Category: Northern News

SB35 could advance stalled Sebastopol affordable housing

By Nashelly Chavez, The Press Democrat, April 13, 2022

“A plan to build [an] 84 unit [100 percent] affordable housing project, with 48 [units] reserved for agricultural workers and their families, [has been resubmitted in Sebastopol. The city] now has 90 days from April 4 to approve or reject the request.

“Since late 2019, the proposed [Woodmark Apartments, being developed by The Pacific Companies, a group that specializes in multifamily dwellings,] has faced opposition from area residents. And in January 2021, the project was delayed after the city decided the developer’s application needed to be changed.

“The project also has been stalled for more than a year as Sebastopol consulted with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria about the preservation of possible cultural artifacts that might be found on the site. That process wrapped up on March 30 and the application for the Woodmark Apartments under SB 35 was filed five days later.

“[Woodmark is] the first time a developer has attempted to build affordable housing in Sebastopol using SB 35, said Kari Svanstrom, AICP, Sebastopol’s planning director. [As Sebastopol] has not met its [state-] required housing [targets, it] falls under the auspices of this law: of the 17 low-income housing units Sebastopol is required to build by early 2023, only 12 have been permitted.

“Nearly 300 Sebastopol residents signed a petition opposing the development, submitted to the city in March 2021. [Their concerns include the potential for] emergency evacuations out of the town [that] might be complicated by the addition of more people [on] one-lane Bodega Avenue, a major artery.

“Zeke Guzman, president of the scholarship and cultural nonprofit Latinos Unidos del Condado de Sonoma,] said a Design Review Board member worried that multiple people might try to cram into a one-bedroom unit. Guzman said he believes the person made that statement because half of the project’s units would be set aside for local farmworkers, who are predominately Latino.

“The one-, two- and three-bedroom units of the Woodmark project would be priced for families with incomes ranging between 30 and 60 percent of Sonoma County’s Area Median Income [$103,300 annually for a family of four], said Pacific Companies development partner Lauren Alexander. 

“Svanstrom, Sebastopol’s planning director, said her department will decide if the project wins approval using the criteria set out by SB 35.

“[Woodmark’s] Alexander said she believes the city ‘will have a hard time’ finding a reason to reject the development under the requirements laid out by SB 35.”

Read the full article here (8 min). 

Return to Northern News here.

State rejects Point Reyes water contamination, climate plan

By Will Houston, Marin Independent Journal, April 9, 2022

“A year ago, the [California Coastal Commission] voted 5-4 to endorse the [Point Reyes National Seashore cleanup] planunder the condition the park return within a year to provide detailed strategies to reduce water contamination and other environmental impacts caused by [beef cattle and dairy] ranches [renting land in the seashore].

“On [April 7], the commission voted unanimously to reject the strategies the park submitted at the end of March. Commissioners said the strategies lack details on identifying priority areas for cleanup, creating benchmarks for restoration projects, and specifying enforcement actions.

“Park staff now plan to work with commission staff and state water quality regulators over the next several months and submit more detailed strategies for review in September.

“As a state entity, the commission does not have the authority to stop the park from implementing its ranching and elk plan.

“Additionally, the park service could at any time walk away from that process and the commission would have no authority to require compliance with its recommendations, staff said. The commission does have the option of filing a lawsuit.

“Commissioner Roberto Uranga said that while he is not confident that postponing the issue to September will result in a better outcome, ‘I don’t believe we can just walk away.’ ”

Read the full article here(~4 min.)

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Litter-strewn Bay Bridge entrance will soon transform into an urban forest

By Jessica Wolfrom, San Francisco Examiner, April 6, 2022

“[San Francisco] Public Works unveiled plans to build a nursery at [5th and Bryant streets, at the mouth of the Bay Bridge], turning this oft-ignored concrete cranny under Interstate 80 into a burgeoning greenspace.

“[S]ome 1,000 young trees will help absorb emissions spewing from tailpipes and provide green space for residents who lack access to street trees or nearby parks. The trees will be cycled out when they’re mature enough and planted in neighborhoods that suffer from especially low canopy cover, said Rachel Gordon, spokesperson for Public Works.

“ ‘Our built environment is not weatherized to withstand extreme temperatures,’ San Francisco’s Department of Public Health said in a recent report. Right now, it said, The City ‘has limited cooling capacity, and this cooling capacity is not equitably distributed.’

“Despite The City’s goals to expand the street tree population with 50,000 new trees by 2035, the overall number of trees planted in fiscal year 2021-22 decreased from 3955 to 3377 compared to the previous fiscal year, data showed.

“[Carla Short, interim director of Public Works,] said her department is hoping to bolster San Francisco’s tree population through the construction of this nursery, which is being funded through a $2.4 million grant awarded by Caltrans and Cal Fire and is slated for development next year.”

Read the full article here(~4 min.)

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$1.5 million granted for Mountain View phase of Baylands restoration project

By Sue Dremann, Palo Alto Weekly, April 1, 2022

“A $1.5 million federal grant to fully fund a wetlands restoration feasibility study to protect against flooding and improve wildlife habitat was announced on [March 31st] by U.S. Reps. Anna Eshoo and Ro Khanna.

“The project will help mitigate flooding from the bay caused by sea level rise, restore critical wildlife habitat, and provide additional recreational opportunities to the community.

“According to earlier Shoreline Project reports, San Francisco Bay has lost 90 percent of its wetlands and watershed due to conversion of bayland to industrial uses, salt ponds, and development.

“The Phase III project is part of the broader, more than a half-billion-dollar South San Francisco Bay Shoreline Project, which seeks to make vital improvements in Santa Clara County along 18 miles of shoreway from Alviso in the south to San Francisquito Creek in Palo Alto. The Phase III project feasibility study is the first step in protecting critical infrastructure, including U.S. Highway 101, NASA Ames Research Center, and Moffett Federal Airfield, along with multiple businesses in the shoreline corridor, such as the Google campus.

“[A Dec. 20, 2021, letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Reps. Eshoo, Khanna, Zoe Lofgren, Jimmy Panetta, and other congressional members requested over $100 million in funding] for future phases of wetland restoration and adaptive management in Alviso and the south bay, as well as the recently secured $1.5 million to fully fund the feasibility study for Shoreline Phase III.”

Read the full article here(~2 min.)

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New financing district will propel development in Humboldt County’s Samoa peninsula

By Sonia Waraich, Eureka Times-Standard, April 1, 2022

“Offshore wind, a sustainable fish farm, and a high-speed fiber optic cable are just a few of the projects expected to come to the Samoa peninsula’s shores in the coming years, and the community is preparing to capitalize on that development.

“[In March, Humboldt County] established the Samoa Peninsula Enhanced Infrastructure Finance District, which will capture tax revenue generated from new development within approximately 2,243 acres of land south of the Samoa Bridge for 45 years. Those funds will be used for infrastructure improvements on the peninsula for years to come and aren’t reserved exclusively for traditional infrastructure such as roads and bridges, Humboldt County Economic Development director Scott Adair told the Times-Standard.

“The county conservatively estimates that development that’s already in the works could lead to 198 housing units, over 700 construction jobs, and nearly $1 billion in economic output from construction over the decade.

“Adair said the investment in Humboldt County in the next decade could be far greater than that, reaching into the billions.

“Those funds can be used for the planned development as well as a variety of other projects, from creating a public park to building affordable housing.

“Samoa’s finance district will disburse the funds through a grant program with a public process for reviewing requests, Adair said.”

Read the full article here(~2 min.)

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Van Ness dedicated busway opens after six year construction

By Eleni Balakrishnan, Mission Local, April 1, 2022

“After decades of planning, nearly $350 million, and seemingly endless construction, city officials and transit enthusiasts today inaugurated the anticipated new bus rapid transit (BRT) lanes down Van Ness Avenue.

“Free from car traffic and timed to avoid red lights, … buses on the new so-called BRT lanes are expected to see transit times cut by 32 percent, according to the SFMTA.

“This improved travel time on the lane will have system-wide impacts, said San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesperson Stephen Chun.

“Improvements to Van Ness Avenue have been in the works since a 1989 sales tax expenditure plan to improve mass transit.

“Plans shifted to an aboveground rapid-transit lane by 2003, and construction finally began in 2016, said Chun of the SFMTA. The project included replacement of major utilities, new streetlights, landscaping, and improved accessibility.

“While the bus did glide gloriously past cars stuck in Friday morning traffic [issues remain]. [T]he 49 headed south toward the Mission stopped at one red light after another, [causing the trip to take 20 minutes more] than the pre-BRT 18 minute estimate.”

Read the full article here(~3 min.)

Also in this issue, a featured article by Earl Bossard explores what BRT means for this corridor. Read that article here.

Return to Northern News here.

How will San Francisco’s western skyline change to add 80,000 homes?

By Benjamin Schneider, San Francisco Examiner, March 29, 2022

“In a document released March 25, the Planning Department confirmed that so-called ‘upzoning’ is going to be part of the plan to accommodate 82,000 new homes in San Francisco by 2031. Allowing mid-rise apartment buildings along major transit corridors in wealthier neighborhoods is ‘necessary’ to meet housing production targets and comply with laws designed to undo racial segregation, the department wrote in the third draft of its Housing Element.

“Earlier in the Housing Element process, the Planning Department presented alternative paths that would have continued to concentrate new housing development on the east side, evenly spread development across The City, or focused development along transit corridors. The Planning Department appears to be pursuing a mix of the latter two options.

“While they have not yet formulated comments on the latest Housing Element draft, a group called the Race & Equity in All Planning Coalition (REP-SF) has been the leading voice of opposition throughout the process.

“However, despite negative feedback from the REP coalition and Sunset District groups, the Planning Department did not shift its geographic focus on increasing the density of the west side.

“The new Housing Element draft also includes policies that would help stimulate development, including loosened regulations around demolishing owner-occupied buildings, and streamlined approvals for small housing developments.

“Still, these policies do not guarantee the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) will approve San Francisco’s Housing Element.

“Chris Elmendorf, a UC Davis law professor and housing expert, believes the Planning Department’s own analysis shows San Francisco’s Housing Element to be deficient. An attachment to the draft finds that downtown high-rises are the only economically feasible form of housing to build in San Francisco due to high construction costs, affordability requirements, impact fees, and long permitting times.”

Read the full article here(~4 min.)

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The federal infrastructure law’s untapped potential for promoting community safety

By Sam Washington, Hanna Love, and Thea Sebastian, Brookings, March 29, 2022

“Rather than revert to punitive policies that have proven to be ineffective and counterproductive, policymakers should follow the evidence and take a deeper look at new sources of funding that could be used to promote a more holistic vision of community safety.

“[N]ew federal funding opportunities — including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) — offer local leaders an unparalleled opportunity to explore [infrastructure and the built environment as a tool to promote community safety].

“A wealth of empirical evidence demonstrates that the built environment has a significant impact on the prevalence of violence in communities. Brookings recently reviewed the evidence on this relationship, finding that several key physical interventions can lead to reductions in rates of violent crime.

“For instance, relatively simple changes to street and sidewalk design can lower rates of violence.

“[O]f the five factors studied by Raj Chetty’s Opportunity Insights team, shorter commute times in a given neighborhood were found to be the strongest predictor of upward mobility. Consequently, public transportation investments have been shown to reduce local inequality, which evidence shows to be a driver of property and violent crime.

“To better equip local leaders with the evidence and resources to promote safety through the IIJA, Civil Rights Corps recently released a policy guide, Harnessing Infrastructure Grants for Community Safety, that provides a roadmap for explaining exactly how policymakers can leverage these funds to make holistic, evidence-based investments into community safety.”

Read the full article here(~4 min.)

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Richmond city council sinks a controversial development in Point Molate

By Katie Lauer, East Bay Times, March 26, 2022

“Decade-old efforts to redevelop [a 270-acre section of the shoreline property of] Richmond’s picturesque Point Molate peninsula have weathered contentious debates, lawsuits, and millions of dollars in legal fees.

“Now, just as the latest prospective developer was poised to build more than 1,450 homes and 400,000 square feet of commercial space …, the Richmond City Council has swept the carpet from under its feet.

“[The developer’s] plans were effectively scuttled at a special March 18 meeting when four council members known as the Richmond Progressive Alliance voted against establishing a community facilities district to pay for the project’s infrastructure.

“Under terms of a legal settlement, the city has to establish the district before it [can] sell the land to [the developer].

“A federal court upheld the council’s [2011 rejection of the Guidiville Rancheria of California tribe’s bid to build a mega-casino on the site] but forged a settlement that required the city to evenly split profits from any land sale with the tribe.

“The settlement also stated that if it isn’t sold within 48 months — by May 21, 2022 — the land would have to be sold to the tribe for $400.

“A … report from consultants Strategic Economics indicated the homes [to be built by the prospective developer] likely would sell for much less because of Point Molate’s remote location, lack of amenities, fire risks, and proximity to the Chevron Richmond Refinery.

“Hoping to assure the city it wouldn’t be at financial risk, [the developer] offered to annually tax itself as much as $6.3 million if property taxes fall short of projections, starting in 2026.

“Council members weren’t swayed, however, saying there’s too much conflicting financial information.

“ ‘We’re going to be looking at potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in litigation and issues with the Ninth Circuit and the federal court,’ [Mayor Tom] Butt said. ‘That’s really what we ought to be talking about.’ ”

Read the full article here(~5 min.)

Previously in Roundup: A judge threw out an environmental lawsuit on grounds that there was substantial evidence that the city accounted for the planned development’s potential harm to the environment, allowing the development at Point Molate to proceed. Read that story here.

Return to Northern News here.

New study: data shows new housing and tenant protections are still not enough

By Karen Chapple and Jackelyn Hwang, San Francisco Chronicle, March 25, 2022

“In a study by the Urban Displacement Project and the Changing Cities Research Lab, we assembled a unique data set analyzing the nine-county Bay Area region over the past 20 years. This data set allows us to examine two simple questions: When we build new market-rate housing in a neighborhood, what happens to existing residents? Also, when we enact tenant protections to protect those residents, what happens?

“Our research found that new market-rate construction in any neighborhood results in more people moving in.

“But here’s the perhaps unsurprising catch — the new folks are disproportionately likely to be affluent.

“Rent stabilization — policies that restrict the amount of rent increases — is effective at helping the lowest income residents stay in their neighborhoods. Our analysis shows that increases in the share of units protected by rent stabilization in a neighborhood decreases the probability that the lowest income residents will move out.

“However, few housing units in the Bay Area are protected by rent stabilization (10 percent) or just cause for eviction ordinances (14 percent).

“In essence, communities that fight exclusively for either new housing production or tenant protections are wasting their time. The two strategies complement each other and are helping to ease the affordable housing crisis.

“[W]e need to preserve whatever affordable housing we have left. Rare local government interventions like San Francisco’s Small Sites program need to be expanded in order to acquire small multifamily-rental buildings and keep them affordable in perpetuity.

“We also need to embrace social housing, which is owned and managed by a government agency or nonprofit, like we never have before. A bill in the Legislature, AB2053, would create a California Housing Authority to produce and preserve housing that would be affordable across all income levels.”

Read the full article here(~4 min.)

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