A report issued by the Legislative Analyst's Office shows that California's high housing costs are stifling the state's economy and making it difficult to create affordable housing. The report says that the state "probably would have to build as many as 100,000 additional units annually...to seriously mitigate its problems with housing affordability." But housing construction has fallen behind population and job growth, with builders only getting authorization to start 37,000 single-family homes and 49,000 multifamily units statewide last year. The inadequate increase in housing supply leads to rising costs and makes it more difficult for companies to hire and retain qualified employees, the study said. A main issue involves state funding for affordable housing, which has fallen about $1.5 billion per year since 2012 because of depletion of state bond funds and the dismantling of local redevelopment agencies. Couple that with an increase in available jobs in the state, and rent on housing units across the state has skyrocketed.

Caltrans Details Options for Extending, Expanding 710 Freeway

Los Angeles County Transportation officials are considering multi-billion dollar plans to close the notorious 710 freeway gap and increase capacity along the entire freeway. The freeway, a vital trade arterial connecting the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, abruptly ends in South Pasadena without connecting to the 210 Freeway, four miles to the north of the 710 terminus. This gap has been blamed for causing traffic throughout the Los Angeles freeway grid, especially because of traffic from trucks traveling between the port and the warehouses of the Inland Empire. A draft environmental impact report by Caltrans estimates that a tunnel under South Pasadena — which is preferred by residents, who vehemently oppose the taking of homes for a surface right of way — would cost between $3.1 and $5.6 billion. It would take five years to build.

The EIR presents two plans for separating cars and trucks along the 18-mile stretch of freeway. The first plan is an $8-billion freight corridor that includes for elevated truck-only lanes to parallel the 710 along the Los Angeles River. The alternative is a far cheaper option estimated at around $3-4 billion, would add one travel lane in each direction and create a truck bypass around the 405 interchange. "There is no way we can accommodate the traffic without adding capacity. This region handles more than 40% of all port traffic in the United States,"  Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, told the Los Angeles Times

Garcetti Sets Deadline for Earthquake Retrofitting

In his ongoing campaign to ready Los Angeles for a major earthquake, Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced an ambitious deadline for requiring mandatory retrofitting to buildings in Los Angeles for earthquake safety. He wants a law passed by the end of this year, in contrast to San Francisco, which took more than a decade to pass its own retrofitting laws. The plan will require wooden buildings to be retrofitted within five years and concrete buildings within 30 years. To help get the retrofits moving if the law is passed, the City Council could propose low-interest loans or tax breaks to owners, or it could expand a program that would pay back private loans through a temporary, voluntary increase in property taxes.

Orange County Tollway Rejected by Water Board

A $200 million tollway project in Orange County suffered a defeat at the hands of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, which rejected a permit for an extension that it claims is actually a part of a larger expansion plan that environmentalists have condemned. The plan, called the Tesoro Extension, would have allowed the Transportation Corridor Agencies to add 5.5 miles to the Foothill tollway from Rancho Santa Margarita to east of San Juan Capistrano. Environmentalists and other tollway opponents believe that the Tesoro proposal is the first step in a plan to resurrect the Foothill project, a controversial plan proposed several years ago that would have built Foothill extensions through the popular San Onofre State Beach Park in San Diego county. TCA officials argue that the Tesoro Extension is a stand-alone project. 

Los Angeles Supes to Vote on General Plan Update

The agenda for the March 24 meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors indicates that the supervisors may vote to adopt the long-planned County General Plan Update. The General Plan Framework was first presented to the board in February 2014 and has been discussed and revised since then. The last general plan was adopted in 1980. The draft update includes the following provisions:

  • Land Use Element, Mobility Element, Air Quality Element, Conservation and Natural Resources Element, Parks and Recreation Element, Noise Element, Safety Element, Public Services and Facilities Element, Economic Development Element, implementation programs and figures and maps
  • Rezoning of 4,386 parcels for consistency between the Land Use Policy Map and Zoning Map
  • Amendments to the Industrial Zones in County Code, Title 22 to implement the industrial preservation policies of the General Plan Update; also includes the removal of the M-4 Zone and Arts and Crafts Zone for consistency purposes
  • Amendments to the Mixed Use Zone and removal of the Transit Oriented Districts Ordinance in Title 22 to implement the Transit Oriented District strategy and the Land Use Legend of the General Plan and amendments to address applications that are submitted before the General Plan Update becomes effective
  • Creation of new zones, and corresponding modifications for consistency in Title 22 to implement the Land Use Legend of the General Plan Update which are: Industrial Preservation Combining Zone (IP), High Density Multiple Residence Zone (R-5) and Major Commercial Zone (C-MJ)

SLO Passes Anti-Odor Ordinance, Aimed at Pot

A new ordinance in San Luis Obispo will regulate  offensive odors that waft across property lines. Following a vote of 3-2 by the City Council, staff next month will be able to issue fines of $100, $200, and $500 respectively for increasing numbers of violations within 12 months of a first offense. The new ordinance can be used against any type of odor deemed "offensive to individuals of normal sensitivity," but it originally came about because of complaints about the smell of marijuana being cultivated outdoors. The two council dissenters called the ordinance too vague and subjective, saying that complaints could come about through activities like barbecuing, nothing illegal in a residential neighborhood.

San Bernardino Continues to Struggle Financially

Reuters reports that, since declaring bankruptcy in 2012, the City of San Bernardino has defaulted on $10 million in pension payments and has not negotiated with its bondholders since September. The city declared last year that it intends to pay public pension fund Calpers in full to the tune of $300 billion. However, it has paid nothing to its bondholders for almost three years. In bankruptcies in cities like Stockton and Detroit, bondholders had to take big cuts to their debt while pensioners emerged relatively unscathed, showing that in bankruptcy cases retirees typically get better treatment than the bondholders do. However, a bankruptcy attorney said that the city's treatment of bondholders may come back to haunt it. "Down the road, the city may find that the capital market it unavailable to it or that it will be penalized at a very high rate when it seeks to borrow," said Michael Sweet of Fox Rothschild in San Francisco.

Bill Seeks to Help Cities Collect TOT's from Short-Term Rentals

The Sacramento Bee reports that State Senator Mike McGuire plans to introduce a bill that make it easier to collect transient occupancy taxes from homeowners who rent out rooms on online house-sharing services like Airbnb. The bill would force online home-sharing companies to make regular reports to cities about which homes in their area are renting rooms, the costs of the rentals, and the lengths of stay. While McGuire says that hosts on sites like Airbnb are supposed to pay transient occupancy taxes, many do not, creating "a severe under-registration of hosts and underpayment" of taxes, according to a fact sheet about the bill. Additionally, some tenants may unknowingly be subletting their apartments to people through the online services, thus transferring the liability to an unwitting landlord. The cities of San francisco, Auburn, and San Jose have already passed their own ordinances in the past year to regulate Airbnb.

Counties Sue Federal Government for Access to National Forest

A coalition of two counties and several individuals sued the federal government for blocking motorized travel to Plumas National Forest without an environmental review. Represented by the libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation, the coalition says that the U.S. Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by suddenly banning motorized vehicle use by issuing an Environmental Impact Statement that excluded thousands of trails that had always been open to the public. The coalition says that the closures should have gone through further environmental review under NEPA.

S. Calif. Cities Fight for Redevelopment Funds

The cities of Long Beach and Tustin are taking different approaches in trying to get money back from their now-defunct redevelopment agencies. Long Beach got the approval of the state to sell its properties belonging to its former Redevelopment Agency, thus kicking into gear sales of 27 pieces of land likely to be sold to adjacent property owners or for fair market value. Tustin, on the other hand, has sued California's Department of Finance in an attempt to get back $42 million that it says it lost when the state dissolved its redevelopment agency. The state claims that Tustin isn't entitled to the money as it didn't formally loan it to its RDA and instead covered expenses and signed agreements to pay them back. However, Tustin points to other cases that have rejected the state's position, including a decision in favor of Watsonville which the state is currently appealing.

AEG Pulls Plug on Downtown L.A. Farmers Field 

Farmers Field football stadium, proposed on the site of the Los Angeles Convention Center by sports and entertainment giant AEG, is officially defunct. The company will not seek an extension to its development deal with the city, and it is no longer in talks with the NFL. Proposed in 2010, Farmers Field had been the frontrunner among all L.A.-area stadium proposals. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti reportedly still supports the proposal, but AEG has indicated that it is turning its attention to other projects. 

Banning Ranch Landowner, Coastal Commission Reach Agreement  

Ending a long-running conflict between the main landowner of the Banning Ranch, a parcel of land near Newport Beach, and the California Coastal Commission reached a settlement wherein the ranch will end vegetation removal and oil-well operations condemned by the agency. The ranch had been removing native plants from its property without permission from the Coastal Commission, according to a report by the commission. It also drilled 17 oil wells without Coastal permission, which the commission disputed because of the 1976 Coastal Act that made permits a required step for coastal drilling. The ranch had contended that the South Coast Conservation Commission had allowed oil companies to drill a certain number of wells without a permit in 1973, thus exempting them from the 1976 act. The settlement ended the debate, though the ranch's owner did not admit fault.