A freeze on processing general plan amendments, rezones and development projects in Bakersfield has apparently been lifted before it got started. City Manager Alan Tandy had proposed the freeze in response to a building industry lawsuit filed in early August that sought to block an increase in regional traffic impact fees.
The City Council said it would not freeze the development review process. But city officials warned that any approved project could be vulnerable to a California Environmental Quality Act challenge while the fee lawsuit is pending. That's because potential opponents of a project could argue that its effects on traffic congestion would not be fully mitigated without the higher fee.
Kern County hiked the regional transportation impact fee from about $7,000 nearly $13,000 in May. The City of Bakersfield followed suit in July.
In its lawsuit, the Home Builders Association of Kern County contends that a "nexus" study does not justify the fee increase because many of the planned transportation projects address existing congestion, not the effects of new development. The builders, who also name the county in the litigation, are additionally demanding the city refund $50 million in traffic fees, claiming that the city has not properly accounted for fee expenditures.
Officials with the city, the county and the Kern Council of Governments insist the higher fee, which would generate an estimated $1.9 billion over 20 years, is necessary to keep pace with development and to match $630 million in federal transportation funds earmarked for the Bakersfield region.
In an unrelated matter, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in August to reject a proposal to rezone 78 acres of agricultural land northwest of Bakersfield for residential and commercial development. Supervisors said building a housing subdivision amid the orchards and ranches a few miles outside the city would conflict with state goals for reducing vehicle miles traveled and the emission of greenhouse gases.
The environmental impact report for a stretch of the proposed high-speed rail project in the Bay Area has been rejected by a Sacramento County Superior Court. Both opponents and supporters of the project claimed victory with Judge Michael Kenny's ruling.
The Planning and Conservation League, other advocacy groups, Menlo Park and Atherton sued the High-Speed Rail Authority last year because they want the train to link the Bay Area and Central Valley via the East Bay's Altamont Pass. The authority has chosen to route the train from Merced to San Jose via Pacheco Pass.
Kenny ruled the EIR was faulty because it did not address Union Pacific's refusal to allow the high-speed train on its tracks between Gilroy and San Jose. The authority had assumed it could use the tracks. Without access to them, Kenny ruled, the rail project might produce additional environmental effects and may need to take more residential and commercial property. Peninsula cities and environmentalists cheered that part of the ruling. Proponents of the Pacheco Pass connection praised Kenny's conclusion that the Altamont Pass route could result in "substantially increased construction costs and constructability issues."
Only days before Kenny issued his ruling, a Menlo Park resident sued the authority and Caltrain over the high-speed rail project's planned use of Union Pacific's tracks on the Peninsula, which Caltrain has used for years. Meanwhile, a consortium of five Peninsula cities has yet to reach an agreement with the authority over the precise route, design and technology of the high-speed train system (see CP&DR Public Development, June 2009).
The American Society of Landscape Architects has compiled an online "sustainable urban development resource guide." The guide contains links to organizations, research and projects related to sustainable development, with focuses on reusing brownfields, investing in downtowns, limiting sprawl and maintaining open spaces. The guide is available here: http://www.asla.org/ContentDetail.aspx?id=23720.