The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) executive board has approved the draft regional housing need allocation (RHNA) for cities and counties in the nine-county region. The RHNA is based on new methodology that directs more growth to existing urban areas and locations with transit and jobs, and less growth to the suburban fringes and unincorporated areas. The methodology also attempts to distribute low- and moderate-income units more broadly by taking into account existing low/mod housing stock within a jurisdiction (see CP&DR, February 2007).

In April, the state Department of Housing and Community Development told ABAG to plan for between 214,500 and 227,500 new housing units for the period from 2007 to 2014. Cities and counties now have 60 days to submit appeals of the fair-share numbers allocated by ABAG. Officials at ABAG expect to make a final decision on the allocations in April 2008. Cities and counties use the figures to update their housing elements.

In the last round of planning, HCD assigned the ABAG region 230,743 units for the 1999 to 2006 period. ABAG recently reported that builders took out permits for 212,000 units during that timeframe. However, builders produced only 43% of the RHNA's very-low income units, 79% of the low-income units and 37% of the moderate-income units. The only excess was in above-moderate-income units.

Meanwhile, San Francisco is deciding whether to conduct an environmental impact report for its previous housing element update. In an unpublished decision issued in late June, the First District Court of Appeal threw out the city's 2004 housing element update for lack of environmental review.

The city argued among other things that no EIR was necessary because the 2004 update was not substantially different from the previous housing element, which was adopted in 1990. A collection of neighborhood groups concerned about overcrowding, traffic and the impact on business disagreed and convinced the appellate court to overturn a trial court ruling in favor of the city.

"Taken together, the changes to the housing element …reflect a shift away from preserving existing housing density and a movement toward allowing denser housing development, and decreased off-street parking, which, in turn could lead to increased traffic congestion, air pollution and noise, as well as a change in the aesthetic quality of city neighborhoods," the court ruled in San Franciscans for Livable Neighborhoods v. City and County of San Francisco, No. A112987.

City officials said they may simply set aside the 2004 plan and focus on a fresh update. The draft RHNA assigns San Francisco 31,000 housing units, about 50% more than the city's share for the 1999-2006 period.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders' veto of an ordinance that would effectively ban big-box stores that sell groceries will stand. In early July, the San Diego City Council voted 5-3 for the limitation, which was clearly aimed at Wal-Mart supercenters. The measure would have prohibited new stores of more than 90,000 square feet from devoting 10% of floor space to nontaxable goods.

Sanders promptly vetoed the measure. The council could have overridden the veto with a majority vote. However, Councilwoman Donna Frye changed her vote. Instead, Frye said she supports requiring an economic impact report on such new stores, similar to what the City of Los Angeles requires.

Wal-Mart currently has four stores in San Diego but no supercenters.

A disputed Wal-Mart supercenter in the City of American Canyon will apparently open this fall. In late 2006, an appellate court ruled that the city's mitigated negative declaration for the project was inadequate (see CP&DR Legal Digest, January 2007). After the city lost at the trial court level, construction halted and the city began work on an environmental impact report. That EIR recently passed muster with Napa County Superior Court Judge Raymond Guadagni, whose decision was not appealed by supercenter opponents.

Placer County supervisors have approved a 14,000-unit housing development over the objections of regional planners who contend the 5,230-acre project is not dense enough and environmentalists who say the project does not set aside enough open space.

The Placer Vineyards project would fill a strip of unincorporated territory between Roseville and Sacramento County. Leaders of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments said the plan conflicts with a regional blueprint adopted in 2004, and they advocated for 50% more housing units.

Environmentalists decried the plan's dedication of only 700 acres of open space on site plus another 2,900-acres off-site. The opponents said the project would destroy vernal pools and habitat for the endangered Swainson's hawk. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also questioned the proposed destruction of wetlands.

Litigation over the project, which has been in the planning stages since the mid-1990s, is likely.

In another setback for development of the gigantic Sunrise Douglas community plan in Rancho Cordova, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette threw out the city's approval of a 2,700-unit "town center" in the middle of the community plan area. Marlette ruled that the city improperly deferred mitigation of impacts to approximately 200 acres of vernal pools on the 530-acre site.

Early this year, the state Supreme Court rejected an environmental impact report for the community plan because it did not adequately describe a long-term water source (see CP&DR Legal Digest, March 2007).

The town center project, known as "The Preserve," would apparently preserve only about half of the existing vernal pools. State and federal agencies, in addition to the California Native Plant Society, have protested the wetlands destruction and uncertain mitigation. They have called for leaving nearly half the site as open space.

The Kern County grand jury has recommended a "moratorium on future development within metropolitan Bakersfield" until transportation needs are fully funded. The recommendation arrived only three months after county officials said they could not endorse 13 projects totalling 6,500 units in northwest Bakersfield because of a lack of adequate roads.

The City of Bakersfield responded to the county's position in May with a $3.3 billion, 20-year transportation funding plan. However, the grand jury said the majority of the plan is "no more than a ‘wish list' with little potential of actually happening in a timely manner," an assertion that city officials sharply challenged.