Court Rules Sites Reservoir Does Not Violate CEQA
The Sites Reservoir project, the state's largest water storage venture in nearly five decades, overcame environmental challenges in court, with the Yolo County Superior Court ruling favor of the project. Environmental groups said the project violates the California Environmental Quality Act by failing to protect threatened species. The ruling was hastened by the 2023 streamlining law SB 149, which requires courts to rule on certain CEQA challenges within 270 days of filing. Gov. Newsom praised the ruling, emphasizing the urgency for increased water storage amid climate uncertainties. The $4.5 billion project will inundate 22 square miles of ranch lands and open space in Glenn and Colusa counties to store up to 1.5 million acre-feet of water diverted from the Sacramento River, albeit facing criticism over potential habitat threats. Plaintiff groups can appeal within five days, after which the project is expected to advance through acquiring permits and anticipates construction to commence by late 2026.

Group Pushes for La Jolla to Secede from San Diego
A group called the Association for the City of La Jolla has launched a campaign to sever the upscale enclave of La Jolla, encompassing about 13 square miles, from the City of San Diego. Succession would require approval first from a majority of voters in La Jolla and then from a majority of voters across the entire city of San Diego as well as LAFCO. The Association for the City of La Jolla is working to obtain 25% of registered La Jolla voters' signatures--about 6,000--over the next six months to qualify for the ballot in La Jolla. The association is also funding a financial feasibility report on behalf of LAFCO. This is the latest in a string of attempts to enable La Jolla to secede since the 1940s.

UC Berkeley to Raze People's Park
A ruling by the California Supreme Court will allow UC Berkeley to proceed with its plan to build high-rise student housing on the People's Park site, overturning an appellate court ruling and dismissing opponents' lawsuit. UC Berkeley officials welcomed the decision, emphasizing the urgent need for housing while preserving 60% of the site as open park space. Despite dismay from park supporters, the ruling marks a potential final chapter in the decades-long saga of the park's contested history and its recent decline into disrepair. The decision reflects a shift in Berkeley's stance towards housing construction amid a severe housing crisis, supported by a recent law facilitating university housing projects. Despite the decision, opposition remains strong, with activists vowing to continue their fight to preserve People's Park. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Report Blasts Fresno Area for Promoting Sprawl since 1970
A report from the Urban Institute delves into the historical and present housing development trends in Fresno and the broader Central San Joaquin Valley. The region's urbanized land has expanded by 226 percent since 1970 whereas its population has grown only 153 percent, pointing to an overall reduction in density. The region's sprawling development has led to the displacement of agricultural land, environmental degradation and challenges in providing public transportation. Less than 30 percent of the region's development has been infill. The rest has been greenfield development on the urban fringes, often displacing agricultural land. The report notes that, had Fresno promoted infill development in line with that of many other western counties from 1990 to 2019, it could have accommodated all of its growth in infill areas. The authors conclude that this approach would have reduced the ecological impacts, greenhouse gas emissions, and racial segregation of the status quo.

Legislative Update: Legislature Pulls Bills to Fund Transportation, Reduce Barries to Affordable Housing
Lawmakers withdrew a measure from the November ballot aimed at repealing Article 34, a 75-year-old provision requiring local voter approval for public housing projects, citing a crowded ballot and unfavorable conditions for success. Despite longstanding criticism of Article 34's hindrance to low-income housing construction, challenges persist, prompting strategic withdrawal with plans for future advocacy. Bay Area lawmakers decided to postpone placing a tax measure for funding BART and other transit agencies on the 2026 ballot, aiming to reintroduce similar legislation in 2025 after addressing concerns and differences. Despite facing significant obstacles, the legislation aimed to raise up to $1.5 billion annually for transit operations, but ran into opposition from some transit agencies and politicians due to its consolidation study requirement and potential impact on local sales taxes. Bay Area Sens. Senators Scott Wiener and Aisha Wahab, in consultation with bill sponsor Metropolitan Transportation Commission, withdrew SB 1031, "Connect Bay Area", aimed to authorize a regional transportation funding measure. The decision to pause the bill until 2025 was influenced by opposition from various quarters, including concerns from Santa Clara County officials regarding funding allocations and interference with existing sales taxes. Despite this setback, advocates emphasize the importance of a well-funded and integrated transit system for the Bay Area's future.

CP&DR Coverage: "California Forever" Makes Pitch to Voters
In November, if election patterns hold steady, around 250,000 voters in Solano County will decide whether to welcome as many as 400,000 new neighbors. The vote would mark a preliminary step in the development of the project, which was being promoted by corporate parent Flannery Associates and known as “California Forever,” but was recently rebranded the “East Solano Plan.” The developers submitted over 20,000 signatures in late April, which the county is now verifying; 13,000 valid signatures are needed for it to qualify for the November ballot. The county’s strict Orderly Growth Ordinance is designed to preserve open space and direct growth to the county’s half-dozen existing small cities. Overriding the ordinance to rezoning the 17,500 acres of land that the company wants to develop from agricultural to mid-density urban requires either assent of the county’s Board of Supervisors or a popular vote. Flannery Associates has chosen the latter route. It is a major gamble, given the fact that – according to CP&DR’s long history of ballot measure coverage – developer-initiated ballot measures designed to end-run elected officials rarely succeed.

Quick Hits & Updates

SpaceX aims to boost rocket launches from Vandenberg Space Force Base in Santa Barbara County to 90 annually by 2026, prompting environmental concerns and regulatory discussions. The U.S. Space Force supports the increased launches for military purposes, while the California Coastal Commission debates permit regulations and national security implications amidst SpaceX's absence from meetings.

San Diego City Council adopted a significant increase in developer fees for the Development Services Department, aiming to boost annual revenue by $15.6 million to cover additional city workers and new technology. While the council argues that the fee hikes are necessary to cover the costs of recent innovations and improved services, the business community raises concerns about increased housing costs during an affordability crisis and questions the validity of the consultant's analysis, which relied on limited data due to the pandemic.

Opponents of the Dana Reserve housing development in Nipomo have filed a lawsuit against the San Luis Obispo County and the developer citing violations of the California Environmental Quality Act. The lawsuit alleges that the project's environmental impact report lacks sufficient analysis of water supply, wildfire safety, emergency evacuations, financial burdens on the Homeowners Association and alternative project plans, potentially further delaying the already contentious project.

A renewable energy company plans to clear thousands of protected Joshua trees near Boron for a solar project to power 180,000 homes, sparking backlash from residents concerned about construction dust and habitat destruction. Despite opposition, the Kern County Board of Supervisors approved the project, highlighting the tensions between clean energy expansion and environmental conservation in California's rural communities.

The San Diego Planning Commission approved aggressive growth blueprints for Hillcrest and University City, aiming to double their populations within 30 years, despite opposition from residents concerned about issues like parks, gentrification and congestion. The proposals now move to the City Council's housing committee and then to the full council for final approval in July. The plans include adding housing units, increasing job opportunities and making significant street changes, but critics worry about insufficient park space, infrastructure and the potential displacement of affordable housing and local businesses.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development announced the allocation of federal funds to create 1,284 new affordable rental homes for extremely low-income Californians across 18 projects in the state. Administered through the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) Program, these funds aim to address the housing affordability crisis by emphasizing the construction or rehabilitation of safe, affordable housing for those experiencing homelessness or at risk.

Monaco-based billionaire Patrice Pastor has agreed to comply with the California Coastal Commission’s requests regarding the Rocky Point property in Big Sur that he purchased for $8 million in 2021. He will put up “coastal access” signs, build a public restroom, improve trails and guarantee public parking spaces in order to comply with local regulations. 

The San Diego Association of Governments has identified three potential alignments for a train tunnel in Del Mar, necessitated by eroding seaside bluffs where the current tracks run. If the project is approved, pending environmental review and other approvals, it could be completed as early as 2035. The three alignments, of roughly 1.7 miles each, were narrowed down from an original list of 20. 

The California Transportation Commission is being sued by five different organizations in connection to a highway expansion project, the I-80 Yolo Causeway, in Northern California. The lawsuit alleges that Caltrans’s environmental impact report for their proposed upgrades is deceptive as it overestimates congestion reduction while undercounting vehicle miles traveled, traffic impacts, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality impacts, energy use impacts, and wildlife impacts.

A new proposal by N17 Development would build the tallest building in Silicon Valley, standing at 431 feet tall and consisting of condominium units averaging 1,460 square feet each and a 130-key hotel. Located in Menlo Park, the tower would be part of a larger mixed-use neighborhood plan named Willow Park which will create hundreds of homes, office space, hotel rooms, retail, a school, and public parks.