With a significant increase in cap-and-trade funding for 2016, the Strategic Growth Council announced the expansion of the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation program (SALC). SALC provides funds that compensate farmers and ranchers for creating conservation easements. It also assists local governments' plans to preserve agricultural lands, with an eye towards mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Available funding in 2016 will amount to $40 million, a eightfold increase over the previous year. Funds will be made available through a competitive application process. Last year, SGC received $45 million worth of applications. The new funding level comes with new guidelines from SGC. Funding match thresholds have been reduced, particularly for projects in disadvantaged communities. Pre-applicaitons are due Feb. 16. Further information, including new guidelines, is available here

DMV Issues Draft Regulations for Autonomous Vehicles
Anticipating what could be one of the most significant urban trends of the coming decade, the Department of Motor Vehicles released a draft of preliminary regulations of autonomous vehicles (pdf). The regulations primarily focus on safety issues. Proposed regulations include the following: third-party safety certification; presence of liscenced operators capable of controlling vehiciles at all times; initial three-year deployment permits for manufacturers; privacy and cyber-security protection for vehicles that collect and relay data while driving. DMV initially intends to allow only autonomous passenger vehicles. Two upcoming workshops will be held to discuss the draft regulations and recieve input: Jan. 28 in Sacramento and Feb. 2 in Los Angeles. 

Oakland, San Diego Stand Firm on Football Stadium Offers
With NFL owners meeting in mid-January, Oakland and San Diego have issued what are apparantly final offers to keep their respective football teams. San Diego officials, including Mayor Kevin Faulconer, promised a $350 millino contribution towards a replacement for Qualcomm Stadium for the Chargers. The City of Oakland is being less generous towards the Raiders. Mayor Libby Schaff and Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty reiterated their refusal to spend public money on a new stadium. They have, however, promised to give the Raiders a favorable deal on the long-term lease of 60 acres adjacent to O.co Coliseum if the Raiders choose to fund their own stadium. 

Garcetti Taps Pasadena's Vince Bertoni to be New L.A. Planning Director

Mayor Eric Garcetti today announced the nomination of Pasadena Planning Director Vince Bertoni as the new head of the Los Angeles Department of City Planning (LADCP). Bertoni comes to the department with more than 25 years of planning experience - including a previous stint at LADCP. "Vince Bertoni's experience both here in Los Angeles and across the region will add tremendous value to our City's planning efforts," said Garcetti in a statement. "He is a professional who leads by collaborating and consensus-building - skills that will help him balance the diverse needs of our communities, and facilitate real progress in the ongoing conversation about development in this city." Bertoni has served for five years as the City of Pasadena's Planning and Community Development Director. During that time, he successfully managed Pasadena's city planning program through a General Plan update, a comprehensive visioning process that happens just once every 20 years. Before joining the City of Pasadena, Bertoni served as Deputy Planning Director in Los Angeles, where he oversaw the adoption of 16 historic preservation overlay zones, new guidelines for the Broadway Historic District, a bicycle master plan and a Hollywood community plan. 

Los Angeles Goes After Nuisance Properties

A new plan approved by the Los Angeles City Council would allow the city to take control of vacant nuisance properties from banks and put them under the control of a court-appointed overseer who would hire contractors to fix the houses for sale. Under the plan, proceeds from the sales, not taxpayer dollars, would pay for that work, including the fees of private attorneys who would handle the legal paperwork. "It offers an effective way to turn a property around quickly," City Attorney Mike Feuer told the LA Times. "This program costs nothing." Feuer's proposal now goes to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for approval. If he signs off, the city attorney would be able to have outside firms start working on takeovers after 30 days.

Mayors Form Homelessness Alliance

Five West Coast mayors announced the creation of an alliance united in addressing the growing crisis of homelessness. The alliance, consisting of Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, was developed during the West Coast Mayors Summit addressing homelessness, housing, and climate action. It first plans to elevate the importance of homelessness and housing in their communities and among their federal delegations. It would be committed to data collection and sharing - getting the right data for the West Coast - and sharing of best practices.

Bay Area Cities Win Problem-Solving Grants
San Francisco and San Jose are two of 13 new beneficiaries of grants from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's What Works Cities initiative, a program launched in April 2015 that provides grants to technical experts to help mid-sized urban governments solve local problems. The initiative, launched through New York-based Bloomberg Philanthropies, plans to expand to as many as 100 cities by 2017, investing a total of $42 million to support consulting and technical assistance for mid-sized cities. Its goal is to encourage cities to adopt the data-driven governing techniques that distinguished Bloomberg's administration in New York City.

L.A. River Project Gets Key Backing from Army Corps

The Chief of Engineers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, has signed off on the plan to restore the Los Angeles River, a major milestone in efforts to transform the river's aquatic ecosystem. This approval is a critical step toward moving the project forward to Congress for authorization and appropriation of funding. The Chief's Report now goes to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) for administrative review and transmittal to Congress, expected in early 2016. Congress must authorize the project in a Water Resources Development Act and appropriate funds in order for the Corps and the City to begin construction. The plan will restore approximately 719 acres by widening the river in key areas by terracing and restructuring channel banks to support vegetation, creating side channels and off-channel marsh, daylighting small streams, and removing invasive vegetation. Associated recreation features include trails, vista points, educational amenities, and pedestrian bridges. "We and our partners have put tremendous effort into developing and moving forward a plan that would improve the L.A. River ecosystem in a constrained funding environment," said Col. Gibbs. "Our number one priority of the plan is to restore the river's ecosystem while preserving the flood protection that is provided by the existing channel system."