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CP&DR News Briefs, October 12, 2015: SANDAG Transportation Plan; Coastal Commission Seeks Revision to O.C. Project; Transit Station Scorecard; and More

Matthew Hose on
Oct 11, 2015

The SANDAG Board of Directors voted unanimously last week to adopt the final version of its Regional Transportation Plan, called San Diego Forward: The Regional Plan. The plan will invest $204 billion into transportation infrastructure projects over the next 35 years, including provisions for 1 million more county residents and 300,000 more jobs. The RTP calls for investment in in transit projects, bikeways, pedestrian improvements, and a Managed Lanes network between now and 2050. It designates half the region as open space, and exceeds greenhouse gas reduction targets set for the region by the California Air Resources Board. New infrastructure includes five new trolley lines, 32 new Rapid lines, and significant increases in transit frequencies; 160 miles of Managed Lanes to existing freeways for the specific purpose of allowing transit, carpools, and vanpools to be more efficient and bypass traffic; and 275 miles of bikeways. "What that means is that in the two or three decades before, where the region was stretching out, it kind of stretched to the limit now," SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos told the Los Angeles Times. "Now what it is doing is growing up. The reason I think that's important is that as our transportation plans evolve, we need to take that into account." Some critics have said that the plan focuses too much on freeways, while others say that some areas of the county will not benefit from the plan soon enough. The plan is linked to the 2011 regional Sustainable Communities Strategy (see prior CP&DR coverage); it has been mired in lawsuits over its measurement of greenhouse gas emissions (see prior CP&DR coverage).

Coastal Commission Willing to Entertain Banning Ranch Proposal 

 The Coastal Commission has decided to give a developer 90 days to alter its plan for a mixed-use development at Banning Ranch, a 401-acre site that is one of the largest privately owned pieces of undeveloped land in Orange County. The plan would build 1,375 homes, a 75-room boutique hotel, 75,000 square feet of retail and several parks on about 95 acres of the property (see prior CP&DR coverage). It is currently used for oil operations. Coastal Commission staff had previously recommended denial of the project because it would affect the sensitive habitat, including wetlands, of coastal species including the threatened California gnatchacher. "There has to be a project that is less invasive," commission vice chairwoman Dayna Bochco said to the developer. "You chose a place that is very, very sensitive." Coastal Commissioners were hesitant to outright deny the project, as it would condense the oil operations to about 16.5 acres near the center of the project, include extensive mitigation of the oilfields, and would retain about 261 acres of open space.

Report: Scorecard of California's Transit Stations
A new report from the nonprofit Next 10 and prepared by the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) at the UC Berkeley School of Law grades the state's various transit stations, judging which stations perform the best overall when it comes to connecting riders to key amenities, cutting the environmental impact of transportation and contributing to a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly community. Among other highlights, San Francisco MUNI's Market and Church Street station scored a chart-topping A+ for near-perfect walkability score while San Diego's Gillespie Field Station, located in a car-dependent area, received an F. The Santa Clara VTA's Japantown/Ayer Station performed the best system wide, receiving a B+ from the researchers, while the Middlefield Station, located in a low-density area toward the edge of the system's service area scored low across all indicators.  Of the six transit systems evaluated, MUNI scored a B, followed by BART, which earned a B-, Los Angeles Metro Rail and Sacramento Regional Transit, both of which scored Cs, and San Diego Metropolitan Transit and Santa Clara VTA, both of which scored C-. "Stations serving walkable neighborhoods with plenty of conveniently located homes and businesses scored highest," Ethan Elkind, lead author and associate director of the Climate Change and Business Program at CLEE, said in a press release. "Neighborhoods that provide these local amenities encourage ridership. And the more demand, the better the economic performance of the transit system."

U.S. Supreme Court Threatens San Jose Stadium Plans
The U.S. Supreme Court shut down San Jose's request to review baseball's exemption from antitrust laws in an attempt to lure the Oakland A's to San Jose (see prior CP&DR commentary). In refusing to hear San Jose's appeals, the court allowed to stand an appeals court ruling that upheld baseball's unique exemption from federal antitrust laws. The court's refusal effectively kills plans to build the stadium. Now, the City of San Jose is moving on from the legal battle, seeking other ways to develop the site right in the heart of Silicon Valley near the region's largest transit hub, the Diridon transit station. The A's, however, will still retain control of the proposed stadium site until November 2018. The court decision is viewed as a boost to backers in Oakland who are seeking to build a new stadium at the Coliseum site, which will now likely only include a baseball team, instead of the previous plan that would house both the Raiders and the A's.

Concord to Reconsider Proposals for $6 Billion Naval Base Redevelopment
In the wake of accusations that a developer improperly lobbied city officials for a favorable vote on a development in Concord, the Concord City Council will choose between two companies for the rights to redevelop the former 5,000-acre Concord Naval Base. The council previously cancelled the final vote on the $6 billion project after Catellus Development Company --one of the two companies fighting for the rights to develop the project -- accused the other company, Lennar Urban, of improperly lobbying Mayor Tim Grayson, who will vote on the developer selection. Catellus cited Lennar's relationship with former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, who is working with Lennar at Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco and met in August with Grayson. The final vote on the project, which could support up to 12,000 units of housing and over six million square feet of commercial space, will be held Oct. 15.

National APA Honors Two ‘Great Places' in California
San Diego's Balboa Park and Los Angeles' Olvera Street were honored this year American Planning Association's annual Great Places in America program, which highlights places that offer better choices for where and how people work and live and that have a true sense of cultural interest. Olvera Street was highlighted as a "Great Street" for its position as a hub of historic significance in the oldest section of Los Angeles, with crafts, artisan shops, and eateries all highlighting the city's Mexican culture. "There is a striking contrast between Olvera's tight quarters in the sprawling context of what has now become of the second largest city in the U.S. Olvera Street continues to be a living monument to the city's history, with a festive atmosphere of celebration that adds to an unmatched and authentic liveliness reflecting the city's birthplace," the APA states on its website. Balboa Park was highlighted as a "Great Public Space," with its 1,200 acres of land containing the San Diego Zoo, 15 major museums, indoor and outdoor performance spaces, lush gardens, and restaurants. "Balboa Park exemplifies the considerable traffic and allure that a large, urban park can achieve when a variety of uses are planned and maintained within the space as a whole," the APA website states.

Survey Registers Support for Bay-Delta Tunnel
A private survey of 1,500 registered voters finds strong support for the Bay-Delta tunnel project to transport water to Southern California cities, in spite of vocal opposition from groups in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Specifically, the survey from advocacy group Californians for Water Security found that 55 percent of voters across a broad political and ideological spectrum supported the project, and that after voters were read "an explanatory statement" that frames the issue, support jumped to 79 percent. The survey also found that 36 percent of voters said the drought is the state's most important issue, double the percentage in early 2015.

High Speed Rail Seeks Private Investors
Following criticism over a lack of private investors lining up to finance the $68 billion high speed rail project, the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced it has received 35 responses from companies interested in financing, building, and operating the first 300-mile segment of the project. The firms include, among others, London-based Barclays Bank, the Chinese High Speed Rail Delivery Team, Siemens industry Inc., Bechtel Infrastructure Corporation, and AECOM. "Until now we have been saying, 'There will be private sector interest.' Now the private sector is saying 'There will be private sector interest,'" California High-Speed Rail Authority Chief Executive Jeff Morales .  Voters have already approved nearly $10 billion in bonds for the project. The federal government has also committed $3.5 billion in matching funds, and the state legislature agreed to provide the first ongoing source of financial support to the project, including a quarter of all revenues from the state's greenhouse gas emissions program.

Report: Bay Area En Route to Full Employment
UCLA economists predict that the Bay Area's unemployment rate could fall below 5 percent in 2016, reaching "full employment" and further exacerbating the area's housing crisis. The study from the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy finds that home and rental prices will likely rise as the area reaches full employment, with more jobs meaning more people moving to the Bay Area, which leads to more traffic and higher rents. "It's good news on the job and wage front for everybody," Stephen Levy of the UCLA center told CBS. "The problem is that unless you make ... a lot of money your rent or home prices are far outpacing the gains that you're getting in income."