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CP&DR News Briefs, April 6, 2015: MPO's Question Grant Program; L.A. Adopts Ambitious Health Element; O.C. Told to Build More Housing, and more

Following the announcement two weeks ago of the finalists for $120 million worth of grants through the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities grant program, two metropolitan planning organizations in southern California are calling foul. The five-county region covered by the Southern California Association of Governments, by far the largest metropolitan planning organization in the state, had only 12 of 54 finalists. By contrast, Alameda County alone had eight finalists.  Darrell Johnson, CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority, and SCAG President Carl Morehouse both wrote letters (here and here, via CALCOG) to officials at the Strategic Growth Council decrying what they call a selection process that unfairly allocates AHSC funds. "It is unclear how the process for selection on the next step is reasonable or consistent with the legislative intent of the authorizing legislation," wrote Morehouse. He called for SGC to accept full proposals from some of the applicants that had been rejected. Meanwhile, Johnson contended that the grant guidelines inappropriately excluded a streetcar project in Santa Ana that is one of OCTA's high-priority projects. Assuming that the selection process goes forward as planned, SGC and its partner department, Housing and Community Development, may revisit guidelines and consider geographic apportionment for the 2016 grant process.

New L.A. City Health Element Uses Planning to Reduce Health Disparities
Los Angeles officials have adopted new planning guidelines to reduce sharp health disparities across the city. A joint effort between the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the city's Planning Commission and the California Endowment, the new guidelines include such goals as ensuring 75 percent of all residents are within a quarter of a mile of a park, increasing the number of Angelenos who live within a mile of a farmers market, and improving access to grocery stores. With a city analysis showing that Brentwood resident live 12 years longer than Watts residents, and more than 30 percent of children in South L.A. and Boyle Heights are obese, the guidelines seek to establish targets not traditionally part of health policy. "The built environment has an enormous impact on health," Beatriz Solis, director of the California Endowment's Healthy Communities program for the Southern Region, told the Los Angeles Times.

Report Calls for Orange County to Build More Housing
Orange County needs to embrace mixed-use and infill development to fill a desperate housing shortage, according to a new report from the Orange County Business Council. The county today faces a shortage of 62,000 homes; that could increase to 100,000 by 2040 according to job and housing projections. However, there also is no longer enough open land to build more single-family homes.  The housing shortage stunts growth in the county as workers and potential residents are crowded out, according to economist Esmael Adibi. Orange County has already seen its age 25-to-34 population shrink 7 percent over the last 15 years, and nearly 40 percent of workers there commute more than an hour a day. "Everything else being equal, housing costs are a major, major factor to slowing down growth," Adibi told the Los Angeles Times.

Monterey County Offers Downtown Vibrancy Grants
Monterey County is offering its cities a matching grant of up to $10,000 to work with a consultant in revitalizing and energizing their downtown areas. Funding for the project comes from money the county expects to save from the consolidation of Salinas-area office leases into the recently purchased Schilling Place office complex in South Salinas to help local cities boost their downtown cores. Specializing in downtown retrofitting through zoning an code changes, the consultant, Miami-based Dover, Kohl & Partners, is already working in Monterey County with the city of Fort Ord in a broad urban redesign. Seeing the opportunity of having a big-name consultant in town, Supervisor Jane Parker formed the proposal. "Word is starting to get out and because of Dover Kohl being here, it kind of shined the spotlight and made it more concrete for people. My thought was, ´┐ŻLet's take advantage of a world-class team being in town,'" Parker told the Monterey Herald.

L.A. Transportation Authority, Don Shoup Win American Planning Assoc. National Award
The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority has received the American Planning Association's National Planning Excellence Award for a Best Practice for its First Last Mile Strategic Plan & Planning Guidelines. The guidelines to improve Los Angeles's first and last mile transportation connectivity, providing a toolbox for localities to build support and resources for developing active transportation infrastructure like sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and clear signage directing users to regional transit hubs. Planners say that public support for the program has been strong because of the simplicity and clarity of the guidelines, which use infographics and imagery instead of complicated and overly technical planning jargon to convey the benefits of a multi-modal system. Meanwhile, UCLA Professor of Planning and "parking guru" Donald Shoup has been named the recipient of the National Planning Excellence Award for a Planning Pioneer; see last week's CP&DR briefs for a note about Shoup's retirement. The awards will be given out at the APA conference in Seattle in late April. 

S.F. Think Tank Calls for Seamless Transit
A new report by urban think tank SPUR calls for the creation of an integrated transit system in the Bay Area that would make it easier for riders to navigate the labyrinthine transit systems there. The report, titled "Seamless Transit," says that the Bay Area's myriad transit authorities, divergent maps, schedules, fares, and uncoordinated capital planning and investment has made the the system less efficient and less usable. SPUR suggests helping travelers use transit by coordinating marketing and transit information by creating a common regional transit map, standardizing fares, and creating regional passes.

L.A. to Spend $1.3 Billion to Fix Sidewalks
In a landmark agreement, Los Angeles is pledging to spend over $1.3 billion over the next three decades to fix its massive backlog of broken sidewalks and other infrastructure issues in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the agreement following a lawsuit filed by attorneys for the disabled, the city must spend $31 million annually on sidewalk and other improvements beginning in the next budget year, then increasing to $63 million in future years to adjust for rising costs. The city said that it plans to start by repairing sidewalks around parks, and in areas that are heavily trafficked, close to hospitals or workplaces, or that are requested by people with mobility challenges. It's unclear whether the promised money will completely eliminate the backlog, as about 40 percent of city sidewalks need repairs according to the Bureau of Street Services. The city has not identified any new funding sources for the settlement.

Oakland Clears Path for Coliseum City Development
By certifying the environmental impact report and voting to accept a specific rezoning plan, the Oakland City Council cleared a path for the Oakland Raiders or other developers to step forward and commit to its new Coliseum City proposal. The approval shows the council's optimal vision for the site: Three new sports venues, 5,750 homes and nearly 8 million square feet of urban retail and office space with convenient access to BART and the highway. However, Oakland's sports teams have shown tepid interest at best, with the Raiders pursuing a joint venture in Los Angeles and the Oakland A's and Golden State Warriors showing no interest. Fruition of the project is highly contingent upon the interest of at least one sports team in moving there. Officials are also not sure how the public could pay for more than $100 million in new streets, utilities and other infrastructure improvements that would be needed to build the homes, offices and shops for the multibillion project.

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