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In Brief

A bill that is intended to put teeth in the state's housing element law is providing a major battleground between housing advocates and local government officials. The measure, SB 910 (Dunn), would let judges fine a city or county for not adopting a housing element that satisfies the state Department of Housing and Community Development . The bill also would withhold highway money from noncompliant jurisdictions. The League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties and scores of individual jurisdictions have voiced their strong opposition. "It switches land use authority to the state," protested Daniel Carrigg, a League lobbyist. He said SB 910 is the type of measure likely to get approved because it shifts the blame for affordable housing woes to local government and it costs the state nothing. But the Job-Center Housing Coalition has made passage of SB 910 a priority this year, and housing advocates have vowed to fight hard for it because so many cities have refused to accommodate affordable housing. In April, HCD released its annual housing element compliance report, which said that about 40% of cities and counties do not have valid housing plans. The Senate Housing and Community Development Committee, of which Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) is chairman, passed the bill in early April, but Dunn amended the legislation three weeks later. However, the opposition remains in place. Dilapidated courthouses throughout California would receive state-funded overhauls if a recommendation by the Task Force on Trial Court Facilities is heeded. The recommendation is the result of a study released in April by the Administrative Office of the Courts. The study found 451 courthouses were "functionally and physically deficient." Among the recommended improvements are security and safety upgrades, increased accessibility for the disabled, expanded jury assembly space, overcrowding relief, and major building system repairs including ventilation and air conditioning replacement. The task force called on the state rather than counties, which have traditionally funded courthouse projects to assume the cost of the needed improvements. The state drives the need for new facilities and can ensure uniformity of access to all facilities, the report said. Costs for the repairs are estimated at $140 million annually over 20 years, according to the report. The task force is expected to issue a final report to the Legislature by October 1. The Legislature would need to approve any transfer of financial responsibility from the counties to the state. The report is available at www.courtinfo.ca.gov The Sacramento City Council unanimously approved a 32-story, mixed-use structure for an empty downtown site that has long been an eyesore. The J Street building across from Cesar Chavez Plaza will be comprised of about 250,000 square feet of office and retail space topped by 10 floors of upscale apartments. Retail stores will front the sidewalk. Under the deal approved in April, the city will provide $16.7 million in subsidies for the Metro Place project. The city will deed its one-half interest in the property to the developer, First Key LLC, the city will offer a $7.2 million tax rebate, and the city will build a parking garage for the structure. Los Angeles County supervisors have upheld a Regional Planning Commission decision to deny permits for a large gravel quarry on Bureau of Land Management property near Santa Clarita. During the late-April vote, supervisors said they would consider alternatives that had fewer environmental impacts. The City of Santa Clarita spent $1 million on its campaign against the gravel mine proposal and bussed hundreds of protesters to several supervisors' meetings in downtown Los Angeles. City officials and area residents said the proposed quarry would be incompatible with the many houses that have been built in the area in recent years (see CP&DR Local Watch, January 2001). Cisco Systems has pulled back on plans to build new campuses around the Bay Area. The San Jose-based maker of computer hardware has canceled its search for an expansion site in Sonoma County but said it would maintain its 600-employee facility in Petaluma. Cisco also removed its application for a major complex in the East Bay city of Dublin from the city's fast-track approval process. Cisco has announced it will lay off about 8,500 people nationwide, and company officials concede they have had to re-evaluate their facility expansion plans. The company continues to move forward planning for a 6.6-million-square-foot campus in South San Jose, although the pace of development might slow. Federal officials announced in April that they have earmarked $1 million from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act for wetlands restoration in the Tulare Basin. The funds, combined with nearly $12 million from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Semitropic Water District in Kern County and private landowners, will fund about 2,700 acres of land purchases and another 20,000 acres of habitat enhancement in the southern San Joaquin Valley. About 99 % of historic wetlands in the basin have been lost to farming or urban development. A federal judge has approved an agreement between environmental groups and the Bureau of Land Management regarding 11.5 million acres of BLM land in southern California deserts from Mono County to the Mexican border. Among other things, the plan requires the BLM to revise plans for protecting 24 endangered species and to ban grazing on habitat for the desert tortoise. The agreement which has been praised by environmentalists but blasted by ranchers and off-road vehicle users is also likely to curb some mining. The agreement was finalized about one month before the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued a report in April that said the Army's proposal to expand Fort Irwin's tank training facilities near Baker could wipe out a population of desert tortoises and nearly eliminate the endangered Lane Mountain milk vetch plant. The Army said it is doing its own study. Congressional approval is needed before the BLM transfers the 131,000 acres in question to the Army. Correction. The attorney who argued the California Environmental Quality Act case for the City of Sierra Madre at the state Supreme Court was misidentified in the March issue. Sanford Svetcov of Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes & Lerach represented the city. See page 7 for the court's decision in the case.