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CP&DR News Briefs, October 5, 2015: SANDAG Transportation Plan; Sacramento Railyards; Joshua Trees in Danger; and More

The San Diego Association of Governments is expected to adopt a plan to guide the city's transportation infrastructure for the next 35 years, emphasizing densely populated neighborhoods and putting skyways and light-rail stations in the county's beach communities. Some transportation activist groups are saying that the plan doesn't adequately match up with the city's Climate Action Plan. The SANDAG plan, called New Climate for Transportation, has the goal of 15 percent of San Diegans commuting without a car by 2035, while the Climate Action Plan's goal is to have 50 percent of the population commuting without a car by the same year. With two major supporters of the Climate Action Plan -- Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Councilman Todd Gloria -- also sitting on the SANDAG board, activist groups Climate Action Campaign and Circulate San Diego say that the city has already given up on its Climate Action Plan before it even gave it a shot. "SANDAG's own projections show that it is mathematically impossible for the city of San Diego to achieve its transit and active transportation goals with the transportation network SANDAG is currently planning," the joint report from the two transit advocacy groups concludes. The plan envisions $204 billion in transportation spending, half of which would go to public transit like new light-rail lines, skyways and buses. Some $42 billion would go toward highway construction, and in particular, managed lanes, along with $5 billion to encourage biking and walking.

Sacramento Railyard Redevelopment Clears Hurdle 

 A Sacramento development firm has finalized the purchase of the city's 240-acre downtown railyard, the development of which would effectively double the size of Sacramento's downtown. The land will likely be developed into a Major League Soccer stadium, a hospital, a new institute for the University of California Davis, and thousands of homes. The purchaser, Downtown Railyard Venture LLC, is owned by veteran developer Larry Kelley, and the purchase was held up for over a year over negotiations of financial responsibility for cleanup of toxic materials. The city's official plan for the site, adopted eight years ago, calls for construction of as many as 12,000 homes. Additionally, Kaiser Permanente announced plans to build a hospital at the northwest corner of the railyard in the next seven to 10 years; the city's minor-league soccer club could build a 22,000 seat, $100 million soccer stadium in the northwest corner; and UC Davis is considering building an extension campus there focused on research into global food supply issues.

Group Advocates Endangered Status for Joshua Trees
In the wake of scientific modeling that suggests Joshua Trees could lose 90 percent of their range by the end of the century, a conservation group known as WildEarth Guardians is petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the desert succulents as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The trees, which grow up to 40 feet high, live more than 200 years and are the namesake of the 800,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park, were subject to large-scale brush fires in the 1990s along with replacement by development in desert boom towns in the 1980s. Some conservationists have proposed translocation efforts and habitat restoration programs to save the trees from widespread extirpation. 

Google Collaborates on Air Pollution Monitoring
Aclima, a company that builds air pollution sensors announced a deal to put its equipment on Google's Street View cars to measure smog levels in California and post the detailed information on Google Maps. The sensors will record and report everything from levels of soot to nitrogen oxides to greenhouse gases in greater detail than the stationary air pollution monitoring equipment that government agencies already operate on top of buildings. "We have a pretty large network of air monitoring stations throughout the Bay Area. But we don't have a lot of measurements in between them," Eric Stevenson, director of meteorology, measurement and rules for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in San Francisco, told San Jose Mercury News. "So this technology gives us the ability to get a better understanding neighborhood by neighborhood what the differences are." Data from the Bay Area will be posted starting in 2016. Beginning next year, cars with the sensors will be on the roads in Los Angeles and the Central Valley. Eventually, if the system is successful, the readings could affect real estate values, highlight health risks around schools, hospitals and parks and even advise cities where to plant trees or synchronize traffic lights to reduce smog.
State to Chip in for Key L.A. River Parcel
The state of California has agreed to pay the $25 million majority purchase price for a parcel that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called the "crown jewel" of the Los Angeles River restoration project in Cypress Park. The parcel, spanning 40 acres in Taylor Yard, is the largest remaining piece of undeveloped riverfront land and is currently owned by Union Pacific Co. City and federal officials are in the final stages of working out a cost-sharing agreement for what is expected to be a $1.4-billion restoration of 11 miles of the river in northeast and downtown L.A. -- an area including the Taylor Yard parcel. "For decades we've been talking about revitalizing and restoring the L.A. River, to no avail," state Senate leader Kevin de León announced a recent event. "But now we have real money, and real vision."
SF Mayor Proposes Density Bonus
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has proposed a density bonus that would ease the city's building height limit in exchange for including more affordable units. Under the proposal, developers would be allowed two extra stories of height on projects with 30 percent of affordable housing, and an extra three stories on 100 percent affordable developments. Within the 30 percent sector, it calls for 18 percent of the units to be affordable to families making between 120 and 140 percent of area median income, which is $122,000 to $142,000 for a family of four. The remaining 12 percent would cater to low- to moderate-income residents.
High Speed Rail Authority to Test in Angeles National Forest
The California High Speed Rail Authority has asked for permission to test-drill deep into the federally-protected Angeles National Forest to determine the feasibility of an alternate-route rail tunnel through the San Gabriel Mountains. The request comes as residents in the cities of Acton, Santa Clarita, and San Fernando protested the original route along the 14 Freeway Corridor, prompting the rail authority to add three other possible tunneled routes for the bullet train to be constructed under the Angeles forest, connecting Burbank and Palmdale. If allowed to perform its tests, the rail authority will drill down 900 feet to 2,500 feet below the surface in up to eight locations of the northwestern portion of the Angeles, only along existing forest roads. By examining the test borings, the rail authority can determine the soil, water content and locate earthquake faults, all necessary to complete an Environmental Impact Report on the high-speed train's alignment from Palmdale to Burbank. Now, the U.S. Forest Service is asking the public for their thoughts on whether to allow the rail authority to proceed with its tunnel study.
HUD Awards $30 Million Grant to Sacramento
Sacramento's Housing and Redevelopment Agency will receive a $30 million federal grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to implement the Neighborhood Transformation Plan (NTP) for the River District, which will allow a complete replacement and redevelopment of the 218 distressed public housing units within the Twin Rivers Neighborhood. Twin Rivers, one of Sacramento's oldest public housing development, has long been isolated and disconnected from its surrounding community, providing limited access to vital services. The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Choice Neighborhoods program, which supports locally driven strategies to address distressed public housing through a comprehensive approach to neighborhood transformation. "The housing and infrastructure at Twin Rivers is old and must be replaced," Congresswoman Doris Matsui announced. "This grant will help us replace the housing, improve the transportation connections to the neighborhood, and implement a number of social services that will benefit the area's residents. I am confident that this grant will truly transform our community."
FTA Awards $19 Million in Grants to Four Calif. Agencies
Four California transportation organizations became recipients of a share of $19.5 million in grants to support planning projects that improve access to public transit through the Federal Transit Administration's Transit-Oriented Development Planning Pilot Program. Among the recipients, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments received $1,118,720 to develop a toolkit of policy and regulatory changes to implement its Downtown Riverfront Streetcar; the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board received $600,000 for its Caltrain Electrification Project; the San Diego Association of Governments received $429,635 to implement its Mid-Coast Corridor Light Rail Project connecting to colleges and medical facilities north of downtown; and Oakland's Bay Area Rapid Transit district received $1,100,000 to reinforce the BART system through the Transbay Core Capacity Project.
$9 Billion School Bond Gains Support
Supporters of a $9 billion statewide school-construction bond have gathered enough signatures to put it on the November 2016 ballot, the first potential bond measure since $10.4 billion was approved in 2006. The current pot of bond money is almost tapped out, and the state faces an estimated $20 billion backlog of applications. The building industry association and the Coalition for Adequate School Housing bankrolled efforts to collect the necessary 365,880 signatures. Lawmakers tried to put a school bond on last year's ballot during the final days of the 2014 legislative session. The effort fizzled as the Brown administration made clear that it opposed the legislation, saying that local agencies could do the job more efficiently. Organizers can withdraw the initiative up until June 30, 2016 – allowing time for possible negotiations with the Legislature and Brown on a substitute.
UCLA Report: Housing Costs Trending Upwards
A UCLA economic forecast predicts that housing in California will become even less affordable over the next two years, and that existing affordable housing policy will be unable to keep up with demand as the economy grows. "The economics are clear," UCLA Anderson Forecast Senior Economist Jerry Nickelsburg wrote in the forecast. "When affordable housing is provided, say by requiring developers to have a fixed percentage of their new units ‘affordable,' then the demand for that housing will be in excess of the supply." He added that just building more housing is unrealistic because such a move would require major changes in zoning codes, environmental requirements and building regulations. "This being the case, affordable housing policy needs to be explicit about who the housing is for," he wrote. "For example, one might advocate affordable housing so that teachers in public schools can purchase housing that would otherwise be difficult for them to acquire." He predicted a total employment of 2.7 percent this year and 2.2 percent next year.
Chinese Company Backs L.A.-Las Vegas Rail Project
A potential high-speed rail line connecting Los Angeles and Las Vegas gained a boost as a Chinese rail company committed $100 million in initial funding to the project. The rail link, which would make the 230-mile trip last about 80 minutes on electric trains that travel around 150 mph, could have important environmental and traffic impacts on a crowded highway corridor that generates an estimated 3 million car trips per year. The partnership between XpressWest and China Railway International USA is vital as China has considerable expertise with about 10,000 miles of high-speed rail track. Construction of the line could begin as early as September 2016.