Massive Fresno Expansion Put on Hold
The City of Fresno is indefinitely shelving the ambitious plan for a 45,000-home community in southeast Fresno known as the Southeast Development Area (SEDA). The plan, though discussed for years, has not yet been adopted by the city council. Challenges including financing the multi-billion-dollar project and discrepancies in population projections have halted progress. Fresno City Manager Georgeanne White emphasized the need for thoroughness in reassessing the feasibility of the 9,000-acre development. Concerns over who will bear the financial burden, public or developers, complicate the project, with public subsidies off the table. White indicated that thge city does not have enough bonding capacity to cover SEDA's infrastructure. Additionally, environmental and labor groups have raised significant objections, citing flawed environmental reviews and environmental costs. As discussions continue, the city faces a pivotal decision between pursuing the SEDA project or exploring alternative avenues for housing development. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Lawsuit Seeks to Stop Delta Tunnel Project
Environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Water Resources over the Delta Conveyance Project, citing ecological harm. The project aims to divert vast amounts of Sacramento River water, endangering species in the San Joaquin Delta. The tunnel, at 36 feet wide and 45 miles long, would significantly reduce freshwater flow to the delta, impacting Delta smelt and Chinook salmon. The lawsuit alleges violations of the California Environmental Quality Act due to deficient environmental impact reports. A recent court ruling deemed the project's funding efforts unlawful, halting the $16 billion revenue bond issuance. This single-tunnel project replaces the abandoned twin-tunnel California WaterFix project, sparking controversy among environmental advocates.

Audit Slams VTA over BART Extension to San Jose
A report by the Valley Transportation Authority’s auditor general criticizes the agency for a lack of transparency and misleading communication regarding the San Jose BART extension, which has faced significant cost increases and delays. The assessment reveals that VTA internally used higher cost projections while publicly downplaying them, causing concerns about the project's $12.2 billion price tag. VTA applied for federal grants using a $9.1 billion estimate, but continued to cite a lower figure of $6.9 billion publicly. The agency ignored warnings from federal monitors about rising costs and only disclosed the higher estimate months after securing funding. VTA officials maintain they acted with credibility in their grant application, but acknowledge the need for improved communication. The BART extension aims to connect San Jose with downtown through a subterranean tunnel, adding four stations to the transit network.

San Francisco Near Top of Ranking for "Urban Mobility Readiness"
UC Berkeley and the Oliver Wyman Forum ranked 65 large cities based on their preparedness for the future of urban mobility, ranking San Francisco as fourth best city for urban mobility. San Francisco can credit its ranking to its "market attractiveness" as the city continues to be a central hub of private and public investments with an emphasis in new technology like automated and electric vehicles. The study also noted San Francisco's challenges with public transit, emphasizing their low public transit ridership following the pandemic. The study suggests San Francisco disincentivize car ownership and encourage public transit through more stops and stations along commuter lines and focus on bus and tram services as opposed to developing additional metro and rail stations. Los Angeles ranks 23 on the list as the only other California city represented in the study.

CP&DR Coverage: Cities Struggle to Hire Planners
At a time when many public-sector planning departments in California face more work than ever, many are also finding that hiring and retaining professional staff is harder than ever. Just as the Covid-19 pandemic reshuffled the populations of many California cities—with residents seeking more living space and wider open spaces — it also put lingering constraints on planning departments themselves. Many midcareer planners took early retirement or themselves moved to suburban or exurban areas, and the state's housing shortage means that many planners cannot afford to live in cities that are hiring. Meanwhile, in order to lessen the housing shortage, the state has placed new burdens on local agencies in the form of complicated Housing Elements and other long-range planning requirements.

Quick Hits & Updates

Senator Scott Wiener introduced SB 951, aimed at reducing the authority of the California Coastal Commission over neighborhood areas along San Francisco's Ocean Beach, removing privately owned urban parcels from commission oversight. While Mayor London Breed supports the legislation, critics worry about its broader implications for coastal preservation and the balance between housing development and environmental protection.

Proposed water conservation regulations for urban areas in California, aimed at adapting to climate change, face criticism from the Legislative Analysts Office for being costly and overly complex, with concerns raised about their implementation challenges and potential disproportionate impacts on lower-income residents. While supporters argue that the regulations are necessary for long-term water efficiency and climate resilience, critics worry about the practicality and fairness of the proposed measures, particularly in light of their estimated costs and limited potential water savings compared to agricultural consumption.

Huntington Beach is appealing a federal judge's decision against it regarding California's housing mandates, arguing that as a charter city, it has independence in local governance. The city's move comes after a ruling that it lacked standing to challenge state requirements to zone for housing units, sparking a political debate over local control and state overreach.

Hermosa Beach's City Council approved an unusual land value recapture program to encourage affordable housing development, requiring fees from developers building market-rate housing to support affordable housing initiatives. The program aims to capture increased land value in designated zones and has drawn both support and criticism from experts, with concerns raised about its potential impact on development feasibility and effectiveness in raising revenue for affordable housing.

The Coastal Commission certified the updated community growth plan for San Diego's Barrio Logan, aiming to improve public health by separating residents from industrial activities and prohibiting new industrial facilities in certain areas. The plan, the first update since 1978, includes measures to triple housing, create a buffer zone between housing and industry, and build new parks, addressing concerns about pollution and industrial encroachment in the neighborhood.

The Department of Housing and Community Development announced over $63 million in Excess Sites Local Government Matching Grants (LGMG) to accelerate the development of 975 affordable homes across ten projects statewide. This initiative, part of Governor Gavin Newsom's strategy to address the housing crisis, leverages excess state properties for housing development, with more than $80 million in local government funding matched. These grants support projects in cities like San Francisco, Riverside, Clearlake, Los Angeles, South Lake Tahoe, Placerville, and Atascadero, aiming to provide affordable housing for various income levels and community needs.

Federal funding has been approved for the high-speed rail project between the Inland Empire and Las Vegas, aiming for completion before the 2028 Olympics. The Brightline West project, facilitated by a $2.5 billion bond approval, targets a two-hour journey from Rancho Cucamonga to Las Vegas, poised to enhance connectivity and economic competitiveness in the region.

The Fifth National Climate Assessment, published by the federal government, presents dire findings about climate change impacts, including unprecedented temperature increases, frequent wildfires and ongoing drought in the West. Despite the challenges, the report emphasizes the need for action and possibility. The water shortage in the Southwest, including California, is a persistent issue exacerbated by climate change, with reduced snowpack affecting the region's variable water supply. Addressing the problem requires reducing consumption, starting with changes in agriculture. Elected officials are urged to pursue innovative water management strategies in response to the ongoing water crisis.

Berkeley mayoral candidate and Councilmember Rigel Robinson is resigning from office and ending his campaign due to "harassment, stalking, and threats." Robinson, the youngest council member ever elected in Berkeley, cited the toll on his well-being and family, mentioning burnout from perpetual stress and exhaustion. His resignation leaves his district without a representative until a special election later this year, and the mayoral race now features two council members, Sophie Hahn and Kate Harrison, along with Adena Ishii.

A proposed housing development in San Jose's Alviso district, spanning 804 units on a 3.2-acre site, is being refashioned to include 100% affordable apartments, according to city documents. The project, initially planned for a 200-room hotel, was redirected due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the hotel industry, and the new proposal for 100% affordable housing is being pursued by a unit of Genesis Commercial Capital.

The University of California is considering expanding its presence in San Francisco in response to Mayor London Breed's request for the university system to grow its footprint downtown. The UC Office of the President is exploring opportunities to advance research, public service, and education in the city, and UC Berkeley is also involved in the effort. The move comes as more than one-third of the space in San Francisco's office towers remains vacant due to remote work trends.