SunCal Companies filed for federal bankruptcy protection for two Southern California projects in November – the Marblehead development in San Clemente and a 45-story condominium tower proposed for Los Angeles's Westside. Since the failure of Lehman Bros., which had invested about $2.5 billion in SunCal projects, the privately held Irvine-based developer has sought bankruptcy protection for about 20 projects in California.
None of the other projects, however, has a history to match Marblehead's. Since the 1970s, developers have attempted to build thousands of homes, shopping centers and even the Nixon presidential library on the 250-acre bluff top site. Environmentalists and San Clemente residents successfully fended off proposals before finally reaching a compromise with the landowner, the Lusk Company. In 2003, the Coastal Commission approved a plan that designates about half the site as open space and parkland while accommodating 313 houses and a 675,000-square-foot commercial center. SunCal later bought the project and began grading in 2007, but construction has largely stopped.
The 177-unit condo tower on Santa Monica Boulevard was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and intended for upper-end buyers desiring a Westside location. In 2006, SunCal outbid Donald Trump, paying $110 million for the 2.4-acre site. Although Nouvel's drawings for a slender glass tower with greenery ringing the floors have received attention, SunCal has not gotten entitlements for the project.
The Desert Hot Springs City Council has formally voted to end all consideration of the 2,000-unit Palmwood Golf Club housing and resort development and has decertified the project's environmental impact report. For years, Desert Hot Springs was a holdout in the creation of a multiple species habitat conservation plan for the Coachella Valley, largely because the plan designated the 1,700-acre Palmwood site for conservation (see CP&DR Environment Watch, April 2006).
However, the project has run into numerous hurdles, including litigation filed by environmentalists and feuding among project investors. In addition, new Desert Hot Springs city officials changed the city's position and began negotiating into the habitat plan, which was finalized in June.
Four dams on the Klamath River, including three in California's Siskiyou County, could be removed by 2020 under an "agreement in principle" signed in November by the Department of the Interior, state officials in California and Oregon, and utility company Pacificorp.
Indian tribes, fishermen, local governments in Humboldt County and environmentalists have sought dam removal for years because the structures block access to historic salmon spawning grounds and alter the river's natural flow. In 2001, Klamath Basin farmers and federal officials engaged in a physical standoff when the Bureau of Reclamation wanted to release more water to aid fish. The following year, the bureau provided more water to farmers, leading to poor downstream conditions and a huge die off of salmon while they migrated upriver.
Under the agreement, the federal government has until March 2012 to assess the costs and benefits of dam removal. California agreed to put up $250 million for dam removal, while Pacificorp would pay $200 million through a 2% surcharge on ratepayers. In the meantime, Pacificorp will provide an additional $500,000 annually for salmon fishery restoration measures. The ultimate dam removal and river restoration project would require the passage of legislation in Sacramento, Salem and Washington.
The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors is unanimously opposed to dam removal, arguing it would harm the region's economy and cost the county government more than $500,000 a year in taxes paid by Pacificorp.
Westlands Water District has until January 21 to submit a plan for discharging irrigation waste. The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board recently set the deadline for dealing with one of the region's most troublesome environmental concerns.
Since Westlands first began providing farmers with Central Valley Project water during the early 1960, irrigation runoff has been a problem. The Bureau of Reclamation began constructing a 188-mile drain canal during the early 1970s but opposition from the Bay Area halted it in 1975 after only 85 miles had been built. The unfinished drain terminated in Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge. In the 1980s, biologists determined that an epidemic of bird death and deformity at Kesterson was the result of unusually high concentrations of selenium, an element that occurs naturally in the Westlands Water District soil. Selenium was picked up by the irrigation runoff flowing from Westlands into the drain, and grew more concentrated in Kesterson as water in the refuge's shallow lake and marshes evaporated in the summer sun. The Bureau of Reclamation shut down the drain in 1986.
In 2000, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Interior Department to build a drain, but nothing has happened. With nowhere to flow, irrigation runoff is raising the level of, and fouling the quality of, groundwater to the detriment of farmers, wildlife and communities that rely on wells.
"We understand that the Bureau of Reclamation has the statutory duty to provide drainage service … and that your district and Reclamation have been working on a resolution of this problem," says the letter from the water quality control board. ""However, due to the magnitude of the problem and no foreseeable agreement, we must turn to your district to address this problem."
Caltrans has launched a new website for the California Transportation Plan 2035. Rather than identifying projects, the CTP provides policy direction to the 44 regional transportation planning agencies. The existing CTP 2030 calls for an integrated, multi-modal transportation system. Scheduled for adoption in 2010, the new plan is expected to build on those principles while also addressing climate change.
The website is www.californiatransportationplan2035.org.