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In Brief: Stockton Settles General Plan Lawsuit

The Stockton City Council voted 4-3 to accept a settlement with the Sierra Club and the attorney general's office of a lawsuit over a general plan update and environmental impact report adopted in December 2007. The Sierra Club and state attorneys argued that the city must consider the climate change impacts of the plan, under which the city's population could double to nearly 600,000 by 2035. City officials initially resisted, saying such impacts were too speculative to consider (see CP&DR Local Watch, February 2008).

The settlement requires the city to:

Prepare within two years a climate action plan with specific reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled;

Provide incentives for development of at least 4,400 units of new housing in downtown and provide other infill incentives;

Limit outward growth until certain transit, jobs-housing, greenhouse gas emissions and other milestones are reached.

Adopt a green building program.

Approve development with better public transit and alternatives to cars.

Although the attorney general's office has reached climate change settlements with several cities and counties, the agreement with Stockton "pushes the envelope," said Sally Magnani, supervising deputy attorney general.

Three councilmembers opposed the settlement, saying it needed additional review. Stockton's development and business communities strongly lobbied against the agreement.

In exchange for the settlement, the Sierra Club dropped its lawsuit and the attorney general's office agreed not to join the suit. The full settlement is available on the attorney general's website at http://ag.ca.gov/cms_attachments/press/pdfs/n1608_stocktonagreement.pdf.

 

Merced County supervisors have approved a community plan and environmental impact report for one of the largest housing projects ever proposed in the Central Valley. Located on 6,200 acres of grasslands west of Interstate 5 near Santa Nella, the Villages of Laguna San Luis is proposed to contain 16,000 housing units to be built over 30 years. Specific plans still need to be adopted.

A coalition of property owners has been pushing the project since the early 1990s, even though other huge subdivisions already approved in the area have gone unbuilt. Merced County officials have approved urban development in the area because it avoids the best farmland. Still, the county did have to remove 4,400 acres of the Laguna San Luis project site from the agricultural preserve.

Detractors say that, although the housing tracts would be located adjacent to the California Aqueduct, there is not adequate assurance of water. There are also concerns about impacts to the rare kit fox.

 

The California Planning Roundtable (CPR) issued a report during the California Chapter, American Planning Association conference called "Deconstructing the Jobs-Housing Balance" that says the issues involved are more complex than they are usually portrayed to be. Current and past CPR members found that statistics are not precise, and that contrary to popular belief there is no magic ratio that will provide traffic congestion relief.

To better fight traffic congestion, the CPR recommends that planners emphasize the tradeoffs between housing affordability and travel costs, facilitate mixed-use, infill and contiguous development, consider congestion pricing and parking strategies, and design growth patterns that optimize transportation systems. The CPR report is available at http://www.cproundtable.org/.

 

Constructing a new federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles could cost $1.1 billion a $700 million increase from the original estimates, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). In a report released in mid-September, the GAO cited design delays by the General Services Administration (GSA), little interest by contractors in the original project, and the federal judiciary's inability to agree with the GSA on the scope of the project. "It is clear that the current process is deadlocked," the GAO concluded.

The Central District of California is one of the busiest district courts in the country, and current facilities at the Spring Street Courthouse and the nearby Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles are inadequate. Planning for a new 41-courtroom facility began during the late 1990s, and Congress authorized $400 million for the project, which was scheduled for completion in 2006. The GSA acquired and demolished a state office building at First Street and Broadway to make room for the new courthouse; however, the project has stalled.

District court judges insist that operations should be housed under one roof, but the GAO found that building one large courthouse is the most expensive option. The GSA has suggested constructing a 20-courtroom facility or upgrading the Spring Street courthouse, and adding onto the Roybal building. Judges have rejected those alternatives.

Less than a week after the GAO released its report, the U.S. Judicial Conference, which makes policy for the federal judiciary, approved a policy under which senior district court judges would be required to share courtrooms. That policy has the potential for reducing the size of the Los Angeles project.

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