The City of Los Angeles will require economic impact studies for proposed Wal-Mart supercenters and certain other big box stores. The studies are intended to determine the effect of a new big box store on a neighborhood’s existing jobs, wages and businesses.

The Los Angeles City Council’s approval of the new requirement came only two weeks before the Legislature approved a similar measure that would apply statewide. However, the fate of that measure, SB 1056 (Alarcon), appears uncertain in the governor’s hands.

In August, the Los Angeles City Council adopted the economic impact study requirement for proposed stores of more than 100,000 square feet that would devote at least 10% of floor space to non-taxable items. The ordinance applies only in designated “economic assistance areas,” which cover roughly half of the city. Membership stores, such as Costco and Sam’s Club (which is owned by Wal-Mart) are exempt. Backers said the new requirement is necessary to ensure that a new big box does not force nearby stores to slash wages or close.

The targets of the legislation are Wal-Mart supercenters, which have at least 200,000 square feet with a traditional Wal-Mart and a full grocery store. Wal-Mart has not yet proposed a supercenter for Los Angeles but has begun opening the gigantic stores elsewhere in the state.

Labor union leaders and Wal-Mart opponents hope that the Los Angeles regulation becomes a model for other cities, especially if Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoes SB 1056.

A second suburban Sacramento slow-growth ballot initiative has been blocked in court. In late August, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly ruled against Folsom Citizens for Sensible Growth, which backed an initiative to prohibit development of 3,600 acres south of Highway 50 without subsequent voter approval.

The measure would have required the land, which lies inside Folsom’s sphere of influence but outside the city limits, to be used consistent with Sacramento County’s agricultural policies. But because the initiative petitions did not include copies of those policies, Connelly threw out the initiative, which had been scheduled for the November ballot.

One month earlier, a Placer County judge knocked a slow-growth measure off the City of Roseville’s ballot.

Five cities in Northern California have settled two separate lawsuits by agreeing to tax landowners and developers, with the money going for conservation easements.

The City of Roseville settled a lawsuit over the 3,100-acre, 8,400-home West Roseville Specific Plan that had been filed by environmental groups and the Town of Loomis (see CP&DR In Brief, March 2004; Local Watch, August 2003). The city agreed to a conveyance fee of 0.5 percent on all home resales in the specific plan area for 20 years. The fee could raise up to $85 million for the Placer Land Trust.

Meanwhile the cities of Escalon, Lathrop, Manteca and Tracy, and the South San Joaquin Irrigation District settled a lawsuit filed by environmentalists and anglers over the South County Water Project, which could provide up to 44,000 acre-feet of water to the cities. The settlement requires Lathrop, Manteca and Tracy to collect fees of $2,000 per acre when prime farmland is converted to urban use. The fee could generate up to $21 million over 30 years for conservation and agricultural easements.

The Lake Elsinore City Council has approved a controversial 1,500-home, 700-acre subdivision despite Riverside County’s request for a delay and threat of litigation. The project site lies in a floodplain and atop a major earthquake fault (see CP&DR Local Watch, June 2004).

During final hearings on the project in August, county representatives raised questions about potential flooding, storm runoff, the settling of building pads and traffic congestion. County officials charged that the city did not respond to the county’s concerns, nor did the city give the county adequate time to review an environmental impact report. The County Board of Supervisors discussed suing the city during a closed session hours before the Lake Elsinore City Council voted 4-1 and 3-2 to approve the project. City officials said they tried to satisfy the county’s concerns.

Two Rohnert Park City Council members who had supported an historic agreement regarding a proposed Indian casino have survived a recall vote. Only about 44% of voters in the Sonoma County town voted to recall Council Members Armando Flores and Amie Spradlin during an August special election.

They were targeted by opponents of a plan from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria to build a large casino, hotel and auditorium on the edge of town. Last year, the City Council approved an agreement in which the tribe would pay the city, school districts and community groups $200 million over 20 years to offset the development’s impacts (see CP&DR In Brief, November 2003). Two other council members who backed the agreement are up for re-election in November.

The City of Desert Hot Springs has emerged from Chapter 9 bankruptcy that was induced in part by the loss of a Fair Housing Act lawsuit. A federal judge approved the city’s plan to pay its creditors in full, including more than $8 million owed to Silver Sage Partners and their attorneys.

Three years ago, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the city had illegally blocked development of Silver Sage Partners’ low-income mobile home park, and the court upheld a jury’s award to the developers (see CP&DR In Brief, January 2002; Legal Digest, July 2001). Interest on the award, which was made more than 10 years ago, and attorneys fees have greatly increased the amount owed.

The city of 17,000 people roughly 10 miles north of Palm Springs plans to issue bonds to retire most of the debt. In hopes of generating more revenue, the city has recently rezoned large tracks for spas and other tourist-oriented development.

An engineering study that could show how to build both the transbay terminal in downtown San Francisco and an adjacent high-rise condominium project is due this month. Construction just got started on the residential tower in May when the city shut down the project. The foundation for the 51-story tower would prohibit construction of underground rail lines to the long-planned terminal (see CP&DR Public Development, August 2004).

The engineering study authorized by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is supposed to consider the feasibility of pouring a gigantic concrete foundation, rather than pilings or a buttress wall to support the tower. Rail tunnels, which are years away, could later be drilled through the concrete, according to the proposal that engineers are studying.

The Coastal Commission has approved a development permit for a wastewater treatment plant in the unincorporated San Luis Obispo County community of Los Osos. The permit might be the most significant step in the 30-year saga over the proposed sewer plant, which would replace about 6,000 septic tanks in the coastal community. A state-imposed building moratorium has been in place since the late 1980s because of the degradation of groundwater and the Morro Bay estuary.
Project opponents contended the downtown site was wrong and that the $90 million project might not be necessary at all. They are expected to file a lawsuit, which could delay construction past the planned spring 2005 start date.

The San Diego Association of Governments board has unanimously approved a regional comprehensive plan that uses transportation investment decisions to encourage high-density, infill and transit-oriented development (see CP&DR Local Watch, April 2004).

In a mail ballot election, Contra Costa County property owners rejected an annual tax of $25 per house to preserve open space and fund other environmental programs. The weighted vote against the countywide benefit assessment district was 54% to 46%.