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CP&DR News Briefs, April 18, 2016: L.A. Community Plan Updates; High Speed Rail Alignments; and More

Noemi Wyss on
Apr 18, 2016

With a controversial measure that would force the City of Los Angeles to update its 35 community plans headed for the March ballot, Mayor Eric Garcetti is calling for the update of all of the city's community plans. He intends to include funding in his upcoming budget to support this effort. And in a motion introduced by several councilmembers  the City Council instructed the Planning Department to report on overhauling the Community Plan program. They also called for recommendations on ways to increase oversight of the environmental review process, and upgrade outdated technology. 

City leaders also called for a new Citywide General Plan, which has not been fully updated in more than 20 years. "We have a responsibility to plan for prosperity and growth in ways that reflect the energy of this great City and protect the character of our neighborhoods," said Mayor Eric Garcetti. "I want Angelenos to have a sense of ownership over the development of their communities and these reforms help us get there." Garcetti pledged to nearly triple the planning department's community plan staff, to better ensure all plans are updated in no more than 10 years. The mayor's budget will include $1.5 million in new funding for the Community Planning program and General Plan program, as part of his upcoming 2016-17 budget. He also laid out a plan for ongoing funding for the program to ensure updates are completed within 36 months. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

 Rail Authority Releases Route Alternatives in S. California

The California High Speed Rail Authority released four reports, each describing a proposed alternative for the bullet train segment from Bakersfield to Anaheim. The segment is nearly 164 miles and the most technically complex, environmentally sensitive, and expensive part of the project, with 24 miles of tunnels as deep as 2,000 feet below the Tehachapi and San Gabriel mountains. One of the proposed routes would use surface tracks instead of an elevated platform into Union Station and using Metrolink's rails from Burbank to LA. The different routes will displace various numbers  of homes, ranging from 918 to 87. The Bakersfield to Palmdale section still has eight alternatives, after years of study, although the authority is trying to identify routes with less severe grades. The reports constitute supplemental alternatives analyses, to be followed by draft environmental impact reports for the four routes by the end of next year.

Los Angeles Considers Approaches to Bootleg Apartments, �Granny Flats'

A Los Angeles city council committee has backed an ordinance that would legalize unapproved "bootlegged" apartments, so long as they are deemed safe. Hundred of apartments have been closed every year because of inspections, which prompted an alliance of landlords and tenants pushing for an amnesty program. The new law now requires landlords to guarantee affordable units for more than 55 years if they want to legalize bootlegged apartments. These apartments are frequently built by adding walls to a bedroom or other space and are not permitted because of a lack of parking or other city codes. Legalizing these apartments is frequently a costly and long process, which causes many landlords to hide in the shadows and wait until they get cited to begin the process of legalization. Meanwhile, a recent court decision has complicated the city's efforts to approve backyard "granny flats." Some 379 granny flats are in compliance with a relatively lenient state law but, according to a recent lawsuit, are out of compliance with city code. The city is currently reviewing the different options before making a decision. 

Long Beach, San Jose Win Knight Cities Challenge

Two California cities, San Jose and Long Beach, are among nationwide winners of the 2016 Knight Cities Challenge, open to cities with Knight-Ridder newspapers. Nearly 4,500 cities applied and 37 winners are chosen to receive a grant for attracting talented residents, expanding economic opportunity, and creating a culture of civic engagement. Long Beach won $153,00 for installing pop-up voting stations in historically low turnout areas to encourage voting and celebrate democracy. The second project receive $300,000 and was an outdoor office that would encourage citizens to work in the park. Two projects in San Jose received a total of $200,000; one creates a night market with local crafts, food and entertainment and the other is for community events celebrating Mexican culture.

Natural Resources Agency Grant Programs Open for Comment

The California Natural Resources Agency opened two grant programs for public comment: California Urban Rivers Grant Program and Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation (EEM) Program. For the Urban Rivers, a project must either promote groundwater recharge, reduce energy consumption, treat runoff using natural processes, create or restore native habitat or be related to climate change. The EEM Program offers grants to local, state or federal government agencies or non-profits that organize projects related to mitigating environmental impacts caused by new or modified public transportation. The Museum Grant Program and River Parkways grant programs are closed and awards will be released in July.

Program to Protect Residents from Freeway Pollution Initiated in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to approve land-use restrictions for some of the most polluted neighborhoods and adopt citywide requirements for higher-rated air filters in new developments near freeways. The ordinance is an acknowledgment of environmental justice related to air pollution and the health hazards that low-income populations suffer as a result of pollution. The program, Clean Up Green Up, will start with a pilot program in three predominantly Latino districts: Boyle Heights, Wilmington in the harbor, and Pacoima and Sun Valley in eastern San Fernando Valley. Businesses in these "green zones" will be required to adhere to more stringent development standards such as setbacks, landscaping requirements and buffers. The pilot program began with more than 1,000 businesses across the three areas. Many of these areas have commercial areas of oil operations, auto dismantlers, port-related trucking, junkyards, factories and freeways.

San Francisco Considers $5 Billion Price Tag for New Sea Wall           

San Francisco Port Commission released a report (pdf) estimating that it will cost $5 billion to protect the wharf against sea level rise and major earthquakes. The current seawall, stretching from Fisherman's Wharf to Mission Creek, sits on top of 100 year-old landfill made up of young bay mud and marine clay, a rock pyramid and a bulkhead wall. There is a 72 percent chance a large earthquake will happen in the next 30 years, with a high probability of causing major damage to the wall and the areas behind it. Potential solutions are retrofitting the current wall and wharf, improving the liquefiable fill land-side of the seawall or jet grouting, which means pouring concrete into hoses in the ground. The Commission is proposing a combination of all three and recommends that the work be completed within ten years. 

Lennar Urban Wins Bid to Redevelop Base in Concord

Lennar Urban has won the bid, on a unanimous city council vote, to redevelop Concord's formal naval weapons station into a mixed use community. Further negotiations with the city will determine the exact terms of the deal. Lennar Urban was the only developer left after Catellus Development Corp dropped out for improper lobbying. An investigation showed Lennar gave $17,000 to former Mayor Tim Grayson's campaign for state Assembly and Concord officials decided, behind closed doors, to suppress a city staff report that recommended Catellus. Citizens are worried because of the dishonest and untrustworthy way it ran in the bid process, that the $6 billion project will not go as planned. The city council is looking into pushing a higher-than-average percent of affordable homes. The 2,200-acre development includes housing, parks, shops and community centers; Lennar's plan includes 500 acres of affordable housing. 

Arcadia Attempts to Curb 'Mansionization'

Activists in Arcadia hoping to stop "mansionization" or the construction of large homes in place of the old, smaller, ranch-style homes have failed in their efforts to place a measure on the November ballot. While the activists collected over 3,000 signatures, the effort encountered problems with the timeline of collections and incomplete forms. The activists must now decide to take the matter to court over the incomplete signatures. The City Council is trying to take matters into their own hands. They voted, 3-2, to create a plan that would determine maximum floor-area ratios to limit the square footage of a home based on the lot size. The Los Angeles suburb has famously undergone a transformation in recent years as new residents, many from Asia, have replaced small homes with mansions.

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