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CP&DR News Briefs, April 20, 2015: Marin Farmers Negotiate with Coastal Commission; Santa Monica Down-Zones General Plan; Guadelupe Considers Disincorporation, and More

Matthew Hose on
Apr 19, 2015

Marin County officials and state Coastal Commissioners agreed to take more time to hash out the nuances of new regulatory proposals that county officials think could impose too many constraints on local farmers even as the Commission seeks to limit the impacts of agricultural activities in the coastal zone. Locals were worried that new regulations - detailed in hundreds of pages of complicated state analysis - would require farmers to get permits to switch agricultural uses, from ranching to grape-growing, for instance, and would tighten rules on building under the Coastal Act. At issue as well are requirements such as setbacks and the allowed ratio of buildings to acres of farmland that a farmer owns. Farmers expressed concerns that overly tight regulations could put them out of business. "Too many rules and regulations leads to outlaw behavior, so getting it right" is essential, Steve Kinsey, chairman of the Commission, told the Marin Independent Journal. The delay in implementing regulations comes as the county withdrew its coastal development plan, giving the sides more time to reach an agreement. The county is expected to resubmit the plan in the fall. 

Santa Monica Amends General Plan to Curtail Development

In a 4-3 vote, the Santa Monica City Council voted to amend its Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) to scrap the possibility of 4- and 5-story mixed use buildings on boulevards, except for those including 100 percent affordable housing units and for redevelopment of historic buildings. The vote, advisory in nature until an official vote on May 5, will make it more difficult for four to five story mixed-use residential buildings to be constructed on major boulevards, unless the housing is affordable. The move, promoted by homeowners groups, is seen as a step backwards in a city known for tremendous housing pressures. Critics of the downzoning contend that the city needs more housing of all types and that affordable housing will be difficult to produce in the absence of redevelopment, which was shut down in 2012. Santa Monica's LUCE was adopted to wide acclaim, including an award from the California Chapter of the American Planning Association, in 2010. Santa Monica has the goal of adding 4,955 homes by 2030. The council is expected to confirm its vote in May. 

Grand Jury Urges Dissolution of Financially Strapped City of Guadalupe

A Santa Barbara County grand jury recommended that the 7,080-population city of Guadalupe dissolve, which would make it the first city in the state to disincorporate since 1973. The report said that more than a decade of financial mismanagement, a declining tax base and increasing debt have doomed the town. City Administrator Andrew Carter said that the vote undersells attempts in the city for reform, wherein city employees have taken a 5 percent pay cut, ground has been broken on a commercial development to add 800 homes, and voters overwhelmingly approved three tax initiatives to bring in over $300,000 to the city budget. Carter added that the report's recommendation conveyed undertones of a chasm between the working-class town - which is about 87 percent Latino - and the county. "The demographics of Guadalupe are the exact opposite of the demographics of Santa Barbara's," Carter told the Los Angeles Times.

S.F. Proposes Tighter Policies on Home-Sharing

New amendments to the city's so-called Airbnb law proposed by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Mark Farrell would beef up restrictions on short-term rentals and apartment-sharing in the city. The amendments would cap all short-term rentals at 120 days a year and would create a new city office to monitor short-term rentals. The proposal comes in response to complaints that the newly enacted "Airbnb law" capping temporary rentals of entire homes at 90 days a year, but residents who are present in their homes could rent out rooms to travelers 365 days a year. Lee said that this provision was unenforceable and is therefore promoting a hard cap on all rentals. An investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle showed that Airbnb had about 5,000 rentals in the city, around two-thirds of which were entire homes. "We are trying to strike a balance between people who do occasional home-sharing to get by, while still preserving neighborhood character and our stock of affordable housing," Tony Winnicker, a senior adviser to the mayor, told the Chronicle.

Illegal Pot Farms Taking Water from Streams

A new study concludes that Northern California marijuana farmers are using up all of the water that normally supports key populations of the federally endangered Coho salmon in rivers and streams. The study from biologist Scott Bauer measured three watersheds with intense pot cultivation, saying that each pot plant used about six gallons of water per day, consuming about 673,000 gallons of water every day. "Given the specter of climate change...the current scale of marijuana cultivation in Northern California could be catastrophic for aquatic species," Bauer wrote in the study.

L.A. Metro Studies Conversion of Orange Line to Rail

A new report says that the conversion of a dedicated busway in the San Fernando Valley to a light rail between Chatsworth and North Hollywood would would cost over $1 billion to complete.The route today handles about 30,000 boardings per weekday and will soon be at capacity during peak periods if demand and population increase there, the report from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority states. Officials have lamented that Los Angeles' County's rail-building boom has skipped the valley, which hosts nearly 20 percent of county residents but has just two of Metro's 80 rail stations. But with a light-rail projected to cost between $1.2 billion to $1.7 billion to complete, the report also proposes that metro could buy more buses and build grade separations at the busiest intersections, which would cost between $230 million and $350 million.

State Issues New Policy on Sex Offender Residence Restrictions

A new policy issued by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation states that California parole agents will have to find a specific link to child victims is they decide to bar sex offender parolees from living near schools and parks. The policy is a response to a state Supreme Court ruling that blanket residency limits under Jessica's Law - which required that any registered sex offender live at least 2,000 feet from schools or parks - go too far in restricting where sex offenders can live. Now the department has a 60-day clock to review the files of around 6,000 sex offender parolees, about half of which are considered child molesters.

Federal Court Rejects Dispute over San Onofre Power Plant 

A federal judge ruled against power customers in San Diego in their suit against the former San Onofre nuclear power plant, telling them to wage their battle in state courts instead of federal courts. The complaint, coming from San Diego advocacy group Citizens Oversight, alleged that the California Public Utilities Commission and majority plant owner Southern California Edison illegally conspired to assign 70 percent of the $4.7 billion in closing costs for the plant to utility customers rather than stockholders. Attorney Michael Aguirre alleged that the commission and plant owner violated the 5th amendment of the U.S. Constitution in passing on the costs. "In making customers pay for the failed steam generators and permanently shut plant, the CPUC and SCE are taking customers' private property without just compensation," the complaint alleges.

San Jose takes fight against MLB to U.S. Supreme Court

San Jose is taking a lawsuit against Major League Baseball to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that  MLB violated federal antitrust laws in blocking the Oakland A's from moving to downtown San Jose. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded unanimously in January that a nearly century-old exemption for the MLB from federal antitrust laws forecloses the city's legal arguments, and that only the Supreme Court or U.S. Congress could change that rule. Though A's owner Lew Wolff has pushed for a deal in San Jose, the San Francisco Giants blocked the move, asserting territorial rights to the South Bay and a vote of league owners balked at upending those rights. "We believe the justices will find MLB's unique ancient antitrust exemption does not apply to the relocation of the A's to San Jose or is in any way essential to our national pastime," Joseph Cotchett, San Jose's lawyer, told the San Jose Mercury News. 

Garcetti Announces Land-Use Initiatives 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered his "State of the City" address last week. He announced that he would pursue several policies related to land use and transportation, including: allowing ride-hailing companies to pick up travelers at LAX airport; applying hotel taxes to Airbnb and other home-sharing services; enacting data-sharing between the city and navigation app Waze to better see traffic patterns; meeting the statewide goal for drought-resistant plants; and installing new trash cans to public spaces. 

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