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In Brief

March's statewide ballot proved to be a popular place to raise money and make budget decisions, and voters can expect to make similar decisions in November. In March, 57% of voters approved Proposition 40, which, at $2.6 billion, is the largest parks and environment bond ever proposed in California. Slightly more than two-thirds of the electorate voted for Proposition 42, which earmarked gasoline sales tax revenue for highway, street, road and public transit projects. Right after the election, backers of a high-speed train including state Sen. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) said they would try to get a $6 billion bond on the November ballot. The bond would provide enough money to build only part of the proposed 700-mile system: A route tying San Francisco and Oakland with Los Angeles via the San Joaquin Valley. Links to Sacramento, Riverside and San Diego would be built later (see CP&DR Public Development, December 2001, In Brief, March 2002). Also after the election, the Planning and Conservation League began gathering signatures on an initiative that would designate 30% of the state's share of the sales tax on motor vehicles for public transit, roads, bike lanes, sidewalks, and school bus replacement. The measure would generate about $870 million a year. Also likely to appear on the November ballot are a $13 billion school bond, and a $2 billion housing bond. The eight-year battle over reuse of the Tustin Marine Corps base appeared to be drawing to a close in March. The Navy, which owns the 1,600-acre site, transferred 1,000 acres to the City of Tustin. It plans extensive residential and commercial development. The Rancho Santiago Community College District received 15 acres for a new campus. The Navy will keep 240 acres, which it plans to sell to a developer. Approximately 300 acres are designated for parks. However, the longstanding fight between Tustin and the Santa Ana Unified School District over land for elementary and high schools continued, although negotiators said they were close to resolving things. Rancho Santiago and Santa Ana Unified had wanted a 100-acre site to build a K-14 learning center (see CP&DR Deals, October 2001). However, Tustin did not want to give up that particular site. Tustin offered Santa Ana Unified 22 acres elsewhere on the base, plus $38 million. The sticking point in negotiations was over a backup plan if the 22 acres proved to be too polluted for a school. All sides resumed negotiations in late February, when Duncan Holaday, the Navy's top base-reuse official, traveled to Orange County. Navy officials had suggested they would sell off the land if local officials could not reach agreement on reuse. The Belmont Learning Complex in downtown Los Angeles may get built yet. The Los Angeles Unified School District board voted in mid-March to complete the half-built high school. In January 2000, the district suspended work on the 34-acre campus designed to serve 4,600 high school students because of concerns over methane and hydrogen sulfide vapors remaining from the site's previous use as an oil field. Downtown advocates and Latino activists urged the district to complete the project. The board voted to resume construction after engineers presented a system for capturing and safely venting the hazardous gases. The school district has already spent about $175 million on construction and legal fees, and completing the campus could cost another $100 million, making Belmont the most expensive high school in state history. Some public health advocates remained unconvinced that the plan for handling gases will work. A 572-home subdivision proposed for the Verdugo Mountains was unanimously rejected in March by the Glendale City Council. Area residents had rallied in opposition to the "Oakmont View V" project, which called for building luxury homes on steep hillsides above existing neighborhoods. An environmental impact said the development would harm air quality, wildlife and scenic vistas. City planners said the project was inconsistent with the general plan and could pose a landslide hazard. Upon voting, Councilmembers said the project would irreparably harm the hillsides that help frame Glendale. The developer, Gregg's Artistic Homes, said it would file a takings lawsuit against the city. City of Los Angeles voters could decide no fewer than three proposals to carve new cities out of the existing city this November. Separate proposals for secession of the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood and the harbor area all could appear on the ballot at the same election. In March, the Los Angeles Local Agency Formation Commission released a report that said Hollywood would be a financially viable city, even if the new city paid Los Angeles between $11 million and $25 million annually (depending on the size of the new city) to make Los Angeles fiscally whole. Earlier, LAFCO concluded that the San Fernando Valley could make it as a city, while the harbor area would lack enough money to survive. LAFCO is scheduled to decide later this year whether to place any or all of the secession proposals before voters in November. Secession requires a majority vote both inside and outside the proposed boundaries of a new city. A permit for a gravel mine on federal land in the Soledad Canyon, just outside the City of Santa Clarita, was denied unanimously by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in late February. The decision cheered city officials and residents, who say the 460-acre quarry would congest roads, add to air pollution, threaten groundwater, and look ugly. Transit Mixed Concrete had already sued the county, insisting that the county must abide by a Bureau of Land Management permit that allows the mine. Groundbreaking for the University of California, Merced, campus has been postponed from May until September because of a lawsuit filed by three environmental groups. The groups say that the environmental impact report approved by UC regents in January was inadequate and that UC has illegally segmented the project to avoid comprehensive study, charges that UC denies. Water quality regulators have begun reviewing Central Valley farms' longstanding exemption from the state Clean Water Act. The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, which has jurisdiction over the valley and foothills from Redding to Fresno, announced in March it would prepare an environmental impact report on runoff from farms. Also, the state Water Resources Control Board said it would contribute $1 million toward monitoring drainage canals in the valley. The federal Clean Water Act exempts agriculture, but the state law does not specifically exempt farm discharges. Still, the Central Valley regional board has not applied the rules concerning pesticide and silt runoff to farms. Environmentalists insist that farms cause some of the biggest water pollution problems in Northern California. They hailed the state regulators' announcements as an important first step. Angry farmers said they already do their part to control and filter runoff. The Southern California Association of Governments has hired Calthorpe Associates to lead a six-county "growth visioning" effort. The project will attempt to bring together government agencies and private enterprise to address ways to provide housing, services and infrastructure for an anticipated 6 million additional residents. Calthorpe, headed by renowned New Urbanist Peter Calthorpe, has led similar efforts in Salt Lake City, Portland and other metropolitan areas.
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