State Awards Seven Prohousing Designations
Seven California jurisdictions -- the cities of Eureka, Healdsburg, Mountain View, Petaluma, San Luis Obispo and Santa Monica as well as Tulare County -- have been designated as Prohousing by the Department of Housing & Community Development for their efforts in promoting housing development across all income levels. With the Statewide Housing Plan highlighting the need for 2.5 million new homes by 2030, this designation recognizes communities going above and beyond state housing laws to expedite housing production. These Prohousing communities will receive funding incentives and additional resources to bolster their innovative housing efforts. These jurisdictions indicated a commitment to state housing goals by streamlining processes, reducing fees and incentivizing affordable housing projects. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Related Cos. Downsizes Major Santa Clara Development
The first phrase of the Related Santa Clara project, once envisioned as a sprawling mixed-use development of four million square feet, is undergoing significant downsizing. Developer Related Cos. now envisions roughly 1.6 million square feet of office space with light industrial and advanced manufacturing buildings. Originally slated for 4 million square feet of offices, the shift aims to better align with current market demands, reflecting broader trends in commercial real estate. The development is unlikely to generate the "neighborhood" feel originally envisioned. City officials raised concerns about potential impacts on the city's long-term vision for an entertainment district, given the area's access to public transit. The development includes plans for extensive housing, with several hundred residential units already under construction and slated for completion by 2025. At full build-out, the project could total over 9 million square feet, including significant amounts of residential space. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Assembly Committee to Focus on Plight of Downtowns
San Francisco Assemblymember Matt Haney is convening a special committee of lawmakers to address the struggles facing California's downtown areas, acknowledging the criticism they've received from both within and outside the state. The committee aims to craft laws and strategies to revitalize urban cores that have suffered from issues like homelessness, vacant storefronts and remote work trends exacerbated by the pandemic. The committee will study tax credits to encourage workers to return to office, streamlined permitting for adaptive reuse of offices, promoting nightlife and entertainment zones and events, moving universities into downtown areas and aiding small businesses. While cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles often bear the brunt of negative publicity, Haney emphasizes that many cities across California face similar issues. The committee's membership reflects geographic diversity and includes Assemblymembers from various regions, indicating a broad approach to addressing urban revitalization statewide. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Merced Annexes 650 Acres for Mixed-Use Community adjacent to UC Merced
The Merced City Council unanimously approved the annexation of the Virginia Smith Trust land, a 650-acre parcel south of UC Merced, marking a significant step in connecting the university to the city. The land is slated for development into thousands of homes, apartments, retail spaces, parks and transportation routes, aligning with efforts to connect UC Merced to the city limits. Revenue generated from the project will fund scholarships for local Merced County students, fulfilling the wishes of the late Virginia Smith, who established the trust in 1971. The project aims to support higher education and benefit the community by expanding scholarship opportunities. Following the city council's decision, the annexation process will proceed through additional approvals, including consideration by the Local Agency Formation Commission of Merced County, with the goal of completing the project no later than June 2024. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Report: State Must Preserve Existing Affordable Housing
In a report released by California Housing Partnership on affordable homes at risk, the organization found the state's housing crisis will get worse if there are no actions taken to protect subsidized affordable housing that already exists. Many homes are at risk of market rate conversion, and 4,789 affordable homes may no longer be deemed affordable by 2024. Another 31,309 affordable homes may no longer be deemed affordable in the next ten years. These homes face expiring regulatory restrictions on government-assisted multifamily developers or property owner decisions to opt out, sell or allow properties to convert to market rate. Sixty-five percent of the 22,078 affordable homes lost between 1997 and 2022 were owned by for-profit entities. The report proposed a three-tiered solution and action plan for state leaders, including the enforcement of the State Preservation Notice Law, an expansion of funding for affordable housing entities to purchase at-risk homes and incentive for homeowners to sell to those entities. The counties with the largest number of at risk homes are Los Angeles with 10,286 at-risk homes, followed by Orange and San Diego.

CP&DR Coverage: Courts Rule against Environmental Groups
In two appellate cases filed recently – one published and one unpublished – environmentalists and neighborhood activists came out on the short end of the stick. The results highlighted in sharp relief something that is often evident in the course of time: Environmentalists and neighborhood activists may often sue and even reach the appellate courts, but once they get there they usually lose. The more important of the two cases is Planning & Conservation League v. Department of Water Resources – a case about water rights, not land use, but one that touched on important issues under the California Environmental Quality Act, including the project’s baseline, illegal segmentation, and cumulative impact. The case attracted virtually all the important water and environmental lawyers in the state – but the state prevailed over the environmentalists on all counts. The unpublished case nvolved a single-family home built in an affluent hillside part of Los Angeles’s Westside, which required the removal of three city-protected trees and six stumps that the neighbors perceived as valuable.

Quick Hits & Updates

A coalition called Solano Together launched with a gathering of over 200 people at the Nelson Center in Suisun City, to oppose Flannery Associates' California Forever sprawl development proposal. Speakers emphasized the importance of preserving open spaces and agricultural lands, expressing concerns about the impact on existing cities and farmers. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

San Diego officials introduced updates to the Historic Preservation Program through the Preservation and Progress Initiative, aiming to streamline new home construction while preserving historic sites. The initiative encourages adaptive reuse of buildings and proposes a shift from reactive to proactive preservation strategies, with plans for public engagement and policy updates in the coming months.

The North County Transit District (NCTD) and San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) secured a $53.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to replace the aging San Dieguito River Railway Bridge in Del Mar, addressing the region's concerns about geologic instability and rail infrastructure resilience. This project, part of Phase II of the San Dieguito Bridge Replacement, Double Track and Special Events Platform Project, aims to enhance rail service, increase capacity and improve operational reliability along the Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo (LOSSAN) corridor, with additional funding sought from state and federal sources to fully support the endeavor.

The Inglewood Transit Connector Project, a $2 billion endeavor aimed at linking the Metro K Line to Inglewood and major venues like SoFi Stadium, Kia Forum and the forthcoming Intuit Dome, has encountered significant delays, pushing its anticipated completion from the original target of the 2028 Summer Olympics to at least 2030. This setback means it will miss key events such as the 2026 FIFA World Cup, the 2026 NBA All-Star Game and Super Bowl LXI in 2027. The federal government recently committed over $1 billion to the project. The Federal Transit Administration's Capital Investment Grant program will cover half of the project's cost, with the city securing an additional $873 million from various sources.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development is updating California's fair housing plan, including the Analysis of Impediments (AI) to fair housing choice. As part of this process, HCD is conducting a Community Needs Assessment survey to identify housing, community development, and supportive service needs in the state. The survey will inform resource allocations and program activities, and it will be open until April 1.

UC Davis released its California General Plan Database Mapping Tool, using linguistic analysis to study statewide local housing plans, detailing the plans by most recently updated and the population of those areas. The database is designed as a public use tool to search by keyword specifically for plans regarding environmental justice. Results of the search will create maps and tables to sort through the many uses of a word throughout the state. The database has been updated with plans up through last year, with new added housing plans to come.

Metro, Measure Up! and the Regional Integration of Intelligent Transportation Systems collected transportation data obtained from smartphones to better understand transportation trends and patterns in Los Angeles County between 2017 and 2019-2020. The data is open to the public to inform policy and research.

San Francisco has requested a temporary freeze on an ongoing lawsuit that restricts the city from clearing homeless encampments until the U.S. Supreme Court decides a related case from Grants Pass, Oregon, which challenges city codes criminalizing sleeping or sitting in public places as "cruel and unusual punishment." The lawsuit against San Francisco alleges violations of state and federal laws, city policies and the rights of homeless individuals by clearing encampments without providing adequate shelter and unlawfully seizing their belongings.

Research suggests that, of assessed office buildings, approximately 25% could potentially be converted into residential spaces, offering a cost-effective solution for building owners facing vacancies and declining cash flows. With U.S. office vacancies at a 30-year high, adaptive reuse projects are gaining momentum, supported by government initiatives like the recent $350 million pledge from the White House. Factors such as building form and location are key in determining a building's suitability for conversion, with successful projects already underway in cities including Calgary, Philadelphia, Toronto and Baton Rouge.

Home values in San Francisco saw a significant decline in 2023, dropping by 5.6%, marking the largest decrease among California's largest cities and continuing a trend of tumbling values. Despite this, San Francisco remained among the cities with the highest home values in the country, with the third-highest typical value in December 2023.

Visalia's Minor League Baseball team, the Rawhide, faces potential relocation as Major League Baseball mandates upgrades to Valley Strong Ballpark. The city, having filed a lawsuit against the team, must decide whether to upgrade the stadium or risk losing the Rawhide.

Eric Shaw, the director of San Francisco Mayor London Breed's Office of Housing and Community Development, is stepping down from his role. Shaw's successor will face challenges in advancing affordable housing development amid a slowdown in market-rate projects and high costs in San Francisco.

The developer remaking Horton Plaza mall in San Diego, has unveiled plans for two residential skyscrapers on the site. The developer is expected to break ground on a 40-story tower with 518 apartments in Q2 2025, with completion in late 2027. A second 40-story tower with 332 apartments is also planned, but its timing will depend on market dynamics. (See related CP&DR coverage.)