The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is making progress in its policy development, fiscal and project planning, and monitoring, but the agency could make more improvements, according to a detailed, 79-page report by the state auditor.

The report follows a 2004 county grand jury report that was strongly critical of VTA for failing to make significant progress on an extension of BART to San Jose, and a 2007 VTA-hired consulting study that recommended an overhaul of the authority's organizational structure and practices because the authority had relied on overly optimistic revenue forecasts. The latest report, requested by three South Bay lawmakers, concluded, "The collection of VTA accomplishments and remaining deficiencies indicates an organization striving for a high standard but still requiring some changes to reach it."

Specifically, the state auditor found that VTA — which provides transportation planning and transit services — has been without a comprehensive strategic plan "since at least 2006" and an interim plan "did not demonstrate one cohesive direction." The auditor also found that VTA has moved forward on projects without securing full capital and operational funding.

In November, Santa Clara County voters are scheduled to consider a VTA-backed, one-eighth-cent sales tax to provide additional money for the long-planned BART extension from Fremont to San Jose.

The report is available on the state auditor's website,

The third and apparently final report by the state auditor on the Department of Corrections' plan to build a new death row at San Quentin concludes that the department may as well go ahead with the project — or not.

State Auditor Elaine Howle in 2004 urged Corrections to investigate alternative sites for a new death row, a recommendation the agency ignored, and earlier this year she reported project construction costs had jumped from an originally estimated $220 million to $395 million (see CP&DR In Brief, July 2008; Public Development, April 2005). Observers expected Howle to recommend a different site for the project, but in the latest report she concluded that using one of three potential alternative sites in Folsom, Vacaville or San Diego would actually increase construction and 20-year operational costs by about $400 million because the project would be six years behind the San Quentin project's schedule.

However, Howle also found the state could sell the San Quentin land for between $45 million and $118 million, and could save $93 million in operating costs if it delayed the San Quentin project by five years.

The death row project is important in Marin County, where there is wide support for using the 40-acre site for a new ferry terminal.

All three death row reports are available on the state auditor's website,

What would be the largest ocean desalination plant in the United States cleared its final regulatory hurdle in late August, when the State Lands Commission approved Poseidon Resource's plan to co-lease the ocean intake and outfall at the Encina power plant at Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad. The State Lands Commission's 3-0 vote followed by two weeks the Coastal Commission's 10-2 decision on final permit conditions for the desalination project.

Poseidon plans to provide 50 million gallons of fresh water per day — equal to 56,000 acre-feet annually, or about 9% of San Diego County's current need — by desalinating water used for cooling at the power plant. Once the power plant completed a switch to an air-cooled system, Poseidon would take water directly from the sea. The cities of Carlsbad and Oceanside and seven special districts have signed up to be Poseidon customers.

The Surfrider Foundation and the Planning and Conservation League have sued the Coastal Commission, arguing that the project's impacts have not been adequately addressed. Of specific concern are greenhouse gas emissions from the desalination plant. Poseidon argued, and the Coastal Commission agreed, that through offsets and reduced pumping to San Diego County by the Metropolitan Water District, the plant would be carbon-neutral. Environmentalists argue that the plant will not reduce Metropolitan's activities at all.

Plans are pending for approximately 20 other desalination plants along the coast.

A proposed suburban development in Hercules officially died only weeks after the City Council backed a dense, multi-use development concept elsewhere in town.

The Muir Heritage Land Trust announced in August it had agreed to purchase 423 acres in Franklin Canyon, east of Interstate 80, for $1.8 million. Franklin Canyon was the site of numerous development proposals, including a 2002 plan for 577 single-family houses and a commercial center. The proposal was not popular and Hercules voters in November 2004 approved an initiative that zoned the land for 40-acre parcels.

A developer-sponsored initiative for a different part of town will not even make it to the ballot because the City Council simply adopted it. The "Waterfront Now" initiative amends the general plan and rezones about 50 acres for 1,200 residential units, retail development, offices, "flex space" and 10 acres of parks. The development would be adjacent  to a planned station for the Amtrak Capitol Corridor and a ferry to San Francisco. The city still must approve development details. Hercules has been pursuing new urbanist development on its waterfront for years (see CP&DR Local Watch, August 2001) but developers grew frustrated with the slow pace of progress.

New fast-food restaurants have been banned for one year from a 32-square-mile portion of the City of Los Angeles south of downtown. The moratorium was backed by Councilwoman Jan Perry and public health advocates who argue that local residents lack healthy eating options. Perry noted that a larger percentage of the area's children are obese than in the city as a whole.

The moratorium defines a fast-food restaurant as a business that sells food for consumption on and off the premises, has a limited menu, sells items prepared in advance or that may be heated quickly, dispenses food in disposable packaging, and provides no table service.

McDonald's, Carl's Jr. and some mom-and-pop restaurant owners objected to the moratorium, saying they were being unfairly regulated. While the ban is in place, city officials hope to lure sit-down restaurants with healthier menus to the area. The city may extend the restriction for up to two years.

The City of San Jose is considering a similar fast-food moratorium, although the measure faces opposition from Mayor Chuck Reed.