The California Transportation Commission has released staff recommendations (pdf) for the awarding of up to $215 million in grants in Cycle 2 of its Active Transportation Program. The grants are designed to help localities fund improvements to promote cycling, walking, and other alternative modes of transportation. Funding will be broken down into three categories: statewide (50 percent), small urban and rural (10 percent), and large metropolitan planning organizations (40 percent). The commission received 617 applications totaling over $1 billion in grant requests. Commission staff narrowed the list down to 86 projects in the statewide category and 27 in the rural/small urban category. The vast majority of recommended projects are in disadvantaged communities. The program will be finalized at the October 21-22 commission meeting.
Petition Filed to Take San Jose Housing Case to Supreme Court
San Jose's law forcing developers to build affordable housing is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, after lawyers representing developer interests and property rights advocates filed a petition saying that the law and others like it across California violate federal constitutional protections. The California Supreme Court unanimously upheld the law, which requires developers to offer 15 percent of units in new projects at below-market rates. The industry argues the law is an unconstitutional "taking" of property and that San Jose has not established a connection between the building of new housing and the affordable housing problem. "The California Supreme Court's ruling carves arbitrary limits and loopholes in core constitutional property-rights safeguards as laid down by the U.S. Supreme Court," Brian Hodges, the Pacific Legal Foundation's attorney, told the Contra Costa Times.
S.F. Bay Water Quality Improves
A new report finds that the waters of the San Francisco Bay are clean enough to swim in and that the fish are edible, despite lingering mercury and PCBs from over a hundred years of mining and industry. Most chemicals measured in the Pulse of the Bay report, released by the San Francisco Estuary Institute, were below the threshold of concern, though the water around the Oakland and Richmond harbors and Hunters Point, along with the shoreline on the western side of the South Bay, have high concentrations of PCBs. Mercury is still seeping down from rivers into the bay, but chinook salmon and jacksmelt in the bay are safe to eat. The report also found that Marina Lagoon was the worst place to swim in the bay, and it predicted that water quality of the bay in 50 years will improve as runoff and wastewater are recycled, but climate change will counteract some of the improvements by reducing flows of freshwater from the mountains into the bay by 2065.
Los Angeles Proposes Plan for Funding Seismic Upgrades
Los Angeles officials presented a plan for property owners and tenants to equally split the costs of retrofitting more than 1,000 concrete buildings and at least 12,000 wooden buildings that face the greatest risk of collapse in a major earthquake. In the plan, tenants would face rent increases of a maximum $38 per month over a five to ten year period. The proposal follows several months of back-and-forth between tenants and owners, as lawmakers hesitated to pass a similar measure to San Francisco's retrofitting law, which passed all the costs to tenants. Owners in Los Angeles are concerned that they wouldn't be able to obtain loans if they couldn't demonstrate that their properties could provide enough income to pay back the borrowed funds, placing hope on a state bill that would give owners a tax credit worth 30 percent of the retrofitting costs. Costs of strengthening wooden apartments could reach $130,000, while upgrading concrete buildings could run in the millions.
S.D. Voters to Consider Tax for Convention Center
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer plans to put a new hotel room tax to voters to fund a contiguous expansion of the city's convention center. Faulconer's move comes in the wake of a highly-anticipated report that found that the contiguous expansion would bring more dividends than an alternative proposal that would build a "campus" expansion several blocks away from the existing center. The contiguous expansion would build more than 300,000 square feet would cost $539 million as opposed to $428 million for the campus extension. But, according to a study commissioned by the city, a waterfront convention center would reap more than 2.5 times in spending by convention goers. However, with Faulconer's support of the contiguous expansion, JMI Realty, the owners of a parcel of property across the street that was planned to become a 1,600-room hotel to go along with the expansion, might not build the project, as it favored the campus extension. Faulconer's plan would require a two-thirds vote and could be subject to a legal challenge through the California Coastal Act.
Proposed S.F. Moratorium Would be Ineffectual, Says Study
San Francisco's chief economist has found no evidence that a highly-contentious proposed moratorium on development in the Mission district would stop evictions or slow gentrification. The report from Ted Egan finds that the 18-to-30 month market rate housing moratorium would have no potential benefits like opening up land for affordable housing developers to buy, and that market rate housing actually drives down home prices in surrounding blocks. The report also finds that 97 percent of new upper-income people who move to San Francisco go into existing housing, not new housing. "A temporary moratorium would lead to slightly higher housing prices across the city, have no appreciable effect on no-fault eviction pressures and have a limited impact on the city's ability to produce affordable housing during the moratorium period," the report reads. The moratorium, if approved on the Nov. 3 ballot, would delay the construction of 752 to 807 units for an average of 10 to 17 months.
Housing Advocates Target City of Lafayette
San Francisco housing advocates are attempting to "Sue the Suburbs" to bring denser housing to the Bay Area -- once they can find a plaintiff. The effort specifically zooms in on a development in the city of Lafayette which originally would have brought in 315 moderate income units, but is now bringing 44 single-family homes that will sell for $1.2 million on average. Housing advocates, saying that one suburb's resistance to bring in dense housing exacerbates the housing crisis across the region, is trying to find people who could have rented one of the 315 apartments in the original plan had it been approved. The basis of the effort, begun by the San Francisco Bay Area Renters' Federation, comes from the 1982 Housing Accountability Act, which forbids a jurisdiction from denying approval, or reducing a project's density, unless it threatens health and safety in demonstrable ways. If they succeed, the effort could serve as an opening for officials to use the courts to force NIMBYs to accept density.
Light Rail Alternatives from L.A. to Artesia Released
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has released its alternatives for a light rail line between Downtown Los Angeles and Artesia. Urbanize LA highlights four alternative alignments to the light rail, which include a bus rapid transit and a low-speed maglev. The Southern Califorina Association of Governments has recommended the light rail as the preferred option for the West Santa Ana Branch, funded by the Measure R half-cent sales tax, while exploring two separate alignments on the East Bank and the West Bank of the Los Angeles River, costing $3.79 billion and $4.31 billion respectively.
Study Predicts Three-Foot Rise in S.F. Bay by 2100
Climate change could cause the sea level of the San Francisco bay to rise by three feet by 2100, resulting in catastrophic damage to shoreline marshes critical to the health of the estuary, scientists with the San Francisco Estuary Partnership warn in a new report. The scientists issued a call for a major campaign to truck in sediment to replenish marshlands depleted by 160 years of construction of dams, levees, and shoreline developments that cut off normal freshwater flows. With rising sea levels due to climate change, the marshlands will serve as an important buffer between the sea and land. "Some of these marshes will serve as sponges," said Zach Wasserman, the chairman of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, "and there are other urbanized areas we will need to build up barriers to protect from rising waters."
Nine Species to Undergo Review for Endangered Status
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided that there is enough evidence to warrant in-depth review of the conservation status of several California species under the Endangered Species Act. The 90-day findings found enough information to review the California spotted owl, Inyo Mountains salamander, Kern Plateau salamander, lesser slender salamander, limestone salamander, Panamint alligator lizard, Shasta salamander, southern rubber boa, and tricolored blackbird, and to not delist the Stephens' kangaroo rat.
Ventura County Considers Transportation Tax
Polls show that support is growing for Ventura County to put a ballot measure for a half-cent sales tax to fund transportation improvements, almost garnering the needed two-thirds majority as 60 percent of responders said they would support the measure. Approval of the tax - a version of which every other county in Southern California currently has - would help officials widen HIghway 101 at a cost of $800 to $900 million, adding a lane in each direction along 28 miles, and would add one to two lanes to State Route 118 at a cost of $150 million. The county is about $300 million to $400 million short for both projects, according to Darren Kettle, executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission. The average motorist in the county now wastes about 23 hours a year stuck in rush-hour traffic, and amount of delays experienced on the 101 is expected to jump by 50 percent by 2035 if no improvements are made.