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CP&DR News Briefs, January 13, 2015: Natomas Development Area to Reopen; State Budget Reactions; LOCUS legislative goals, and more

CP&DR Staff on
Jan 12, 2015

Developers are awaiting a federal decision that may allow them to start building again in the Natomas region of Sutter and Sacramento Counties. The region, which sits between the Sacramento and American Rivers, was one of the most active areas of development in the Sacramento metro region in the early and mid-2000s. Based on concerns over levees whose solidity has been likened to that of toothpaste, the Federal Emergency Management Agency imposed a moratorium on the area in December 2008. That order put a halt to the development of up to 5,000 homes that had been issued building permits.

Improvements to the levees reportedly have satisfied FEMA criteria for lowering the moratorium. The Sacramento Flood Control Agency has spent $410 million to upgrade 18 miles of levees, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers set to spend $760 million on 24 remaining miles. Developers are expected to revive many of their plans when the moratorium is lifted in June, though many do not expect demand to be as robust as it was prior to the moratorium's imposition.

Some in the Sacramento area, including Sacramento City Council Member Angelique Ashby, see the resumption of development in the area as an opportunity to pursue more sustainable development, as opposed to the traditional low-density subdivision model that had been pursued there in the past.

State Budget Proposal Offers Financial Caution, Criticized on Equity

Governor Jerry Brown's January 9 budget proposal was greeted with praise for financially cautious state spending, including paying down debt, but was criticized by some advocacy groups for doing too little on equity issues. Reactions from state political figures showed water projects, parks, education and In-Home Support Services (IHSS) came out relatively well. The budget assumed cap-and-trade proceeds would produce about $1 billion in revenue, of which $250 million would go to High-Speed Rail and $200 million to the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program.

LOCUS Calls for Federal Real Estate Reforms

A national advocacy group has announced an ambitious plan to pressure the federal government into addressing social equity and housing nationwide. LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors is calling on federal agencies to promote a series of reforms that, the group claims, could save the government $33 billion annually while helping cities and communities. The proposed reforms include:

  • Eliminate some rate subsidies from the National Flood Insurance Program.
  • Reform the Federal Housing Administration's single-family home program.
  • Better target real estate tax expenditures.
  • Preserve and increase the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.
  • Improve the Rehabilitation Tax Credit.
  • Establish individual Mortgage Savings Accounts.
  • Create an Innovative Financing for Infrastructure Rehabilitation Program

The recommendations are spelled out in LOCUS's report, "A Call to Action". LOCUS is a project of Smart Growth America. (Disclosure: SGA is a former employer of CP&DR Publisher Bill Fulton.)

Activists Fighting Chiquita Canyon Landfill Expansion

Opponents of the Chiquita Canyon landfill expansion on Highway 126 in Los Angeles County were seeking a hearing in early January on the proposal. They circulated a statement January 5 saying the county had chosen not to schedule a hearing on the draft environmental impact report, instead planning to hold the hearing when the final EIR was up for review. The Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning's page on the project shows the comment period on the DEIR was extended twice, closing October 23, 2014. Groups seeking the hearing were the Val Verde Civic Association, Citizens for Chiquita Canyon Landfill Compliance and the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE). The landfill is close to the Landmark Village phase of the much-litigated Newhall Ranch community near the Six Flags amusement park in northwest Los Angeles County.

L.A. Considers Fix for Housing Trust Fund

The Affordable Housing Trust Fund for the City of Los Angeles, which was never particularly robust, has shrunk to the point of irrelevance. Since 2000, the fund has gone from $108 million to a current $19 million, as the fund's two biggest sources of contributions have both been curtailed. Contributions from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) dropped from $54 million in 2008 to $19 million this year, and contributions from the local Community Redevelopment Agency evaporated with the dissolution of redevelopment in 2011.

The fund's crisis comes at a time when rising rents and stagnant wages have made Los Angeles the most unaffordable rental market in the country, according to a 2014 UCLA report. Los Angeles City Council Members Felipe Fuentes and Gil Cedillo recently proposed that funds collected in former redevelopment project areas be directed, as they once were, to the trust fund. Strategies using these so-called "boomerang funds" are being considered in several California cities hit hard by the loss of redevelopment. The City Council is expected to discuss the proposal this month.

Displacement Civil Rights Complaint Cites Lack of Spanish Translation

Low-income Latino tenants facing displacement from ten houses on a future development site in Walnut Creek have filed a HUD civil rights complaint alleging disparate-impact violations of federal fair housing law. The Monterey Herald reported the families said the city had not given them information or interpretation in Spanish at meetings on their possible displacement. The project recently approved for the site is The Landing, a complex of 178 luxury apartments. The paper reported it's disputed how hard the city tried to help the tenants obtain housing in the new Third Avenue Apartments affordable housing project.
The Landing project's public review process had been portrayed in 2013 as an early start on the larger public process for the proposed West Downtown Specific Plan near the Walnut Creek BART station.

Once Developers' Promises Are Made, Who Enforces Them?

The L.A. Times has an investigative report out on cases of promises made by developers to win approvals that are afterward kept slowly or not at all. Instances mentioned include two already-famous fights: over facade preservation at the Old Spaghetti Factory building in Hollywood that was in fact demolished, and promised extra-strength air filters at the Da Vinci apartment complex next to the 110 freeway, -- the latter being arguably a moot point, since the project recently burned to the ground.

In Case You Missed Transportation Camp

The annual transit nerds' Transportation Camp event in Washington D.C. posted a public list of data sources and tools as part of a hackathon during the event. More material from the conference, some of it California-focused, is available at https://tcamp2015dc.hackpad.com/

Time to Learn Lessons about Water from Australia?

So what if the drought doesn't really end? Experts and legislators planned to talk about unhappy scenarios January 12 at the Public Policy Institute of California's "Managing Drought" one-day conference. Registration to watch the webcast has closed but some presentation materials are available online.

Questioning Crumb Rubber on Playing Fields After All?

State Sen. Jerry Hill has introduced a bill, SB 47, that would suspend use of crumb rubber on publicly installed artificial turf playing fields while a public study is conducted on the safety of using shredded tire rubber as a padded base between artificial grass blades. Crumb rubber safety was a campaign issue for opponents of San Francisco's Golden Gate Fields renovation, a subject of dueling ballot measures last November.

In the South Bay, Segregation Predated Silicon Valley

Bay Area social media are buzzing over Kim-Mai Cutler's extended news feature on the history of residential and educational segregation in East Palo Alto and surrounding South Bay towns -- and what that might have to do with the state of employment inequalities in present-day Silicon Valley.

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