Author: Richard Davis

How SB 35 and AB 1763 pushed through a Marin County affordable housing project

By William Fulton, CP&DR, February 8, 2021

“A clever developer from Los Angeles has figured out how to use SB 35 — along with low-income housing tax credits and density bonuses — to make ministerial review of an affordable housing project work in a community that’s located in an affluent county — but already has lots of affordable housing. And key to making the project work was not just SB 35, but also AB 1763, a 2019 bill that gave affordable housing developers way more leverage over local governments.

“The site is just about one acre in size and was subject to a planned development multi-family residential zoning designation that would have limited the project to 34 units and a land-use designation of about 40 units per acre.

“Using AB 1763, the developer, AMG, got the unit count up to 74. (That’s 40.1 units per acre times 1.01 acres times 1.8 density bonus.)

“AMG took advantage of another provision of the density bonus law… asking for waivers from two of Marin County’s development standards: a requirement to provide 5,000 square feet of open space and a requirement to provide one bicycle parking space for every two units.

“So in the end, using SB 35 [and] AB 1763 in tandem on a 100 percent affordable project, AMG got to build twice as many units as otherwise permitted, in a building almost twice as tall as would otherwise be permitted, with very little parking, no tree canopy in the parking lot, no open space, and no bike parking. And because SB 35 was invoked, there wasn’t anything Marin County could do about all this. No wonder Tom Lai, Marin County’s community development director, expressed a fair amount of frustration (paywall) to our Sarah Klearman about the whole process.”

Read the full article here for William Fulton’s analysis of the developer’s creative use of a mix of funding sources and state incentives on the project. (~4 min.)

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San Francisco office vacancy rate eclipses financial-crisis high

By Noah Buhayar, Bloomberg, January 12, 2021

“San Francisco’s office-vacancy rate reached 16.7% at the end of 2020, up 11 percentage points from a year prior, according to a report from commercial real estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield. That’s a higher level than in the aftermath of the 2008 recession.

“In addition, new leasing has effectively been on pause and hit the lowest annual level in 2020 since at least the early 1990s.

“While a recovery in the San Francisco office market will hinge on more people getting vaccines and employees returning to the office, Robert Sammons, senior director of research at Cushman said there are early signs of a rebound.

“‘We’re certainly going to be a major base, if not the major base for tech, for the foreseeable future,’ Sammons said.”

Read the full article here. (~2 min.)

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Newsom’s proposed budget includes intergovernmental Housing Accountability Unit

By Josh Stephens, California Planning & Development Report, January 11, 2021

“Among billions for bonds, homeless housing programs, and home loan assistance programs, one of the smaller line items [in Gov. Newsom’s proposed 2021-22 budget] may have the most profound impact on urban planning statewide.

“At a mere $4.3 million, the Housing Accountability Unit promises to serve a Janus-faced role in the relationship between the state and local governments.

“The unit, housed in the Department of Housing and Community Development, will monitor, enforce, and provide technical assistance to facilitate production of affordable housing statewide. The language of the budget implies that Newsom wants localities to embrace their Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) obligations and will encourage ‘active engagement before enforcement becomes necessary.’ The unit will ‘act as an ombudsman and help local governments navigate and comply with state housing laws and make sufficient progress.’

“Many local governments have protested the increased RHNA goals on the grounds that cities are built-out, geographically constrained, or otherwise unable to identify suitable land for up-zoning and densification.

“The unit will also help cities compete for housing-related planning grants from the state.

“In essence, Newsom wants to leave cities with fewer excuses for not complying with RHNA.

“The Department of Housing & Community Development declined comment on the proposal.”

Read the full article here (paywall). (~3 min.)

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SF, UCSF community benefits package for Parnassus Heights project not enforceable

From NBC Bay Area, January 4, 2021, and SF Examiner, January 11, 2021

According to NBC Bay Area, “Under UCSF’s Comprehensive Parnassus Heights Plan, UCSF’s Helen Diller Medical Center would be transformed, with a new modern hospital that would increase its inpatient capacity by 42 percent and its emergency department by 80 percent. The entire project is expected to be completed by 2030.”

In addition, “Under a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) between San Francisco and UCSF, a benefits package to accompany the new hospital plan will include the creation of 1,263 units of housing for the UCSF workforce; the designation of about 40 percent of all new and existing UCSF housing as affordable units for low-income residents; $20 million toward transportation improvements; and the hiring of city residents for 30 percent of construction and permanent entry-level jobs.”

Writing later in the SF Examiner, Ida Mojadad reports that “Supervisors at the Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting [on January 11] called for more time to negotiate stronger community benefit commitments from UCSF, seeking a delay before the project is approved by the University of California Board of Regents. They also sought a legally enforceable agreement, which would require review and approval from the Board of Supervisors.”

“The supervisors’ options to shape the project are rather limited,” Mojadad continued. “As a state entity, UCSF is exempt from local land laws and voluntarily negotiated a memorandum of understanding with The City, largely through the Mayor’s Office.”

Read NBC Bay Area’s coverage of the MOU here (~2 min.) and Ida Mojadad’s Examiner piece on the supervisors’ reactions here (~ 2 min.).

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Caltrain talks regional rail

By Curtis Driscoll, Daily Journal Staff, January 8, 2021

“The Caltrain board discussed a possible regional rail enterprise between BART and Caltrain to create a more integrated and efficient regional transportation network as part of a discussion on regional transit coordination.

“Caltrain board member Steve Heminger, a retired executive director for MTC, suggested a regional rail enterprise between Caltrain and BART because BART now runs service in all three counties that Caltrain operates in, both are rail operations and Caltrain has spent money on projects to connect Caltrain platforms and services with BART stations.

“At the meeting, Caltrain staff said changes would be a new authority that controls transit coordination and services in the future instead of having the different regional transit organizations coordinate.

“The many different organizations are trying to work together and coordinate, including having weekly meetings, sharing strategies for best practices, fare integration and more coordinated long-range planning.”

Read the full article here. (~3 min.)

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Newsom wants to send $600 to millions of Californians, extend renter protections

By Ben Christopher, CalMatters, January 8, 2021

“Despite — or maybe because of — the last 10 months of arrested economic activity and unchecked viral contagion, Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced a record-breaking $227 billion spending plan for the coming fiscal year.

“It includes:

  • A higher level of education spending per pupil than ever before.
  • An extra $4.6 billion to fund expanded summer school programs.
  • Nearly $1.5 billion to subsidize electric car sales and expand charging infrastructure.
  • $16 billion into the state’s rainy day fund.
  • $5 billion in “immediate action” pandemic programs he hopes the Legislature will pass in the coming weeks.

An analysis by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst found that revenues were more resilient than expected, with a 20% higher than projected tax revenue than projected in June 2020.

Other budget proposals by the governor include:

  • “Rental assistance: California got an extra $2.6 billion from the most recent federal relief bill to help renters. The governor wants to pass that renter relief alongside an extension to the current moratorium on evictions.

“It’s not clear when these measures will be introduced — and once introduced, when and if they will pass. But Newsom said he hopes to see some of these policies introduced ‘in the next few weeks.’”

Read the full article here.

Related: In Bloomberg CityLab, Sarah Holder writes about 11 U.S. cities piloting guaranteed income programs, including a San Francisco program supporting pregnant Black and Pacific Islanders.

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New study suggests Uber and Lyft could increase car ownership

By David Grossman, Inverse, January 7, 2021

“According to a new study (open access) published in the journal iScience, introducing ride-sharing companies into an urban area can actually increase car ownership. Looking at vehicle registrations per capita, the team behind the study found a 0.7 percent increase on average.

“The researchers didn’t realize how Uber and Lyft could affect different cities in radically different ways. ‘Specifically, that vehicle ownership increases more in car-dependent and slow-growth cities than in other types of cities and that transit ridership is displaced more in high-income cities with high rates of childless households than in other kinds of cities,’ study co-author Jeremy Michalek said.

“Previous studies have suggested the opposite of Michalek and his co-authors findings… One such study from 2017 looked at the specific dynamics of Austin. ‘Our analysis is based on observed data across several hundred cities,’ Michalek tells Inverse, 224 to be precise.

Elizabeth Irvin, Senior Transportation Analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists who was not involved in the study, tells Inverse that the findings ‘show how much of an impact it has to design places where it’s easy to get around without a car,’ regardless if it is for a personal or professional drive.

“The study comes with one big disclaimer—all of its data was taken before the Covid-19 pandemic, which has radically changed the economy.”

Read the full article here. (~3 min.)

Graphical abstract of the study discussed in the article.
This graphical abstract depicts the new ridesharing study’s findings. Credit: Jeremy Michalek

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‘Slow Streets’ disrupted city planning. What comes next?

By Laura Bliss, Bloomberg CityLab, January 6, 2021

“The embrace of non-motorized mobility has been widely cheered by safety advocates, environmentalists and foes of auto-centric planning. But in the U.S., slow streets initiatives have also drawn controversy, community resistance and comparisons with racist urban planning practices of earlier decades. They hit a sore spot in a uniquely sensitive moment: As a pandemic claimed Black and Brown lives at disproportionate rates, and outrage over police killings ignited global protests, slow streets became a flashpoint in the planning sphere’s broader reckoning over systemic racism.

“Nowhere was that tension truer than in Oakland, California, which was one of the earliest adopters of the slow streets concept. In April, the city announced a plan to restrict car traffic on 74 miles of residential corridors, much of it all at once.

“The rapid implementation of Slow Streets also appeared to ignore the long legacy of distrust towards the city felt by many Oaklanders of color.

“It didn’t take long for Oakland officials to recognize their error. The anger was palpable in long follow-up meetings spent with community groups.

“Warren Logan, director of mobility policy and interagency relations in the Oakland mayor’s office, agreed [with other equity advocates interviewed for this article] that planners might take a page from trauma therapists. In a year that has put police departments in the spotlight for their legacies of brutalizing Black communities, there has also been a quieter reckoning over the fact that those who configure streets, build highways and fund housing can have an equally profound impact on communities of color — often negative.

“‘City planners think they just do bike lanes,’ Logan said. ‘But this is the industry that not that long ago rammed a bunch of freeways through neighborhoods and totally disconnected people. We need to reconcile that there is a history of trauma in what we do.’”

Read the full article here. (~6 min.)

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Steep rent declines across the Bay Area in 2020

By Kellie Hwang, San Francisco Chronicle, January 5, 2021

“San Francisco, the county’s most expensive big city, was the most affected by people leaving pricey big metro areas in favor of more affordable areas, with rental prices plummeting 26.7% since March, according to the 2020 National Rent Report from rental listings website Apartment List.

“San Jose landed sixth on the list with a 15.2% drop since March and a median two-bedroom rent of $2,035, and Oakland was eighth on the list, declining 14.2% since March and a median two-bedroom price of $1,952.

“Some more affordable cities saw vacancies decline and rents trend upward, including Fresno; Albuquerque; Boise, Idaho; and Gilbert, Ariz.

“According to rental listings website Zumper’s Bay Area Metro Report, San Francisco again tops the list of most expensive cities, while Milpitas came in second with a median one-bedroom rent of $2,630, and Cupertino in third with a rent of $2,510. Vallejo was the cheapest, priced at $1,390, Concord second-cheapest at $1,700, and Richmond third at $1,740. Even so, Milpitas has the fastest rising rent in the Bay Area, going up 10.5% year-over-year.

“‘If trends continue, then we could see some California cities overtaken by fast-growing cities in terms of price,’ Zumper analyst Neil Gerstein said. ‘Newark, for instance, is only $70 cheaper in one-bedroom median rent than San Diego as of last month, meaning that Newark could soon overtake San Diego.’

“Apartment List research associate Rob Warnock said because of the seasonal effect on rental prices, he thinks rents will stay low at least for the next few months.”

Read the full article here, including detailed charts depicting rental trends in San Francisco, Bay Area cities, and other cities nationally. (~4 min.)

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Residential redevelopment of commercially zoned land in California

From UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, December 2020

“This study is concerned primarily with infill, i.e., the redevelopment of commercial land in developed areas for residential use, as opposed to greenfield development.

“Land designated for commercial use is ubiquitous throughout California. Although the amount of commercial land per capita varies between the state’s metro areas and within them, commercial land is about as common in affluent areas as it is in poorer ones.

“On a per capita basis, commercially zoned land is most prevalent in areas farthest away from the major metro area cores. This signals opportunity through policy change to facilitate mixed-use, infill development not just in central locations, but in communities that may otherwise be resistant to planning for and approving greater housing densities.

“Roughly 41 percent of commercial zones in the state’s 50 largest cities currently prohibit residential development as determined by their base zoning designations. Of the commercial zones that do allow residential development, the entitlement process is inconsistent across cities, and in many cases, requires onerous approvals which limit what may actually be built.

“Allowing new homes and mixed-use projects to be built on these sites can serve as a catalyst for new economic growth while at the same time addressing California’s ongoing housing shortage. This form of redevelopment also advances infill development goals, bringing residents closer to jobs, amenities, and transit, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions from personal automobile use.

“State lawmakers have proposed new laws that would require cities to allow residential development on commercially zoned land. While these efforts did not move forward in 2020, the idea of allowing homebuilding in commercial areas has reemerged in the 2021-2022 legislative session with the introduction of Senate Bill 6 and Assembly Bill 115.”

Read or download the report here (PDF).

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