Woodside Draws Scorn for Declaring City "Mountain Lion Habitat"
In an apparent surrender after a short-lived but high-profile debacle, the town of Woodside has decided not to oppose certain residential units in the name of mountain lion protection. In a response to the implementation of Senate Bill 9, which widely permits lot splits and the development of duplexes on single-family lots statewide, Woodside had planned to put a moratorium on SB 9 projects by declaring itself a mountain lion habitat. The mountain lion is a candidate species for protection under the California Endangered Species Act, and city leaders argued that the mountain lion's status prevented the city from approving further development. The move attracted widespread derision, especially from housing advocates who claimed that the habitat designation was simply an excuse to deny more housing in the city. Even the California Mountain Lion Foundation criticized the move; the organization tweeted, "a blanket prohibition against adding an additional unit on an already developed parcel anywhere in the town is neither required by the California Endangered Species Act, nor contributing to the protection of mountain lions." The move was also opposed by Attorney General Rob Bonta, whose office issued a statement reading, in part, "Habitat is land that has the capacity to support a specific species, including providing food and shelter. Land that is already developed — with, for example a single-family home — is not, by definition, habitat. . . . Any exemption under SB 9 requires the town to examine the attributes of an individual parcel of land. An entire town cannot be declared habitat for a protected species, and the exemption of a specific lot would have to be based on substantial evidence." A statement from the town indicates that it will accept SB 9 applications effective immediately. (See related CP&DR coverage.)
S.F. Supervisors Thwart Mayor's Ballot Initiative to Promote Housing
San Francisco Mayor London Breed's third attempt to place a measure that would streamline housing production on the June 7 ballot has failed after the Board of Supervisors rejected her proposal. Mayor Breed hoped that San Francisco residents would be able to vote on a charter amendment that would allow certain projects to quickly move past the city's discretionary review process, cutting down the approval timeline by one or two years. However, Supervisor Peskin argued that the Mayor failed to achieve adequate input from impacted stakeholders. Proposals to build 100% affordable housing or developments with over 25 units that include an affordable hosing requirement and would have qualified for the streamlined process.
Report Contradicts Claims that CEQA Impedes Development
The 50-year old California Environmental Quality Act is a critical tool for advancing environmental justice and combating climate change, according to a report released by The Housing Workshop and commissioned by the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment. The report contends that the CEQA is not a significant barrier to the state’s housing production, contrary to critic’s contentions, and its provisions are helpful in ensuring government transparency and community involvement. The report uses current data and case studies to assess CEQA litigation rates, economic prosperity metrics, and the cost of CEQA compliance. Its analysis shows that the number of CEQA lawsuits has remained consistently very low over the last two decades, despite a rapid growth in the state’s population in the same period.
Toxic Troubles Plague Vallco Mall Redevelopment
Property owners of the Vallco Town Center will have to decontaminate 50 acres of chemical-ridden soil that lays as the foundation for the new development before beginning construction. The site formerly held a shopping mall with several nearby dry cleaners and a Sears Automotive Center that left contaminated soil, which the property owners analyzed in their updated report to the Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health. The proposal for the new development includes 2,402 new homes, 400,000 square feet of retail, and 1.8 million square feet of office space, though the county still needs to sign off on the new report, and site owner Sand Hill Property Co. must submit its proposal for decontamination, which will likely come in the form of soil removal that is already planned to allow for underground parking. (See related CP&DR coverage.)
CP&DR Coverage: Ballot Initiative Would Curtail State Land Use Authority
Prompted by dissatisfaction over Senate Bill 9 and Senate Bill 10, an advocacy group led by municipal officials is seeking to put a measure on the November ballot that would not only undo those laws but also curtail almost all of Sacramento's power to influence local planning, zoning, and housing production. The ballot initiative goes by the slogan "Our Neighborhood Voices" and is officially called the "Brand-Huang-Mendoza Tripartisan Land Use Initiative," named for its three major backers: Mayor Bill Brand of Redondo Beach, Council Member Peggy Huang of Yorba Linda, and Council Member Jovita Mendoza of Brentwood.
Quick Hits & Updates
Los Angeles City Council voted to ban future oil and gas wells and phase out existing wells, a momentous decision that will combat pollution, fossil fuel dependence, and environmental injustice in a city that contains the country's largest number of urban wells. This move will come as a meaningful success to community organizations who have fought for fossil fuel divestment for years and will lead to a study that suggests how to legally remove oil wells from the city.
California's years-long drought is infamous, but a proposed statewide ballot measure that would make it easier to fund and build dams and more large water projects will likely not move forward due to momentum and fundraising shortfalls. The initiative would require that 2% of the state's general fund, roughly $4 billion, be dedicated to growing water supplies.
Long Beach City Council approved an updated plan to the city's park system that details investment initiatives in local parks and programming for the next 10 years, specifically in areas with minimal green space tied to systemic racism. The plan would invest further in equitable park land, consider park disparities, and increase mobile recreation programs and language access.
California was one of three states to hold areas with the highest concentrations of at-risk markets, with seven throughout the entire state, according to ATTOM, which released its fourth-quarter 2021 Special Coronavirus Report that analyzes county-level housing markets and their vulnerability to the pandemic's economic impacts. The counties of Butte, El Dorado, Humboldt, Shasta, Kern, Madera, and Riverside were included on this list.
The United States Supreme Court will consider an appeal from Chantell and Michael Sackett that would minimize federal control of private property related to the Clean Water Act. In 2007, the EPA required the Sacketts to stop work on their property, noting that it would impact wetlands that could not legally be polluted without a permit.
A federal judge rejected a request from oil, gas, and hydropower industry groups to reinstate a Trump-era rule that reduces the regulation of projects that result in significant water pollution, delivering a victory to 20 states who sued to block the rule, including California. The groups argued that, without the rule, the country would lose out on important energy projects, heighten costs on developers, and harm the economy and claimed that they would not be able to fairly participate in rulemaking processes if the rule were rejected.
San Diego City Council approved a new growth blueprint for Barrio Logan intended to improve community public health by approving green spaces and other projects that would separate residents from the shipping industry and its pollution and confront environmental racism. The update also demands "freeway lids" over I-5 and community gardens to increase healthy food access.
The Town of Fairfax has approved amendments to its General Plan that will include more respectful and equitable language. Specifically, the town will no longer use the terms "community character" and "neighborhood character" and will instead clarify the intended message behind that language.
The San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley metropolitan area remained the nation's most expensive place to live for the sixth year in a row, according to 2020 federal data that found prices in the area were 17.4% higher than the national average. The data also found San Diego-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara in fifth place and proved that California is the third-most expensive state.
Developer Hines is hoping to build a residential building three blocks away from and a few feet shorter than its San Francisco high-rise Salesforce Tower development. The developer would use density bonuses to construct its 808-unit apartment building on a site originally zoned for 400 feet in height but supposedly allowed to reach Hines's desired 1,066 feet using public-subsidized bonuses.
The Natomas Unified School District unanimously approved a proposal to purchase part of the mostly unused Sleep Train Arena site from Sacramento Business Holdings Natomas LLC, who owns the Sacramento Kings, for $6 million. The NUSD School Board plans to build a school site on its newly-acquired 12-acre lot.
The Oakland Department of Transportation is beginning to phase out its Slow Streets program intended to protect pedestrians and bicyclists, a process that began almost two years ago. Officials will start removing Slow Streets infrastructure, including signs, safety cones, and barricades, located on about 21 miles of roadway within the next two weeks, allowing vehicles to return to the streets.