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CP&DR News Briefs Dec. 8, 2020: L.A. Transportation Tech; Tejon Ranch Lawsuit; Gas Tax Spending; and More

Robin Glover on
Dec 8, 2020

Los Angeles to Incubate Innovative Transportation Technologies
Los Angeles established what it is calling a "Transportation Technology Innovation Zone" at Warner Center in West San Fernando Valley to field-test new transportation technologies. The zone's first pilot project is a zero-emissions, last-mile delivery service that connects individuals homebound by the pandemic to food from local businesses. The second pilot project is expected to launch in Spring 2021, featuring mini-mobility hubs throughout the Warner Center campus. The Transportation Technology Innovation Zone is one of the flagship programs of Urban Movement Labs (UML), the transportation solutions accelerator launched by Mayor Garcetti in November 2019. "There's no place in L.A. as perfect as the Warner Center to test innovative transportation technology," said Councilmember Blumenfield, who cosponsored the project with Mayor Garcetti. "Since we rolled out the Warner Center 2035 Specific Plan, the City's boldest and greenest specific plan, the Warner Center has become the focus of intense residential and commercial development."

Lawsuit Takes Aim at Tejon Ranch Conservation Efforts
In a lawsuit filed in Kern County Superior Court, environmental groups accused Tejon Ranch Conservancy of failing to make promised payments of about $800,000 a year in interest free loans to the coalition tasked with conserving the ranch as wilderness. The 240,000 acres are located in the Tehachapi Mountains, an hour's drive north of Los Angeles, and have been set aside for public tours, education, and research as a condition of development of what is essentially a new city. A spokesperson for Tejon Ranch Co. defended the company's decision to withhold funds in an escrow account, saying the environmental groups did not hold up their promise to not oppose developments on the property. The agreement allows Tejon Ranch Co. to build on 30,000 acres of the region. Three massive developments, totaling 19,000 residential units, in Los Angeles and Kern County are in the pipeline. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

State Makes Recommendations for Gas Tax Investments
The California Transportation Commission released their recommendations for funding projects in three gas tax programs for the next year. All three programs include funding to widen highways despite broad agreement among California's transportation agencies that California should move away from encouraging solo driving. The projects recommended for about $500 million include $60 million towards a long-planned upgrade to BART that increases the number of trains across the bay, $25 million for a roundabout in Napa, $65 million for bus lines along I-10 in San Bernardino, and $67 million for mass transit, pedestrian, and bike trail improvements along the I-80 corridor in Placer and Sacramento. The agency is considering $283 million in freeway upgrades, including $40 million to widen Highway 101, $150 million to widen I-105 and add toll lanes through L.A., and $93 million to widen Highway 1 and add bike lanes along the Watsonville-Santa Cruz corridor.

CP&DR Coverage: Cities Revolt Against Housing Allocations 
No fewer than 50 of the region’s 191 cities have filed formal appeals to the Southern California Association fo Governments asking for reductions in their targets under the Regional Housing Needs Allocation process. The resistance is centered in Orange County, where 21 cities out of 34 – more than 60 percent – have challenged their targets. In Los Angeles County, 24 cities out of 88 have appealed. Collectively, the cities are asking for a reduction of tens of over 100,000 units. The surge in RHNA challenges is the predictable result of two things: First, a gigantic increase in the targets given SCAG by the state; and, second, a shift in the geographical distribution of the targets, so that more units were allocated toward jobs-rich, high-cost cities than in the past.

Quick Hits & Updates

San Bernardino County planning manager Gabriel Chavez resigned less than two weeks after his home was raided by the FBI in connection with a cannabis-related corruption probe. A source told the Los Angeles Times that federal agents had been interviewing people about allegations that Baldwin Park officials requested illegal payments from cannabis businesses seeking permits.

The San Jose City Council approved a plan to use funds from Measure E, a property transfer tax increase that passed in March, to fund affordable housing and homelessness prevention. Forty-five percent is dedicated to providing permanent supportive housing, 45 percent will make low-income rentals available, and 10 percent will support middle-income housing. The last 10 percent is reserved for homelessness prevention programs.

The gray wolf will lose federal protections under a Trump administration decision that removes the gray wolf from the endangered species list. The move is expected to face legal challenges from conservationists who say the agency is acting prematurely. Before they were added to the endangered list in 1974, the grey wolf population was around 1,000. They now number more than 6,000.

A state probe into the top consultant working on California High Speed Rail last year found that the official did not violate state laws for conflict of interest. The matter involved allegations that Hill signed a $51-million change order for a Spanish construction firm in the same year he may have owned $100,000 of stock in one of the firm's subsidiaries. The commission concluded the action resulted in a "nominal financial effect."

Nearly a quarter million renter households in California have fallen behind on rent, with an average debt of $6,953 per household, a Federal Reserve study found. The Fed analysis suggests thousands of tenants face the risk of eviction after a moratorium ends Dec. 31. California's back rent is projected to reach nearly $1.7 billion by the end of the year, or almost a fourth of the total rental debate nationwide.

San Diego approved a community plan update for Kearney Mesa that aims to address San Diego's need for affordable housing while reducing greenhouse gases. The plan will develop Kearny Mesa into one of San Diego's fastest growing residential neighborhoods by allowing for over 20,000 new housing units. The plan also would add 25,000 more jobs by encouraging mixed-use villages throughout the community. 

The Walnut Creek City Council unanimously approved "Rethinking Mobility," a five-year transportation strategy to reduce private vehicle use and encourage public transit ridership. Among the plan's 13 goals are working with businesses to offer special discounts for transit riders, adding dedicated bus lanes, adding amenities for cyclists, and modifying parking pricing and requirements for new housing developments. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

The Palo Alto City Council voted to open up Foothills Park to the public following years of exclusive access to neighborhood residents. The vote came after the ACLU sued Palo Alto on the grounds of "a legacy of the city's history of racial discrimination." The ordinance imposes a limit of 1,000 visitors at a time and allows Palo Alto residents first access to reserve amenities in the park. The 1,400-acre park could open to the general public as soon as Dec. 17.

The California Fish and Game Commission granted temporary endangered species status to the Mojave desert tortoise when it agreed to consider the animal as a candidate for permanent listing. The desert species was listed as threatened under state law in 1989 and under federal law the following year based on a severe decline in the tortoise population. A 2018 study found that adult tortoise populations had plummeted by 50 percent in some designated recovery areas since 2004, and by as much as 90 percent in some critical habitat management units since the 1980s.

For the first time, housing developers who want to build in unincorporated parts of Santa Clara County will have to set aside 16 percent of new developments containing three or more units or pay an in-lieu fee of $259,000 per unit. The rules apply to both units intended for sale and for rent. The Board of Supervisors determined the fee amount, which will go into effect next year, based on an independent study presented to the county in July that accounts for 100 percent of the cost to create a replacement affordable unit. The fee will have a modest affect--most of Santa Clara County's 15 cities already have their own affordable housing ordinances in place. San Jose adopted a similar rule in 2010, requiring developers to either designate 15 percent of new sale or rental units as affordable or to pay an in-lieu fee.

A group of conservations rallied to buy Oswit Canyon in a $7.15 million sale of over 100 acres in south Palm Springs. Shortly after purchase, the Save Oswit Canyon team removed removed the private property signs from the canyon, signaling the land is officially open to the public. The area is home to wildlife like desert fox, mountain lions and bighorn sheep.

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