In response to escalating cost estimates for construction of California's high speed rail, two state senators have drafted a bipartisan bill to stop construction of the rail until a public revote can be taken on June 6, 2016. The bill, authored by Senators Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, and Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, is just one of eight other proposals to halt the project, though all previous bills have died in the legislature. But even if the legislature does not pass the bill, it is possible for the people to appeal directly for a re-vote, according to the State of California Department of Justice. "The High-Speed Rail Authority has failed to obtain private investment as promised to the voters and is now relying California's controversial cap-and-trade program to help fund the project," Vidak stated in a press release.
Kern County Releases Environmental Review of 2.8 Million Acres
Kern County has released the draft of a environmental review cataloging 2.8 million acres of oil and gas drilling across the county in an attempt to pave the way for the county itself to issue permits for drilling while charging oil companies for air quality mitigation measures. The report, which comes at a cost of over $12 million, calls for the county to charge petroleum producers between $12,500 and $23,000 per well. Funds would be dedicated to clean air projects, which, with 2,000 new wells being drilled in Kern every year, could come at a benefit of $20 million per year. The plan also attempts to serve agricultural interests in the wake of successful legal challenges in 2012 to drilling projects. Farmers accused companies with mineral rights of running roughshod over their fields without adequate compensation. The county plans to address this problem by making it quicker and cheaper for oil companies to drill if they can come to an agreement with surface owners, while subjecting them to several rounds of reviews if they cannot come to an agreement. Environmental groups, meanwhile, have called the plan an attempt to rubber-stamp drilling plans in the county.
Report: New Housing in S.F. Results in Little Net Gain
San Francisco can't solve its affordable housing crisis by just building more affordable units; instead, it has to preserve the ones it already has, according to a new report by the San Francisco Planning Department. For every 10 units that developers build there, according to the report, more than eight units are taken off the market by landlords. The city estimates that 5,470 rent-controlled units have been lost since 2005 largely due to Ellis Act evictions and owner move-ins. Additionally, the cost of building a new affordable unit has increased to between $600,000 to $750,000, while buying an existing unit from an owner usually costs between $150,000 and $400,000. In the past six months, the city has been attempting to buy out affordable units on a small scale to address the cost difference, buying up rent control buildings at risk of conversion or eviction through the mayor's "small sites program."
O.C. Mismanaged $2 Billion in Property in Mello-Roos Districts
A new grand jury concluded that Orange County's 119 Mello-Roos taxing districts worth more than $2 billion have been mismanaged and have poor oversight. While the districts were created to surpass the restrictions of Proposition 13 — allowing homebuilders to build needed infrastructure in the area without charging more for homes — the grand jury concluded that there are no mechanisms in place to ensure that the taxes are properly spent, and it recommend that the districts form an oversight committee to see how the taxes are managed. The report comes in the midst of a surge in home construction in Orange County that's relying on Mello-Roos districts — with Irvine forming a $384 million district and Santa Margarita Water District authorizing a $70 million district — to pay for public amenities without tacking the cost onto the price of the homes. Homeowners, however, have increasingly become upset by huge Mello-Roos bills in developments like San Clemente's Talega.
Los Angeles Metro to Restructure Countywide Bus Service
Los Angeles's Metro is considering a systemwide restructuring that would speed up and slim down its bus lines, possibly cutting services to some of the least-used routes. The proposal, recommended by a commission convened by Metro, centers around increasing ridership by creating reliably frequent buses that arrive every 15 minutes. The buses also would travel faster, as the plan would increase the amount of passengers allowed on each bus, some stops would be eliminated, and it would cut services to some of the least-used corridors in the system. The draft policy will be taken to the Metro Board of Directors in July 2015.
S.F. Activists Push for Development Moratorium; Short-Term Rental Restrictions
San Francisco advocacy groups have filed two separate petitions aimed at pumping the brakes on San Francisco's booming housing development. In one petition, volunteers submitted 15,000 signatures to the Department of Elections, effectively putting a housing moratorium in San Francisco's Mission District on the November ballot. Activists say that the moratorium, which calls for an 18-month stop for demolition and construction in the district, is necessary to preserve housing and industrial spaces and to rethink the rapid development of the historically-Latino neighborhood.
Additionally, advocates against short-term rentals submitted almost 16,000 signatures supporting a ballot measure that would put more restrictions on the city's short-term rental market, popularized by websites like Airbnb. The petition, sponsored by ShareBetter SF, would further enhance a measure that the Board of Supervisors adopted in October allowing home sharers to offer their rentals for 90 days a year without being present, or 265 days a year if they are. The petition asked the city and county to limit rentals to 75 nights per year, to fine companies like Airbnb and VRBO for listing unregistered units, and to force home sharers to regularly report their rentals.
LAFCO Declines to Consolidate High Desert Districts
The San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission decided not to consolidate community service districts in the Barstow area amidst widespread opposition at public hearings last year. Investigations of the districts in Yermo, Daggett, and Newberry Springs followed a 2013 Grand Jury report identifying numerous issues related to governance, accounting, and financial management in the areas. While it did not decide to consolidate the CSDs, the LAFCO will continue to monitor progress of the districts.