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In Brief

Two of the highest profile pieces of land use legislation died at the statehouse in mid-August. A bill to reform the housing element law, SB 910, died when the author, Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana), refused to accept amendments watering down the measure. And Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) threw in the towel on AB 680, which would have established a sales tax sharing arrangement and encouraged housing development in the six-county Sacramento region. The housing element bill would have permitted the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to fine cities and counties if the agency ruled the local housing element inadequate. Local governments fought the bill since its introduction in early 2001. A committee of local government, state, housing, development and other interest group representatives met for months to work on language but in the end could agree on little, least of all the process for allocating housing units to regions and localities. In August, Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee Chairman Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) and Assembly Local Government Committee Chairwoman Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) insisted on amendments that would have required a judge not simply HCD to decide on housing element validity before fines could be levied. That change and others were enough for the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) and the California Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA) to drop their opposition to the bill, which had been written into SB 498. But Dunn aide Mark Stivers said the changes "would have significantly weakened current law with respect to HCD's authority to require implementation of a community's housing element and with respect to the standing of HCD's review in court." Local government lobbyists disagreed. The sales tax bill died because the League of California Cities and CSAC marshaled opposition from local governments across the state, even though the bill pertained to the Sacramento region, said Sande George, a lobbyist for the state APA. Steinberg conceded AB 680 did not have enough votes in the Senate, but most people expect him to try a new bill in 2003. The state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) won the first-round in a lawsuit filed by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and six of its members over the regional housing needs assessment process. In August, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Robert Spitzer ruled that HCD had the authority to reject SCAG's attempt to slash its housing allocation for the 1998-2005 planning cycle by 13% to 438,000 units (see CP&DR, February 2001). In the lawsuit, SCAG argued that HCD relied on old information and should have used the same growth forecast SCAG used for its 2001 regional transportation plan. But Judge Spitzer ruled that there has to be a cut-off for data collection to avoid rendering statutory deadlines meaningless. The judge did find that HCD exceeded its authority when it invalidated some city and county housing allocation reductions that SCAG had granted to inland jurisdictions, while at the same time HCD approved revisions for coastal cities and counties. But the court called HCD's interference with the local appeals process "minor." More proceedings in the case remain ahead. Supervisors in Riverside and San Bernardino could meet before the year is over to discuss leaving the Southern California Association of Governments and possibly creating a two-county council of governments. The counties were frustrated by SCAG's handling of the regional housing allocation process and have other gripes with the agency. Some Riverside County officials say their county has more in common with San Diego than with Los Angeles. A growth-control initiative approved by Tracy voters in 2000 does not apply to projects approved before the election, a San Joaquin County judge has ruled. Superior Court Judge Michael Platt upheld city guidelines that essentially keep in place a building cap that Measure A sought to cut in half. The city's 1994 growth management ordinance limited annual residential building permits to a maximum of 1,500, and an average of 1,200. Measure A cut those limits in half (see CP&DR, December 2000, April 2000). In February 2001, the city approved implementation guidelines that allowed previously approved projects to proceed under the older cap. The Tracy Regional Alliance for a Quality Environment (TRAQC), which authored Measure A, sued, arguing that only projects with development agreements were entitled to proceed under the higher cap. The city contended that the Government Code required it to treat projects based on the ordinances in effect at the time the city approved the projects. Judge Platt agreed with the city, concluding that "Measure A has no application to the vested projects." The seismic retrofit of six Bay Area bridges could cost twice as much as Caltrans originally estimated and take five years longer than anticipated, according to a report by the State Auditor. Caltrans originally estimated the projects would cost $2.6 billion and be completed by 2004. The agency now says the work will cost $4.6 billion and will not be done until 2009 a full 20 years after the Loma Prieta earthquake caused a portion of the Bay Bridge to collapse. But in a report released in August, the State Auditor questioned even those projections. The auditor cited a Metropolitan Transportation Commission study that estimated the work would cost an additional $250 million to $630 million, assuming Caltrans can keep to the latest schedule. "We were able to confirm that the consultant was correct with regard to the significant underestimating of a time-related overhead cost," the State Auditor wrote. "This seems to suggest that Caltrans may need additional funding to complete the Bay Bridge unless the contingency reserves it has planned for other retrofit projects are overstated. However, past experience has shown that Caltrans' planned costs for retrofitting its toll bridges are generally understated rather than overstated." State Auditor's report No. 2001-122 is available at www.bsa.ca.gov/bsa/index.html Environmentalists have sued the Town of Truckee over approval of a resort. The suit from the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation alleges that the city did not perform an adequate environmental review and that the project violates the city's general plan. Project opponents also submitted signatures on a referendum. City officials say they handled the project correctly, and they contended election officials should disallow the petitions because of defects. The Old Greenwood resort proposes 104 houses, 15 townhouses, 159 time share units and housing for 28 employees, a 20-unit lodge, more than 300,000 square feet of commercial space and exercise facilities, and a golf course. Most the 900-acre site, which straddles Interstate 80, would remain undeveloped. The project is one of two in Truckee being pursued by East West Partners, which has completed extensive resort development in Colorado (see CP&DR Local Watch, March 2002). The developer who owns nearly half the land in Sacramento County's 2,600-acre Sunridge Specific Plan area (see CP&DR Local Watch, August 2002) has lost a lawsuit seeking to shut down a nearby rendering plant. Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster struck down the suit filed by AKT Development as a SLAPP Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. The developer filed the lawsuit after Sacramento Rendering Company officials testified at public hearings regarding Sunridge and the larger Sunrise-Douglas Community Plan. AKT contended an agreement between itself and Sacramento Rendering that called for AKT to pay for odor-reduction equipment barred the rendering company from speaking publicly about the project. The lawsuit also called the plant a public nuisance. But Judge McMaster said the plant was not a nuisance when it opened in wide-open fields in 1956. The county approved the specific plan and community plan in July, but it cannot issue permits until the odor-reduction equipment is in place. AKT and Sacramento Rendering have not reached agreement on paying for the equipment, which could cost a few million dollars. The East Bay Municipal Utility District and Sacramento County have won a lawsuit filed by other water agencies over a proposal to divert water from the Sacramento River. Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly's ruling upholds the agreement among East Bay MUD, the county and the City of Sacramento to divert water from a point downstream of the city (see CP&DR Environment Watch, December 2001). East Bay MUD considers the diversion an emergency backup, while Sacramento County intends to supply new homes with the water, including homes in the Sunrise-Douglas Community Plan area. But two water contracting coalitions contend the diversion would threaten supplies for numerous water agencies and harm San Francisco Bay Delta water quality. An environmental impact report is pending. Less than two years after signing on to the Williamson Act farmland protection program, Sutter County is taking steps to drop out. County leaders fear the state in the future will not cover revenue losses the county sustains under the Williamson Act. The Williamson Act provides property tax breaks for landowners who agree to preserve their farmland or open space for 10 years. The state makes up for the lost county tax revenue. But this year, Gov. Davis proposed eliminating the subventions permanently. Lawmakers placed this year's funding totaling about $38 million back into the budget. Sutter County officials remain worried about the future and figure the county better get out of the program before the tax liability gets greater, said Dale Follas, a planner for the county. Owners of 38,700 acres in Sutter County have enrolled in the Williamson Act, earning tax breaks of about $165,000 this year. If the county opts out of the Williamson Act, those tax breaks would phase out over nine years, Follas explained. Local farmers oppose the county's intentions. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to decide in October. The City of Cypress's attempt to acquire through eminent domain 18 acres owned by a church has been blocked at least temporarily. U.S. District Court Judge David Carter granted Cottonwood Christian Center's request for a preliminary injunction against the city. The property lies within a redevelopment project area, and the city wants the land for retail development. But Cottonwood hopes to build a large sanctuary, school and related facilities on the site. Carter based his August 6 decision in part on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which restricts government's ability to regulate churches (See CP&DR, May 2002). Restrictions on cyber cafes in Garden Grove have been put on hold by an Orange County judge. The rules adopted in July require the businesses to close by 10 p.m. on weekdays, expel minors at 8 p.m., track the names and addresses of patrons, and hire security guards. The city, which placed a moratorium on new cyber cafes early this year, has seen two slayings and numerous assaults related to activity at the approximately 20 businesses that rent Internet time (see CP&DR In Brief, February 2002). Cyber cafe owners said the rules were unworkable and asked for an injunction, which Orange County Superior Court Judge Dennis Choate granted in August. A tax-sharing agreement between San Bernardino County and the City of Redlands to allow development of a 1,100-acre island of unincorporated territory has died. The county pulled out of the "Donut Hole" agreement, blaming a citizen lawsuit and potential referendum over the contract. The agreement called for Redlands to provide sewer and water to the land in exchange for a portion of sales taxes from new development (see CP&DR In Brief, February 2002, Deals, June 2001). The county is now talking with City of San Bernardino officials about providing sewer and water service to the Donut Hole, where extensive commercial development is planned. Redlands officials, however, say they are still interested in working with the county. A federal judge has withdrawn a recent consent decree that resulted in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service rescinding designation of 3.9 million acres of critical habitat for the red-legged frog. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon of Washington, D.C. agreed with environmental groups that argued they should have been heard in court before the judge approved the settlement between the Home Builders Association of Northern California and the Fish & Wildlife Service. The builders had sued over the designation of 4.1 million acres of critical habitat in 28 counties for the disappearing amphibian. State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) has called for creation of yet another commission to review the state-local fiscal relationship. Burton insisted that "everything is on the table," including Proposition 13, and the shift of property taxes from city and counties to schools.
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