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CP&DR News Briefs, May 11, 2015: New Challenge to Prop. 13; L.A. Metro Considers $120M Funding Measure;

Matthew Hose on
May 11, 2015

Another group has arisen in the long-running battle to challenge Proposition 13. A coalition of several public employees unions and other interest groups, the Make it Fair organization seeks to place a measure that would upend Prop. 13 on the 2016 statewide ballot. The proposed measure would seek a "split-roll" solution, taxing commercial properties at market rates while leaving residential tax rates frozen according to purchase prices. Prop. 13's freeze on property taxes has long been cited as a complicating factor in local government finance, particularly for school districts. Supporters of the measure say that its passage could result in an additional $9 billion in annual tax revenue. "California is losing billions of dollars every year thanks to problems in the law that allow some big corporations and wealthy commercial property owners to avoid paying their fair share," campaign spokesman Anthony Thigpenn said in a statement quoted by the Sacramento Bee. "By continuing to raise taxes, the state is forcing businesses out of California, and they're taking our jobs with them," Rex Hine of California Business Properties Association told the Bee. 

L.A. Metro May Seek to Raise $120 Billion Via Ballot Measure

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is exploring another ballot measure to raise billions of dollars for the county's transportation system. Dubbed by non-profit Move L.A. as "Measure R2," the new sales tax would require two-thirds voter approval to pass and would likely go on the 2016 presidential ballot, hoping to get a better turnout to reach the needed supermajority. Metro's wish list totals about $300 billion; the agency estimates that Measure R2 could raise as much as $120 billion over 40 years by raising the county sales tax to 9.5 percent and extending the expiration of the 2008 Measure R sales tax by an extra two decades. The funds could be used for major transit projects such as a rail and automobile tunnel under the Sepulveda Pass, a rail link to LAX airport, and the extension of the subway to Santa Monica. According to the Los Angeles Times, a recent Metro poll suggests that the proposal has considerable support - as much as 79 percent depending on how the question was posed and how much information the respondents had. 

Audit Finds Improved Richmond Housing Authority

Three years after employees were implicated in illegal activities and a federal audit wrote a scathing report calling its leader "ineffective," the Richmond Housing Authority has made improvements. It is now considered "adequate," according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The agency implemented procedures to keep proper records, follow reporting requirements, and have the finance staff work directly under the city's finance department, all designed to help catch fraud that previously ran rampant in the department. The Richmond Authority came under fire when an audit flagged it for lacking internal controls resulting in ineligible expenses, poor record keeping and debt the reached $6.8 million. 

Water Company Cadiz Hit with Suit over Groundwater Pumping

In an attempt to block a Los Angeles-based Cadiz Inc. from shipping Mojave Desert groundwater out of San Bernardino County to Orange County residents, three conservation groups have filed opening briefs in an appeal of a Superior Court decision upholding the project. The project would involve pumping 16 million gallons of Mojave groundwater through a 43-mile pipeline for up to 50 years, averaging about 50,000-75,000 acre-feet per year. Critics said the Santa Margarita Water District improperly seized control of the environmental review process, which San Bernardino County officials should have overseen. They also state that the pumping would eliminate crucial desert habitats like springs and lower the water table, potentially having disastrous environmental consequences. "Let's call this what it is: a water-privatization scheme that will ship San Bernardino's water resources, essential to the health of the ecosystem, off to fuel suburban sprawl in Orange County," Adam Keats, head of the Center for Biological Diversity's California Water Project, told the San Bernardino Sun.

S.F. Mayor Asks for $1 Billion for Muni

Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco unveiled a $1 billion budget for the Municipal Transportation Agency in the coming fiscal year, giving it a $48.1 million boost to the previous budget. With the goal of adding 18 new buses and 40 new Muni Metro cars, bike and pedestrian signal improvements, and hiring 244 new employees, the mayor wants to bring in $31.4 million from the city's general fund and $16.7 million in developer fees to modernize the nation's eighth-largest transit system.

Ruling Complicates Efforts to Build A's Stadium in San Jose

Another roadblock has come up against San Jose in its bid to lure the Oakland A's to a downtown ballpark. A judge recently ruled that under local laws the city should have gone to voters first before entering into a land-purchase agreement with the team for a site, thus invalidating the latest version of the deal between the city and the team. The San Jose City Council voted to appeal the court's decision, but the setback is just one of several for the planned move to Silicon Valley: the San Francisco Giants also have protested the move, asserting territorial rights to the South Bay, and a federal appeals court sided with the Giants in an antitrust case. 

State Adopts Guidelines for Desalination Plants

California became the first state last week to adopt environmental guidelines for building and operating desalination plants, hoping to make seawater potable without killing fish or emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gases. The rules represent a significant move in trying to monitor environmental impacts while heading off the water crisis, as construction of the state's first desalination plant is now underway in Carlsbad with seventeen more plants in the planning stages. The new rules seek to regulate the downsides to the desalination plants: that they kill fish as they suck in briny water and use too much energy to run, spewing greenhouse gases into the air. The rules will require plant operators to use screens if open ocean intakes are necessary to keep from killing fish, and water salinity of areas near discharge sites may not increase by more than 2 parts per 1,000.

Lemon Grove Votes to Dissolve Planning Commission

The Lemon Grove City Council voted 3-2 to dissolve its city's planning commission and to transfer its duties to the City Council, with the possibility of forming an advisory group that would act as a quasi planning commission without the official title or responsibilities. The city said that the move was provoked by cost-saving considerations, estimating that the planning commission meets four to seven times per year at a nonrecoverable cost of $7,500 for staff time and work. "Lemon Grove is a small town, and we just don't have the size or resources to support the commissions and committees larger cities do," City Councilman Jerry Jones told the U-T San Diego. The dissenting votes came from City Councilors who were both former planning commissioners.

Sacramento to Dispose of 77 Redevelopment Properties

The City of Sacramento is offering up for sale several high-profile parcels of land near the construction site of the new Kings basketball arena, taking its first step to sell off its 77 properties that were formerly part of its redevelopment agency. The sales will bring cash to the city and county, and will benefit Sacramento in the development of land that has long been underutilized. However, complicating matters, the Sacramento Kings have a right of first refusal on the downtown properties as a part of the city's subsidy of the arena project, allowing the Kings to match any offer in kind.

Mixed-Use Development to Complement AT&T Park

The San Francisco Giants' ownership revised its plans to build a massive new mixed-use development across the street from AT&T Park, opting for shorter buildings and more affordable housing at the development in response to changing winds in California land-use politics. Voters recently passed Proposition B, a ballot measure requiring voter approval of any development on port property exceeding height limits, and Mayor Ed Lee has set goals for affordable housing in the city. Sensing these changes, the Giants decided to lower the building heights from 380 feet to 240 feet, and to increase the percentage of below-market-rate units from 15 percent to 33 percent. The proposal, known as Mission Rock, would be a 28-acre redevelopment including 1,500 units of housing, eight acres of parkland, and 1.5 million square feet of commercial space.

S.F. Arena Backers Fend Off Criticism

Developers of a new Warriors basketball arena in Mission Bay are standing firm amid new criticism that the development could have significant impact on hospital traffic and parking. The group Mission Bay Alliance recently cited concerns that traffic for the development will impede emergency access to UCSF's hospitals, and that shared use of 950 parking garage spaces with two 16-story office towers that will also be built on the site. Officials with the Warriors, however, said that they have been studying these effects for the past year and have determined that their project won't have any significant effect on traffic or parking, as most sporting events take place at night, while the office towers will be used during the day.

Report: Sprawl Costs U.S. $1 Trillion Annually

A new report (pdf) from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute and LSE Cities states that urban sprawl costs the U.S. economy over $1 trillion each year, with people living in sprawled communities bearing $625 billion in direct incremental costs and the governments, businesses, and other households bearing an extra $400 billion in external costs. The study, coming from the New Climate Economy, a global commission on economy and climate, said that providing public infrastructure and services costs $750 annually per capita in the most sprawled fifth of American cities, 50 percent more than in the least sprawled cities. The report also stated that residents in compact communities save more money and have greater economic mobility, spending on average $5,000 less per year on transportation expenses, and that children who grow up in these communities tend to be much more economically successful in the future.

Los Angeles Seeks to Figure Out New Transportation Technologies

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a new fellowship at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to create a citywide strategy that outlines the future of road safety, traffic regulation, and traffic enforcement, and will, supporters say, create a policy plan for a sustainable future for Los Angeles. The technology advisor, serving in a one-year fellowship, will work with city staff to mold Los Angeles as a model in sustainable, tech-enabled transportation. "It's about time the car capital of the world planned for the future of transportation in the digital age -- moving beyond the car to bikes, ride shares, and autonomous vehicles," said Garcetti. Recent discussions in the city have centered on the potential for ride-hailing services and even self-driving cars to relieve traffic congestion and reduce the need for parking in the city. 

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