The status of the California Coastal Commission was everything but clear in January, following a December 30 appellate court ruling that the Commission's composition was unconstitutional. The court ruled that the authority of the Assembly speaker and Senate Rules Committee to appoint eight of twelve commissioners and remove them at will violated the separation of powers doctrine (for details, see Legal Digest, Page 7).
Gov. Davis called a special session of the Legislature on January 22 "to keep the California Coastal Commission viable and doing its job." Davis said he was working with state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) and Assemblywoman Hannah Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and expected to sign legislation by the end January. The bills would give legislative appointees to the Commission fixed terms and would prohibit lawmakers from removing Commissioners at will. The legislation would keep the current system that gives the governor, the Assembly speaker and the Senate Rules Committee four appointees each.
Whether such a measure would satisfy the court was unknown. Property rights activists said they would not accept any measure that allows lawmakers to appoint more than a token representative to the Commission.
"The Legislature has to get out of the process," said Sacramento attorney Ronald Zumbrun, who brought the case against the Coastal Commission.
An injunction preventing the Coastal Commission from considering permits or issuing cease and desist orders was scheduled to take effect January 29. The Third District Court of Appeal rejected Attorney General Bill Lockyer's request for a rehearing, but coastal commissioners said in January they would ask the state Supreme Court to review the decision.
In the meantime, the status of the agency as a whole appeared to remain unchanged. In numerous communications, Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas noted that the appellate court did not strike down the 1976 Coastal Act, which established state oversight of lands and waters in the state coastal zone.
CENTRAL VALLEY SMOG and the lack of a plan for clearing the air could prevent construction of a large power plant. California Energy Commission analysts have recommended denial of a permit to build a 1060 megawatt, gas-fired power plant in the Fresno County city of San Joaquin because of air pollution concerns.
The denial stems from developer Calpine Corporation's proposed air pollution mitigations. Calpine proposed purchasing emission reduction credits and shutting down or modifying the businesses that have been producing the pollution — a standard mitigation. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution District approved Calpine's plan. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that because the eight-county district does not have an approved plan for cleaning up the Central Valley's air, the emission credits are unavailable.
State Energy Commission analysts sided with the EPA and further found that the emission reduction credits were inadequate even if they were available.
FORMER SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY Supervisor Lynn Bedford pleaded not guilty in January to five criminal charges stemming from a proposed power plant at the Port of Stockton.
Federal prosecutors allege Bedford and Monte McFall, a former San Joaquin County sheriff's deputy and longtime political operative, colluded to block Calpine from building a power plant in an attempt to clear the way for rival Sunlaw Corporation. Authorities allege Sunlaw promised to pay McFall and his associates $2 million if Sunlaw won the right to build. Bedford was indicted in December, one month after he lost a re-election bid.
McFall allegedly told Calpine that unless the company dropped its Port of Stockton plans, he would use his political connections to block the project and he would work to kill a proposed 1,100 megawatt Calpine power plant in Alameda County. Bedford introduced a Board of Supervisors resolution opposing Calpine's Stockton proposal. Both also are accused of lying to FBI agents about their activities.
Calpine refused to drop its Port of Stockton proposal, and its project in Alameda County is pending before the California Energy Commission.
THE HOUSING INDUSTRY is the largest segment of the California economy, according to a study by the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization and California State University, Sacramento.
The study pegs the direct economic impact of new housing construction at $20.25 billion, which leverages another $19.65 billion in indirect and induced expenditures every year. That equates to about 359,000 jobs. The entire industry of new and existing housing — including construction, financing, sales, furnishing, and operations and maintenance — amounts to $257 billion annually, or 13% of all economic activity in California, the study asserts.
The study concludes that the housing industry could do even more, as builders since 1997 have produced only 57% of the 230,000 units that the Department of Housing and Community Development says the state needs annually.
The study is available on the California Building Industry Association website: www.cbia.org.
THE DAVIS ADMINISTRATION'S first crack at a five-year infrastructure plan was a good start, but the plan had a number of shortcomings, according to a Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) report.
As required by 1999 legislation (AB 1473, Hertzberg), the administration prepared the first of what are supposed to be annual five-year infrastructure plans so that policymakers have a coordinated picture of capital investment needs. The plan, released in mid-2002, outlined $56 billion worth of proposed capital spending, about three-fourths of which was for transportation and K-12 schools.
While the plan provided the Legislature with a "big picture" look, the plan did not explain what the priorities were, failed to coordinate among departments, used available funding as a need constraint, omitted maintenance issues, and avoided a number of policy and programmatic questions, according to the LAO's report.
"While the plan presents various departmental priorities, it does not place these priorities in the context of the administration's overall, statewide priorities," the LAO stated. "For example, the plan does not state whether the administration's priorities are: the renovation of aging facilities, addressing certain critical deficiencies, the development of new facilities and capacity, or a combination of these. We believe that such a context is needed."
The LAO recommended the Legislature establish special policy and budget committees to address capital outlay issues.
The LAO report is available at www.lao.ca.gov.
A STATE TASK FORCE has recommended a number of changes to the way government agencies and developers address the threat of flooding. Among the recommendations: drawing up floodplain maps based on watersheds, not political boundaries; revising flood maps to take into account current and future development; building at least 1 foot above the National Flood Insurance Program's 100-year floodplain line; better technical assistance from the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to local agencies and practitioners, including new California Environmental Quality Act guidelines; and an advisory committee to perform further review.
The California Floodplain Management Task Force, formed by DWR in early 2002, "sought to recommend floodplain management strategies designed to reduce flood losses and maximize the benefits of floodplains. The Task Force found that existing programs are inadequate to accomplish these goals and that time is of the essence," the report states.
The 41-member Task Force included representatives of state and local agencies, development interests, environmental groups, agriculture and water users. The report is available at http://fpmtaskforce.water.ca.gov/.
THE SANTA ANA Redevelopment Agency should reorganize its housing program to ensure that money reserved for housing is spent on production, a state Department of Housing and Community Development Audit has concluded.
The state found that for three fiscal years ending in June 2000, Santa Ana spent only about 16% of its low- and moderate-income housing funds on housing rehabilitation and property acquisition, while 47% went for planning and administration, and 35% paid for street and sidewalk improvements. When city officials protested that those three years were not representative, the state reviewed four more years of records. Auditors found that the city had spent at least two-thirds of housing money for those periods on planning and administration and on off-site improvements.
In a written response to the audit, Santa Ana Redevelopment Agency Executive Director John Reekstin called HCD's recommendation "offensive and misdirected."
ORANGE COUNTY Planning and Development Services Director Thomas Mathews retired in January amid a financial crisis in his department. County officials earlier announced they would lay off about 20% of the department's employees in January because the agency was accumulating a deficit of at least $500,000 per month (see CP&DR In Brief, January 2003).
Newspaper reports in January said that the Board of Supervisors conducted closed-door meetings to question County Executive Officer Michael Schumacher's handling of the Planning Department financial situation.
County Auditor David Sundstrom has taken over a Planning Department study of fees to determine if they are covering the county's costs. The fees are already the subject of a builder lawsuit.
A LAWSUIT challenging the City of Irvine's environmental review of a 7,743-acre project has been upheld by the Orange County Superior Court. The organization Defend the Bay argued that the city did not adequately study impacts to traffic congestion, water quality, agriculture and other issues. But the court said the city's review was sufficient.
The Irvine Company's "Northern Sphere" plan would increase the size and population of the City of Irvine by about one-quarter.
A CONTROVERSIAL PARK and retail development in West Covina has been slowed and might need new boundaries because of the discovery of three endangered gnatcatcher birds.
In September 2002, the City Council voted 3-2 to approve a golf course, six baseball and softball fields, and 375,000 square feet of retail development on 230 acres near a closed garbage dump. Since then biologists have located the rare birds on the former dump site.