The Mountain View City Council specified the number of houses it is prepared to build in the city's North Bayshore business district, choosing the densest option of building 9,100 units in the area that's home to Google, LinkedIn, and Microsoft. "It gives us the most flexibility moving forward," Vice Mayor Pat Showalter said at the meeting, according to the San Francisco Business Journal. "It's not all going to be built. So having more areas where it's allowed is better." Getting to that number of units would require a revision of the final Environmental Impact Report, which the previous council had approved without any residential space. After that, voters put a pro-housing council majority into office last November as housing advocates said approving office space with no housing would aggravate traffic issues and promote suburban sprawl. Councilmembers supported a land-use plan that would allow residential uses for over 60 acres of land, most of which is owned by Google. Mountain View currently has 31,000 households.
Downtown L.A. Subway Project Falters
Los Angeles' Downtown Regional Connector project -- considered as a crucial missing link in Metro's expanding mass transit network -- is already encountering cost overruns and schedule delays, even before tunneling has begun. Half of the project's $92.7 million reserve for unexpected cost has been expended because of complications with underground utilities, and a Metro analysis indicates that the estimated $1.42-billion price tag for the subway connection needs to grow by $130 million, or 9%, to cover the added expenses and replenish the reserve fund. The project will be a 1.9-mile connection between the 7th Street subway station near Staples Center to the eastern edge of Little Tokyo near Union Station, and is seen as the linchpin of an unprecedented boom in rail construction for Metro. "These kinds of stumbles that we're having here are very common in construction projects, but especially when you're doing it in a huge business area, in a downtown environment," said Metro spokesperson Pauletta Tonilas. "It's not a surprise that we've hit some bumps in the road."
Bay Area Group Calls for Penalties on Cities that Shirk Housing Obligations
A controversial new report from the Bay Area Council suggests that Bay Area cities that do not build enough housing to keep up with the region's growth should be punished by having their ability to approve or reject development projects stripped. The "Roadmap for Economic Resilience" report suggests creating "super agencies" to supersede local planning authorities in approving and funding projects, and it suggests that the state could expand "by right" approvals in which cities are powerless to block a project if it complies with local zoning and building codes. It also said that the area's 26 transit agencies need to begin coordinating their planning immediately. "The mission of the report isn't to say, 'It must be done this way,'" Jim Wunderman, the council's chief executive officer, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's to start a region-wide conversation. ... We don't, in any way, want to put local governments out of the business of deciding what goes in their neighborhoods."
L.A. Earthquake Upgrades to Begin in February
As early as February, Los Angeles officials will start instructing some property owners to initiate earthquake retrofits on thousands of wooden buildings in the city. The orders will apply to "soft-story" wooden apartments with weak first floors that are often held up by slender columns over carports. An estimated 15,000 buildings -- both wooden and concrete -- across the city will be strengthened under Los Angeles' new landmark retrofitting laws. Owners of the city's largest apartment buildings containing 16 or more units will receive the first wave of orders, after which they have one year either to submit proof that the building doesn't need retrofitting or to submit plans for retrofit or demolition.
Property Owners Force Repeal of Rent Control in Richmond
The Richmond City Council voted to repeal a rent control ordinance following a successful petition drive by property owners in the area. The ordinance was passed by a City Council vote instead of a voter referendum and was therefore subject to repeal if enough opposing signatures were gathered. It would have prevented landlords from increasing rents more than 2 percent each year and made it more difficult to evict tenants. Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin, who supports rent control, said coalition groups are drafting a new policy with simpler and clearer language to be voted on by the city council in the near future, after which it will be put up for a referendum for Richmond voters.
Los Angeles Faces CEQA Suit over Drilling
A group of environmental advocates are suing the City of Los Angeles, alleging that the city has violated the California Environmental Quality Act by rubber stamping plans involving oil drilling near homes. Officials have exempted most plans related o oil drilling and extraction from CEQA requirements "under the basis of there being no change in land use," because many sites predate the 1970 passage of CEQA, according to a report prepared last year by the Planning Department. The lawsuit, which comes from Youth for Environmental Justice, the Center for Biological Diversity and the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition, could find only one instance when Los Angeles required an Environmental Impact Report for oil drilling, and it came in a largely white neighborhood. The groups are arguing that oil drilling sites should be fitted with much more stringent conditions like taller walls, better sound protection, and less-polluting equipment.
Redwood City Approves Affordable Housing Fee
The Redwood City City Council approved a new affordable housing fee on development in the city. The move, which would charge developers $5 to $25 per square foot for commercial projects over 5,000 square feet and residential projects of five or more units to generate $3 million per year., was opposed by business and developers' groups, who argued that the fee would raise housing prices and bring development to a halt. "I think when it comes to the situation that we're in right now, the rules are different," Vice Mayor Rosanne Foust, who supported the ordinance, told the San Jose Mercury News. "And if one housing developer decides, 'you know what, I'm not interested in paying that fee,' my guess is there are four other housing developers that are going to be behind him." Developers who agree to build affordable housing or provide land for such a project could be exempted from the fee.
Wind Farm Proposed for Coast off Morro Bay
Plans to build the state's first offshore wind farm are gaining steam as a Seattle company released a plan to install 100 floating turbines up to 636 feet tall about 15 miles off Morro Bay. The project would generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity, capable of powering 300,000 homes. However, some environmentalists are already wary of the project. "California places a great deal of value on the Pacific coastline and what it looks like when you travel there. People don't want to look out and see a floating industrial facility," said Susan Jordan, director of the California Coastal Protection Network in Santa Barbara. California currently draws 8 percent of its electricity from its 1,883 wind turbines. It needs to increase that and other renewable sources to follow Gov. Jerry Brown's landmark law requiring state utilities to provide 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
Report: San Diego Facies Housing Crisis
A new report from the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the London Group finds that San Diego County is building itself up for an affordable housing crisis that could choke economic growth. The report finds that home building has slowed dramatically since the 2008 recession with only 3,153 multifamily units and 2,272 single family units being built since 2008, respectively corresponding to 44 percent and 64 percent of what SANDAG anticipated. The report predicts that there could be a shortage of 45,000 to 118,000 single family homes by 2050. "Ultimately we pay the price in those companies that are not growing or moving out or expanding elsewhere," economist Gary London said. "The other path is that we become a boutique region where we basically become a region that mostly accommodates the haves and leaves out the have-nots."
Restoration Begins on Portion of Salton Sea
Officials began work on a $3.5 million project to restore 420 acres of Red Hill Bay on the southeastern shore of the beleaguered Salton Sea, which has been dying for decades. Recently, agricultural runoff, which is crucial to the sea's water levels, has been declining. The modest project, which is slated for completion in early 2017, is a signal that restoration of the 35-mile-long sea is not a lost cause. The Pacific Institute, an environmental think tank, has warned that a loss of water in the sea exposes the sea bottom laden with pesticides and salt, potentially causing an impending disaster to public health, property values, agricultural production, the environment, and the recreation industry. The Salton Sea Authority has set a goal of restoring 12,000 acres of shoreline habitat in the next five years, and another 25,000 acres starting in 2020.