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CP&DR News Briefs, July 6, 18, 2015: $224 Million in Transit Grants; State Carbon Emissions Drop; Alameda Base Redevelopment

Matthew Hose on
Jul 6, 2015

The California State Transportation Agency announced (pdf) recipients of $224 million in grant money to support public transportation projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This year's recipients would reduce an estimated 860,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases by taking 180,000 cars off the road, and 93 percent of the projects would benefit disadvantaged communities, according to the CSTA. Among 14 projects, the grant money will be used to improve service on the Los Angeles basin light rail and the Bay Area light rail, expand San Diego trolley service, improve Monterey and Salinas bus service, launch a new Orange county rapid bus route, and improve local transit transfers to and from the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner. Over 90 percent of projects serve disadvantaged communities. In total, the grants support $720 million in total investments and will, according to estimates, reduce annual carbon emissions by 860,000 metric tons. Grants are funded by the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund using proceeds from the state's cap-and-trade auctions.   The grant funding is part of the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program, implemented by CTC in coordination with the California Department of Transportation and California Air Resources Board. The grants help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by expanding public transportation ridership and capacity. 

California Reduced Carbon Emissions in 2013

According to newly analyzed data, California managed to decrease its carbon dioxide emissions by 0.3 percent in 2013. The decline came despite major factors that contributed to carbon emissions: an economic growth rate of 2 percent, the shuttering of hydroelectric dams due to the drought, and the closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant. Though the state still pumped almost 460 million metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, state officials consider the decrease a victory as the amount of renewable power generated within the state surged, with wind power production jumping 32 percent and solar rising 13 percent in 2013.

First Phase of Alameda Air Station Conversion Approved

Eighteen years worth of attempts to convert Alameda's former naval air station for civilian use have finally come to fruition, as the City Council there approved the first phase of construction of 800 housing units and 60,000 square feet of commercial space on the site. The development had been held up partly because of the 2008 recession and partly because of Measure A banning construction of apartment buildings in the city, which city officials worked around by increasing the number of affordable housing units on the project. That decision also gained favor with the Navy, which had previously turned down the city of Oakland's proposal to develop the former Oak Knoll Naval Hospital into a luxury golf course because it didn't provide a broad public benefit. Work at the air base is expected to lay the foundation for the development of nearly 900 acres of bay front property over the next 25 years, Jennifer Ott, the chief operating officer for the city's project at Alameda Point, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Upland General Plan Update Draws Criticism

City leaders in the city of Upland have received sharp rebukes from residents  over its draft update to the city's general plan, with residents accusing the City Council of holding secret meetings, padding its pensions, and attempting to rubber stamp proposed updates to the plan. Residents are concerned about proposals in the plan to increase housing density in anticipation of the population growing from 75,000  81,462 by 2035, potentially constraining the city's water supply and changing the character of the city. "This is not an unchangeable document right now," Councilwoman Carol Timm said at a City Council meeting, according to the Daily Bulletin. "It is not set in stone, and we have not voted on the document, it is a draft document."

L.A. May Revive Digital Billboards

The Los Angeles City Council is considering reintroducing digital billboards in special districts throughout the city after they went dark because of a judicial order several years ago. Lawmakers are considering allowing two dozen districts to designate specific areas for the digital signs, along with a special permitting process that could allow sign companies to place the billboards outside of the districts. While some community members have complained about the harsh glare and blinking displays from the signs, some officials -- including several San Fernando Valley councilmembers -- contend that they could revitalize struggling commercial areas.

Rail Authority Seeks Private Funding

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has issued a "request for expressions of interest" to private industry, seeking to augment funds for its high speed rail with currently-nonexistent private investment on the $68 billion project. The request seeks input on how businesses believe they can best participate in financing, building and delivering a ready-to-operate system of electric passenger trains by the early 2020s. The agency currently envisions seeking a developer to design, build, finance, and maintain its "initial operating segment," a 300-mile stretch from Merced to Burbank, in exchange for a 25- to 50-year schedule of "availability payments" in the form of cap-and-trade money to repay the developer's capital investment. The agency currently has about $6 billion available from Prop. 1A and federal transportation funds.

Reports Describe Inequitable Impacts of Housing Shortage

A pair of new reports highlight the housing woes that Californians are facing even after the state has recovered from the economic recession of 2009.

The first report, a survey of 80 community-based nonprofits by the California Reinvestment Coalition, found that spiking rents are forcing out long-term tenants throughout the state while 77 percent of nonprofits believe that potential homebuyers almost always lose out to institutional investors -- able to purchase homes in cash and financed by Main Street banks -- when trying to buy a lender-owned property. "As a nonprofit, we had a grant awarded to us through HUD's Neighborhood Stabilization Program," Lori Gay, president and CEO of Neighborhood Housing Services of Los Angeles County said in the report. "We got $60 million, which has really helped us to compete. But even with all of that cash, we still get outbid by investors sometimes before the properties are even placed on the market." 

The second report from the ACLU, titled "A Tale of Two Recoveries: Economic Recoveries for Black and White Homeowners,"  highlights that, while both black and white families suffered in the economic recession, median white household wealth has stopped falling while median black household wealth has continued to drop by an additional 13 percent between 2009 and 2011. The report points to various factors affecting the disparity, including that black families had a larger proportion of their wealth in home equity before the quality, and that black Americans were far more likely to receive costly predatory loans during the subprime boom.

California Species Considered for Endangered List

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken steps to possibly list four new California species under the Endangered Species Act. A review has determined that there is substantial evidence to warrant in-depth reviews of populations of the Western spadefoot toad of the Central Valley, the Relictual slender salamander in the lower Kern River Canyon, the Kern Canyon slender salamander in the lower Kern River Canyon, and the Foothill yellow-legged frog of the Upper San Gabriel River. Factors prompting the review are habitat losses, inadequacy of regulatory mechanisms, and pollution, among other factors.

L.A. Seeks to Improve Ellis Act Enforcement

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Housing Committee of the City Council Chair Gil Cedillo introduced a motion to improve enforcement in the Ellis Act, which allows properties with rent stabilization to be removed from the rental market. The motion would close a loophole wherein landlords have been able to evict tenants using the Ellis Act by ensuring that property owners follow the City's Rent Stabilization Ordinance which requires that "Ellissed" properties being re-rented or rebuilt within five years provide housing at affordable levels. 

CARB Holds Symposium on Transportation and Carbon Emissions

Three of California's major public agencies on transportation and the environment along with experts in the field will conduct a joint symposium to discuss ways to transform California's transportation system to conform with Governor Jerry Brown's order to reduce California's use of petroleum by 50 percent by 2030. The symposium will take place July 8, and it will consist of the Air Resources Board, the California Transportation Agency, and the California Department of Transportation. The agenda is posted here: http://arb.ca.gov/cc/pillars/transportation/agenda.pdf.