Property Owners Sue San Francisco over Vacancy Tax
A group of landlords and property owners along with the San Francisco Apartment Association are suing the city over "The Empty Home Tax," a citywide tax on empty properties. The claimants assert the tax is a violation of their constitutional right to property ownership. "The Empty Home Tax," or Proposition M, passed in November with 54% of voter support, will start charging property owners a tax on units sitting vacant for over 182 days, taking effect in 2024. The taxes start at $2,500 for smaller units and $5,000 for units over 1,000 square feet and will be enforced on buildings with three or more units. The tax is an incentivizing effort to make sure thytatt property owners and landlords are renting out available housing. The San Francisco Supervisor pushed back on the lawsuit in a statement, saying "San Francisco voters delivered a clear mandate that it is completely unacceptable to have tens of thousands of vacant homes as more than 4,000 people are living on our streets." The same claimants previous sued the city and lost over a law banning evictions during the pandemic.

Several Land Use Bills Introduced in Legislature; "Cannabis Cafes" Could be Legalized
A flurry of bills related to land use were introduced in both chambers of the California legislature recently. One bill could legalize the sale of beverages and food at cannabis retailers, enabling them to operate like cafes, in the hopes of helping the legal cannabis industry survive in California. (See related CP&DR coverage.) Senator Scott Wiener's new bill makes 2017 Senate Bill 35 – the law that requires local city governments to streamline building if affordable housing goals have not been met – permanent in the state while also removing a requirement to use unionized workers, hoping to expand its reach. SB 423, as proposed by Senator Scott Wiener, is a permanent amendment to SB 35, expanding the original provision to include mixed-use housing developments. The original SB 35 was set to expire in two years, but Senator Wiener ensured the bill would continue to streamline housing projects permanently in California. Assembly Bill 930 would enable two or more legislative bodies (including city or county government, special districts or transit agencies) to together form a Reinvestment in Infrastructure for a Sustainable and Equitable California district (RISE district) and provide low- and moderate-income housing bonds for the combined area.

24,000 New Homes Coming to San Diego's Mira Mesa Neighborhood
The San Diego City Council unanimously approved a blueprint for Mira Mesa with a big plan to ditch the car-dependent neighborhood and construct pedestrian-friendly urban villages with 24,000 new homes, mostly in high-rise housing. While other San Diego neighborhoods would remain unchanged for the moment, the city plans to rezone Mira Mesa's commercial land for high-density housing. Meanwhile, lawmakers hope to build walking bridges over car-centric streets, and several lanes primarily used by vehicles would turn into pathways for buses and bicycles. The plan's opponents are concerned that the blueprint will attract too many residents and not enough infrastructure or green space, and environmental advocates say proposals for reducing auto-dependency are inadequate.

Report Estimates Effect of CEQA Suits on Housing Production
The Center for Jobs and the Economy released a new report that analyzes the damaging impact of CEQA lawsuits on housing production. While the 3.5 million-home statewide shortfall intensifies, lawsuits against new housing that prevent upzoning, transit accessibility, and housing affordability under the guise of environmental violations continue to grow. The report illuminates that anti-housing lawsuits have impacted nearly half of the state's annual housing production, which totals an average of 110,784 homes. The authors conclude that CEQA has acted as a form of population reduction by driving out residents. While the researchers intend to analyze two more years of CEQA lawsuit data, they do not expect results to change.

State Allocates $825 Million for Affordable Housing
California Governor Gavin Newsom announced this week upwards of $825-million in awards over 9,500 homes in 58 communities to build affordable housing, along with a streamlined application process for local governments. This new process was made possible by Assembly Bill 434 , which allowed for multiple housing applications to be narrowed down into a single award process. Under this new approach, requests for housing development funds have soared. The first round of new Multifamily Finance Super Notice of Funding Availability ("Super NOFA") received more than $3.5 billion in developer requests.

CP&DR Coverage: TOD Arrives in the Suburbs
While many big-city transit districts have gotten in on transit-oriented development, the suburbs have been slow to catch on -- until recently. The North San Diego County Transit District, which runs the buses and trains in the region, is in the midst of planning for reuse of a dozen underutilized parking lots that are next to the region’s train and bus stations. NCTD transit goes to San Diego and from the north county coastal cities to inland communities such as Escondido. When completed in a decade, those redeveloped parking lots should contain hundreds of new housing units, retail, and offices, all of which are expected to create more riders for the transit systems.

Quick Hits & Updates

Los Angeles City Mayor Karen Bass ordered city officials to provide a comprehensive list of vacant properties across the city by Mar. 31, one of the largest steps Bass has taken yet in her term to address the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles. Bass, in her campaign promises, ensured she will find housing for 17,000 in her first year in office. She hopes to use vacant land to build temporary or permanent housing in the city.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development in partnership with the Strategic Growth Council announced the release of the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Notice of Funding Availability for approximately $750 million. The application is open now through April 4.

Cal Poly Humboldt, currently facing a student housing crisis, is looking into temporarily housing approximately 600 students on a barge in Humboldt Bay. The consideration follows a large-scale student body protest over a lack of on-campus housing.

Under the proposed Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act, housing and renewable energy developments potentially disruptive to the endangered local Joshua trees will pay to relocate the trees elsewhere in order to approve more projects in the high desert.

San Francisco's plan to build tiny homes for the homeless in the Mission district faces fierce criticism from community members, as well as mounting internal concern about cost, although funding has already been secured for the project. Even some proponents of the plan are shifting position.

State Sen. Scott Wiener introduced a plan to strip down the San Francisco Central Freeway that cuts through SoMa and connects travelers between the Bay Bridge and the city's downtown. Thus far, Wiener has requested that Caltrans conduct a study of the impact of demolition, part of which has already been reimagined into Octavia Boulevard, which is now home to apartment buildings and new amenities.

BART and San Francisco developer Bridge Housing have entered a two-year Exclusive Negotiating Agreement to construct a transit-oriented housing development near the North Berkeley Station. The 5.5-acre site could hold 500 to 1,200 homes, 35% of which would be affordable.

Bay Area airports may see flooding damage to runways if local governments do not mitigate the impacts of sea level rise and storm surge, according to a new study from UC Berkeley. Researchers found that 39 out of 43 coastal airports would be at-risk to flooding by 2100, including all Bay Area airports, half of which are expected to face flooding in the next 20 years.

The city of Rancho Mirage faces a lawsuit by a lone resident claiming officials are not following through on a promise to adapt a city-owned mobile home park into affordable housing. The commitment dates back to the land purchase in 2009 by the city, when officials claimed the space was soon to be “uninhabitable” and they would adapt the land into affordable senior housing.