Builder’s Remedy Applications Represent 8,600 Units in Southern California 
Developers in Southern California filed 26 builder's remedy projects as of late January, allocating 1,795 of the 8,642 new homes as low-income housing, according to analysis by the Orange County Register. Builder's remedy fast tracks projects as cities cannot deny a project with at least 20% low-income units, even if the plans do not align with the city's general plan or zoning restrictions.The builder's remedy applies in 251 of the 539 state municipalities as none have a state-approved housing plan. Eight San Diego jurisdictions do not have a state-approved plan; 108 jurisdictions in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and Imperial also have yet to establish plans. Additionally, 103 Bay Area jurisdictions have not adopted the required housing elements. Builder's remedy projects are slated in the cities of  Redondo Beach, Santa Monica, Del Mar, La Cañada Flintridge, La Habra, and Orange as of the end of January. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

San Diego County Climate Plan Faces Lawsuit 
The Protect Our Community Foundation, an environmental nonprofit in San Diego, is suing the county over its climate-change plan. The lawsuit alleges the county wrongfully awarded a no-bid contract to the University of California, San Diego, concealing ties between UCSD and utility companies. Furthermore, the claimants said they uncovered a donation of $840,000 from San Diego Gas & Electric to UCSD the same year UCSD was awarded the bid by the county. The climate-change plan itself includes a mass "regional decarbonization framework," outlining solar fields and wind power projects requiring new, multi-billion dollar power line investments. The claimants request the judge require the county to rescind the plan and release a competitive bid for a researcher for the plan, as the research unfairly skews towards projects requiring massive utility upgrades, as opposed to local rooftop solar panels.

Bills Seek to Ease Office Conversions, Allow Single-Stairway Apartment Buildings
Assembly Bill 532, or the Office to Housing Conversion Act, if approved will pay developers to convert offices into housing and streamline the construction process. Using a Calgary program as a framework and inspiration for the bill, Assembly Member Matt Haney hopes the bill will stop cities from stonewalling any potential office-to-housing conversions by making the project approval automatic with strict time limits on obtaining building permits. The bill would also create a fund – the California Downtown Recovery Catalyst Fund – in the form of project grants, while also capping fees and design requirement costs. This is where the bill could lose public support, as taxpayer money would fund the grants and the approval process could be seen as lenient. The bill has already seen support by YIMBY Action, the executive director stating its potential to create "vibrant, mixed-use communities."ousing advocacy group Assembly Bill 835, the single stair reform bill, which would require the State Fire Marshal to research and propose standards to permit multiunit buildings over three stories to use single-stairways for egress. Current regulations require buildings over three stories to have at least two stairways, to facilitate escape in the event of fire. . Many architects and developers have criticized double-stair requirements, calling them unnecessary, costly, and constraining.

Study: Downtown San Francisco Languishes; Central Valley Downtowns Boom
Downtown San Francisco has the slowest COVID-19 recovery of 61 cities in North America studied by the University of Toronto’s School of Cities think tank, reporting 31% of activity compared to fall 2019. Using cell phone data as a measurement of activity in the area, a recent study determined Downtown San Francisco to be relatively empty. One of the causes of such a shift is believed to be the housing market pushing residents out of the Bay Area, those seeking cheaper housing. Another is the downtown area’s prevalence of jobs that are now worked remotely, composing 31% of the workforce in the area. Much of the area’s office buildings (65%) lie vacant. Officials are seeking to remedy the issue by proposing alternative land use and diversifying the area, but the city is facing economic barriers to changing the downtown office spaces to better suit the current in-person workforce — or even into new housing. In contrast, inland cities with relatively affordable housing like Bakersfield and Fresno, where activity has reached 125% and 121% of 2019 levels, respectively. They ranked second and third in the study, behind only Salt Lake City.

CP&DR Coverage: Will People's Park Case Spark CEQA Reform?
More homeless people isn’t an environmental impact, but noisy drunken students are. Gov. Newsom wants to do something about that. The final First District of Appeal ruling in the UC Berkeley People’s Park case was different from the tentative ruling in December, which also said displacement leading to more homeless was an environmental impact. Nevertheless, the final ruling – which also cut back on detailed arguments about the noise and was written by a different judge – struck a chord with Newsom, who said on Twitter that the California Environmental Quality Act process is “broken” and promised to make reform of the law a high priority this year. CP&DR's Bill Fulton considers how the judiciary and the legislature have thus far failed to do anything but make CEQA more complicated--and whether that trend will finally reverse this year.

Quick Hits & Updates

The Little Hoover Commission – an independent citizens commission working to improve state government – will hold a series of hearings this spring to examine the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The first of three hearings will be held in person on Thursday, March 16, with the option for remote participation. This hearing will focus on the debate over CEQA and give the Commission the opportunity to hear different perspectives on CEQA and on CEQA’s impact and effectiveness. The second and third hearings will be held virtually April 13 and April 27. 

The new Select Committee on Reconnecting Communities in the California Legislature will investigate methods to repair damages to communities segmented by highways in the 1950s and ‘60s, focusing particularly on the communities of color impacted by racist land use laws.

The Coastal Commission approved a bid by the city of Eureka this week to ban digital billboards. The legislation bans the construction of new digital billboards, with widespread support by city officials and business owners.

Already delayed with a lawsuit, the 1,500-home planned development in the Bay Area's Pittsburg Hills faces another obstacle as the Planning Commission turned down the project. The Planning Commission's vote indicates the project should be reevaluated before approved by the City Council. 

At their Feb. 9 meeting, a member of Fresno City Council proposed a new fund as part of a settlement to alleviate the impacts of the nearby Amazon fulfillment center on the surrounding community. Certain residents can apply for up to $10,000 to mitigate impacts of noise, traffic and pollution within their homes by installing HVAC air filtration units, double-paned windows, insulation and landscaping, for example. The council member says that residents did not anticipate the Amazon fulfillment center's disruption to a quiet lifestyle.

Construction is projected to start this year on a $25-billion freight hub in the Inland Empire. Developer Highland Fairview recently announced the hire of Stantec to lead design and engineering plans. Stantec's principal-in-charge claims the scope of the sustainability plan "has not been tackled on this scale in the U.S." Highland Fairview initially met with pushback from local environmental groups in 2021, and presently stresses the sustainability plan and the project's goal of carbon neutrality. The deal between Highland Fairview and the environmental groups includes rooftop solar generation, electrical vehicle chargers onsite and LEED-Silver certified core and shell of the warehouse. (See prior CP&DR coverage.)

One of Los Angeles Skid Row's largest providers of low-income housing is facing financial collapse, and seeking outside sources to maintain funds to keep housing intact for the almost-2,000 units of single residency occupants.The city of Rancho Mirage faces a lawsuit by a lone resident claiming officials are not following through on a promise to adapt a city-owned mobile home park into affordable housing. The commitment dates back to the land purchase in 2009 by the city, when officials claimed the space was soon to be “uninhabitable” and they would adapt the land into affordable senior housing.

Using San Francisco's Potrero Power Station as a model, Mayor London Breed is proposing the creation of a new "infrastructure financing district," helping developers borrow against future tax revenues to fund infrastructure development on-site. (See related CP&DR coverage.

A tentative decision by a San Diego Superior Court judge could impact San Diego's plans for high- and mid-rise housing. The decision, if it goes into law, will make environmental studies on certain developments much more complicated and unclear. The ruling could also potentially halt current construction on a number of large projects in the city.

Brightline West, the company developing a high-speed rail project between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, agreed to build a series of wildlife crossings along the I-15, finding an agreement with both Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

A proposed ordinance in the City of Los Angeles would require restaurants to apply for costly new permits for existing al fresco dining patios, as well as restricting and reversing COVID-related restaurant programs. Many restaurant owners in Los Angeles are concerned about the costs of these new permits as operation costs continue to skyrocket due to inflation. (See related CP&DR coverage.)