A group calling itself the Coalition to Preserve L.A. announced that it is going to shoot for a ballot measure to block "mega-projects" in Los Angeles. The initiative would effectively freeze all development in the city that does not conform to the current General Plan and community plans. The initiative includes several major provisions: 1) halt amendments to the City's General Plan in small bits and pieces for individual real estate developer projects; 2) require the City Planning Commission to systematically review and update the City's community plans and make all zoning code provisions and projects consistent with the City's General Plan; 3) place city employees directly in charge of preparation of environmental review of major development projects; and 4) impose a construction moratorium for projects approved by the City that increased some types of density until officials can complete review and update of community plans or 24 months, whichever occurs first.

The initiative's main backers, several of whom have actively protested major developments in Hollywood, say the initiative will help preserve the character of Los Angeles neighborhoods. The measure would apply citywide. "This ballot measure is bad for L.A., and bad for the economy," City Council Member Mitch O'Farrell told the Los Angeles Times. "It's bad for transit-oriented neighborhoods. It will also cost thousands of good-paying jobs." The measure requires 61,486 signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.   

Proposed Ballot Initiative Would Shift Funds from Rail to Water Storage

Two Republican state senators are backing a proposed ballot initiative that would take billions from the state's bullet train project and spend it instead on generating more water in the state. The initiative would take the $8 billion left of the original $9 billion in train bonds along with $2.7 billion in storage money and spend it on water facilities including two new dams, an expansion of current dams, and recharging aquifers. Hidden within the proposal is an amendment to the state constitution that would make domestic use and crop irrigation the top priorities for California water in lieu of the environment. "It's a very sneaky attack on the environment," Doug Obegi, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the LA Times. Bob Huff and George Runner are the two senators who have supported the initiative, which is targeted for the Nov. 2016 ballot. "If you're down to your last 50 gallons," Huff asks, "would you give it to a person who's thirsty or a fish so it could migrate upstream? People should be No. 1, agriculture No. 2 because it's feeding people."

S.F. Adopts Measure to Curb Displacement, Support African-American Residents

 The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to reserve 40 percent of all new affordable housing units for people living within a half mile of where the units are being built. Passed by a 9-2 vote, the legislation comes as a way to stabilize the city's African American population, which has declined from 13.4 percent in 1970 to 5.5 percent last year, by allowing them to take advantage of new developments in historically black neighborhoods, including the huge Hunters Point Shipyard development. Less than 1 percent of subsidized units built by private developers and sold to low-income residents between 2008 and 2014 went to African Americans. Including rentals, the figure rises to 4.7 percent. Supervisor Katy Tang, whose district has virtually zero subsidized housing units being built, voted against the legislation, saying that residents in her district would be pushed to the "very, very bottom of the waiting list."

O.C. Housing Prices May Push New Homebuyers to Inland Empire

A new study finds that housing costs in Orange County are pricing out potential millennial homeowners, making it more lucrative for them to buy homes in the Inland Empire and commute to Orange County. The study from online real estate site Trulia finds that Orange County is the fifth least affordable housing market in the nation, with a typical mortgage payment consuming 57.4 percent of a millennial household's income in the first year of purchase. To be considered affordable, the mortgage payment must consume 31 percent or less of a homeowners gross income. The typical Inland Empire mortgage payment would represent 36.1 percent of income in the first year, but given expected wage growth, that percentage drops to 31 percent within just three years.

Plans Advance for Las Vegas High Speed Train 

The Nevada High-Speed Rail Authority unanimously selected XpressWest as the state's franchisee for construting a high-speed rail that will connect Las Vegas with Southern California. The initial phase of the XpressWest project, which will link Las Vegas to Victorville, Calif. and mostly run adjacent to Interstate 15, will cost $8 billion and take about five years to build. Project officials announced a $100 million investment from state-owner Chinese companies last month, aiding the project's commitment to avoid seeking any public funding from the state. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Environmental Groups File Suit over Farmers' Use of Water in Central Valley

An environmental coalition led by the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against Central Valley farmers and the federal government, alleging that the Bureau of Reclamation is violating federal law by devoting too much water to agriculture and not enough to fish, particularly the Chinook salmon and the Delta smelt. An estimated 95 percent of the salmon juveniles were wiped out last year because of a shortage of cool water. "The federal government's mismanagement of limited water supplies in the ongoing drought is a near death blow for Chinook salmon and the thousands of people whose livelihood is tied to the salmon industry," Kate Poole, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. Farm groups responded by stating agriculture agreed to keep millions of gallons of extra water in Shasta reservoir this year in an effort to keep the releases cold for the salmon, resulting in rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley fallowing about 25 percent of their land.

L.A. May Chip in for Part of $1.4 Billion in Sidewalk Repairs

Backtracking from previous positions holding that commercial owners should foot the bill for needed sidewalk repairs, Los Angeles City Council members tentatively supported ponying up money for sidewalk repairs both in residential and commercial areas. Tha plan, introduced by Councilman Paul Krekorian and supported by members of two committees on budget and public works, would make the city fund repairs the same way for all while curbing the amount it reimburses property owners, possibly by capping the maximum amount it would shell out per square foot. The city has pledged to spend $1.4 billion over the next three decades to fix its sidewalk backlog in a settlement with attorneys for the disabled. A previous plan would have seen the city inspecting sidewalks in commercial areas and warning owners they needed to be fixed. It would have then fixed the sidewalk itself if they failed to do so and charge the costs to the owners.

Napa County Proceeds with Climate Action Plan

Napa County has relaunched efforts to craft a climate action plan to reduce the county's annual greenhouse gas emissions after an unsuccessful attempt to create one in 2012. The attempt, to be shepherded by Ascent Environmental with $100,000 from the Board of Supervisors, falls in line with requirements in the county's 2008 general plan calling for a climate action plan as one of its mitigation measures. The 2012 plan sought to reduce emissions -- measured at 443,670 metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2005 -- by 15 percent. The Board of Supervisors declined to pass the previous plan amid apprehensions from the wine industry.

S.F. Approves Mega-Development in SoMa

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 to approve the four-tower, $1 billion 5M project on Fifth and Mission, finding that the project's benefits outweighed concerns about gentrifying effects on the area. The approval came as the developers -- Forest City Enterprises and the Hearst Corp. -- agreed to increase the percentage of affordable units in a 288-unit rental buildin to 40 percent and decrease the number of parking spaces from 463 to 331 spaces. The project also includes a 614,000 square feet of office space, a 400-unit, 470-foot-tall condominium tower, an 83-unit, 100 percent affordable senior project, and community open space. "There is not a disagreement on any side that there is a crisis of displacement in the city," Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the think tank SPUR told the supervisors as he spoke in support of 5M. "I know these votes are never very easy, but you will almost never get a project this good before you again."

Groups File CEQA Suit Against Project at Port of Los Angeles

A coalition of environmentalists, community groups, and Long Beach officials is seeking a court order to halt construction of a $500-million Port of Los Angeles rail yard, alleging that the project violates the California Environmental Quality Act by serious understating the pollution that would come from the facility. The 153-acre facility in Wilmington would border schools, playing fields, parks, and low-income neighborhoods in West Long Beach that already have disproportionately high rates of asthma and respiratory illness. The rail yard is predicted to handle up to 8,200 trucks a day and 2.8 million 20-foot shipping containers a year by 2035 to be placed onto trains. Port officials counter the plaintiffs' claim by stating that the project went beyond requirements of CEQA, and that the project will actually reduce truck traffic, freeway congestion and toxic emissions by eliminating 1.3 million truck trips a year along a 24-mile stretch of the 710 Freeway between the port and Burlington Northern's Hobart Yard.

Study Shows L.A. Freeway Expansion Gave Little Relief

A new study from analytics firm Inrix finds that a 5-year, $1.1 billion expansion project on the 405 Freeway has done little to reduce congestion on the freeway. The project, which added a carpool lane and numerous on- and off- ramps through the Sepulveda pass on the main Westside to San Fernando Valley artery, led to 2011's "Carmaggedon," which closed parts of the freeway for a weekend for construction work. "We cannot build out of this," traffic expert Kenny Morse told CBS Los Angeles. "The only way we can get out of this in Los Angeles would be mass transit."