Charles Lester, former Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission was dismissed from his role after nearly five years Feb. 10. The 7-5 vote took place behind closed doors after seven hours of public testimony, the majority of which supported Lester. Supporters of Lester say pro-development commissioners were hoping to oust him. Lester defended himself by saying he and his staff preserved the coastal resources and public access with rising sea levels, growing populations and increased pressure from developers. However, one of the commissioners who spoke against Lester, Dayna Bochco, complained of the lack of communication on important projects. As commission Chair Steve Kinsey explained to Los Angeles Times, "the decision revolved around leadership and not around an issue of greater flexibility for development." Senior Deputy Director Jack Ainsworth will lead the commission staff until the commission selects a new executive director.
LAO Report Calls for More Private Development
Legislative Analyst's Office released the latest in a series of reports addressing California's worsening housing crisis. The report, "Perspectives on Helping Low-Income Californians Afford Housing," suggests that facilitating more private, market-rate housing development in the state's coastal urban communities would help make housing more affordable for low-income Californians. Existing affordable housing programs assist only a small proportion of low-income Californians. Most low-income Californians receive little or no assistance. Expanding affordable housing programs to help these households likely would be extremely challenging and prohibitively expensive, according to the report. The report recommends that the state focus on programs directed at specialized housing needs-such as homeless individuals and families or persons with significant physical and mental health challenges. The report notes some key findings: 1) California's averaged rents increased more than did rents in places with more home building; 2) areas with low home production had more displacement of low-income than did places with robust private development; and 3) places with inclusionary housing policies had no less displacement than those places without it. The report follows last year's California's High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences, which discusses the housing shortage and need for increasing homes in coastal urban communities.
Obama Budget Includes Infrastructure Earmarks for California
President Obama's 2017 federal budget addresses infrastructure projects and other projects related to sustainability and climate change in California. Sacramento could receive $75 million for a proposed 3.3-mile rail line from West Sacramento to Old Sacramento, downtown depot, Kings arena and the state capitol to name a few key stops. To receive the funding, Sacramento must come up with an equal amount in local funding such as tax increases for property owners near the proposed route. Another project possibly receiving funds is $32 million for Sacramento's Natomas levees. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority could receive $375 million for two subway extensions and a connector through downtown LA. Orange County Transportation Authority hopes to use the $125 million for the 4.1-mile streetcar project in Santa Ana.
L.A. City, County Pledge Funds and Cooperation on Homelessness
Los Angeles County has the largest chronic homeless population in the country, and the city and county are teaming up together after declaring it reaching emergency proportions. The city has proposed $100 million this year and nearly $2 billion over the next decade for a city homeless coordinator, housing, public restrooms and showers, and providing affordable housing. The county has approved an additional $150 million over two years to help these nearly 44,000 individuals. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the New York Times, "This is the highest priority that we have, to make sure that nobody is living on the streets and nobody is without a home." The mayor says voters will be asked to approve additional funding, and some revenue will come from shifting existing funds.
Survey: Demise of Redevelopment's Impact on Affordable Housing Developers
The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco released results of a survey of Affordable Housing Developers on the state of affordable housing in the wake of the 2012 elimination of redevelopment agencies. The survey was designed to "learn how they are faring following RDA dissolution; how their development pipelines have been affected by the loss of RDA funds; and how new legislation, local regulation, or funding strategies have impacted affordable housing development over the past three years." The responses are from 71 development organizations across the state. The report says 83 percent of respondents must pursue more funding sources than they did under RDA, 74 percent have projects that have been postponed or jeopardized, 80 percent of the projects have been negatively impacted by rising cost of lands and 61 percent have had to reduce staff because of funding reductions. Only 26 percent say their jurisdictions have developed post-RDA regulatory reforms for affordable housing.
Court Deals Setback to L.A. Metro Subway Alignment through Beverly Hills
District Judge George Wu ruled that the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority failed to property consider environmental studies for a proposed subway tunnel under Beverly Hills High School. Metro originally had a route under Santa Monica Boulevard in Century City, but realized it was in earthquake faults and therefore relocated the alignment. Activists in Beverly Hills have decried the new alignment, citing a range of safety concerns and accusing Metro of a "bait and switch." Beverly Hills listed nine reasons were Metro's EIS failed to meet NEPA requirements. These issues include air quality and public health, methane gas and oil wells, seismic faults, and public land usage to name a few. This section is expected to begin construction soon and be opened in 2026. Judge Wu's ruling is preliminary, and both parties must respond and return to court March 14 for a finalization of the ruling.
Kings County Files Suit against High Speed Rail
A lawsuit recently filed by Kings County and two Central Valley farmers against the California High Speed Rail Authority argues that the California bullet train violates state law because it is not following restricted placed under the $9 billion bond act that voters approved in 2008. They are explicitly arguing the project is not financially viable, will operate slower than promised ad has changed its design. The lawsuit hopes to halt funding for construction and land acquisition, and a ruling will be issued within ninety days. The lawyers for the Rail Authority say it is a disagreement of the expert opinions, and that the shared railway in the bay area will cut funding by $30 billion.
Novato to Add Station to New Commuter Rail System
The Novato City Council voted to move forward with development of a third train station downtown to be served by the forthcoming SMART commuter rail service. The station would cost an additional $2.4 million. The mayor Pat Eklund and member Pam Drew opposed, while three approved of the additional station. The two opposed are worried about financing the additional project, but as Mayor Pro Tem Athas said "the benefits far outweigh the expense in the long run." The council voted against the city staff's recommendation. The SMART board of directors will meet next month to discuss integrating the downtown station into the current plan.