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CP&DR News Briefs, April 27, 2015: Ruling Disrupts Water-Saving Plans; Cappio Leaves HCD; and More

Matthew Hose on
Apr 27, 2015

Water agencies cannot charge water users incrementally more per gallon of use following a ruling by the Fourth District Court of Appeals that cited a 1996 law prohibiting government agencies from overcharging for services. The suit came about after San Juan Capistrano charged nearly four times as much per unit of water for users in the highest tier to provide an incentive to conserve, but failed to show that the water was that expensive to deliver. Governor Jerry Brown wanted to use the rates to save water and create strong disincentives for wealthier residents. Other water districts must now review the ruling to make sure that their rates are in step with the court, while still encouraging conservation during the drought. Two-thirds of water districts use some form of tiered water pricing, but now agencies will have to show that hikes are directly tied to the cost of water, according to the court.

Change in Leadership at Dept. of Housing and Community Development

 Claudia Cappio has left her role as director of the Department of Housing and Community Development to head the "Coliseum City" development plan in Oakland. Replacing her as acting director will be Susan Riggs, the former Executive Director of the San Diego Housing Federation. Riggs has been serving as Deputy Secretary of Housing Policy for the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency (BCSH) since January 2014. Prior to joining BCSH, Riggs served as the Executive Director of the San Diego Housing Federation. In this capacity, her primary goal was to promote the creation of safe, stable, and healthy housing that is affordable to lower income families and people in need.

Newly Discovered Fault Puts Ventura at Risk

An earthquake fault that runs through downtown Ventura is extremely dangerous and could produce a magnitude 8.0 earthquake every 400 to 2,400 years, according to new research from the California Geological Survey. In contrast with the inland San Andreas fault, an earthquake at the Ventura fault could bring a devastating tsunami to the region that would begin "in the Santa Barbara Channel area, and would affect the coastline � of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, down through the Santa Monica area and further south," according to Southern California Earthquake Center director Tom Jordan, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times. Up until the study, experts believed that California's biggest threat of tsunami would be a mega-quake in Alaska, which would still give Californians hours to evacuate.

Services for Homeless Cost L.A. $100 Million Annually

Five members of the Los Angeles City Council proposed that the city take a new approach in dealing with 23,000 people living on the streets. Reacting to a scathing report indicating that homelessness costs the city $100 million per year and saying that the city's response has been fractured and dysfunctional, the council members want to create a new council committee focused just on that problem. In the report, City Administrative Officer Miguel A. Santana said that $87 million of indirect costs go to the Los Angeles Police Department for arrests, patrols and mental health interventions. "What's happening in the city and county is unconscionable and unacceptable," Councilmember Mike Bonin said at the meeting. "For the most part we're wasting our money."

Waze, Los Angeles Establish Partnership for Data-Sharing

In a new private-public partnership, the City of Los Angeles and the traffic app Waze will share data on traffic patterns and roadway conditions. The partnership will allow people using the traffic app to see alerts about hit-and-runs and abducted children, and several government departments will send Waze information about construction, film shoots, and road closures. In return, the app will send the city real-time data about traffic patterns and roadway conditions. Police officers had previously worried that the Google-owned app, which has about 1.3 million users in the city, would put police officers in danger by giving their location and allowing people to track them down. 

Napa County Parks In Dire Financial Straits

A new financial report brought disappointing news to the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District: a planned expansion of the county's park and open space system doesn't have nearly enough funding and could take a century to complete unless a new tax speeds up the process. Currently, the district has enough funds to maintain existing amenities, but it only has about $100,000 annually available for expansions. Completion of the Bay Area Ridge Trail alone could cost the city $15 million. To raise the funds, the district's advisory committee is looking at the possibilities of a parcel tax, property tax, or sales taxes. "We're not trying to buy the whole county," District General Manager John Woodbury told the Napa Valley Register. "That's not the idea. But those special places that would benefit from being owned publicly, that's where we come in."

Laguna Woods Begins General Plan Update

The City Council of Laguna Woods agreed to begin work on a comprehensive update of the city's General Plan to map out the city's direction for the next 25 years. Estimated to cost $315,000, the update will focus on transportation, housing, land use, noise, open space, and fiscal development to provide direction on attracting and retaining industries. Adoption of the plan is projected for spring of 2017. 

Rents Keep Rising

News reports have recently been focusing on the state of rental markets across California. Among the highlights: 

  • San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose were respectively named the three worst cities nationwide for renters by Forbes. The rankings looked at the jumps in rent from 2014 to now, as well as vacancy rates, median household income, and other factors. The best cities for renters included Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Las Vegas.
  • The influx of tech money into San Francisco shot the city's rental rates up 14.8 percent since last year, averaging more than $3,000 a month in some areas. The increase dwarfs the nationwide average of 3.7 percent.
  • Homes in Orange County are flying off the shelves, as the city has become the fifth-fastest in the nation at selling homes. 59 percent of the homes listed through the real estate company Trulia this year came off the market in two months or less, compared with 40 percent nationwide. "Expensive markets � including many in California � have tight housing supplies because of limited construction in the face of growing demand. So homes get snapped up quickly," the report said.


Report: Bay Area Ill-prepared for Superstorm Flood Waters

A new report shows that, despite the persistence of drought in California, the Bay Area is extremely susceptible to a superstorm that occurs every 150 years. The study, released by the nonprofit Bay Area Council, says that flooding from this type of storm could produce $10.4 billion in economic damage, and it calls for the implementation of infrastructure projects ranging from levees to sea walls to wetlands to prepare for the storm. Eighty percent of the flooding damage from a 150-year storm would be concentrated in Marin, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. In the Bay Area, 355,000 residents and $46.2 billion in assets are situated in areas that are susceptible, according to the report. "The drought is a function of extreme weather, but it's only one side of the coin, and we know what's coming next," Adrian Covert, policy director for the council, told the San Mateo County Times. "With this report, it shows that we can't say we weren't warned, and the time to prepare is now." The last major storm of this type occurred in the Great Flood of 1862, when 34 inches of rain fell on San Francisco in about a month. 

BART May Seek 2016 Property Tax Increase 

Officials at Bay Area Rapid Transit are considering putting a property tax increase on the 2016 ballot to fund badly needed upgrades to the system, according to Daniel Borenstein at the Contra Costa Times. The district is expecting operating shortfalls of $35-50 million in the years 2018-2024 due to costly employee compensation, and it lacks money to replace or improve 306 of its train cars. All in all, the district estimates that it would need about $4.8 billion in the next 10 years. However, with a tax increase requiring two-thirds of voters' approval, Borenstein warned that such an effort could torpedo the upgrades, and possibly even other unrelated transportation improvements. "Making matters worse, the district is aiming for the same presidential election ballot that Contra Costa Transportation Authority officials are eyeing for a measure to double their current half-cent sales tax for road and transit improvements," Borenstein told the Contra Costa Times. "By loading up the ballot, BART risks dividing the more fiscally conservative, tax-sensitive suburban vote between the two measures and killing both."

PPIC Establishes Water Policy Center


Amid the state's worst drought, the Public Policy Institute of California is launching a $9 million Water Policy Center with funding from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. The center will be headed by Ellen Hanak and will focus on research to promote public policy that would ensure clean and reliable water supplies, build healthy and resilient ecosystems, and prepare for future droughts and floods. "If California's water is managed well, it can support a vibrant economy, society, and environment now and in the future," Hanak said in a statement. "But we will need new approaches that are practical, evidence-based, and scientifically sound.
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