The state Department of Water Resources (DWR) has recommended that the City of Sacramento consider limiting development in the Natomas Basin, the fastest growing part of the city, because of flood threats (see CP&DR Local Watch, October 2005).

In July, the Army Corps of Engineers reported that Natomas lacks 100-year flood protection because of levee seepage concerns. “This is particularly troubling since Natomas is a deep basin and may experience flooding in excess of 15 feet,” DWR Director Lester Snow wrote to Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo. “With less than 100-year flood protection, the chance of homes flooding over the next 10 years is approximately 10%, much greater than the risk of a home fire.”

The letter emphasizes that DWR is working with the city and the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency to upgrade the levees, and that voter approval of two bonds in November will help. In the meantime, though, DWR urged the city to consider:

• Limiting new construction;
• Requiring building designs relative to potential flooding depth;
• Notifying property owners and renters annually of the flood risk;
• Requiring builders to provide flood insurance to new residents until “the minimum level of flood protection is achieved;”
• A “robust assessment of flood risk in general plan updates,” and possibly new policies.
The state agency sent a similar letter to Sutter County, in which the northern end of the Natomas Basin lies.

Sacramento officials expressed some frustration with the letter, and there are no indications the city will slow Natomas development. Sutter County officials said development of the planned 7,500-acre Sutter Point project will not likely get started before levees are upgraded.

of Supervisors has voted 3-2 to pay the developer of a 440-acre project in Upland $102 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the developer. Colonies Partners sued the county’s flood control district over the cost of providing a 65-acre flood control project in the midst of the 1,150-unit project (see CP&DR In Brief, February 2004; Local Watch, December 2003).

The litigation had already reached an appellate court once and appeared headed back in July when a Superior Court for a second time ruled that the flood control district’s easements on the property no longer existed, meaning the county would have to purchase the land for the flood control channel and basin. The county counsel’s office and outside attorneys with Jones Day disputed the ruling and recommended against a settlement, but a sharply divided board approved the $102 million agreement anyway.

Dissenting Supervisors Dennis Hansberger and Josie Gonzales contended Colonies Partners never provided documentation to support the amount of the settlement, and Hansberger later told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin that a taxpayer lawsuit for a gift of public funds would be “entirely appropriate.” But the board majority said it was in the best interest of everyone to settle the matter.

The flood control district will apparently use its reserves, issue bonds and sell surplus property to make the $102 million in payments over 10 years.

The City of Lynwood’s Redevelopment Agency shorted its low- and moderate-income housing fund by $193,000 over three years, spent nearly half of housing monies on planning and administration, failed to record affordability covenants on subsidized housing units, and held property longer than legally permitted, according to a recent audit by the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

For the three years audited, 2002-03, 2003-04 and 2004-05, the agency deducted pass-through amounts, fees and transfers to schools from the gross tax increment before allocating money to the low/mod housing fund, according to HCD. The result was $193,000 less than required for the housing account, as state law mandates that 20% of gross increment go into the affordable housing fund. The city blamed Los Angeles County accountants and concurred with HCD’s conclusion.

The redevelopment agency spent 13%, 48% and 45% of low/mod housing funds on planning and administration during the three audited years, without determining that the expenses were necessary. The agency countered that it was negotiating and approving two affordable housing projects during that period.

State auditors reported that they were unable to confirm affordability restrictions for housing units subsidized by the redevelopment agency. The agency said that no redevelopment funds had been used for the projects, as the city relied on federal funding for affordable housing projects. However, HCD said that assertion contradicted the agency’s audited financial statements, which say the agency spent more than $1.3 million on housing rehabilitation and construction over a six-year period. The city should expect a follow-up audit on this issue, HCD said.

As for the six properties held longer than the five- or 10-year statutory maximum, the agency reported that it had sold three parcels to the city for a park, is developing one parcel, and is negotiating with a developer regarding two others.

Water began flowing in the Lower Owens River in December when Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa turned a control knob opening a gate that has directed the river into the Los Angeles Aqueduct since 1913.

After decades of political battles and litigation involving Inyo County and environmentalists, Los Angeles in 1991 agreed to restore the river. But the city moved slowly, prompting more litigation. The city lost recent rounds and was facing the loss of some water rights if it did not start restoring the river (see CP&DR Environment Watch, October 2006).
The river will now flow an additional 62 miles through the Owens Valley before the city diverts it into the aqueduct. The project also includes restoration of riparian habitat along the river.

Cynthia Bryant is the new director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. Bryant replaces Sean Walsh, whom Gov. Schwarzenegger has named a senior advisor.

Bryant most recently served as chief deputy legislative secretary for the governor. Prior to that, she was a policy aide to state Senate Republicans, legal counsel for the Assembly Republican Caucus and counsel to the Assembly Rules Committee.

Gov. Schwarzenegger has extended the life of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley by two years, until the end of 2008. The governor formed the partnership headed by members of his cabinet in 2005 to address economic, transportation, land use and social issues in the eight-county region (see CP&DR, February 2006). Thus far, the group’s major success has been getting attention focused on the need for Highway 99 improvements.

The truce between the City of Berkeley and the University of California over campus development appears to have crumbled.

In December, the UC Board of Regents approved the “southeast campus integrated projects” program, which calls for renovating and seismically strengthening Memorial Stadium, constructing a 142,000-square-foot athletic center, and converting the Bowles Hall dormitory into suites for corporate executives attending classes. Two weeks later, the city filed a lawsuit, contending that the project violates the Alquist-Priolo seismic safety law, and that the project description and UC’s search for alternative sites were inadequate under the California Environmental Quality Act. A neighborhood association and environmental groups have filed two other lawsuits over the projects.

In 2005, the city and UC reached a settlement over the school’s long range development plan after years of antagonism (see CP&DR In Brief, July 2005; Public Development, June 2005). But the friendly feelings are apparently over.

The City of Berkeley eased its historic preservation regulations in December, when the City Council approved a revised preservation ordinance. In November, Berkeley voters rejected an initiative that would have locked in place the previous regulations.

The new rules make it harder to designate historic sites and structures, and make it easier to remove things from the protected list. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates repeatedly argued that the old rules were abused to halt development.