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CP&DR News Briefs January 19, 2020: Sacramento Homelessness; S.F. Office Market; Commercial Land for Housing; and More

Robin Glover on
Jan 19, 2021
Sacramento Advances Ambitious Homelessness Plan 
The Sacramento City Council voted unanimously to endorse the mayor's proposal for a citywide master plan for constructing housing for homeless residents. The plan commits each council member to establishing shelter, housing, and programs within their district in the next six months. The plan includes an affordable housing bond of up to $100 million. In response to shorter-term concerns, the council also approved holding a vote for an ordinance that could designate as many as 1,700 "Safe Ground" style organized encampments. Now that the city council has approved the master plan proposal, community input workshops begin this month and continue through April; the city could finalize a master plan in time for a June city council vote.

San Francisco Office Market Slumps 
New leasing activity is down 71 percent from 2019 in San Francisco's office market, which had its weakest year in three decades in 2020. Companies like Twitter and Dropbox downsized through sublease listings, which now account for more than half of the vacancy rate, and almost no new large leases were completed in 2020. The largest was signed by Vir, a biotech company researching COVID-19, which took 1133,896 square feet at Dropbox's headquarters. Office projects under construction saw no leases signed last year, a marked shift from previous trends. At the same time, venture capital in San Francisco set an annual record of $27.2 billion last years. IPOs in the Bay Area set a record with 67, but it's unclear whether new funding will translate to office demand as it has in the past given the trend toward remote work.

Report Identifies Opportunities for Housing on Commercially Zoned Land 
A report from the UC Berkeley Terner Center examines the inventory of commercially zoned land in California's four largest metro areas to determine how much land is currently allocated to commercial uses, and where such land is concentrated. The report's key findings were that Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, and Sacramento have an abundance of land zoned for commercial uses -- 191,000 acres in the Los Angeles region alone -- and allowing residential development in these areas could introduce new housing in virtually every neighborhood. In particular, commercial land is as prevalent in high-resource areas as it is in low-resource communities. Yet, the amount of commercial land per capita is higher in suburban communities than in urban core areas. Commercial land is concentrated along thoroughfares and in clusters, and housing that would emerge from its residential redevelopment may therefore be similarly concentrated. The report notes that, in many instances, local restrictions make it very difficult to permit housing on commercial land. 

CP&DR Coverage: Newsom's Budget Boosts Housing
With state revenue projections seemingly unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic and economic challenges that many Californians are facing, Gov. Gavin Newsom released his proposed budget last week including a roughly $15 billion windfall for the 2021-22 budget. In keeping with his years-long crusade to increase California’s housing supply, he announced upwards of $8 billion for a wide range of housing-related programs, including over $2 billion in windfall monies, making it the largest windfall-related category of spending, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Among billions for bonds, homeless housing programs, and home loan assistance programs, one of the smaller line items may have the most profound impact on urban planning statewide.

Quick Hits & Updates 
The Berkeley City Council approved the Adeline Corridor Specific Plan - a document that lays out an ambitious vision through 2040 to reshape the South Berkeley area near Ashby BART with an estimated 1,500 housing units, commercial space, and permanent homes for cultural institutions like the Ashby Flea Market and the Juneteenth Festival. Broadly, it hopes to address the political and economic factors that displaced thousands of minority residents after the construction of Ashby BART in the 1960s.

Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Liane Randolph to chair the California Air Resources Board. Most recently, Randolph served as commissioner on the California Public Utilities Commission. She will be the first Black chair of the board, and will bring experience from her work on projects to reduce greenhouse gases in new buildings, as well as to formulate rules to help California transition away from using natural gas.

A long-awaited hovercraft feasibility study for the San Francisco Bay was delivered to the Water Emergency Transportation Authority. The preliminary findings were that hovercraft are technically feasible to operate on San Francisco Bay, but didn't find significant advantages for the smaller crafts over their larger counterparts for emergency service duties, for example, or in terms of air quality benefits until all-electric fleets come to the market.

Oracle Corp. is the latest tech giant to announce that it will move its headquarters from California to Texas, joining the ranks of Tesla and HP Enterprise, two companies that recently announced their exodus. In a press release, Oracle signaled that its move from Redwood City to Austin is predicated on a large number of employees being able to continue to work remotely.

Metropolitan Transportation Commissioner planners have backed off a mandate that would have large companies make their workforce remote three days out of the work week. Instead, the commission approved a plan that calls for big companies to have 60 percent of their employees take sustainable commutes by 2035. Regional planners are under pressure to meet state mandates that require the region to cut emissions 19 percent by 2035 or lose $100 million in transportation funds as soon as 2022. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Apartment landlords are suing the City of Santa Monica, claiming a measure the council passed in September that bans short-term rentals is "arbitrary, capricious, and lacking in evidentiary support." It alleges Santa Monica is violating the California Coastal Act, and separately the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause because it hurts tenants affected by COVID who may be looking for short term rentals.

The Palmdale City Council approved the Palmdale Transit Area Specific Plan that will customize the planning process, land use, and zoning regulations for future transit-oriented development around the proposed downtown California High Speed Rail station. The transit center would have bus transportation, a north-south high speed rail line, a potential east-west high speed rail line and the Metrolink station coming in to one location.

Amazon purchased a San Francisco property for $200 million with the intent of expanding its massive shipping infrastructure. In 2018 the 6-acre site by the Caltrain tracks was under consideration by the previous owners for a development with over 1,000 new homes. The project size was reduced after city planners balked to the design's heights and rezoning the area for residential use from the current industrial uses.

The latest development in a long-running controversy, The Santa Monica City Council approved the Fairmont Miramar hotel's redevelopment proposal after 10 years of planning, but the Santa Monica Bay Towers Homeowners Association (SMBT) filed a lawsuit challenging the approval just days later. In the suit, SMBT alleges that the redevelopment project violates the coastal land use plan (LUP) and the Downtown Community Plan (DCP), as well as the California Environmental Quality Act. The hotel is owned in part by billionaire Larry Ellison. 
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the Urban Air Mobility Partnership, a first-in-the-nation initiative to make Los Angeles a leader on urban air mobility. A product of a public-private partnership between the Mayor's Office, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, and Urban Movement Labs, the effort will help Los Angeles map out challenges identified by stakeholders and visualize a "vertiport," where people can go to fly on an urban air mobility aircraft.

The Salinas City Council unanimously approved a 760-acre development project that includes a large affordable component. The agreement goes a step further to ensure locals will have access to homes. The developer will notify local groups when houses will be on the market, and one out of every six built homes will be affordable housing.

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