CP&DR News Briefs, February 9, 2015: California's Share of Obama Budget; Transbay Mello-Roos Protests; SLO Quarry; and More

Matthew Hose on
Feb 9, 2015

President Obama's proposed 2016 budget, announced last week, includes several nods to development and transportation in California to the tune of over $1 billion.

In the plan, Los Angeles would receive $330 million for an expansion of the Purple Line of its subway, along with a downtown connector to tie together several strands of the system. The budget also included $150 million to fund a streetcar line in downtown Sacramento. To receive the money, the city has to get approval from residents within three blocks of the proposed line, and it will have to raise $30 million in matching funds from property owners nearby. Officials hope to have the trolley operating by 2018. Some of the projects that are likely to survive Congressional whittling, according to the Sacramento Bee: restoration projects of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, upgrades to Yosemite National Park, and funding for improvements to Central Valley flood control.

Meanwhilethe San Diego Union-Tribune pondered the fate of a new stadium for the Chargers - a hotly debated subject in San Diego - if Obama's budget is passed. One proposal within the budget would bar cities from issuing tax-free bonds to finance new projects for professional sports facilities, an incentive usually used to push stadiums through. "This is one of those areas where there's consensus among economics professors that these are not good projects for the use of public dollars," said one urban planning professor. 

Property Owners Decide Against Protest of Transbay Vote

A group of heavyweight property owners decided not to sue the City and County of San Francisco over the creation of a new Mello-Roos tax district to help fund the Transbay transit center, which is currently under construction. The creation of the district was approved in December by a vote of over 50 percent of local property-owners. Developers with nearby projects, including Hines and Boston Properties, objected to the fact that the vote on the tax district had been a foregone conclusion, since government agencies own over 50 percent of land in the area and therefore had a built-in majority. Opponents had also objected to a tax increase from $3.33 to $5.11 per square foot since the special district was first proposed in 2012. Opponents had 30 days from the original vote to file a protest, but they did not do so, meaning that the election is certified and the district is officially approved. 

Wastewater Pumping Taints Central Valley Drinking Water

As the historic drought continues, California water users in the Central Valley have had to resort to groundwater pumping to get the water that they need, causing land in the Central Valley to actually sink. Things just got a lot scarier, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported that oil companies have been pumping wastewater laden with bits of oil back into the ground due to bureaucratic errors in enforcement of bans against that pumping. The EPA is investigating whether the wastewater pumping has polluted groundwater, and it could seize control of the injection wells from California officials.

Santa Ana Uses Blind Luck to Permit Marijuana Dispensaries

Santa Ana employed a lottery system to determine who would get one of the 19 permits issued for medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, becoming the first city in Orange County to issue the permits since most California cities banned the shops years ago. However, some criticized the structure of the lottery system, saying that officials should have done preliminary screening before opening up the lottery to over 630applications. "Instead of going through all of this ... you should be vetting people up front, figuring out who doesn't have a criminal record and all of that, and then have the lottery," attorney Randall T. Longwith said.

Quarry Rejected in SLO

The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission narrowly rejected a 41-acre granite quarry in Santa Margarita following community opposition over traffic impacts on the town. Commissioners cited concerns of an increase in traffic and the safety of trucks carrying heavy granite through downtown Santa Margarita as reasons for the rejection. Further south in San Luis Obispo County, developer Tom Blessent proposed a housing project that would triple the size of the community of Avila Beach, adding 1,000 to 1,500 homes. The developer is expected to face heavy resistance from conservationists, who failed at an attempt to conserve all 2,400 acres of Wild Cherry Canyon. 

Atkins Proposes Plan to Fund Infrastructure

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins released a plan to fund California's crumbling infrastructure following Governor Jerry Brown's call for statewide improvements. Citing the problem of increasingly fuel-efficient cars stifling the money that the state raise from gas taxes, Atkins proposed a $52 per year tax on California drivers. The tax could be tacked on to insurance bills or vehicle registration charges.