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CP&DR News Briefs August 31, 2021: UC Berkeley Enrollment; Concord Naval Station Developer; HCD Block Grants; and More

Mckenzie Locke on
Aug 31, 2021
Judge Caps UC Berkeley Enrollment over Environmental Impact of Adding Students
In an unusual California Environmental Quality Act suit, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman ruled that the University of California at Berkeley must keep next year's enrollment at the same limit as last year's and cannot move forward with a $126 million project to build more classrooms and housing for professors. Despite surging applications across the UC system, UC Berkeley's 2022-23 enrollment will have a 42,237 capacity because the judge found that the university's analysis of the environmental impact of an increasing student body was inadequate and incorrect. Neighborhood residents who sued the school in 2019 because they thought that the development would increase noise and crowds in the neighborhood are celebrating the decision. Meanwhile, the university has stressed that it needs to develop more housing for faculty and plans to fulfill the judge's requirements for its Upper Hearst development in the next six to eight months.

Concord Identifies Potential Development Group for Naval Base
The Concord City Council voted, 3-2, to give Seeno Companies, Discovery Builders Inc., Lewis Group of Companies, and California Capital Investment Group an opportunity to become the developer of the Concord Naval Weapons Station. Officials took particular interest in the Discovery/Seeno group after the council heard pitches from all three developers and public commentary. Seeno Companies, however, has a turbulent history of real estate development in the Easy Bay that includes numerous lawsuits against local cities, agencies, and environmental groups as well as a federal mortgage fraud investigation. The ambitious plan for the station includes 13,000 housing units and millions of square feet of office and commercial buildings, but the Navy will have to remove toxic pollutants before handing the land to the city for development. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Feds Recognize California HCD for Block Grant Program
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development celebrated the California HCD for effectively using federal funding from the Community Development Block Grant to assist low- and moderate-income residents. The CDBG Program provides funding primarily intended to develop safe and sufficient housing and living environments and extend economic opportunities, but its flexibility allows states to use the money to renovate public facilities, utilities, streets, and more while centering renewable energy. California's HCD was recognized as the top in the United States and pins part of its success on the organized separation of its Division of Financial Assistance into two sections that distribute and monitor both state and federal funding.

San Francisco Pares Down Market Street Plan
San Francisco continues to cut out some of its original goals for transforming Market Street largely due to obstacles produced by the pandemic and a more general failure on the part of city officials to logistically execute their plan. "Better Market Street," approved in October 19, originally aimed to upgrade street and sidewalk infrastructure, improve transit, and implement safety measures for cyclists and pedestrians. Thus far, officials have dropped plans to construct an elevated bikeway and improve transit and utility structures for an 800-foot stretch of the street. Additionally, private cars continue to disregard the car-free mandate intended to prioritize cyclists. Moving forward, city officials still disagree over whether their improvements should be street-level or more comprehensive underground upgrades.

San Diego County Updates Housing, Safety Elements of General Plan
To address its countywide housing shortage, the San Diego Board of Supervisors approved several amendments to the housing and safety elements of its general plan and incorporated an environmental justice component. The amendments also include plans to address wildfires and other climate disasters. In its updated general plan, San Diego plans to adhere to quotas set by the Department of Housing and Community Development largely by promoting housing construction in transit-oriented areas, which would also minimize traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, and sprawl. In its environmental justice component, the county hopes to reduce pollution, provide access to healthy food and safe and sanitary homes, and propel public participation.

CP&DR Coverage: Housing Appeals in Bay Area
The Association of Bay Area Governments received 28 appeals from 24 cities and three counties (including two appeals from Sonoma County). According to data compiled by the Campaign for Fair Housing Elements, a coalition of YIMBY groups, the jurisdictions' RHNA numbers collectively amount to 65,935 units, and the appeals collectively ask for a reduction of 24,735 units. The appeals ask ABAG to reduce their numbers anywhere from 20% to, in the case of Sausalito, 83%. The majority of cities that are appealing are relatively small and heavily suburban. Almost all of the appeals claim that ABAG somehow miscalculated the appropriate number of units based on its methodology and jurisdictions' respective existing conditions. 

Quick Hits & Updates 
A statewide survey from the Public Policy Institute of California found that the majority of residents are worried about climate change and environmental hazards, with 63% expressing concern about the increasing severity of wildfires and drought. Concerns were shared across party lines, with a significant portion of the population expressing interest in clean energy sources.

The EPA will take greater action to reduce air pollution in Kern County, an area burdened with extreme smog due to substantial oil production. The Center for Biological Diversity sued the federal government for failing to help the county meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards and is demanding greater investment in clean energy.

A study from the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy determined that low income communities and communities of color experience hotter days than wealthier and predominantly white communities in Southern California. The study discusses how various factors, including urban forestry and development patterns, allow low-income communities to reach temperatures that are 7 degrees hotter than wealthy ones.

The Bakersfield City Council voted unanimously to allocate $5 million of the city's Public Safety and Vital Services Measure N fund to a new Affordable Housing Trust Fund as part of its larger effort to address rising construction costs and rental and housing prices. The funding could generate eight annual affordable housing projects compared to the four projects that received funding over the past few years. Part of the $5 million would be put toward renovating existing buildings, transforming hotels into affordable housing units, and funding accessory dwelling units. While the trust fund is symbolic of a greater momentum toward preventing homelessness and displacement in Bakersfield, community advocates have expressed concerns that the plan for the trust fund is too vague.

The Southern California Rental Housing Association, a landlord group based in San Diego County, was unsuccessful in its lawsuit against the county's eviction ban, maintaining that the ban violates the U.S. Constitution. San Diego's law currently does not allow homeowners to return to properties inhabited by a tenant, which Judge M. James Lorenz preserved because the law is short-term.

The Office of Planning and Research released a draft technical advisory that recommends ways in which the CEQA can more effectively review and approve sustainable transportation projects. Bus rapid transit, light rail service, and bus-only lane projects as well as those that center riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians are among those that qualify for CEQA exemption.
The state is investigating Alameda County to determine if officials followed the Surplus Lands Act when they sold part of the Coliseum to the Oakland A's. The state's HCD asserted that the county never defined the site as "surplus land" or "exempt surplus land," and the county will have to prove otherwise in less than 60 days or face legal consequences.

The 80-mile high speed rail leg from Bakersfield to Palmdale is taking a big step forward after the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors approved the plan's Final Environmental Impact Report, allowing for preconstruction work as the project receives more funding. Thus far, almost 300 miles of the proposed 500-mile journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles/Anaheim have been approved.

Lincoln Property Company Vice President Clay Duvall announced in a letter addressed to Oceanside officials that the company will no longer pursue construction of an Amazon package distribution center at their 28-acre Oceanside industrial park site. While Duvall gave no explanation for their change of plans, Senior Planner Rob Dmohowski cited Oceanside City Council's reversal of the Planning Commission's approval.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal dismissed all but two claims in a lawsuit that suggests San Diego city and county officials discriminated against unhoused people with disabilities when combatting the spread of COVID-19. The two arguments that can move forward include an accusation that officials broke a state code that prohibits discrimination and a demand for a judicial declaration that officials acted improperly.