The City of San Jose's 2011 general plan, known as Envision 2040 and designed to focus growth in urban nodes and balance the city's job and housing mix, is now facing a lawsuit from a Davis-based environmental group for allegedly causing sprawl. The nonprofit California Clean Energy Committee claims that the plan improperly prioritizes economic development over housing and is short by 109,000 housing units, and that the shortage will push development to other cities and cause more traffic as workers drive to their jobs. Officials dispute that, saying that the plan prioritizes jobs following decades of city approval of residential projects without thought. Officials will head to court next month to argue against a broad decision that would force the city to do a time-consuming and costly do-over of the entire plan. "If we're more economically vibrant, yes, people will potentially drive from elsewhere," San Jose Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio told the San Jose Business Journal. "But what's the alternative? You want to turn us into the only housing suburb for San Francisco?

LA. Passes Temporary 'McMansion' Ban 

The Los Angeles City Council issued a two year ban on "McMansions" in 20 areas of the city. The ban will put restrictions on the size of new, single-family dwellings to stanch the "proliferation of out-of-scale developments that threaten the cohesion and character of neighborhoods," according to a city report. Stakeholders in the affected communities have long raised concerns about the practice of building homes that occupy substantial portions of their lots. These homes are often built up to the property line and can loom over neighboring homes. The City Council passed a similar ordinance in 2008 to control the size of homes in Los Angeles, but loopholes allowed larger homes to rise and prompted the new ordinance. Developers and building industry representatives decry the moratorium for preventing property owners from maximizing the value of their properties. 

Urban Farm Ordinance Approved in Sacramento

A new ordinance passed by the Sacramento City Council will allow residents to build minature farms on private properties and sell produce out of urban farm stands. Prior to the ordinance, growing produce for sell was only allowed in specially zoned lots. But now, urban farmers will be able to open urban farm stands with a business operations tax certificate.  One goal of the ordinance is to reduce urban blight and bring fruits and vegetables to "food insecure" populations whose access to fresh produce is limited in low-income neighborhoods. By building farms up to 3 acres, residents would be able to grow and sell food directly from their properties and get tax incentives for turning lots into minifarms.

Study Promotes Use of Rooftop Solar Power in L.A.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has the opportunity to expand the amount of local solar use to 150,000 megawatts, enough to power 355,000 homes, by installing solar systems on up to 10,000 acres of rooftops, according to a study sponsored by the L.A. Business Council conducted by UCLA's Luskin Center for Innovation and USC's Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. The study focused on opportunities located in what the study identifies as "solar equity hotspots" - neighborhoods with abundant rooftops and great need for economic investment and jobs. The hotspot areas exist in the San Fernando Valley, East Los Angeles, and areas west of Downtown, including Hollywood. In many cases, solar training programs that target less advantaged workers. "Los Angeles has a unique confluence of characteristics providing a firm foundation for a successful solar FiT (feed-in tariff) program: abundant sunshine, a trained workforce and tremendous economic need," said Dr. Manuel Pastor, Director of the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, in a statement. "Growing the FiT will bring economic opportunity to some of our city's most underserved and environmentally-challenged neighborhoods." The city is offering financing programs to help homeowners and businesses install solar systems. Producing 1,500 megawatts of clean solar power over the next decade would cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 20 million metric tons and create more than 36,000 new job years, according to the study.

Groups Call for More Funding for Active Transportation Program

Over 120 organizations statewide signed a petition urging the state to increase its investment in the Active Transportation Program (ATP), which seeks to improve bike and pedestrian infrastructure statewide. In the last round of ATP funding, more projects applied for the program than could be filled with the $300 million biannual funds allocated to the program, leaving over $800 million worth of ready-to-go projects unfulfilled. The petition -- signed by community and advocacy organizations that focus on health, walking biking, the environment, and economic policy -- calls for a $100 million increase in ATP funding and clearer rules to make sure that low-income communities are benefiting from the ATP. "We know that 20 percent of trips by Californians are on foot or by bicycle, but despite the overwhelming demand for projects that create safer streets, sidewalks, bike lanes, and pathways, the state Active Transportation Program still only receives around one percent of Caltrans' annual budget," Jeanie Ward-Waller, Senior Policy Manager for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, told Streetsblog.

Planning Scholar Donald Shoup to Retire in June

Renowned urban planning professor Donald Shoup announced that he will be retiring from UCLA in June. Widely known as the "parking guru," with enthusiastic followers know as "Soupistas," Shoup is credited with revolutionizing the ways that cities view the relationship between parking and land use. His 2005 book The High Cost of Free Parking, which criticizes standard methods of deterring parking requirements, and his ideas on parking policies have led cities across the world to adapt new policies for parking requirements and to charge fair market prices for curb parking. "I can't think of anyone who has made more scholarly contributions to the field of parking and transportation than Donald Shoup," said Dean Frank Gilliam in a statement.

River Restoration May Cost City of L.A. $1.2 Billion

New estimates show that the City of Los Angeles could bear the brunt of the costs of restoring the Los Angeles River to a more natural state, possibly shouldering as much as $1.2 billion for the project. City leaders were originally hoping to split the expense evenly with the federal government, whose Army Corps of Engineers originally built the concrete channel that now defines the river, by contributing about $500 million to the project, but now it appears that the city could bear over 70 percent of the costs. The restoration could take 30 to 40 years, and it is expected to introduce the most dramatic changes to the river since it was lined with concrete in the middle of the 20th century. "Real estate in L.A. is extremely expensive, and a project done in a highly urbanized area makes this more expensive than any other restoration project in the country," Jay Field, a spokesman for the Army Corps, told the L.A. Times.

Tenants Ordered to Vacate Hollywood Building 

Five months after a judge ruled that a 22-story apartment building in Hollywood was improperly approved, officials ordered the project's developer, CIM Group, to evict the tenants living there. The suit was brought by attorney Robert Silverstein, who has repeatedly invoked CEQA to fight development in Hollywood. Opponents of the project, called Sunset and Gordon, claim that it violated terms of the project approval by demolishing a 1924 that was supposed to be preserved. Officials estimated that the 299-unit complex had about 40 tenants living there when the eviction order came. "In 24 years at the city, I personally have not seen this before," Luke Zamperini, a Building and Safety spokesman, told the L.A. Times. Hollywood has seen other legal setbacks recently as it tries to implement Mayor Garcetti's vision of larger, denser developments in the neighborhood. Target had to stop work on a shopping center after a judge said that officials improperly allowed the project to exceed the 35-foot height limit. Another judge invalidated the Hollywood Community Plan Update, which called for taller and denser construction near transit, for using outdated demographic data.

Great Park Audit: Irvine May Recover Some RDA Funds

An audit of the Orange County Great Park project commissioned by the Irvine City Council to see if money was wasted in designing the project shows that the city may be able to recover some lost money. The audit blamed a lack of realistic financial planning, as cost estimates shot up to $1.24 billion from the original estimate of $401 million. Projections in 2009 showed that the Great Park could only afford to build and maintain about $61.2 million of facilities, according to the attorney's findings. The city has since 2005 spent more than $250 million building 88 acres of the 1,3000 acre former marine base.