The California High Speed Rail Authority approved $3.2 billion in the first major sale of voter-approved construction bonds. Around $2.6 billion will be dedicated to a 119-mile leg connecting Fresno to Madera and $600 million to electrify a 55-mile stretch of existing Caltrain tracks in the San Jose area. The authority hosted a public meeting in Los Angeles to discuss the 12-mile, Burbank-to-downtown portion of the $64 billion project. The train will follow the existing rail corridor used by Amtrak, Metrolink and freight trains in Los Angeles; it will not go underground in downtown, as previous plans had proposed. The latest projection is for the system to be fully operational in 2029 and the draft EIR to be released next summer. Meanwhile, attorney Stuart Flashman has filed a lawsuit claiming that AB 1889, a bill that approves use of high speed rail bonds funds for Caltrain electrification, was improper and illegal under the terms of the system's voter-approved bond measure. 

San Francisco Adopts Plan for Natural Areas
The San Francisco Planning Commission and Recreation and Parks Commission jointly approved, with only one dissenting vote, a comprehensive new plan for the city’s natural areas. The plan, originally proposed ten years ago, will review the biology and geology of the Recreation and Park Department’s 32 natural areas and trails, and it will outline maintenance and capital improvements within the next 20 years. The changes that would occur are changes in urban forestry management, removal of off-leash dog areas in sensitive environmental areas, and changes of Sharp Park’s golf course. Over 18,000 trees would be removed throughout the park system under the plan, with the majority being eucalyptus trees in Pacifica that will be replaced with native trees.

Fresno Approves Plan for City’s Beleaguered Southwest District
The Fresno City Council approved, 6-0, the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, which will guide development of 3,200 acres in the next few decades. The area includes some of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. The new plan calls for two “magnet cores” that contain primarily retail, including grocery stores, high-density housing, medical facilities, possible community college, and a park. A major element of the plan includes eliminating industrial zoning for new development and instead replacing it with less-intensive office zoning. Developers say they have steered clear of the area because of its high costs and lack of good land-use planning. City staff and consultants will now begin a draft EIR and the Fresno Planning Commission and City Council will vote next fall. (See prior CP&DR coverage of planning in Fresno.)

Lancaster Eliminates Parking Minimums in Commercial Zones
The City of Lancaster, a relatively low-density bedroom community north of Los Angeles, has approved an ordinance eliminating parking minimums for commercial zones. This decision, according to the staff report, “will help to reverse…sprawling development patterns, and the resulting fiscal liabilities.” Requiring excessive parking increases the cost of doing business by needing more land and costs of maintain them, which is eventually paid by the customer, according to the staff report. The ordinance includes a safeguard clause to prevent extreme abuse by requiring developers to determine the number of parking spaces sufficient for the proposed use and providing justification to the Director of Development Services and/or the Planning Commission.

Oakland Approves Last-Ditch Effort to Keep Raiders
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors, 3-1, and Oakland City Council, 7-0, approved to negotiate a formal agreement for a $1.3 billion stadium that would seat 55,000 and include mixed-use retail in order to keep the Raiders in the city. The nonbinding term sheet showed the stadium would be funded with a mixture of private money from Ronnie Lott’s investment group for a total of $400 million, $500 million from the NFL and Raiders, and $350 million in public money to fund infrastructure improvements. The public money would include $200 million from the city of Oakland to fund storm drains and roadway parking and land that is valued at $150 million. The land will either be sold or leased; this is one of the remaining issues that must be resolved. While Raiders owner Mark Davis, has previously said he was committed to move the team to Las Vegas, but NFL owners have the final say. Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hinted that the Raiders are closer than ever to moving to Las Vegas.

Eviction Rates High in California
According to data released by Redfin, 2.7 million renters faced eviction last year, and a disproportionately high number came from California. In Southern California, one out of every 33 Inland Empire renter households was evicted in 2014, the ninth-highest eviction rate among big metro areas. Orange County ranked 17th among 32 large metros and Los Angeles County ranked 20th, with one out of every 80 renters losing their home. To gather the data, Redfin analyzed 6 million eviction records in 19 states. Additionally Southern California has a high number of “cost-burdened” renters, those paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Inland Empire has over 137,300, Orange County has 232,500, and Los Angeles County to 990,000.

Sacramento Considers Transportation Impact Fee
Sacramento is expecting 68,000 houses and apartment units in the next two decades and may ask developers to pay a “transportation impact” fee on new construction to fund more and wider streets and improve biking and pedestrian facilities. The amounts from single-family and apartments, ranging from $700 to $2,000 per unit, could generate up to $3 million per year and could provide a critical “local match” funds to allow the city to compete for federal and state transportation grants.

Lawmakers Propose Housing Measures in New Session
Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) introduced SB 2, the Building Homes and Jobs Act, that would establish a permanent source of funding for affordable rental or ownership housing, supportive housing, emergency shelters, transitional housing and other housing needs via a $75 recordation fee on real estate transaction documents. As a companion measure, Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) introduce SB 3, the Affordable Housing Bond Act of 2018, that authorizes a $3 billion general obligation bond to fund existing and highly successful affordable housing programs and infill infrastructure projects.

Quick Hits & Updates

The Strategic Growth Council and Office of Planning and Research released the “Sustainable Communities Planning Grant and Incentive Program: Best Practices Pilot, Guidelines and Application.” The pilot supports local land use planning related to climate and the State’s planning priorities. The program has $250,000, with applicants able to apply for maximum $50,000. These grants will support the development or implementation of a specific portion of a land use plan, land protection or management practice, or development project that targets sustainable development and the state’s climate policies.

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has filed paperwork with the city of Mountain View to build 330 units of housing near its headquarters. Similarly, Facebook has announced plans to build 1,500 units in Menlo Park and donate and additional $20 million to a community partnership that supports affordable housing and tenants’ rights services in the community. Bay Area cities have been favoring new office space rather than residential units because of the higher tax revenue gained through commercial properties. Building housing units requires cities to spend funds on schools, police, fire and libraries. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency filed a complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission to call out the commission for failing to reasonably limit the growth of the ride-hailing industry. Transportation Network Companies have nearly 45,000 drivers circling the streets of San Francisco, which, Muni claims, slows traffic and causes increased carbon emissions and other environmental impacts.

The Los Angeles County city of South Gate is not scheduled to receive light-rail service until early 2040s, but the city is already planning a framework for a future transit-oriented district near the anticipated station. The area could support upwards of 500 residential units, 230,000 square feet of office and light industrial space, and neighborhood shops and restaurants. The area will be connected to Downtown Los Angeles and the Green Line through the second phase of the West Santa Ana Branch.

In the ongoing controversy over San Diego’s Affordable/In-Fill Housing and Sustainable Buildings Expedite Program, architect and former Planning Commission member Tom Golba has been singled out by the Union Tribune for possible improper donations to Mayor Kevin Falcouner’s campaigns. According to the Union-Tribune, Golba has been involved with a relatively high number of projects that take advantage of the program.

Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco vetoed legislation that would have restricted short-term rentals to 60 days a year. The ruling that was approved by the Board of Supervisors last month would have made enforcement of the current law “more difficult and less effective” according to Lee. The veto means the current law will remain in place and hosts can rent their house or apartment an unlimited number of days, or entire homes up to 90 days a year.

The California Coastal Commission is fining two Malibu property owners $5.1 million combined for denying surfers and other beachgoers access to the beach. In one case, the owners must build two stairways to the sand, install a signalized crosswalk, and pay fines to a local conservation agency. These are the first such penalties the commission has ever imposed on property owners for violating beach access provisions of the California Coastal Act.

The US Department of Transportation recently announced UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies as the winner of a $14 million grant. The National Center for Sustainable Transportation is one of five national transportation centers awarded under the University Transportation Centers program reauthorized by the federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The California Supreme Court decided that online travel companies such as Expedia, Hotwire, and are exempt from paying hotel occupancy taxes. Local governments have been attempting to get these firms to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in back taxes.

A Los Angeles City Council’s committee moved ahead with a plan to decriminalize illegal street vending and allow sidewalk vendors to operate under strict limits. The new plan would allow street vendors to obtain permits to operate, and limit the vendors to two per side of a city block. Additionally, businesses adjacent to the carts would decide whether to approve their presence.

Four San Diego City Council members are preparing to offer Chargers owner Dean Spano a lease of $1 a year for 99 years for the Qualcomm Stadium site as a starting point for negotiations for a new stadium. The Chargers have until mid January to decide to join the Rams in a stadium in Inglewood scheduled to open in 2019.

The Burbank City Council has directed its city manager to negotiate with Metro and the City of Los Angeles over Metro’s plans to build a Metrolink station on the north side of Hollywood Burbank Airport. The unanimous vote from Council members was to figure out which agency will be in charge of operating and maintain the estimated $15 million station.

The Los Angeles City Council approved the latest joint venture partnership and timeline for the $950 million Frank Gehry-designed development across from Walt Disney Hall. Awaited since the mid-2000s, the project will break ground in 2018 and open in 2022.