Sacramento Moves to Eliminate Single-Unit Zoning
On an 8-0 vote, the Sacramento City Council approved the first step in the process of allowing up to four units on every parcel currently zoned for a single residence across the city. Designed to help ease the city’s housing pressures and to promote spatial equity, the policy would essentially eliminate restrictive single-unit zoning and open up the city to duplexes, triplexes, and four-plexus. Opponents, led by some homeowners associations, say the policy threatens historic homes and recommends that it be implemented in only certain parts of the city, primarily along transit corridors. Among groups that supported the policy, some encouraged the city to implement strict design guidelines to ensure that the additional units would fit with the look of existing neighborhoods. The policy will be included in the city’s 2040 General Plan update, which is expected to be adopted in about a year. If it is adopted, the zoning change will go into effect in about two years. The policy resembles a statewide bill, SB 9, that would allow duplexes on almost every residential lot in the state. (See related CP&DR commentary.)
Outgoing Administration Leaves Proposal to Lift Federal Protections on 3 Million Acres
Days before the Trump administration left Washington D.C., the U.S. Department of Interior released a proposal to rewrite the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which would reduce California's protected lands by 3 million acres. Despite the proposal's preliminary status, the department's Bureau of Land Management will accept public comments on the plan for 90 days. It is unclear if the Biden administration, which favors clean energy development but also preserving public lands, would seek to roll the move back. Mining, renewable energy, and grazing interests supported amending the plan, while environmental groups, California state agencies, and the Department of Defense are among those opposed to modifying the plan. Renewable energy industry stakeholders see an opportunity to make the most of high-quality wind resource areas that the new agreement would free up, as well as more than 800,000 acres of desert that could provide solar energy.
California Cities See Largest Rises and Declines in Rent
A new study from AdvisorSmith used Zillow data to analyze where rent prices rose and fell the most in over 500 U.S. cities. The coronavirus pandemic has caused some wild swings in the rental market across the country, but California has seen some of the biggest swings. San Francisco, in particular, saw a tremendous drop (-26.4 percent), followed closely by Mountain View (23.9 percent) and Sunnyvale (-20.8 percent). In fact, of the top 25 cities with the biggest drops in rent, California cities constitute just under half, including Redwood City, San Mateo, Oakland, Santa Monica, Santa Clara, and Milpitas. Just four California cities made the top 25 cities for rent increases: Rancho Cucamonga (13.2 percent), Murrieta (11.1 percent), Chino Hills (10.9 percent) Bakersfield (10.4 percent), and Fresno (9.1 percent). (See related CP&DR coverage.)
Proposed Budget Includes Environmental, Infrastructure Spending
In addition to proposed spending on housing, Gov. Gavin Newsom State Budget Proposal proposes increased investment in green initiatives, particularly around clean-burning vehicles: a $1.5 billion investment would support low-income Californians to purchase cleaner vehicles; go toward purchasing clean trucks, buses, and off-road freight equipment; as well as construction of electric charging and hydrogen fueling stations. The budget has a line item for $300 million for toxic site cleanup, in addition to incentives to clean up and develop the sites for future housing and $300 million for deferred maintenance and greening of state infrastructure. The Governor also proposed a $1 billion investment in wildfire and forest resilience. Of that amount, $323 million is proposed for early action this spring to prepare for the next fire seasons. The budget includes the following categories of investments related to fire management: $512 million for forest health, fuel management, and post-fire recovery projects; $335 million for wildfire fuel breaks; and an additional $160 million for community hardening, monitoring technology, and forest sector economic stimulus. (See related CP&DR coverage.)
CP&DR Coverage: Biden and Land Use
Even though Donald Trump lived in a high-rise mixed-use building in a big city for more than 30 years (Trump Tower), cities didn’t do well under the Trump Administration. But Joe Biden is an unabashed urbanist – for example, he’s a guy who made the 90-minute commute between Wilmington, Delaware, and Washington, D.C., some 8,000 times during his 36 years in the Senate. So how will cities and urban life fare under a Biden Administration? The answer, almost certainly, is a lot more than the Trump Administration did. Biden will make some short-term moves and then he will probably focus mostly on transportation and infrastructure, though he may also make some moves on housing as well.
Quick Hits & Updates
Voters will decide whether a 3,000-home Fanita Ranch development will move forward after the Santee City Council voted to place a measure on the November 2022 ballot asking whether the project should be built. A legal challenge is now pending that may jeopardize the ballot measure; allegations have been raised that some of the signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot were obtained illegally.
Los Angeles County unveiled its draft update to the L.A. River master plan, the first in over 25 years. The bulk of the 51-mile corridor is used for flood control purposes, but that could change dramatically. The document identifies 56 potential projects; among them are modest changes like the Downtown leg of the L.A. River bike path, but more ambitious projects like elevated platform parks are featured as well.
A study out of UC Davis and Worcester State University used regional transportation plans for three California Metropolitan Organizations to show that the transportation accessibility and environmental health issues affecting low-income residents and people of color who have been pushed out of gentrified urban cores have not been captured adequately by current metrics. The study of the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, and Fresno found that when allocating limited transportation funds, California MPOs reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled, but fail to serve suburban and exurban communities.
A San Diego preservation group has named five sites to its annual "endangered list," a designation that doesn't carry legal weight but aims to raise awareness of demolitions or renovations of old buildings. The five new entries this year are the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, a Chase Bank, a Victorian house in San Marcos, pepper trees in Kensington and auto cottages on the beach in Oceanside.
The monarch butterfly has been bumped from consideration for protection under the Endangered Species Act at least until 2024. Federal officials say other species under greater threat will receive consideration first. Scientists estimate the monarch population in the eastern U.S. has fallen about 80 percent since the mid-1990s, while the drop-off in the Western U.S. has been even steeper.
Lockheed Martin will begin tearing down its 54-year-old marine terminal building in San Diego Bay's Harbor Island East Basin early next year following the Port of San Diego Commissioners vote to certify the project's environmental impact report. The project, estimated to cost $7 million, will cap a long-running dispute between the port and Lockheed Martin, and should ready the East Harbor Island for redevelopment.
A plan for a gondola system in Long Beach known as "The Wave" could go before City Council soon despite budget setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The project is projected to cost between $80 million and $100 million, but from private capital sources and grants. The preliminary design shows the first station near the Long Beach Convention Center, then a second near the Aquarium of the Pacific, and ending at the Queen Mary and surrounding hotels.
Capping a four-year planning effort, the Palmdale City Council has approved a Specific Plan that will determine regulations around the proposed downtown California High Speed Rail station. The plan focuses on increasing density around the future high-speed rail station and enables a pedestrian-friendly district with a mix of commercial and public uses that maintain the neighborhood character. (See related CP&DR coverage.)
A new report from SPUR, A Transit Coordinator for the Bay Area, makes the case for a transit coordinator entity that could pull the Bay Area's disparate transit agencies together. The report also recommends prioritizing early actions that increase transit use and ensure that new transit investments deliver the best public value and pursuing institution reforms to align the role of transit agencies and local jurisdictions with transit coordinator functions.
The Placer Superior Court denied a petition filed by a community group that would have delayed redevelopment plans for a campus in North Auburn in Placer County. The master plan update for the campus envisions new amenities like a community events center, open space, and preserving several of its original buildings in a dedicated heritage area to the campus' history. It also includes a 79-acre multi-family workforce housing development.
The projected cost of tiny homes in Los Angeles--at $130,000 a pop for each 8-by-8 foot structure in one North Hollywood site--has prompted calls from Los Angeles City Council to find ways to reduce the cost. The motion introduced by one councilmember asks the city to bring the cost per unit down to the $17,000 to 22,000 range that other California communities have achieved.
The City of Encintas wants to pass an update to its density bonus law that would exempt it from a AB 2345, the new state law that allows developers to build more densely if they include affordable housing.
The Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, one of the state's smallest tribes, closed escrow on a $4.5 million deal with an environmental group to purchase nearly 1,200 acres of Adler Ranch in Big Sur. The area is known for its giant redwoods, which serve as an ideal nesting place for the California condor. Moreover, the Little Sur River that runs along one side of the property is a spawning ground for the endangered California Coast Steelhead.
The home of the Oakland A's is now officially known as RingCentral Coliseum. RingCentral will pay $450,000 upfront and a monthly payment of $15,000 a month during the COVID-19 pandemic; once live games resume, RingCentral will pay $1.1 million a year over three years.