The libertarian nonprofit Reason Foundation released a its own speculative mobility plan for the Los Angeles region, seeking to ease congestion through a network of toll roads and varying pricing models on vastly expanded express lanes. In lieu of train, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, the $700 billion proposal mostly aims to facilitate better car travel while raising billions of dollars for transportation construction by giving drivers a premium to use express lanes on all freeways -- with different prices depending on the time of day -- and giving them the option to pay even more to use tolled underpasses at busy intersections. The tolls would largely go towards financing an extensive network of freeway tunnels. The projects would include an I-710 Extension connecting to I-210 in Pasadena, a Glendale-Palmdale Tunnel from SR 2 to SR 14, and a Downtown Bypass Tunnel from SR 2 south to I110 among others.
Hasan Ikhrata, the executive director for the Southern California Association of Governments, criticized the tunneling portion of the plan as a pipe-dream, citing the complexity and time involved in planning, funding and gaining environmental approval for just a single subway in Los Angeles, a project that has been attempted for decades. The plan also states that it would facilitate expansion of transit services by creating the equivalent of a network of exclusive busways. Though the plan was not commissioned or endorsed by any public agencies, Ikhrata said that the plan's focus on user fees is appealing. He told KPCC, "I think pricing has to come in as part of the solution." (See prior CP&DR coverage of the official City of Los Angeles Mobility Plan 2035.)
High Speed Rail Cost Increases Get Federal Scrutiny
State and federal officials are scrutinizing the High Speed Rail Authority in the wake of a LA Times disclosure that the project's lead contractor forecast significant cost increases that were not made public. Rep. Jeff Dunham (R- Turlock), the chairman of the U.S. House rail subcommittee, along with 11 other House members, demanded that Parsons Brickerhoff, the state's main project management contractor, release a 2013 cost estimate that shows a 31 percent increase for the project's initial operating segment from Burbank to Merced. Additionally, State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said in a letter this month that her chamber "will be undertaking a broader range of oversight activities in 2016." For their part, the rail authority has dismissed the cost projection, saying that they believe they can keep the project cost below the 2012 estimate of $68 billion --still more than double to projected cost from 2008. "The lack of transparency involving money on a project this large is very disturbing," Kristin Olsen, the California Assembly Republican leader, told the LA Times. "Certainly before we start tunneling through mountains and destroying homes we need to know what the project is going to cost."
Fresno Approves Update to Development Code
In a 5-1 vote, the Fresno City Council approved the city's first update to its development code since 1964 , setting a 600-page framework to guide the city to growth. Among other changes, the update will increase the area for notifying residents of proposed new developments is expanding from 300 feet to 1,000 feet. Controversially, a 4-2 vote passed an 11th-hour amendment that would disallow the city from approving any inclusionary zoning -- zoning that requires certain percentages of affordable housing in residential developments -- unless there is a general plan update. The development code update implements the city's already-updated general plan.
Rail Route between Coachella Valley and L.A. Identified
Riverside County officials have selected their preferred route for the long-awaited rail line to connect the Coachella Valley to Los Angeles. The route selected by the Riverside County Transportation Commission would run from Los Angeles to Fullerton, swing north to Colton, and then continue southeast through the San Gorgonio Pass to Indio. It could serve 189,000 riders and generate $3.2 million in revenue annually, and the average trip would last just over three hours. Planners will take the next two years to study the project's impact on the environment, after which they will determine station locations.
Court Approves Proposed Method for Financing San Diego Stadium
A state appeals court handed a victory to San Diego officials by approving a controversial method of financing that would enable them to raise $200 million to build a new Chargers stadium. The financing method is called lease-revenue bonds, wherein the city puts up city buildings and other assets as collateral to borrow money, and then sets up a special financing agency that collects rent from the city and its taxpayers to cover the debt payments. The bonds skirt the two-thirds voter approval that would typically be required to raise such money. "The city has created a bogus joint powers authority that is run by the city," attorney Cory Briggs, who filed the lawsuit against the use of the bonds, said. "The city's current JPA is an intentional bastardization of what the Supreme Court approved two decades ago, which the politicians designed in order to avoid getting voter approval of their profligate spending practices." The appeals court called such arguments "immaterial" and said they were not "well taken."
Palo Alto Trailer Park Files Federal Suit
The owners of the Buena Vista trailer park in Palo Alto have filed a federal lawsuit, arguing that it is excessive to require them to pay $8 million in relocation fees in order to sell the park. The Palo Alto City Council in April voted to approve the closure of the park on the condition the Jissers pay relocation costs that take into account the cost of living in the city -- which amounts to shelling out roughly $20,000 to each of their nearly 400 tenants. "The high cost of living in Palo Alto is not the Jissers' fault," Lawrence Salzman, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation who is representing the couple, told the SF Gate. "The city is looking to scapegoat the Jissers. It's oppressive, abusive and outrageous." Relocation is especially difficult for some tenants who are elderly or who have mobile homes that are no longer roadworthy, who would likely be priced out of living in Palo Alto if they were evicted. The lawyer for Tim and Eva Jisser, the couple who own the trailer park, has stated that they would be willing to pay tenants lesser amounts to move out, but not the currently-required $8 million.
LAX Unveils Plans for People Mover
Los Angeles International Airport announced details of its long-awaited $5 billion Landside Access Modernization Program. The plan includes an Automated People Mover to connect the central terminal with a consolidated Rent-A-Car facility and a regional transit system. The plan, announced by the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commssioners, will include a 2.25-mile-long guideway with six stations, pedestrian bridges to airport terminals, parking garages, and a consolidated rental car station adjacent to I-405. Garcetti has tasked Los Angeles World Airports, the department that owns LAX, with delivering the project no later than 2023, which LAWA determined was most effective through a Design-Build-Finance-Operate-Maintain delivery method to seek private investment. LAWA has now initiated the environmental review process.
Water District Moves Forward on Purchase of Delta Islands
The Metropolitan Water Authority board of directors moved to buy 20,369 acres of island land in three counties in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, in a move to give the district more leverage in the battle for delta water. Two of the islands that it is proposing to buy -- Bouldin and Bacon -- are directly in Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed $17 billion twin tunnels project to transport water to Southern California. The current owner of the land, Delta Wetlands Properties, a subsidiary of insurance giant Zurich, recently gained approval to flood Bacon Island and Webb Tract and convert them into reservoirs covering more than 11,000 acres, and to return heavily farmed Bouldin Island and Holland Tract to wildlife habitat, a move to which Metropolitan officials have not committed themselves.
Port Hueneme Gets Temporary Reprieve from HUD over Payment
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has granted the city of Port Hueneme a 60-day extension to respond to the agency's request that the city repay nearly $2.4 million that HUD is owed. The repayment request arose from a HUD review that found that certain funds for affordable and public housing programs had not been allocated properly. City Manager Cynthia Haas said she will be able to successfully account for most of the spending, but requested the extension because the city fired its finance director, Robert Bravo, on June 1.
State Auditor Eyes At-Risk Cities
The State Auditor has launched a program to identify local government agencies that are at high risk for the potential of waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement, or that have major challenges associated with their economy, efficiency, or effectiveness through a high risk local government agency audit program. Currently on the auditor's initial analyses of cities are Chico, Hemet, Maywood, Monrovia, Richmond, and Ridgecrest. The office is going ahead with audits of Hemet, Maywood, and Richmond, which were determined not to be taking proper steps to improve their financial situations.
Los Angeles County Enacts Historic Preservation Ordinance
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved and enacted the county's first Historic Preservation Ordinance, allowing board officials to designate for preservation landmarks and historic districts in the unincorporated communities of the county. "The Historic Preservation Ordinance is another important policy tool we can use to improve the quality of life in our communities," Planning Director Richard Bruckner said. "Historic preservation does more than just save old buildings. It recognizes that our built history connects us with our past, enhances our sense of community, conserves resources, and fosters economic growth and job creation."
Viability of L.A. Olympic Village Site Questioned
Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell raised concerns about the feasibility of developing a $1 billion Olympic village at a rail yard owned by Union Pacific Railroad, saying that the project could overrun projections by $2 billion needed to buy the rail site from the company, do an environmental cleanup, and relocate the yard. Though the city pledged that virtually all of the money would come from private investment, a traditional host city contract assigns the burden of any cost overruns to the host city. The Olympic village project, which is designed to host 17,000 Olympic athletes, comes as Los Angeles compete with Rome, Paris, Budapest, and Hamburg to host the 2024 Olympics. Los Angeles' 2024 plan outlines over $6 billion in public and private spending, staging events from volleyball on Santa Monica Beach to mountain biking in Griffith Park.
Developer Wins Rights to Develop Next Phase of Transbay Complex
Luxury apartment builder Crescent Heights will spend $165 million cash for the rights to develop San Francisco's latest downtown tower next to the future Transbay Transit Center. The company beat out three other development teams by agreeing to price 35 percent of the future apartments as below the market rate and by agreeing to pay for the land in full before entitlements. The development is zoned for a 750-foot-tall highrise that would span at least 750,000 square feet and could hold up to 800 housing units.
Metcalf Named Director of HCD
Ben Metcalf has been appointed director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Metcalf has been deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Multifamily Housing Programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development since 2013 and was the project manager at BRIDGE Housing Corporation from 2004 to 2010. The position requires state Senate confirmation.