CP&DR News Briefs November 16, 2021: Bay Area RHNA Appeals; Commercial Conversions; Sacramento Homeless Plan Lawsuit; and More

Mckenzie Locke on
Nov 16, 2021

Bay Area Housing Appeals Fail
The Association of Bay Area Governments Administration Committee finalized its denial of 27 out of 28 appeals that through which cities, mostly affluent suburbs, sought to reduce their respective housing allocations based on ABAG's Regional Housing Needs Allocation. Almost all of the appeals claimed that ABAG miscalculated the appropriate number of units based on its methodology and jurisdictions' respective existing conditions. The committee rejected appeals from cities including Tiburon, Sausalito, Palo Alto, and Lafayette, as well as several county-based appeals. The one appeal that was upheld came from unincorporated Contra Costa County but occurred due to a minor error by ABAG staff. In this case, the county will be able to build 35 fewer units, but the city of Hercules will have to plan for 35 more. The committee's decision will be finalized by the Executive Board in December. The denials mirror those of the Southern California Association of Governments from several months ago. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Terner Center Evaluates Promise of Commercial-to-Housing Conversions
UC Berkeley's Terner Center for Housing Innovation released two reports that analyze the potential of redeveloping underused commercial properties for residential purposes. In "Strip Malls to Homes," the researchers found that commercial conversions could propel housing growth, but increases in growth are heavily location-dependent, and commercial land will likely not become a significant opportunity for housing production over the next five years. While commercial land conversions encourage progress in the fight against the housing crisis, they are too rare and involve too much demolition to efficiently provide housing. In "Adaptive Reuse Challenges and Opportunities in California," researchers focused on the most impactful ways to involve adaptive reuse and concluded that adapting large-scale buildings like multi-story offices and department stores could bring more growth than new construction. However, adapting existing buildings is typically more costly than new construction, making it difficult to provide a significant supply of housing. (See related CP&DR coverage.)

Sacramento Faces Lawsuit over Homelessness Plan
A lawsuit filed in Sacramento Superior Court by the Coalition for Compassion is threatening Sacramento's $100 million homeless shelter and tiny home plan to address the homelessness crisis. City resident Michael Malinowski joined the coalition in arguing that the new plan glossed over its environmental review and will also put unhoused communities at more risk by housing them under the W-X freeway, exposing them to heightened air pollution. The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District recommends that the city install enhanced indoor air filtration and a greenery barrier due to the threat of fine particulate matter. The city's Comprehensive Siting Plan to Address Homelessness includes 20 sites for shelters, tiny homes, and Safe Ground sanctioned encampments that could serve 2,209 people at a time.

San Diego Parks Plan Emphasizes Equity
San Diego City Council will make significant changes to the city's Parks Master Plan in order to center equity when improving park quality and investing in park amenities. Because newer and wealthier neighborhoods have typically received the lion's share of park funding, council members will require that a portion of development fees be dedicated to lower-income communities that historically have had few or no parks. The Parks Master Plan also encouragers more affordable housing development, and it will prioritize park quality over acreage expansion in order to give children more spaces to play, make elderly populations feel safer, and enhance green spaces for the entire community.

CP&DR Coverage: Sam Assefa Takes Reins at OPR
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently appointed former Seattle Planning Director Sam Assefa to lead the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, the in-house think tank that helps cities interpret and implement state laws and guidelines for urban development. Assefa arrives in California amid the passage of a raft of new housing laws and availability of state funding (primarily administered through the Strategic Growth Council), Assefa and his office face abundant opportunities to help California’s cities plan, collectively, for the several million new housing units that the state needs. Assefa spoke with CP&DR’s Josh Stephens about his return to California and his approach to the state’s challenges.

Quick Hits & Updates 

BART and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority announced their proposal to construct a second Transbay rail tunnel by 2040 and make several rail system upgrades to incentivize public transit use. The program, titled Link21, would run a second rail tunnel between Oakland and San Francisco and collaborate with other regional rail systems to serve Northern California residents.

Los Altos City Council has agreed to incentivize the owners of 40 Main Street to look into alternatives to a five-story, mixed-use project, even though the developers still plan to build their approved project. Ted and Jerry Sorensen sued to build their nearly 30,000 square-foot office and housing project, which qualified under SB 35 to expedite housing construction.

A federal judge has scrapped a Trump-era water pollution rule that minimizes the regulation of water-polluting projects, which contradicts a Supreme Court precedent and decades of the EPA's reading of the Clean Water Act. Several Native American tribes and conservation groups sued the rule with 18 states and the District of Columbia in a series of lawsuits starting in July 2020 due to the rule's potential to cause environmental damage.

The state's draft Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy is available for public comment until November 24, 2021. The draft strategy, which considers nature-based solutions to confront climate change, will inform the 2021 State Adaptation Strategy and the 2022 Scoping Plan.

The California Natural Resources Agency released its Draft Guidelines for the Urban Greening Grant Program for public commentary, which would review proposals for urban greening and forestry to combat greenhouse gas emissions particularly in high-risk communities. The commentary period will end on December 10, 2021 and will include two public hearings on November 19 and November 22.

The state released its 2021 California Climate Adaptation Strategy draft that details how the state plans to tackle the climate crisis, including information regarding expedited regional climate adaptation action, collaboration between sectors, and how the state will learn from previous successes and lessons learned in 2009's climate adaptation strategy.

A new poll from Joint Venture Silicon Valley and the Bay Area News Group demonstrates that 71% of Bay Area residents find quality of life to be worse than it was five years ago, and 56% are contemplating moving in the next five years. Across all of the Bay Area's five counties, respondents largely cited high housing cots and costs of living in addition to homelessness and climate disasters.

The San Diego Housing Commission released a pilot program that will construct five accessory dwelling units in the yard space of five single-family homes owned and rented by the commission's nonprofit affiliate as affordable housing. The program will produce a report designed to help San Diego homeowners who are thinking about building ADUs on their properties.

In an effort to incentivize affordable housing construction in Fremont, the city council has launched a program that will make it less expensive for developers who build affordable units and drive up costs for those who do not. Developers who do not build affordable housing will see costs increase from $26 per square foot for houses and $27 for townhouses to $44 for both.

Santa Monica councilmembers approved, 5-2, the city's 6th Cycle Housing Element Plan that commits to constructing 8,895 new housing units, 6,186 of which would be affordable, by 2029. Their 180-page plan aligns with numbers required by the RHNA and must be approved by the HCD.

While the Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to develop the Oakland A's waterfront ballpark at Howard Terminal, obstacles for completing the project remain. Their 4-1 approval is non-binding, the final environmental report is yet to be completed, and the board and the team still have to agree on a public financing plan and development agreement.

Inland Empire held the number two spot on the list of the most popular metros for in-migration, which highlighted the Sun Belt as a hot spot for U.S. residents looking to relocate. Its net population gain of 40,766 people per year is largely due to lower costs of living and transportation and warehouse jobs.

United States HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge recently praised Oakland's Fruitvale Transit Village as a national model for transit-oriented housing development and confronting California's housing crisis. Fudge toured the BART station, local women-owned restaurants, and nearby affordable housing projects and celebrated the city's proposal to transform hotels and motels into housing.

Santa Ana is the first Orange County city to put rent control into law after decades of housing advocacy matched by objections from landlords and developers. Landlords will not be allowed to increase rent by more than 3% each year, and tenants will now be more protected against eviction threats.