California's High Speed Rail project is finding more hurdles in the way of the intended 2022 finish of its first phase from Burbank to Merced. A Los Angeles Times analysis finds that the project's first phase from Burbank to Merced will likely overshoot the $68 million budget and will almost certainly not meet the 2022 deadline because of the difficulty of punching 36 miles of tunnels through mountains north of Los Angeles. The analysis finds that contractors will find difficulty boring a 20 mile stretch of tunnel through the rocks of the San Gabriel Mountains, formed over 1.7 billion years ago and lying on numerous fault lines. "Having looked at a number of these long tunnels, [the California] plan is aggressive," Herbert Einstein, an MIT civil engineer, told the L.A. Times. "From a civil engineering perspective it is very, very ambitious — to put it mildly." The Associated Press obtained a questionnaire of 36 private companies by the High Speed Rail Authority which found that private companies are skeptical about investing in the project. "The market cannot absorb a single $20 billion contract ... financial institutions would not invest into a project of such unprecedented scale and cost," ACS Infrastructure Development Inc. led other companies in writing. Additionally, the Rail Authority decided to push a restart button on its segment from Anaheim to Los Angeles in order to get more support from local communities. The new plan would involve a "sealed corridor" fenced off from the community. Officials in 2009 asked for a slow-down of the original plan because of concerns about aesthetics, noise, safety, vibrations from the train and the possible need to condemn homes or businesses.
L.A. County to Set Aside $100 Million for Affordable Housing
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to gradually begin setting aside $100 million per year to construct and maintain affordable housing in order to combat growing homelessness in the region. Supported by business leaders, anti-poverty advocates and nonprofit housing developers, the housing fund will start with $20 million next year and expand over the next five years to $100 million to address the area's homeless population of 44,000. The supervisors did not say where the money would come from, but directed the county chief executive to come back with a plan as part of next year's budget process. Supervisor Don Knabe criticized the uncertainty of the funding sources, but Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas said that it is important to begin work soon regardless of funding. "The objective is to get moving and moving now on building more affordable housing, and the formula, the methodology can and will be worked out," said Ridley-Thomas. "... We are not moving fast enough keeping up with the crisis that has enveloped us."
Los Angeles Mayor Proposes Linkage Fee for Housing
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his support for a "linkage fee" on market rate development that would create local funding for affordable housing and potentially generate $37 to $112 million annually, and he signed an executive directive to expedite case processing for housing development projects with more than 20 percent affordable units. The linkage fee study would be handled by a new housing policy unit within the City's Planning Department that would also lead the development of new zoning initiatives to encourage the development of mixed-income housing around transit. The fee is intended to complement Garcetti's goal of producing 100,000 units by 2021. He also announced that the city will seek to build or preserve at least 15,000 units of affordable housing from 2013 through 2021. Los Angeles is considered the most unaffordable housing market in the nation. (See prior CP&DR commentary.)
Governor Fast-Tracks San Diego Stadium EIR; Initiative for Alternative Downtown Stadium
The San Diego Chargers stadium saga continues as Gov. Jerry Brown fast-tracked the judicial review process for the city's Environmental Impact Report, forcing courts to resolve any lawsuit challenging the EIR within nine months of the document's certification. The move allows Mayor Kevin Faulconer to assure NFL owners that the new stadium will be able to open at its current Mission Valley by 2019 even if there is litigation. However, Chargers attorney Mark Fabiani, who broke off talks with the city and has instead been focusing on plans to relocate to Los Angeles, said that the nine month period "is unfortunately irrelevant at this point" and the "quickie EIR is fatally flawed." Further serving as a boon to Fabiani's relocation cause, San Diego attorney Cory Briggs filed an initiative to build a new stadium downtown instead, along with expanding the city's downtown convention center and paying for those projects through a 15.5 percent hotel tax. Far from demonstrating to the NFL the city's commitment to building a viable stadium, Briggs' move could allow Fabiani's camp to show NFL owners that the city's efforts to build a new stadium are as dysfunctional as ever.
ABAG Agrees to Explore Merger with MTC
Backing down from initial opposition, the leadership of the Association of Bay Area Governments agreed this week to explore the possibility of a merger with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. ABAG had opposed what was originally seen as a "takeover" by MTC. The ABAG vote approves funds to hire a consultant for the purpose of forming an equitable merger plan. The plan is to be completed by June 1. The move seeks to combine the regional planning capacities of ABAG with the transportation planning capacities of MTC, which works in part with local governments; both agencies oversee planning for the nine-county Bay Area.
OPR to Hold General Plan Workshops
The Governor's Office of Planning and Research will be holding multiple community outreach events throughout California during the public comment period for the draft General Plan Guidelines update. OPR invites planners, practitioners, and community members are invited to attend and learn about the updated guidelines, ask questions, and share their feedback. Fifteen workshops are scheduled to be held across the state between Nov. 2 and Dec. 9.
L.A. Planning Commission Seeks Strict Billboard Rules
Shunning some lawmakers' idea of legalizing hundreds of billboards that currently lack permits in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission laid out a stricter proposal for how Los Angeles should clamp down on the proliferation of billboards throughout the city. The proposed regulations reduce the "sign districts" where companies can put new billboards to busy corridors including Los Angeles International Airport and downtown, while keeping them out of single-family neighborhoods and state parks. Additionally, the proposal requires that for every square foot of a new conventional billboard, five square feet of existing billboards must be removed, and for every square foot of a digital billboard that is erected, 10 times as much would have to come down. The ratios would be five times higher than the reduction requirements previously vetted by city lawmakers, who are hesitant to trample the rights of outdoor advertising companies. The City Council would now need a supermajority to adopt its less-stringent rules after the Planning Commission rejected them. (See prior CP&DR coverage of L.A. billboards.)
Airbnb Ad Campaign Angers S.F. Residents
Short term rental company Airbnb is backpedaling in the Bay Area after residents sharply criticized an ad campaign aimed to influence voters on Proposition F, which would limit vacation rentals in private homes to 75 days a year. The ad campaign was an attempt to demonstrate the company's contribution to the city's hotel taxes, with lines such as "Dear Public Library System, We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later. Love, Airbnb." However, the campaign backfired, as many resident perceived the ads as snarky. Some pointed out that Airbnb had already spent $8 million fighting Proposition F by the beginning of October.
San Diego to Break Ground on Major Bicycle Upgrades
The San Diego Association of Governments is gearing up to break ground on $200 million of bicycle infrastructure throughout San Diego County over the next decade, officials announced at the California Bike Summit. The bike routes will be paid for by the countywide TransNet half-cent sales tax, through which officials can borrow money to pay for the bike projects now, although Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins said that she doesn't want cyclists to pay special taxes or fees for the projects. Projects include an extension of the Bayshore Bikeway, hugging the eastern side of the San Diego Bay from Imperial Beach to downtown, and a route along to San Diego River, among others.
San Diego to Keep 42 Former RDA Properties
The City of San Diego will retain ownership of 42 properties formerly owned by its now-defunct redevelopment agency after the California Department of Finance approved its plans for the properties. Included are the historic Balboa Theatre along with 18 properties that will be used for public uses, such as parks, streets, and a future fire station. "Our attorneys devoted more than 1,500 hours over three years to formulating the best strategy for managing these properties within the framework of the redevelopment dissolution laws, and to help protect the properties against state overreach," City Attorney Jan Goldsmith told the Times of San Diego. "We can all be proud of their work on behalf of the city, and to the benefit of some of our oldest urban neighborhoods." (See prior CP&DR coverage.)
EIR for Warriors' Mission Bay Arena Released
The City and County of San Francisco released the 2,500-page final environmental impact report for the proposed Golden State Warriors arena in Mission Bay, including a $60 million transportation plan to be funded by fees collected at the arena from special taxes on ticket sales, parking, and concessions. The improvements would include among others a light-rail boarding platform, increased transit capacity, and four new rail cars for the T-Third line. However, opposition group Mission Bay Alliance says that the final EIR contains 50 "significant violations of the California Environmental Quality Act," including severe traffic congestion, blocked emergency access and seismic safety threats. The commission of the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure will vote on whether to certify the EIR on election day, Nov. 3.
Berkeley Seeks ‘Green' Affordable Housing
The Berkeley City Council endorsed a "Green Affordable Housing Package" that will ease parking requirements particularly for affordable housing built new mass transit, streamlining the approval process for residential buildings with two or more units. The proposal, which one public commentator described as building "housing for people" over "housing for cars," was sent to the Planning Commission and city manager to mold the Council's recommendation into a body of specific rules and precise calculations that councilors hope will deliver affordable housing rather than just provide a windfall to developers.