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CP&DR News Briefs, December 9, 2014: San Jose 'Jungle' Camp Evicted; Supreme Court Case Could Limit Rules On Public Signage; Kinkisharyo Deal Salvaged, But At What Cost?

Martha Bridegam on
Dec 8, 2014

Restrained congratulations were circulating in late November over a deal brokered by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that persuaded the Kinkisharyo company to expand its rail car assembly operation in Palmdale after all. The Japanese rail car manufacturing company had threatened to move the planned expansion of its U.S. branch elsewhere after activists supportive of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 11 filed a CEQA appeal with the Palmdale City Council against the expansion. (See prior coverage at

The L.A. Times reported the deal allows Kinkisharyo to expand without facing environmental review challenges, while the IBEW will be able to conduct a "card-check" union organizing campaign as it had sought to do. But the paper wasn't happy about the outcome necessarily: that report appeared in an editorial that suggested: "Kinkisharyo and IBEW win; CEQA loses?" The paper suggested that the Legislature in its new session would have reason "to make it harder for groups with ulterior motives -- be they labor unions or business rivals -- to stymie projects," and that in turn would make environmental challenges more difficult for concerned citizens.

The Rafu Shimpo has more details of the agreement.

Because IBEW Local 11 got the card-check organizing agreement out of the deal, the conservative Breitbart site described the agreement as an abuse of process to gain a labor negotiating advantage. And although the deal preserved the promised production jobs in Palmdale, the Chamber of Commerce wrote that construction jobs were lost because Kinkisharyo went back on its original plan to build a large new assembly building.

Protest takes to freeways as well as streets

The nationwide demonstrations over accountability for police killings continued to suburbanize, with freeway ramps as well as streets frequently occupied by demonstrators. Sites of freeway occupations in California included Oakland and Berkeley (the Bay Bridge was blocked late on December 8), Sacramento, and Los Angeles -- places where downtown neighborhoods were disrupted by freeway projects in the 20th century. Among commentaries posted, one choice by Planetizen is "On the Symbolism of Highway Protests" featuring Alex Ihnen's NextSTL essay about freeways' ambiguous images as symbols of freedom for some but segregation for others. As of November 25 Ihnen wrote, "At last glance, protesters had closed portions of highways in Detroit, Atlanta, New York City, Cincinnati, Oakland, Nashville, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and elsewhere."

Notorious 'Jungle' encampment evicted in San Jose

In early December, after a heavy rain, local authorities staged a full-scale eviction of the famous "Jungle" encampment along Coyote Creek in San Jose. The action followed a city services campaign that has gone on since spring to whittle down the camp's population by moving residents to subsidized housing. The L.A. Times reported "Nearly 150 had found housing, but over 50 had yet to find a place to live." Other news reports said 60 people had been offered city vouchers but couldn't find landlords who would take them.

The camp had been a substantial village of some 200 to 300 people, said to be one of the largest unofficial encampments in the United States. Homes at the site reportedly included elaborate underground dwellings, as well as more ordinary tents and lean-tos. Residents had been accepting city help in clearing out trash but the site suffered from lack of sanitation and running water, and had a reputation for violence. Even so, the Mercury News reported some residents were in tears at having to leave without other housing prospects. Some told the paper they had to leave property behind. City policy calls for staff, when they remove campers' property, to preserve and store items of value to be claimed -- but there have been past disputes about how carefully the policy is followed.

As CP&DR reported in May, the site was only one of many creekside encampments that provide low-quality housing in an area characterized by high rents, suburban environments, an economy divided between high and low wages, and scarce supplies of SRO-type housing. The practice of camping in creekbeds has intertwined the problems of housing shortage and waterway contamination. In response, some neighbors and officials have called for wholesale evictions of campers. Others have called for initial provision of sanitation facilities as a starting point, and, as a next goal, for plentiful housing away from the creekbed, even if at first such "housing" might take the form of organized camping.

News reports on particulars of the eviction have appeared widely, in publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Sacramento Bee, and even the UK's Daily Mail. The KQED public radio station's Michael Krasny hosted a "Forum" debate on the eviction that included an activist organizer and a "Jungle" resident as well as a news reporter, a service provider, and city homeless response team manager Ray Bramson.

Listeners' comments responding to the KQED debate and to a news report of the conversation included an essay by Chris Herring, a UC-Berkeley grad student who has become a recognized authority on U.S. encampments. (He's the author of the paper, "The New Logics of Homeless Seclusion: A Comparative Study of Large-Scale Homeless Encampments in the Western U.S.") Herring wrote that he expected the evicted people would only move to more obscure camp sites elsewhere along Coyote Creek, likely with worse consequences for the creek and for themselves.

APA joins amicus for regulating signage by type

Do free speech rights trump a city's ability to regulate signs placed in public? The American Planning Association has gotten nervous enough about the answer to join the National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors and other groups in filing a Supreme Court amicus brief in the case of Reed v. Town of Gilbert.

The petitioners in Reed seek to overturn rules in the city of Gilbert, Arizona that regulate publicly placed signs according to their general purpose. In the underlying dispute, a pastor of a Christian church rented space at an elementary school and placed signs announcing services there. He was cited for violating a local sign code regarding the size, placement, and other physical characteristics of "temporary directional signs". The pastor and his church sued on free speech and equal protection grounds, arguing that signs inviting the public to his services were more heavily regulated than other types of signs, such as yard signs for political campaigns.

The petitioners argue that the regulations are content-based and hence should be reviewed under a strict scrutiny standard. The city contends it acted properly to apply regulations to the signs based only on their generic purpose, and did not make a content-based decision, so that its actions may be reviewed as regulating only the "time, place and manner" of sign displays. The city has contended that "Petitioners wanted free, permanent, off-site billboards in Gilbert -- and were trying to misuse Gilbert's temporary directional sign regulation to fit that inapposite goal." Courts thus far have upheld the city's action. The APA writes that its brief supports the city, arguing that strict scrutiny of sign codes "has the potential to invalidate nearly all sign codes in the country."

Review denied in Pasadena cases

The State Supreme Court declined to review City of Pasadena v. Cohen, an August ruling by the Third Appellate district in one of California's many disputes over asset claims of former redevelopment agencies. Pasadena had challenged an effort by the Department of Finance to redistribute property tax funds that the city's post-redevelopment "successor agency" claimed it needed to pay down pension bonds and subsidized housing bonds. At the city's request, the trial court had granted an injunction sequestering the funds until a trial on the merits could be held.  The appellate opinion, by Justices M. Kathleen Butz, George Nicholson and Harry E. Hull, Jr., rejected the city's procedural choices. The appellate panel found the city mistakenly sought declaratory relief when it should have filed for a writ of mandate. They accordingly sent the matter back to the trial judge with instructions to either dismiss the proceeding or "construe it as one for traditional mandate and proceed accordingly."

The state Supreme Court also denied review in City of Pasadena v. Superior Court (Mercury Casualty Co.), the August ruling that paradoxically found a city-owned tree falling on a private home is "serving a public purpose" in doing so for the purpose of allowing the homeowner's insurance claim to go forward. The Second District's opinion was tartly written up in the National Law Review at the time.

Ninth Circuit: no new ozone rules

The Ninth Circuit turned down a petition in WildEarth Guardians v. McCarthy that sought to require the EPA to create new "Prevention of Significant Deterioration" rules for ozone pollution under the Clean Air Act. It based the rejection on ambiguity in the relevant statute, � 166(a) of the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. � 7476(a)), saying the law did not establish clearly enough that the duty to establish the standards was mandatory.

San Francisco to combine city offices in new tower on SoMa site

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors agreed to spend almost $327 million to purchase part of the former Goodwill charity's property at 11th and Market Streets and replace it with a 17-story city office building. The San Francisco Business Times, partly drawing on the Socketsite real estate blog, reported the cost was earlier quoted at $253 million. The reports said developer Related California originally bought the property from Goodwill for $65 million and also planned to develop up to 550 units of housing next to the office building. The site is currently a single-story warehouse-type complex used partly as a thrift store but largely to receive and sort donations. A downtown best-kept secret for years has been the "as-is" shop on 11th Street, where bargain-hunters dig through bins of newly donated items. The news reports say the city will sell its existing five-story office building at 30 Van Ness (likely for housing) to help finance the purchase, and will combine offices in the new building for Public Works, Building Inspection, Planning and Retirement and Health Services.

Studies look toward more rail in northwestern San Francisco

A study commissioned by San Francisco transportation officials predicts a rail extension would be popular if it ran from the end of the currently in-progress Central Subway project westward to Fisherman's Wharf. Michael Cabanatuan of the San Francisco Chronicle reports the study found an extension of the T-Third line to Fisherman's Wharf might increase ridership about 55 percent.

Separately, the BART system's planning office announced it would begin a long-range study on a possible new train route that might travel through an additional tube under San Francisco Bay and into San Francisco's currently low-rise western neighborhoods. A drawing released with Streetsblog SF's report shows the route crossing the Bay south of the current Transbay Tube, running from Alameda to Mission Bay. It's shown crossing Market Street northbound, heading west, then dividing, with one line going west to the cliffs of the Western Richmond District near the Fort Miley VA hospital, and the other heading southwest through the Sunset District outside the city's central ridge to rejoin the existing commuter line in Daly City. Streetsblog SF suggests the design may owe something to former BART board member James Fang's dream of "BART to the beach," an idea often dismissed in the past as not serving a dense enough population.