By Brett Simpson
March 18, 2019
Salton Sea , San Francisco, SB 50
Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has amended Senate Bill 50, his sweeping statewide transit oriented housing bill. The bill, named the “More Homes Act," proposes major changes in zoning laws to allow for greater density near transit hubs. One amendment expands those rezoning laws to include ferries: any development within a quarter or one-half miles of ferry lines and ports will also be rezoned. The bill also defines the key term “jobs-rich areas” as areas that “would allow people to live close to where they work, or new housing developed in this area would help to reduce vehicle miles traveled”. Another key amendment sets minimum inclusionary requirements for low-income housing near transit hubs, at 15 to 25 percent “depending on the size of the project.” This amendment help SB-50 avoid the fate of last year’s failed SB 827, which critics claimed didn’t do enough to create affordable housing. Finally, the amendment extends displacement protection to mobile home residents. Many localities remain wary of SB 50 and fear worst-case scenarios. A recent estimate from the Embarcadero Institute, the population of Palo Alto could nearly triple in size if fully built-out according to SB 50 regulations. Supporters of SB 50 dispute this finding as extreme.
Study Predicts “Massive" Damage from Sea Level Rise
A U.S. Geological Survey assessment found that even a modest rise in sea levels could lead to more catastrophic damage than the worst earthquakes and wildfires in California state history. The study is the first to combine sea level rise and storm data. It finds that this combination produces greater magnitudes of wave action, cliff erosion, and other devastating environmental outcomes than previously estimated. Responding in part to recent UCLA research showing that California storms are increasing in frequency and severity, the study finds that adding 100-year storm data to a modest two-meter sea level rise triples the number of people exposed to catastrophic outcomes. This will result in potentially dire consequences: more than half a million Californians and $150 billion in property – equivalent to six percent of the state’s GDP – risk flooding by 2100. Such costs would be on par with Hurricane Katrina. Additionally, sea level rise will increase the impact and damage of all storms. Patrick Barnard, the study’s lead author, warns that storm damage will only increase in severity and frequency over time, and it’s impossible to foresee all consequences. “The effects are far, far greater than these numbers suggest,” he told the Los Angeles Times, “And these numbers are already massive.”
Water Agencies Tussle over Colorado River Plan; Salton Sea Restoration at Stake
Facing a March 18 federal deadline to agree to terms of the Colorado Drought Contingency Plan, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District wrote the Imperial Irrigation District out of California’s part of the plan. The plan requires an agreement between the seven states that depend on the Colorado River for water, and so far California has failed to sign on. If the states fail to reach an agreement, the federal government will impose its own plan. Metropolitan’s drastic move comes after months of back-and-forth with Imperial, the state’s other massive water agency. Imperial has refused to join the plan without a pledge of $200 million to protect the dying Salton Sea – a pledge that the federal government won’t commit to. Under the update, Metropolitan takes on Imperial’s entire 250,000 acre-feet of water contributions, bringing its new contribution to nearly 2 million acre-feet between 2020 and 2026. According to the terms of the agreement, California isn’t required to provide water unless Lake Mead drops to 1,045 feet – which may never happen. With under a week until the deadline, Metropolitan chose that it’s willing to take that risk. “The more we delay, the harder it is to hold that deal together,” Metropolitan general manager Jeff Kightlinger told the Associated Press.
San Francisco to Take Over Troubled Housing Authority
The City and County of San Francisco will take over most of San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA) duties, citing a federal government complaint that the agency is mismanaging its housing voucher program. Mayor London Breed announced that SFHA “received noticed from the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) that SFHA is in default of various agreements and obligations.” This move comes after SFHA’s nearly $30 million 2018 budget deficit which required a bailout from combined federal and city efforts. To explain the deficit, SFHA’s acting director Barbara Smith referenced an “over-utilization of Housing Assistance Payments” and an inability to retain finance staff. The city's takeover comes after years of SFHA budget shortfalls, resulting in a 2013 firing of then-director Henry Alvarez. Earlier this year, SFHA considered, but decided against, doubling the minimum rents of the city’s poorest Section 8 families. HUD’s mandate puts the city directly in charge of rental assistance for the 14,000 units benefiting from the voucher program.
Water Shortages May Require Extensive Fallowing in Central Valley
The San Joaquin Valley may have to give up a vast tracts of farmland to achieve sustainable water use, according to a new report "Water and the Future of the San Joaquin Valley"published by the Public Policy Institute of California. The Valley, California’s largest agricultural region and contributor to the nation’s food supply, is a naturally arid region, and recent droughts and growing demand for drinking water in the state have escalated surface water scarcity. Decades of groundwater pumping have escalated problems like groundwater overdraft, drinking water contamination, and declines in habitat and native species. Some areas of the Valley have sunk as much as 28 feet. In 2014, California passed a law to end groundwater overdraft, setting a 20-year goal. For the Valley to achieve this goal, the PPIC report claims that it will need to idle out one out of every ten acres of irrigated farmland, amounting to as many as 780,000 acres. The report proposes alternative uses for the unirrigated land: some could be used for solar panels, some restored to native ecosystems, and some could be zoned for urban development.