It would process liquefied natural gas (LNG) brought in several times a week by ship (see CP&DR Environment Watch, September 2005). Supporters say there is great demand for what they call a clean-burning fossil fuel. Gov. Schwarzenegger has called LNG a "bridge" to renewable energy.
Public opposition due to pollution, impacts to wildlife and potential security threats was overwhelming at two all-day hearings. About 2,000 people rallied in opposition during the State Lands Commission meeting in Oxnard, and more than 500 people packed the Coastal Commission hearing in Santa Barbara.
The two rejections came only three months after the City of Long Beach said it would no longer consider plans from Mitsubishi and ConocoPhillips to build an LNG terminal. The city determined the proposed facility posed too much of a safety risk at the harbor. There are other LNG terminals proposed along the South Coast, but the Long Beach and BHP Billiton projects were widely seen as having the best chances of approval.
The Los Angeles City Council has greatly increased the relocation fees that property owners must pay to tenants when the property owner converts apartments to condominiums. Property owners will now have to pay tenants who have lived in their units for less than five years $6,810, while tenants of more than five years are eligible for $9,040 — both up from $3,450. Renters who are at least 62 years old, disabled or who have minor children are eligible for roughly double those amounts, up from $8,550. Renters whose income is 80% or less of median are eligible for between $9,040 and $17,080.
In a city where the majority of the 4 million residents are renters, about 12,000 apartments have been converted to condos or destroyed since 2001. Advocacy groups say that conversions are devastating to people who lose their rent-controlled apartments.
The City Council also directed planning and building officials to draft an ordinance that would prohibit demolition of rental units if the vacancy rate is less than 5% or if the cumulative effect on the rental market were significant. The council also told staff to report back within 45 days on raising impact fees to fund replacement housing.
The City of San Diego has settled a lawsuit over condominium conversions by agreeing to limit the number of conversions to 1,000 a year.
Over the last several years, the city has approved the conversion of about 17,000 apartments to condominiums. Affordable housing advocates have decried the conversions' effect on low-income renters, while supporters say the newly constituted condominiums provide entry-level units for first-time buyers (see CP&DR, January 2006).
Housing advocates sued, arguing that the city had to perform environmental review of the conversion projects. The city settled the suit in late March, and the City Council is scheduled to consider an ordinance limiting conversions this month.
A federal judge in San Francisco has struck down a rule for managing national forests and grasslands that the U.S. Forest Service adopted in 2005. District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton found the regulations invalid because the government adopted them without public review and without analyses required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.
The rule in question gave economic activity equal priority with maintaining ecological health in management plans for national forests and grasslands. The rule also sought to reduce public involvement in management plan preparation.
Environmentalists charged that the rule would ease drilling and logging restrictions while slashing protections for flora and fauna. An appeal to the Ninth U.S. Circuit of Appeals is likely.
The case is Citizens for Better Forestry v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, No. 05-1144.
The Baldwin Hills Conservancy should remain in business for another five years, according to a Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) recommendation.
In 2000, state lawmakers created the conservancy for a two-square-mile area where the cities of Los Angeles, Inglewood and Culver City converge. The area has been, and portions remain, an oil field, so there is no urban development. Lawmakers charged the conservancy with facilitating the acquisition of open space and parkland, and enhancing wildlife habitat.
The LAO found that the conservancy has funded or facilitated public acquisition of 155 acres, coordinated recreational and educational programs, and worked well with local government and interest groups. But there is more work to be done. About 655 acres of privately owned open space remain available for potential public acquisition, and most newly acquired lands have not been developed for public use or habitat, according to the LAO.
The conservancy is scheduled to sunset on January 1, 2008. AB 3 (Bass) would extend the conservancy indefinitely, although the LAO recommended only a five-year extension.
The LAO's report is available at: www.lao.ca.gov.
Pasadena has approved a redevelopment proposal for a portion of the Ambassador College campus after years of planning and conflict. The proposed project by developer Dorn Platz on 20 acres of the former 49-acre campus calls for 248 senior and assisted living units in a six-story building, 70 condominiums, the reconfiguring of existing apartments and dormitories into 46 apartments, and retrofitting historic buildings for educational, institutional and office uses.
Formerly the home of the Worldwide Church of God, the property was sold for development in 1999. Just west of thriving Old Pasadena, the site is considered extremely valuable by developers, city officials and historic preservation advocates. Two earlier proposals for 1,900 and 1,435 housing units met extreme hostility from residents, who argued in favor of preserving the site's extensive gardens and lawns, and its historic structures.
Dorn Platz acquired 20 acres in 2004 and took a new run at development. The project approved in April preserves nearly three-fourths of the site as open space, including the 2.1-acre "great lawn" that the developer will donate for a city park.
Gangi Development has broken ground on a 26-unit mixed-use project in Glendora's downtown village, the first project of its kind in at least 50 years in the San Gabriel Valley city. In addition to the condominiums, the project will contain about 6,000-square-feet of office and retail space, and 69 parking spaces.
The city's redevelopment agency assembled the 48,000-square-foot parcel, which had been the site of four houses and vacant property, said Al Lavin, the city's redevelopment manager. The city then solicited proposals from developers before choosing Gangi, who purchased the property for $500,000.
The project provides the first housing in Glendora's downtown village. "We have some substantial residential around it, but no residential encroaching into the downtown commercial area," Lavin said.
A former councilman in the City of Colma pleaded guilty in April to two counts of mail fraud as part of a plea agreement that recommends an 18-month prison sentence.
Philip Lum Jr. admitted that he accepted numerous airline tickets to the Philippines from the Lucky Chances Casino in 1999 and 2000. Lum did not report the tickets on disclosure forms and later voted for permits for the card room.
Another former councilman, Ronald Maldonado, has admitted under oath that he also failed to report airline tickets provided by the casino. A hearing in his case is scheduled for June, while Lum's formal sentencing is set for July.