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CP&DR News Briefs, June 15, 2015: High Speed Rail Faces Opposition in L.A.; EPA Environmental Risk Database; Sacramento's Push for Housing; and More

Matthew Hose on
Jun 15, 2015

California's $68-billion high speed rail is facing setbacks in its construction throughout the proposed route from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Local elected officials and homeowners groups in suburban Santa Clarita as well as blue-collar San Fernando, Pacoima, and other communities are demanding the state abandon a proposed route that would use above-ground tracks and tunnels through the mountains between Palmdale and San Fernando, instead insisting that only underground routes should be considered. They expressed their concerns at a recent meeting of the HSR board. San Fernando officials said that the proposed train would cut their city in half with 20-foot-high walls and could destroy dozens of businesses and a police station at a cost of $1.3 million per year and 850 jobs. Additionally, an analysis by the rail authority shows that within a half-mile of the track, there could be noise and vibration affecting about 20,000 residences, 25 parks, 47 schools, 48 churches and nine hotels, as well as archaeological sites and wetlands. Also, in a settlement with the city of Bakersfield over the environmental impact of the train, the rail authority will cut eight miles of track from the first construction of a 130-mile section through the Central Valley and will review its proposed route through the city.

EPA Releases New Environmental Risk Database

A new tool released by the EPA highlighting the low-income, minority communities that face the greatest health risks from pollution, with some stark standouts in the Los Angeles area. The map tool, known as EJSCREEN, allows residents and policymakers nationwide  to look up how their level of environmental risk compares to the rest of the nation. With measurements based on census block groups averaging about 1,400 residents, the EPA found that many communities in southeast Los Angeles County, the Inland Empire and the San Joaquin Valley are among the most at-risk in the nation. Environmental justice groups, which for decades have battled the concentration of landfills, refineries, rail yards and other polluting facilities in poor communities of color, said they would use the map to press for more emissions-cutting projects and environmental enforcement in the most affected areas.

Major Sacramento Housing Development Approved; Seeks More Units Downtown

The Sacramento Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve the Sacramento Commons Project, a proposal to replace 1960s-era low-rise apartments with high-rise and mid-rise condominiums in a section of downtown known for its lush canopy of trees and pedestrian-oriented streets. Though the Sacramento Preservation Commission recently nominated parts of the project area to the Sacramento Register of Historic and Cultural Resources and recommended denial of the project, the proposal maintained the support of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality District and the Sacramento Regional Transit for its proximity to an RT station, and it was also backed by labor unions, hotel and restaurant workers, and the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, which represents property owners. "We need an infusion of market-rate housing downtown, and we need it at increased density," commission member Todd Kaufman said at the Planning Commission meeting.

Meanwhile, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson launched a new housing initiative known as "Think Downtown" to market the city's downtown area as the region's "in" place to live and to develop new housing. The announcement follows Johnson's plan to build 10,000 housing units in the central city in the next 10 years, with a mix of 6,000 market rate units, 2,500 affordable units, and 1,500 units for people in more dire need of housing. Sacramento's downtown region has already rebounded from a virtual cession of development during the recession, with developers currently building or finishing projects like the 16 Powerhouse Project, the Warehouse Artists Lofts, and Township 9.

Los Angeles Consideres Plan to Legalize �Bootlegged' Apartments

Los Angeles landlords and tenant advocates have become unusual bedfellows in an attempt to legitimize the city's "bootlegged" apartments, wherein a landlord rents out a space usually carved out from a permitted apartment for an unlicensed lease. In many cases, the main barriers to legalizing these units are not construction or safety problems but city codes that mandate a minimum number of parking spots and limit the number of units on a lot. These problems have eliminated more than 1,700 apartments and exacerbated LA's housing crisis, officials say.Planning associate Matt Glesne told the Los Angeles Times that the existing process to seek relief from zoning requirements is "not cheap and not quick," costing landlords upward of $10,000, taking six to nine months, and forcing many landlords to simply shutter the unit. Under the new proposal, landlords would have limited time to seek to legalize existing bootlegged units, and would have to undergo a review process yet to be hashed out. 

Threatened Salmon Prompt New Water Policy in Sonoma County

In an effort to protect the state's highly endangered coho salmon populations, a new proposal would force around 13,000 landowners in 113 square miles of watersheds in Sonoma County to report their use of water from both surface sources and wells. Covering four tributaries of the Russian River, the new rules, if approved, would require all residential and commercial property owners, including wineries and vineyards, to use "enhanced conservation measures" and impose penalties of up to $500 per day to landowners who do not provide water use information. Piggybacking on last fall's unprecedented statewide move to regulate groundwater as well as surface water, Sonoma County officials are now also working on a local groundwater management plan likely to include well monitoring within the county.

Orange County Accused of Mismanaging $1.7B Worth of Property

An Orange County Grand Jury issued a report lambasting county officials for failing to keep adequate records of over $1.7 billion in unused or underutilized property that it must manage. The jury found that there are 2,300 real estate properties that must be managed by the county, but that the county has only partially complete or updated databases of its real estate holdings, and that the information is not consistent. "With the potential for future real estate decisions being based on unavailable or inaccurate data that could lead to less-than-desirable stewardship of (the) county's tax dollars, the grand jury believes that comprehensive and compatible real estate data information is necessary," the grand jury wrote in its report.

AG Seeks to Depublish Decision on Tiered Water Rates; Riverside Sues Over Water Cuts

The office of the state attorney general has asked the state Supreme Court to depublish a ruling by the 4th District Court of Appeals making it illegal for water agencies to use tiered rate structures to curb water use throughout the state. The court had found the tiered rate system -- wherein water guzzlers were charged higher rates for their use -- unconstitutional because the city of San Juan Capistrano charged more for water than it cost the city to provide the service in violation of Prop. 218. At least two-thirds of California water agencies now use some type of tiered-rate structure. If the state Supreme Court decides to depublish the appellate court ruling, that ruling could not be cited as authoritative in any other trial court or appellate court decisions, Proposition 218 expert Kelly Salt told the Los Angeles Times.

In other drought news, the city of Riverside has sued the state over a directive to cut water use 28 percent within the city as mandated throughout the state. Arguing that it has its own independently-owned, treated groundwater, Heather Raymond, a spokeswoman for Riverside Public Utilities, told the LA Times that Riverside's use has "zero effect on the state water supply" and that the city should be eligible for inclusion in a 4 percent conservation tier set up for localities with independent supplies of surface water. But, as Michale Lauffer, chief counsel for the State Water Resources Control Board, told the Los Angeles Times, "Groundwater for many areas is the savings account available during times of drought, and the limited, 4% reduction tier is not available for communities who are relying on that savings account to weather the drought."

Sacramento to Overhaul Housing Projects

The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency is seeking to overhaul two public housing projects whose poverty-stricken residents have a long history of disconnect and disenfranchisement from the rest of Sacramento. The housing agency's plan is to replace the rows of antiquated barracks-like brick buildings in the Alder Grove and Marina Vista housing projects and temporarily relocate residents in order to construct a mixed-use neighborhood with both market-rate and affordable housing units.SHRA is looking at replacing the 751 current units with either 1,200 units or 1,500 units. The new community would build higher-density, five-story buildings with detached single-family residences at the south end of the neighborhood to help blend with the existing Land Park neighborhood. To realize the redevelopment, local housing officials hope that the federal department of Housing and Urban Development will give Sacramento up to $30 million through its Choice Communities Initiative grant program. However, the financing gap remains large, possibly totaling more than $70 million. 

Pomo Tribe's Pot Farm Must Conform to Local Laws

The Pinoleville Pomo Nation has scaled back plans to create a medical marijuana farm near Ukiah in an effort to clarify laws governing the tribe's jurisdiction. The tribe's initial plan, bolstered by similar projects proposed throughout the nation as tribes explore new ways to generate income, called for a $10 million pot-growing operation in multiple greenhouses spanning 110,000 square feet of the tribe's rancheria. However, the land is not held in federal trust, which would exempt it from local regulations, and the local sheriff contends that the tribe is limited to the 25-plants-per-parcel required for the rest of the county. "We're just staying within the law," tribe business board leader Mike Canales told the Press Democrat, indicating that the tribe would stay within the 25 plant-per-parcel limit for now.

OPR to Host California Climate Action Conference 

Cal Poly and the Governor's Office of Planning & Research have announced the second California Climate Action Planning Conference, to be held August 13 & 14 at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The program will cover topics including greenhouse gas emission targets beyond 2020, learning from climate action plan updates, recent court rulings and state policy, public outreach and education, regional collaboratives for climate and sustainability, challenges and solutions for the agriculture sector, public health and climate change, and climate adaptation strategies.