Fresno County General Plan Update Could Exacerbate Sprawl
Fresno County supervisors adopted a contentious update to the general plan, paving the way for significant development along the Kings and San Joaquin Rivers, despite concerns about worsening air quality, agricultural loss and exceeding carbon emissions targets. Critics, including the City of Fresno and the local Sierra Club, argue that the plan could worsen air quality, accelerate farmland loss and potentially exceed the county's state-mandated climate emissions budget by 300%. The project includes a large industrial park, suburban expansion northeast of Fresno and a 7,000-acre residential development along the Kings River. The decision, described as one of the county's most important in the 21st century, signals a shift in priorities towards revenue-generating projects, drawing criticism from environmental advocates and highlighting the tension between development goals and community needs.

New Online Tool Illustrates Mobility Disparities Statewide
Caltrans introduced its Transportation Equity Index (EQI) tool to address disparities in mobility across California. Developed with three key data indicators focusing on household income, traffic exposure and access to destinations, the EQI aims to identify communities most negatively affected by issues like traffic, crashes and air pollution. It assists in prioritizing projects and policy decisions aligned with state environmental and equity goals, aiming to improve access and quality of life for all Californians. Caltrans intends to integrate equity considerations into project planning, development and design phases, with the tool's first application enhancing the analytical capabilities of the Caltrans System Investment Strategy (CSIS). Additional applications of the EQI are anticipated to follow, marking a significant step in ensuring equitable transportation outcomes across the state.

High Seed Rail Authority Releases Station Renderings
The California High-Speed Rail Authority released renderings of the proposed high-speed rail stations in the Central Valley, revealing their large scale, featuring wide platforms, concourses and spacious outdoor areas. The stations--in Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield and outside of Hanford--will be characterized by large, perforated metal canopies shielding passengers from the region's intense heat. All of the stations will feature large parking lots, indicating many riders will have to drive to the stations. Riders will board the trains from elevated platforms with limited access to ticketed passengers, while amenities such as parking lots and airport-like seating will cater to Central Valley commuters. Construction of these stations is slated to commence in 2027, with passenger service expected to begin between 2030 and 2033.

Clovis Settles Suit over Housing Policies
The City of Clovis and housing advocate Desiree Martinez reached a settlement in the Desiree Martinez v. City of Clovis lawsuit, marking the end of years of litigation over the city's land use and planning policies. The lawsuit, filed in 2019, alleged that Clovis was not complying with California's Housing Element Law, hindering affordable housing development. Key points of the settlement include the establishment of a Local Housing Trust Fund, rezoning for multifamily dwelling units and the requirement for up to 10% of units in new housing developments to be affordable for low-income families. The agreement, facilitated by Central California Legal Services, the Public Interest Law Project and the Law Office of Patience Milrod, aims to create over 3,000 additional affordable housing opportunities in Clovis.

CP&DR Coverage: Los Angeles Safe-Streets Ballot Measure Draws Fire
Between 2013 and 2022, Los Angeles County averaged around 54,000 fatal or injury crashes annually (the vast majority being injury-only crashes). One city in Los Angeles County is attempting to do something about car accidents and, especially, the hazards they pose for pedestrians. On March 5, voters in the City of Los Angeles will consider Measure HLA, an initiative that would force the city to implement its Mobility Plan 2035, which was adopted in 2015. Backers of Measure HLA say that the city has implemented as little as 5% of the plan. Meanwhile, some 300 deaths take place annually on the city's streets. That's why it's odd that the major opponent was none other than the Los Angeles firefighters union. But, it's more than odd. It's a major impediment to good urbanism.

Quick Hits & Updates

A new report "Foot Traffic Ahead 2023" by Smart Growth America and Places Platform ranks the top 35 metro areas in the U.S. by their walkable urbanism, highlighting the demand for such real estate surpassing supply. San Francisco and Los Angeles ranked 6th and 8th, respectively; on the other end of the spectrum, Sacramento ranked 24th and San Diego 28th.

The developer behind the proposed redevelopment of the former California Pacific Medical Center campus addressed concerns of Presidio Heights residents regarding planned changes to a housing project in San Francisco, emphasizing that the project won't exceed current height limits. The proposed redevelopment includes additional senior living units and a modified residential component, aiming to provide much-needed housing while adhering to community feedback.

An Orange County judge ruled that Anaheim violated housing laws by denying a permit for Grandma’s House of Hope to open transitional housing for women in the Anaheim Colony Historic District. Governor Gavin Newsom hailed the ruling as a victory for addressing homelessness, while the city argued that it needed to balance neighborhood integrity with housing needs and is reviewing the ruling.

A property owner in Del Mar is suing the city over the Seaside Ridge for repeatedly denying the project application, citing the builder's remedy provision of the Housing Accountability Act. The lawsuit claims the city's refusal to move forward obstructs affordable housing construction and violates state law, despite Del Mar's recent agreement with the Fairgrounds for affordable housing negotiations. Developer Seaside Ridge argues the project's necessity to meet housing mandates, contrasting its readiness with the delayed fairgrounds units, potentially extending beyond the mandated closure date.

The 40 Acre Conservation League, California's first Black-led land conservancy, has acquired 650 acres of Sierra Nevada land in the Emigrant Gap area of Placer County. Supported by a $3 million grant from the Wildlife Conservation Board and Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the league aims to conserve over 25,000 acres of land by 2030, signaling its commitment to environmental stewardship and community empowerment.

UC Berkeley spent approximately $7.8 million to secure and wall off People’s Park to prepare for the construction of a new housing complex. The cost includes expenses for police presence, construction and relocating homeless individuals to a hotel. Activists criticized the university's spending, while officials defended the operation as necessary for safety and construction readiness.

According to an analysis of the National Association of Home Builders' tally of housing permits, California experienced a slight dip in new housing permits in 2023, with builders filing 111,221 permits, marking a 6% decrease from 2022, though still outperforming the national average. Single-family permits totaled 57,959, down 8%, while multifamily permits reached 53,262, down 3%. Southern California metro areas saw a combined 6% increase in permits, while northern metros experienced a 10% decline.

The federal government is allocating over $1 billion for cleanup projects at more than 100 Superfund sites across the country, via the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. At the Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine Superfund site in Lake County, funds will be used to manage mining waste, safeguard residential areas and create a safe environment for the limited recreational activities of Elem Indian Colony residents, including hunting, fishing, foraging and transit to nearby lands.

Former Anaheim mayor Harry Sidhu's plea agreement revealed unethical conduct during stadium deal negotiations, but a court cleared the city of violating open government laws, largely upholding compliance with the Brown Act despite criticism of transparency. The appellate court's ruling acknowledged the need for public comment via telephone during the pandemic while affirming the city's overall adherence to the Brown Act.