Los Angeles to Speed Up Approvals Process, per Mayoral Order
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass has issued Executive Directive 7, which aims to reassess the city's site plan review process for market-rate housing developments with 50 or more net new units. This process involves an environmental analysis and can lead to public challenges, creating a barrier to housing production. The directive instructs the city's planning department to explore an ordinance that would increase the threshold triggering site plan review, potentially raising it to 75, 100 or 150 units. The move signals a shift in focusing not only on affordable housing but also on overcoming obstacles for market-rate units within projects that include affordable housing. The directive also calls for research on other housing production strategies, including converting vacant office space into housing and removing barriers to building for-sale homes.
State to Proceed with Development of Sites Reservoir
Governor Gavin Newsom has invoked new law powers to accelerate approval for the $4.5 billion Sites Reservoir, the first major reservoir in California in nearly 50 years, located 70 miles north of Sacramento. The move is part of a legislative package aimed at removing regulatory obstacles for crucial water, energy and transportation infrastructure projects. The Sites Reservoir, designed to store water from the Sacramento River during wet periods, aims to reserve 1.5 million acre-feet for dry seasons, benefiting around 3 million households. Despite facing criticism for potential environmental impacts, Governor Newsom's certification under Senate Bill 149 streamlines the judicial review process, potentially saving time and costs. The reservoir still requires additional approvals, including a water rights permit and faces funding challenges, with construction expected to begin in 2026 if approved.
Court Orders City of Bakersfield to Keep Kern River Flowing
A Kern County Superior Court judge issued a 21-page preliminary injunction, ordering the City of Bakersfield to maintain sufficient water levels in the typically dry Kern River to protect fish populations. The ruling, part of an ongoing lawsuit by groups including Bring Back the Kern and Water Audit of California, seeks to compel the city to assess the environmental impacts of diversions from the river under over 135 years of agreements. The lawsuit is based on California Fish and Game Code 5937, requiring adequate water flow past dams to sustain downstream fish populations. The injunction, in effect during the lawsuit, comes after this year's significant runoff revived the river and fish populations. The judge did not specify the required water amount, leaving it to the city and plaintiffs to determine. Plaintiffs see the ruling as a chance for the city to settle the case, emphasizing that the court recognizes the need for water use that benefits people, agriculture, and the environment.
Meeting 2023 Greenhouse Gas Targets Looks Increasingly Unlikely
Preliminary estimates show that carbon emissions in California increased in 2022, moving the state further away from achieving its ambitious 2030 climate goal to cut statewide emissions by 48% below 1990 levels. This trend contradicts the state's progress in reducing emissions between 2000 and 2019, falling by 12.3%. However, a 33% drop is required in the next seven years to meet the 2030 target, and ultimately achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. Some experts suggest that the California Air Resources Board lacks an implementation strategy to reduce emissions effectively across sectors like transportation, industry and agriculture. Despite the increase in emissions, renewable energy adoption and EV mandates, as well as transparency measures, could help California reach its climate goals.
Oceanside Resists Calls for Greater Density in Downtown Area
The Oceanside City Council approved a maximum residential density cap of 86 units per acre in the downtown area, in response to community concerns about rapid growth and its associated problems. Supporters of the cap argue that high-density development strains city services, leads to traffic congestion, air pollution and diminishes overall quality of life. Multi-story, mixed-use apartment and condominium buildings near Oceanside pier currently average 175 units per acre. However, with bonuses allowed for affordable housing under state law, the final density could be higher. The move to set a density cap was partly triggered by the approval of a project in January 2022 that exceeded 320 units per acre due to state density bonus laws. Oceanside's general plan aims to limit the downtown district to a total of 5,500 dwellings, which is currently at around 2,300 homes with 637 more entitled or under construction.
CP&DR Legal Coverage: Ups and Downs of the Housing Accountability Act
Culver City’s “anti-mansionization” ordinance violates the Housing Accountability Act by reducing the amount of floor-area ratio permitted in single-family zones, an appellate court has ruled. The city made a variety of arguments, principal among them that SB 330’s intent was to prevent downzoning the number of allowable housing units, which the anti-mansionization ordinance does not do. But an appellate panel in Los Angeles rejected this argument. “There is no language suggesting that a reduction in the intensity of land use requires a reduction in the number of housing units, and we will not insert such a requirement into the Act,” the court wrote.
An appellate court in Los Angeles has ruled that the City of L.A.’s zoning for a property off the 210 Freeway in Verdugo Hills is consistent with the general plan – even though the relevant zoning categories are not explicitly mentioned in the general plan documents. The ruling scotches a proposed 215-home subdivision and places the property under zoning that limits the property to 19 homes on a 28 acres of land. But the court went farther in its ruling – going out of its way to assert that local governments still have some control over housing. “The Legislature has narrowed the criteria local authorities may rely upon in denying a project,” the court wrote. “However, local control has not been abrogated by the HAA.”
Quick Hits & Updates
Huntington Beach scored a victory in their housing dispute with Sacramento as a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled that California's lawsuit against the city for violating state housing law must be stayed until a related federal lawsuit filed by City Attorney Michael Gates is resolved. The decision means that, in the interim, the state cannot impose penalties on Huntington Beach regarding its non-compliant housing element.
As of the latest semi-official results, Perris' Measure A, a warehouse tax intended for road repairs, has garnered 51.65% support, falling short of the necessary two-thirds threshold. The measure proposes an annual special business license tax on distribution and industrial spaces, aiming to fund road maintenance, with supporters highlighting the strain on roads due to increased truck traffic from warehouses. If the measure fails, city officials will explore alternative options to address road maintenance demands.
In a legal dispute over the Oakland A's proposed Las Vegas ballpark, a Nevada judge ruled against a teachers union seeking a referendum on a portion of the state's $380 million spending package for the stadium, stating the petition was confusing and incomplete. The judge's decision comes ahead of an MLB owners' vote on the team's relocation, expected next week, and while the union sees it as a temporary setback, they may need to race against time to gather enough signatures for a 2024 ballot referendum.
UC Berkeley plans to develop a downtown "innovation zone" with two large lab buildings, including one for genome engineering, potentially starting construction by late 2024. The project, covering nearly two acres, involves demolishing UC-owned buildings and aligns with the university's goals for expanded academic and research space, though city approval is not required.
The L.A. Bureau of Engineering has unveiled a vision plan for the Sepulveda Basin, a large area in San Fernando, with a focus on habitat restoration and enhanced recreational amenities. The plan encompasses 46 projects, estimated to cost $4.8 billion, to be implemented over approximately 25 years, addressing the park-poor conditions in the surrounding neighborhoods and incorporating multi-modal transportation infrastructure.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles has revoked Cruise's license to operate fully driverless taxis in the state due to safety concerns and the company's withholding of video footage from an incident where a pedestrian was seriously injured. The DMV stated that "the manufacturer's vehicles are not safe for the public's operation." Cruise--one of two autonomous vehicle companies in the US--disputes the claims and has paused its driverless car operations in San Francisco as a result of the suspension.
San Francisco officials and the University of California system are in discussions about converting vacant Downtown properties into satellite housing and classrooms for graduate students, focusing on UC Berkeley graduate students. The efforts aim to revitalize the area while offering students housing and classroom space in vacant commercial towers.
A new website, Stay Housed Bay Area, is set to launch with the aim of helping people at risk of homelessness access resources to keep them housed. Operated by the nonprofit All Home, the platform will provide a comprehensive guide to resources available throughout the Bay Area, breaking down barriers to access resources regardless of where individuals reside in the region. The website will offer information on rent assistance, food, and other needs to provide swift assistance to those in precarious situations and change the narrative around homelessness prevention.
Stanford University faces new housing requirements after the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors amended the Stanford Community Plan amid concerns about property tax losses and the strain on surrounding cities' housing construction goals due to Stanford's previous housing projects. The updated plan stipulates that three-quarters of new housing for Stanford University's expansion must be built on its campus, while the remaining 25% can be located on Stanford-owned land in surrounding communities, primarily Palo Alto.
BART directors are considering the potential merger of the rail system with other Bay Area transit agencies to address financial challenges stemming from the pandemic's ridership decline. While such consolidation raises logistical questions, it reflects the urgency of finding long-term fiscal stability for transit operators in the region.
A tentative ruling by an Alameda County court judge suggests that the city of Oakland breached its contract with a developer by not granting him an extension due to delays in the construction of a marine terminal at the city's port. This ruling could potentially enable the developer to store coal at the planned terminal and ship it overseas, despite environmental concerns about air pollution in West Oakland.