More than four decades after a graduate student proposed adding a "green belt" of wildlife habitats, parks, and recreational areas in a rim circling the San Fernando Valley, Rep. Adam Schiff is pushing to add as much land as possible "Rim of the Valley Corridor" to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in the Los Angeles area. Backed by a broad coalition including the National Park Service, the designation would protect of the 1,000-square-mile area from future development and preserve puma and bobcat habitats, along with forests and fossil beds. "For us, it's a complete and utter enhancement," Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation president Kim Lamorie told the LA Times. "Our [residents] are always competing to get the National Park Service - to purchase land in and around our homeowners associations and rural villages.... Property values go up when you're surrounded by open space." 

Group Proposes Complete Streets Alternative to 710 Freeway Tunnel

An opposition group to an underground 710 freeway extension from Alhambra to South Pasadena presented its plan for an alternative to a tunnel proposed to close the 710 freeway gap through South Pasadena. Beyond the 710, a coalition of community organizations, environmental attorneys and five San Gabriel Valley cities, is advancing a plan that would expand bus service, improve surface streets, and develop more walkable communities to better address traffic congestion, pollution, and transportation needs of the area, all with a price tag for $875 million, much less than the $5.6 billion price tag of the tunnel, which is one of five alternatives analyzed in an environmental impact report released in March. "We are hoping to move beyond the old, tired 710 Freeway debate, which is wasting lots of time, money and resources," South Pasadena City Councilwoman Marina Khubesrian, vice chair of the Beyond the 710 coalition, told the Los Angeles Times. Supporters of the estimated $5.6 billion tunnel, contend that the group is just trying to gum up an environmental review that is underway and undermine growing support for the tunnel project.

Arcata Experiments with Zoning for Medical Marijuana 

Believing that statewide marijuana legalization may be coming in 2016, the Arcata City Council voted unanimously for a proposal to create a new "Medical Marijuana Innovation Area," which would rezone three parcels of land to allow for the cultivation, processing, and wholesale of medical marijuana out in the open instead of in private homes. Isaiah O'Donnell, policy co-chairman for California Cannabis Voice Humboldt, estimated that there are about 100 indoor growers in the city that could legitimize their business in the innovation zone, but he expressed concern that a mega-cultivator could come in and monopolize the zone. "With Arcata being very small business-centric, I don't believe anybody should be able to come in and grow 50,000 square feet of cultivation," O'Donnell told the Times-Standard

Laguna Beach, Sacramento Propose Short-Term Rental Regulations

Laguna Beach and Sacramento the latest cities to explore ways of regulating short-term rental services like Airbnb.  In Sacramento, City Council members say they are drafting a proposed ordinance backed by the city's planning department that would allow short-term rentals without a permit for up to 29 days and waive the requirement for an on-site manager. "We have this innovative new way for people to visit our city and for people to engage in the sharing economy," Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen told the Sacramento Bee. "We should be cautious of overshooting the mark with any kind of regulation." According to city estimates, Sacramento only has about 500 housing units used as short-term rentals, making it easier for lawmakers to take a breath before imposing restrictions, in contrast with coastal cities with high populations of tourists. Alternately, the Laguna Beach City Council voted unanimously to impose a 45-day moratorium on all new short-term rentals of 30 days or less as a temporary salve while city staff researches long-term solutions to what residents perceive as a growing quality-of-life issue. Residents have said that the high turnover of tenants has bred loud parties, the blocking of driveways by cars and increased trash on the streets. Additionally, city staff has said that many owners do not register their rentals with the city, avoiding the city's $275 transit occupancy tax.  

Los Angeles Considers Long-Term Maintenance Plan for Sidewalks

In an attempt to find a long-term plan for sidewalk upkeep after it makes a planned $1.4 billion in improvements, Los Angeles' top city budget office has recommended that the city transfer responsibility for fixing broken sidewalks in front of commercial businesses to property owners and make homeowners responsible for future upkeep. The report comes as the city has committed to spend $1.4 billion over the next three decades as part of a legal settlement with disability rights groups that had sued the city over its impassible sidewalks. Under the plan, businesses would have a year to voluntarily repair cracked sidewalks. If they did not comply, the city would make the repairs and charge the business. Residents, on the other hand, would receive a certificate following an inspection and city-funded improvements, and would be held responsible for all future damage to the sidewalks. 

S.F. Mayor Proposes $500 Million for Affordable Housing

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has proposed an ambitious new affordable housing plan to add 3,000 new units by 2030 in the Mission Bay, Transbay Terminal, and Hunters Point Shipyard-Candlestick Point neighborhoods. The plan would use the Redevelopment Property Tax Fund, established when the state dissolved redevelopment agencies, to tack on $500 million extra to Lee's previous plan to build $250 million worth of affordable housing throughout the city. The plan would authorize the issuance of bonds to build 1,800 affordable units by 2020, 660 units by 2025, and 540 units by 2030.

Opposition Prompts Down-Scaling of Major San Diego Development

Bowing to opposition from residents in the San Diego community of Carmel Valley, developer Kilroy Realty decided to scale back its massive mixed-use development known as One Paseo. Kilroy received City Council approval in February for a 1.1-million square foot version of the project with over 600 residences along with office and retail space, but a signature drive forced the previous version of the project to a vote in 2016 that would cost the city roughly $900,000. Observers are studying the fate of the project carefully as a potential precedent-setter for the development of denser projects in suburban San Diego. Kilroy said that the compromise would reduce the traffic caused by the project -- the major stickler for neighborhood opposition groups -- by half and would lower the heights of the tallest office towers from nine stories to seven stories. Kilroy will now present the compromised version to community groups for approval and eventually bring it back to the city council for another round of votes. 

California Cites Score Highly in Fitness Ranking

A new report ranks San Diego, the Bay Area, and Sacramento in the top five fittest among the 50 biggest metropolitan areas in the country. The ranking, called the American Fitness Index and released by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the Anthem Foundation, measures health and community indicators including varieties of outdoor exercise options and rates of smoking, obesity, and diabetes. Those three cities ranked respectively third, fourth, and fifth; San Jose rounded out 10th place, Los Angeles got 23rd, and Riverside-San Bernardino came in at 34th.

California's Carbon Use Beats Most Nations

California has the second-least carbon-intensive developed economy in the world, according to a new study from public policy group Next 10. Having more electric cars than any other state or country, the most clean-technology investment, and a fast-growing fleet of renewable power plants, California's economy is only beaten by France in the study which measures emissions of greenhouse gases per dollar of economic activity. From 1990 through 2012, California's greenhouse gas emissions shrank by 25 percent per person while per capita gross domestic product rose 37 percent. That ratio could increase even further as Governor Jerry Brown seeks to expand California's use of renewable energy to 50 percent by 2030.

Lawsuit Over Sacramento Arena Dismissed

Without further comment the California Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit led by retired state Department of Transportation director Adriana Saltonstall alleging that the $477 million Sacramento Kings downtown arena project violated CEQA and would cause massive traffic and air pollution problems in the city. Officials breathed a sigh of relief at the decision, as they assumed that the case could delay the stadium's scheduled opening date of October 2016. The dismissal leaves only one hurdle for the construction of the new arena which has been fast-tracked through CEQA by AB-900. Three Sacramentans are suing the city for contributing a $255 million subsidy to the project, most of which will come about by borrowing against its downtown parking operations.

Natural Resources Agency Releases Application for River Parkways Grants

The California Natural Resources Agency announced the release of the guidelines and application for the California River Parkways (RP) grant program. Awards for this program will be made pursuant to the River Parkways Act of 2004. An estimated $7.6 million will be available for projects that involve natural creeks, streams and/or rivers, or channelized or culverted creeks, streams and/or rivers. Projects must serve at least two of the following purposes: recreation, habitat protection, flood management, conservation, conversion to river parkways.  The agency will award funds to "projects that produce multiple benefits which reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase water use efficiency, reduce risks from climate change impacts and demonstrate collaboration with local, state and community entities." The application period runs June 1 to Sept. 1.