Gov. Schwarzenegger waited until the last minute to take action on the most important housing bills of the 2004 legislative year, signing some and vetoing others.

The most controversial housing bill that the governor signed is SB 1818 (Hollingsworth), which increases the maximum density bonus for certain affordable housing projects from 25% to 35%. One way developers can qualify for the larger density bonus is by donating land for future affordable housing projects. The bill also requires cities to provide affordable housing developers with three incentives of the developer's choice.

That final provision is a major concern, said Sande George, lobbyist for the California Chapter of the American Planning Association. It appears a developer could use the provision to avoid paying mitigation fees, utility connection charges, and planning fees, she said. But bill supporters say they envision the incentives being things like smaller setbacks or relaxed parking requirements. Under the legislation, a city may refuse to grant a concession if the city makes findings.

Also receiving the governor's endorsement were AB 2348 (Mullin) and AB 2158 (Lowenthal), both of which make changes to the housing element process (see CP&DR, June 2004).

The governor vetoed two other high-profile housing bills, both by Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). One of the failed bills was AB 2702, which would have reduced local government discretion over second units.

“As a strong proponent of local control,” the governor said in his veto statement, “I believe that government is most responsive and accountable to people when it is close to the people. This bill removes that control away from local officials, where homeowners and residents can voice their concerns about their neighborhoods and moves it to a state bureaucracy in Sacramento.”

The second bill Schwarzenegger rejected was AB 1426, which would have provided $1 million from the Proposition 46 housing bond to fund incentives for affordable housing production in the Sacramento region. The governor said it was inappropriate for the state to set aside the bond funds for one region's programs.

Interestingly, both vetoes came despite Business, Housing and Transportation Secretary Sunne Wright McPeak's support for the Steinberg bills. Housing advocates were disappointed.

“This governor may be more receptive than any of his predecessors over the last 25 years to local government arguments for local control,” the California Housing Law Project said in an October memorandum.

BESIDES THE HOUSING BILLS, the governor also took action on two other bills that could have indirect land use implications. Schwarzenegger signed AB 2572, which requires cities, special districts and other water providers with at least 3,000 connections to install water meters by 2025 (not by 2013, as reported by CP&DR in September). The largest cities affected are Sacramento and Modesto.

Meanwhile, the governor vetoed a bill that would have capped air pollution limits at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles at current levels. Schwarzenegger said AB 2042 (Lowenthal) “would not reduce air pollution in any way.” Instead, he called for a new state and federal program of financial and regulatory incentives to reduce port air pollution.

AS EXPECTED, CALTRANS DID NOT AWARD A BID a bid to build the “signature” portion of a new, seismically safe San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. However, instead of asking for a bid extension, the state simply let the $1.4 billion bid expire on September 30.

The bid from a consortium of bridge builders for the self-anchored cable suspension span was about double what Caltrans had estimated, and the bid helped make clear just how expensive the proposed eastern Bay Bridge replacement may be (see CP&DR Public Development, October 2004). The estimated cost of the project has jumped from $1.3 billion to $5.1 billion since 1997.

The state has convened a panel of experts to reconsider the Bay Bridge design. A report to the Legislature is due in December.

More than half of the state's cities and counties have not completed a comprehensive general plan update in at least 10 years. According to a letter from the Governor's Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to the attorney's general's office, 288 cities (out of 477) have not completed an update in at least a decade, nor have 37 of the state's 58 counties. However, OPR did report that 75 cities and 19 counties are currently working on comprehensive plan updates. OPR defines a “comprehensive” update as a revision of at least five of the seven required general plan elements.

AT A HEARING ATTENDED BY MORE THAN 1,000 people, the Los Angeles City Council approved phase two of the Playa Vista project on the city's west side. Phase two will slide between housing that is already under development on the project's west end, and a 3 million-square-foot office and industrial park on the project's east end (see CP&DR Local Watch, October 2003).

With 2,600 housing units, 175,000 square feet of office space and 150,000 square feet of retail space, phase two is proposed to contain the mixed-use aspects that Playa Vista backers have touted. In all, Playa Vista will have about 5,800 housing units.

Even though about 600 of Playa Vista's 1,087 acres are being set aside for open space, wetlands habitat or parks, development opponents persist. During the City Council hearing, they complained bitterly, especially about traffic congestion. Litigation over phase two approvals is next.

A RAND CORPORATION STUDY is the latest to link low-density, suburban-style development with public health problems. The Santa Monica-based think tank found that adults who live in the most sprawling cities have a health profile similar to someone who is four years older and living in a more compact city. The RAND study identified the Riverside-San Bernardino region as the nation's most sprawling.

Among the health conditions more prevalent among residents of sprawling areas are high blood pressure, arthritis, headaches and breathing difficulties - even after accounting for factors such as age, race, income and local environmental conditions.

“To improve our health the study suggests that we should build cities where people feel comfortable walking and are not so dependent on cars,” said Dr. Deborah Cohen, a RAND researcher and study co-author.

The study is available on the RAND website at:

A STATE APPELLATE COURT has for the first time invalidated an urban water management plan. In an unpublished decision, the Fifth District Court of Appeal rejected the Castaic Lake Water Agency's plan.

Castaic's urban water management plan - which is supposed to address 20-year supplies and needs - has received criticism since the agency adopted the document in 2000. The agency sells water at both wholesale and retail in the Santa Clarita Valley. The Sierra Club and Friends of the Santa Clara River sued over the plan in 2001, as did Ventura County, which eventually dropped out of the litigation. Earlier this year, directors of the Newhall County Water District, which purchases water wholesale from the Castaic agency, cast a no-confidence vote regarding the plan (see CP&DR Local Watch, March 2004).

The environmentalists contend that the plan improperly relies on “paper water” from the oversubscribed State Water Project and questionable groundwater supplies. The Fifth District rejected the plan because it did not properly account for perchlorate contamination from a closed munitions factory in Saugus.

“If the perchlorate contamination impairs the supply of [ground]water taken from the Saugus formation in dry years, the districts [served by Castaic] plan to restore full production capacity by treating the contaminated water,” Justice Dennis Cornell wrote for the court. “While the treatment facilities are being built, the districts have no plan to cover the reduction in water available from the Saugus formation.

“Thus, the plan's description of the perchlorate contamination and the method for addressing that contamination is flawed because it fails to (1) address the time needed to implement the available method for treating the contaminated water and (2) describe the reliability of the groundwater supply during that implementation period,” Cornell continued.

The implications of the court ruling are unclear, although the decision places planners in a tenuous situation. In the meantime, the Castaic agency is preparing the mandated five-year update to the water plan.

THE CONFLICT BETWEEN A CONDOMINIUM tower and a multi-modal transportation depot in downtown San Francisco has concluded with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voting to purchase the condo site via eminent domain.

Developer Jack Myers had actually begun preliminary construction on a 423-unit, 51-story condominium project across the street from the site of the planned transbay terminal (see CP&DR Public Development, August 2004). Construction of the condominiums apparently would have prevented construction of an underground rail line to the terminal.

The Transbay Joint Powers Authority suggested both projects could go forward if a huge concrete foundation were built under the residential tower. Supervisors, however, rejected the idea as risky and costly, and instead voted to acquire Myers' site on Natoma Street for $32 million. The city would pay half and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission the other half. Myers, who vowed to continue with a lawsuit over the terminal's environmental impact report, will likely press for a higher price.

SAN FRANCISCO SUPERVISORS in October approved a 45-day moratorium on the demolition of one- and two-screen movie theaters. A proposal to raze the Richmond District's 4 Star theater to make room for a church spurred the moratorium, which supervisors are likely to extend this month. In the meantime, the city is considering a process in which developers would have to prove that a proposed theater demolition would not harm a neighborhood.

PACIFIC LUMBER COMPANY (PALCO) and state agencies have been ordered to pay $6 million in attorneys' fees after losing a lawsuit over a “sustained yield plan” for 200,000 acres of forest owned by PALCO on California's north coast. The award of attorneys' fees is one of the largest ever in an environmental case, and an appeal is certain.

The logging plan was drawn up as part of the $480 million deal in which the state purchased a portion of the Headwaters Forest in Humboldt County from PALCO. The Environmental Protection Information Center and the United Steelworkers Union challenged the plan on a variety of grounds, winning the case in 2003. More recently, Lake County Superior Court Judge John Golden awarded EPIC $4.3 million in fees and the union $1.8 million.

The administrative record in the case contains more than 75,000 pages.

AFTER MORE THAN A DECADE of planning, discussion and controversy, the City of Los Angeles broke ground in October on a new pedestrian path around Silver Lake Reservoir. The 2.2-mile long pathway will encircle the 126-acre property and have varying amounts of separation from the street. The project also includes the planting of street trees and a new chain-link fence along the west side of Silver Lake.

The $4.2 million project, funded by the state and city, is the highest priority of the Silver Lake and Ivanhoe Reservoirs master plan. The bodies of water have been off limits to the public since the 1940s, and the city during the 1980s proposed covering them because they provide drinking water. Area residents fought that plan and have worked ever since to get some limited use of the public property.