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CP&DR News Briefs June 1, 2021: S.J. Greenlights Google Complex; Offshore Wind Power; Planning Survey Results; and More

Robin Glover and Mckenzie Locke on
Jun 1, 2021

San Jose Gives Final Approval to Google Downtown West Complex
On May 25, the San Jose City Council approved plans for Google’s 80-acre mixed-use mega-campus, Downtown West. With approvals from multiple stakeholders — housing and labor organizers, businesses, and the surrounding community — advocates of Downtown West are referring to the public-private partnership as “the gold standard.” The proposal, which is part of the larger Diridon Station Area Plan, includes housing, transportation, retail, office space, and public park development as well as a job creation program and a fund to help transition community members out of homelessness. While the plan has had one key opponent — the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, which expressed concerns about local parking supply — the city has curbed any potential hurdles with the team by ensuring that a sufficient amount of parking will remain near the arena. Moving forward, we can expect infrastructure construction to begin in 2022 and the appearance of some buildings in 2023. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

Biden Administration Supports Wind Power off California Coast
In its effort to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and invest in renewable energy, the Biden administration, with support from Gov. Gavin Newsom, intends to develop offshore wind power facilities in the Pacific Ocean about 20 miles off the coasts of Morro Bay and Humboldt County. Large wind turbines — 600 to 700 feet tall — would generate enough clean electricity to power 1.6 million homes, and the initiative would provide a significant number of jobs for electricians and construction workers. Though the Department of Defense will no longer challenge the Morro Bay site, circulating now are worries from the commercial fishing industry. Biden’s plan also aligns with the climate goals of Gov. Jerry Brown, who set a zero-emission energy source requirement by 2045.

OPR Planning Survey Reveals Attitudes about Pandemic, Affordable Housing
The Governor's Office of Planning and Research (OPR) released results of its 2020 Annual Planning Survey. Many of the survey questions centered on the COVID-19 pandemic and local capacity to address statewide concerns. By a wide margin, cities reported that streamlining housing was the most widely taken action in response to COVID-19, surpassing transit transit service and climate change mitigation and adaptation as responses. One hundred and forty-nine cities and 30 county respondents bolstered programs to support persons at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness. Ninety-nine jurisdictions increased focus on temporary shelters and supportive housing, 76 focused on affordable housing supply, and 57 utilized project Home Key and Room Key funding. General Plan updates have continued mostly unabated. With regards to climate change, many local agencies have streamlined permitting for solar and electric vehicle charging stations. Moreover, nearly half of all respondents developed a climate action plan or included GHG reduction measures in their general plan. Unsurprisingly, interest in technical assistance (TA), particularly with regards to housing, has ticked up since COVID has pushed activities on-line. Overall interest in was above 70 percent for each planning topic.

Court Upholds Ballot Initiative Taxing Commercial Rent in S.F. for Child Care
A state Supreme Court decision validates Proposition C, a San Francisco ballot initiative designed to raise $146 million a year to fund child care and education through taxes on commercial rents. It was challenged in court by anti-tax advocates who argued that ballot measures raising local taxes require approval of two-thirds of the voters. But California appellate courts have recently ruled that the two-thirds requirement does not apply to measures placed on local ballots by signatures on initiative petitions because those are actions by the voters, not local governments. The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco reached that conclusion last June in upholding another citywide initiative, a November 2018 measure raising business taxes to fund programs for the homeless. Another division of the court issued a similar ruling in January upholding Prop. C of June 2018.

Quick Hits & Updates 
The City of Long Beach is proposing to supplement its density bonus program with new transportation incentives, allowing housing development to expand in neighborhoods close to bus and rail lines. The Enhanced Density Bonus ordinance covers properties with at least five units located within a half-mile of a high-quality transit corridor or major transit stops.

A long-simmering argument between the City and County of San Francisco and the state over the Tuolumne River came to a head again when the city filed a lawsuit, maintaining that the state's actions would result in water shortages for San Francisco residents. The state claims that the city must restrict its river water extraction in order to protect the Tuolumne's ecosystem.

Fresno's 81-year-old downtown Tower Theatre may achieve historical landmark status if the court permits the City of Fresno to enter and appraise the building. The City filed its order in the midst of heightening controversy over the theater’s anticipated sale to Adventure Community Church sale.

The Livermore City Council will make a decision about the removal of planning commissioner John Stein after he made derogatory comments concerning a vote on affordable housing developments. Stein was the only member to vote "no" on the proposal, saying affordable housing would create a "ghetto." Other council members have voiced their concern that Stein's comments signify a larger issue about his approach to marginalized communities.

Converting underused office spaces to housing units could stimulate Los Angeles’s economic recovery, according to a new report from the Central City Association and Gilmore Associates. The increase in empty offices due to the pandemic provokes conversations about expanding adaptive reuse across Los Angeles, since an estimated 80% of Los Angeles residents can continue to work from home.

While expectations for declining rent prices in coastal and central areas remain, cost increases are projected for just about everywhere else in LA County, according to the USC Casden Multifamily Forecast. The forecast considers the uncertainty that follows pandemic-era realities, including the departure of jobs and amenities from downtown and central LA, relocations to areas outside of the city, and the thousands of dollars still owed in rent.

The Wilton Rancheria tribe will move forward with plans to develop its Sky River Casino in Elk Grove after a D.C. Court of Appeals ruled against efforts by Stand Up for California! to stop the Interior Department from acquiring land for its construction. Though Stand Up has made multiple attempts in opposition to the casino, Wilton Rancheria says that its continued legal victories indicate a move toward greater autonomy for the only federally-recognized tribe in Sacramento County.

The Congress for the New Urbanism, a Washington-based organization that champions walkable urbanism, is welcoming long-time Californian Rick Cole as the new executive director. Cole embraced New Urbanism as Mayor of Pasadena; he served as City Manager in Azusa, Ventura, and Santa Monica; and served as Deputy Mayor for Budget and Innovation for the City of Los Angeles.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered California's top oil regulator to implement regulation to stop issuing new fracking permits by 2024. He has also directed the state's air resources agency to look at ways to phase out oil extraction completely by 2045. The order comes just after a more aggressive plan to ban oil and gas production died in the state Senate.

Federal officials approved the $550 million Crimson Solar Project that will have the capacity to power approximately 87,500 homes from public land in the Mojave Desert west of Blythe. The project, slated to be erected on 2,000 acres, is located within an area designated for development within the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.

San Francisco and San Diego parks scored top marks in a national ranking of public park systems by Commercial Cafe. San Francisco ranked in the top 5 for its investments in the local park system and its park-to-city area ratio, as well as its above-average percentage of walking commuters. San Diego earned the 14th-highest score, ranking well for walking commute time, as well as park area and spending.

The mayors of the Bay Area’s three largest cities are pushing back after they were denied key affordable housing funds. The denial of funds means four projects in San Jose, five in San Francisco, and five in Oakland now are on hold. In total, 1,600 units for low-income and homeless residents are stalled, and another 1,4000 are at risk.

A new statewide survey by USC and the California Emerging Technology Fund showed 55 percent of workers with access to broadband have been working fully or partly at home. The findings suggest telecommuting could reduce vehicle trips - relative to pre-pandemic levels - by 55 percent.

Poseidon Water won a key approval in its quest to build a desalination plant on the Huntington Beach coastline. But the permit does not ensure that the facility will break ground. Poseidon still needs a construction permit from the California Coastal Commission and a binding deal with a public agency to buy 50 million gallons a day of desalinated water.

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