Less than a day before trial, the California High-Speed Rail Authority and Madera/Fresno farming organizations announced they had reached a settlement -- dissolving the last legal challenge to the first segment of California's HSR. According to Anja Raudabaugh, executive director of the Madera Farm Bureau, the rail authority offered significant concessions including increased mitigation for agricultural impacts and compensation for landowners who are affected by the project. Those representing farmers' interest in the Central Valley agree that the settlement concessions likely exceed what would have been afforded to them if they prevailed in the CEQA lawsuit. Now that the last lawsuit has been settled, the rail authority must deal with the implications of the federal Surface Transportation Board having authority over the project. Nevertheless, the rail authority believes it construction on the Madera to Bakersfield segment will begin this summer.
In response to last week's approval of SF's ten-year Capital Plan, Supervisor Scott Wiener claims that Muni will only get worse if officials do not initiate more funds for the underfunded transit system. Under the current proposed spending plan, Muni would get allotted $300 million, an amount well below SFMTA's estimated need of $510 million per year. In addition, MTC recently released its draft for Plan Bay Area, which promotes the widening of highways to create high occupancy toll lanes rather than using existing lanes. Critiques of this plan argue that this logic follows outdated Caltrans practices that cannot be used to solve 21st century transit problems and falls short of addressing other exasperating issues, such as decreasing traffic crashes by 50% and improving walking and biking by 70%. The final plan is scheduled for adoption in July.
New Community Plan May Overturn South LA's Fast Food Ban
In 2008, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance banning the development of new, stand-alone fast food restaurants in South LA. The ban was intended to encourage the development of grocery stores and increase the community's access to healthy food options by limiting the amount of fast food restaurants in the area. Now the ban could be overturned as part of the area's new proposed Community Plan. Although the proposed plan is not yet official, its potential override of the fast food ban has sparked a debate among health advocates and those who are skeptical over how planning and policy can fix 'food deserts'.
LA Mayor's Budget Includes Consolidation of City's Two Biggest Agencies
Last week, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa released his proposed $7.7 billion budget -- essentially focused on reversing cuts and layoffs for city services. The proposed budget also includes the consolidation of the Department of Planning and the Department of Building and Safety, and the creation of a new Economic Development Department that would aim to replace the functions of the (now defunct) CRA. City Council will hold public hearings before voting on the budget next month.