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Report Questions State's Brownfields Program

A NEW REPORT by the state auditor suggests that California's brownfields program could be stronger. The state lacks an inventory of brownfields and even a definition of the term, which generally refers to abandoned industrial sites, gasoline stations and mines. The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has an inventory of only 46 "orphan" sites, which are polluted locations for which the responsible party has not been found or cannot fund cleanup. The State Water Resources Control Board told the auditor that there really is no such thing as an orphan site because of the state's strict liability laws. The auditor reported that DTSC spent $9.7 million on orphan site cleanup from July 1998 through April 2003 a tiny fraction of the $124 million to $146 million the agency anticipates needing to remediate the identified sites. Yet a 2000-01 general fund allocation of $85 million to a cleanup fund went largely unspent, as DTSC returned $77 million to the general fund. The auditor recommended state agencies do a better job of pursuing federal funding, rely more heavily on hazardous materials fees for cleanup, settle on a uniform definition of brownfield and obtain a comprehensive list of orphan sites and locations for which only partial liability could be determined. The agencies disputed some of the findings and recommendations, especially the call for a definition and site inventory. A site's presence on such a list may "create a stigma or negative perception" and hinder reuse. "[H]aving no definition, or any obligation stemming from a property being designated as such, may in many instances encourage or facilitate property transactions that may not otherwise be pursued," the California Environmental Protection Agency wrote in response. The full report is available on the state auditor's website: www.bsa.ca.gov/bsa/index.html. ***** SAN BENITO COUNTY voters will decide on a slow-growth initiative after all. The initiative headed for the March 2004 ballot would require voter approval of rezones for projects of 100 or more units, cap growth at 1% annually, and quadruple the minimum parcel size for tens of thousands of acres of agricultural and range land. In April, San Benito County supervisors adopted the initiative rather than put it on the ballot. But the county Farm Bureau and a business organization fought back by gathering signatures on a referendum petition. Initiative proponents and county officials questioned the technical legality of the referendum, but supervisors decided to let voters have the final word. "The board feels this is bigger than any of us," Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Scagliotti said before the unanimous vote to place the initiative on the ballot. ***** A DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES redevelopment plan has been blocked by a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge. When the city hit the court-mandated spending cap for the central business district redevelopment area in 2000 10 years ahead of schedule the city moved properties into a new city center redevelopment project area. The city hoped to encourage development of a hotel and entertainment complex near Staples Center. Los Angeles County sued, arguing that the city was trying to get around the spending cap. Judge Marvin Lager agreed, ruling that the city "may not do indirectly what [it] could not do directly." The ruling was similar to a 2002 appellate court ruling striking down a City of Upland attempt to move property from an old redevelopment project area to a newer project area (see CP&DR Legal Digest, August 2002). ***** LOS ANGELES MAYOR James Hahn has released a new plan for reworking Los Angeles International Airport that would not add to the airport's current, theoretical capacity of 78.9 million passengers per year. Hahn's plan calls for replacing the parking garage adjacent to terminals with a new main terminal, shifting runways and taxiways farther apart and building a new parking and screening facility a few blocks away, just off the San Diego Freeway. The plan is a contrast to previous Mayor Richard Riordan's blueprint, which would have increased LAX capacity to roughly 90 million passengers per year. The airport handled abut 67 million passengers during 2000, its biggest year. Hahn's plan makes meeting the 78.9 million passenger capacity mark realistic by providing more room between runways and taxiways. But passenger growth beyond that level should be at regional airports, contended Hahn, who made no provision for additional runways at LAX. The plan has received a mixed reception from the airlines and other public officials. ***** THE CALIFORNIA DEBT and Investment Advisory Committee reported that redevelopment assistance was essential for most of the 28 transit-oriented, mixed-use developments CDIAC studied in a recent survey. The survey focused on five specific projects and found that "absent redevelopment funding and programming support, these transit-oriented projects could not have proceeded." The July report came in response to a Senate Local Government Committee request for CDIAC input on SB 465 (Soto). The bill would allow local governments to establish redevelopment project areas within half a mile of transit stations whether or not blight existed, and would allow transit village redevelopment project areas to collect tax increment for an extra 15 years. The bill stalled in the Senate Appropriations Committee but could return later in the two-year legislative session. ***** FARMS IN THE CENTRAL Valley will be subjected to water discharge requirements for the first time under a plan approved in July by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. The plan requires owners of 7 million acres of irrigated farmland to register with the state agency and to monitor water runoff for pollution. Farmers complained that the plan was unworkable, while environmentalists argued that it did not go far enough to protect rivers and groundwater. The program does not require farmers to pay enforcement costs, and the agency conceded it does not have the money for ongoing enforcement. The board vote was a reversal of a late 2002 decision to extend an exemption from water quality requirements to farmers. The board reconsidered its decision when the Attorney General's Office found that Board Member Beverly Alves, a Glenn County rice farmer, had a conflict of interest and should not have voted or lobbied her colleagues. The regulation scheme now heads to the Water Resources Control Board. ***** THE GOVERNOR'S OFFICE of Planning and Research has released a second draft of an update to the office's general plan guidelines. The second round contains extensive revisions to a new chapter on sustainable development and environmental justice. The second draft also includes new material on trends such as "visioning" and the early identification of broad planning goals. The agency anticipates publishing the first update to the general plan guidelines since 1998 by year's end. More information is available on the website, www.opr.ca.gov. ***** A NEW TRANSPORTATION impact fee in western Riverside County and 14 cities led to a flood of building permit applications before the fee took effect in June. Cities and the county issued permits for nearly $500 million worth of housing during May up from about $90 million worth of construction permitted in May 2002. The City of Moreno Valley alone issued permits for 830 new homes this May. The $6,650-per-house fee is intended to help fund $2.6 billion in transportation improvements during the next 20 years (see CP&DR Insight, March 2003). ***** AN ALAMEDA COUNTY County growth control initiative remains intact despite the First District Court of Appeal's reconsideration of its earlier ruling upholding the initiative. The unanimous three-judge panel in July stuck with its decision, despite granting developers' request for a rehearing. Shea Homes, Trafalgar Inc. and a rural Livermore area property owner contended the initiative violated the single-subject rule and prevented cities and the county from meeting fair-share housing requirements. Measure D, approved by voters in 2000, set growth boundaries around cities and unincorporated communities in central and eastern Alameda County (see CP&DR, December 2000, October 2000). ***** THE SANTA CRUZ COUNTY grand jury has criticized county supervisors for meddling with day-to-day planning department operations. Supervisors use phone calls, emails and personal meetings to direct routine operation of the planning department, according to the grand jury, which blamed the micromanagement and political pressure for preventing planners from completing their duties in a timely fashion. ***** IN MAIL BALLOTING that concluded in July, Santa Ana property owners overwhelmingly rejected an assessment to fund street and park maintenance, street lighting and graffiti removal. Only 29.4% of property owners voted for the assessment, which was set at $33 a year for houses and $24 annually per apartment.