Tag: 2022-04-nn-roundup

Gas prices bring riders back to BART, Caltrain, and VTA

By Eliyahu Kamisher, The Mercury News, March 14, 2022

“With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine fueling a 22 percent spike in statewide gas prices over the last month, many commuters are now mulling cheaper alternatives. Transit agencies across the Bay Area, like BART, Caltrain and the VTA … have kicked their public relations into high gear … after the pandemic and shift to remote work decimated Bay Area transit.

“ ‘You couldn’t time historic high gas prices and offices reopening any better for transit recovery,’ said Alicia Trost, a BART spokesperson, who pointed to a recent 15-to-20 percent surge in riders at the office-oriented Embarcadero and Montgomery stations in downtown San Francisco.

“The bump in riders doesn’t mean public transit will be packed again anytime soon [as] it was before COVID, when BART tallied over 400,000 passenger trips each day. For now, it’s still hovering around 30 percent of pre-pandemic levels. The loss in passenger fare revenue has left massive holes in agencies’ operating budgets. Rising fuel costs will likely worsen their deficits, but transit operators say for now they are resistant to hiking fares, as they depend on hundreds of millions in federal relief money to balance their budgets for the coming years.

“On Thursday morning, commuters packed onto standing-room-only trains at BART’s McArthur Station. Much of the passenger congestion was due to the ongoing Red Line closure, which forced San Francisco-bound riders from Richmond through Berkeley to transfer in Oakland, but gas prices were on the minds of many passengers.”

Read the full article here(~4 min.)

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Legislature passes reprieve for UC Berkeley’s enrollment cap

By Maria Dinzeo, Courthouse News Service, March 14, 2022

“Rushing to override a student enrollment freeze imposed by an Alameda County Superior Court judge last year, state lawmakers in both legislative houses voted [on March 14] to change an environmental review law that has thwarted a planned expansion and jeopardized the admission of some 5,000 applicants to the University of California, Berkeley, this fall.

“Phil Bokovoy, president of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods [which brought the lawsuit against UC Berkeley] said Monday during a public comment session in the Assembly, that unfettered growth has driven up rents and displaced local residents.

“The Legislature’s CEQA amendment, in the form of a budget trailer bill, will allow UC Berkeley to admit the number of students previously planned while nullifying [the Superior Court judge’s] injunction. While it preserves the requirement that California universities do a long-range development plan under CEQA, it now specifies that changes in student enrollment by itself will not trigger environmental review under CEQA.

“It also gives universities 18 months to remedy any environmental concerns when a judge finds a campus population has risen above projections.

“While lawmakers blamed the lawsuit and subsequent ruling for the Berkeley enrollment fiasco, others said the UC system is admitting too many students while failing to address the attendant housing crisis.

“Governor Gavin Newsom signed the trailer bill into law, praising the legislature’s quick action.”

Read the full article here(~5 min.)

In a related article, Katie Lauer writes on March 21, 2022, that while the university’s enrollment cap was resolved for 2022, solutions to students’ housing struggles remain elusive: “Long commutes, multiple roommates, and friends’ couches: how UC Berkeley students live.” Read that article here.

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San Jose City Council unanimously accepts recommendations on overcoming barriers to affordable housing

By Jana Kadah, San Jose Spotlight, March 8, 2022

“On [March 8th], the City Council voted unanimously to accept recommendations based on interviews with seven developers and a detailed report highlighting three key barriers: construction costs, the permitting process, and complying with development regulations such as requirements for private open space … for each unit.

“Recommendations include creating internal coordination meetings between city departments to speed up the permitting process, creating an impact fee registry, exploring the effectiveness of cutting construction taxes, and making city-issued bonds more competitive.

“Mayor Sam Liccardo said he appreciated the recommendations, but worried the real barriers are outside of the city’s control.

“In the last three to five years, construction costs have increased significantly, [forcing] developers to rely on additional sources of funding to complete a project.

“Because San Jose is an expensive area, project costs are much higher, and developers do not benefit from the state credit, said Nanci Klein, city economic development director.

“Developers said they would want the same type of dedicated planner for construction permits [as Destination: Home received, funded by a 2018 grant], but the planning department doesn’t have capacity. So, [Jerad Ferguson, housing catalyst in the city’s Office of Economic Development, and his] team [plan] to establish regular meetings between the planning and housing departments to review active projects.

“Many developers also noted there are requirements [such as parking minimums] that make planning or building affordable housing much more difficult.

“ ‘We can do a lot of little things to remove … smaller barriers,’ Ferguson said. ‘It’s going to be an iterative, incremental process to get to improvements.’ ”

Read the full article here(~3 min.)

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Subdivision consistent with approved specific plan did not need further environmental review

By Kaela Shiigi, Perkins Coie LLP Land Use & Development Law Report, March 7, 2022

“The Court of Appeal found that a development project that was consistent with a previously approved specific plan was not required to prepare a new EIR because no changes significantly increased impacts on endangered species. Citizens’ Committee to Complete the Refuge v. City of Newark, No. A162045 (1st Dist., Dec. 29, 2021).

“In 2019, the City [of Newark, Calif.] approved a subdivision map for development of residential lots on a portion of [Newark designated] Area 4. The City prepared a checklist comparing the analysis in the EIR with the impacts of the proposed project. … The plaintiffs challenged the map approval and the use of the checklist.

“The court of appeal held that the subdivision map was exempted from further CEQA review … because it was consistent with the specific plan, which had a certified EIR.

“The plaintiffs claimed that there were three aspects of the subdivision map that were significantly different from the specific plan analyzed in the EIR and would have significant new impacts on the salt marsh harvest mouse. However, substantial evidence supported the City’s conclusion that none of the changes would significantly increase the impacts on the harvest mouse beyond those addressed in the EIR.

“Plaintiffs also contended that the project risked exacerbating the effects of sea level rise on the environment[.] … The court found that … these dynamics were not new in relation to this project, so the City did not need to address them in reviewing the project.”

Read the full article here(~4 min.)

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Caltrain approves governance reform plan, but member agencies still must adopt it

By Curtis Driscoll, San Mateo Daily Journal, March 4, 2022

“Caltrain has approved a governance recommendation proposal that will give San Francisco and Santa Clara counties more power and governance oversight, provided San Mateo County representatives approve it.

“Under the recommendation, the San Mateo County Transit District will no longer have sole final discretionary appointing power of an executive director, general counsel, and auditor. A majority of the Caltrain board will now decide upon the executive director, and Caltrain will maintain its own general counsel and auditor separate from SamTrans.

“The oversight role of SamTrans, the San Mateo County Transit District, has concerned the Caltrain board because it has ultimate oversight in hiring and firing staff. SamTrans serves as the managing agency, giving it control over staffing and ultimately hiring and firing the Caltrain executive director. … According to various board members, the contentious governance talks have impaired Caltrain’s ability to recruit staff and reduced staff time for other projects.

“Caltrain Vice Chair Charles Stone, a Belmont councilmember who also is on the SamTrans board, said it was hard to imagine the recommendation leading to adoption by the member agencies. … He noted the approval process that will now take place could take months or even years to complete.”

Read the full article here(~4 min.)

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Dublin scraps 573-home development over referendum threat

By Joseph Geha, East Bay Times, March 3, 2022

“A petition by some residents against the development forced the council to either repeal its approval or put the project on a ballot to let voters decide its fate.

“The council’s unanimous decision [on March 1st] to repeal its December approval quashed the East Ranch project from San Ramon developer Trumark Homes, which called for 573 houses to be built across 165 acres of vacant land next to sprawling residential developments near Dublin’s eastern boundary.

“The previous agreement guaranteed that 50 granny units and 18 houses would be reserved as affordable and Trumark would pay almost $5.5 million in affordable housing fees. Also, Trumark would turn over a two-acre plot at the southern edge of the site, intended to be used for housing for people who are developmentally disabled, that could be overseen by nonprofits Eden Housing and Sunflower Hill.

“A potential new project proposed under the state Housing Accountability Act, however, would only require Trumark to meet minimum affordable housing standards in the city, requiring 12.5 percent of the houses to be reserved at below-market-rate prices, or some can be reserved and the developer can pay in-lieu fees to make up the for the rest.

“Council members said they support residents’ rights to petition, but were disappointed about possibly losing out on a site for the Sunflower Hill project.

“ ‘It’s desperately needed, and if it doesn’t come to fruition because of this, that’s just very disappointing for us as a community,’ [Councilmember Shawn] Kumagai said of housing for disabled residents.”

Read the full article here(~4 min.)

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Lake Powell is about to drop below a critical level never reached before

By Rachel Ramirez, CNN, March 3, 2022

“For the first time since it was filled more than 50 years ago, Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the country, is projected to dip past a critical threshold, threatening water supplies and putting a key source of hydropower generation at heightened risk of being forced offline, as climate change-fueled drought continues to grip the Western US.

“Water managers were hopeful when the 2022 water year got off to a promising start, after the Colorado River Basin experienced a wetter-than-normal October, but the very next month saw the second-driest November on record, quickly diminishing the outlook.

“In California, a recent snow survey from the state Department of Water Resources showed reservoirs across the state will likely not fill up again this year.

“It may also be the case for the Colorado River basin. While it recently experienced substantial snowpack, the critically low water levels in reservoirs, coupled with the uncertainty of future snowpack, might require unprecedented action from governments.

“But given the rate at which the planet is rapidly warming, [Justin Mankin, co-lead of NOAA’s Drought Task Force] worries about the potential aftermath recovery process: ‘Then what? Do we go back to kind of normal operations?’ he said. ‘I feel a bit nervous about the fact that the climate is changing, but our management of water is not.’ ”

Read the full article here(~3 min.)

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New research: The ‘hidden toll’ of having more parking spaces than people

By Benjamin Schneider, San Francisco Examiner, March 3, 2022

“With more than 15 million parking spaces, the nine-county Bay Area has twice as many as it has people. Lined up in a row end to end, all of those parking spots would encircle the earth 2.3 times.

“Those are the top-line findings from a new census of the region’s parking supply by SPUR and the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI). The [open access] report represents the most comprehensive look yet at this ubiquitous type of infrastructure and its unintended consequences. All of that parking undermines public transit systems, worsens housing affordability, and stands in the way of environmental targets, the report finds.

“The study found that parking and roadways make up 20 percent of land in incorporated areas of the Bay Area.

“While our region might be slightly less asphalt-saturated than others, the data still demonstrates that ‘the Bay Area has too much parking,’ [“said Laura Tolkoff, transportation policy director at SPUR and one of the authors of the parking census.”]

“In a follow-up report slated for release at the end of March, SPUR is planning to make several recommendations about how the region should address what it describes as a glut of parking.

“Longer term, all of the parking in the Bay Area represents a big opportunity for new uses. If only 1 percent of the region’s parking area were rebuilt as housing, it could yield more than 12,000 units, SPUR found; if 5 percent were redeveloped, it could yield 68,000 units.”

Read the full article here(~4 min.)

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San Francisco businesses confront many office workers never returning

By Romy Varghese, Bloomberg CityLab, March 3, 2022

“The tech hub, an economic boomtown over the last decade, is struggling with the nation’s weakest office occupancies, stubbornly low transit ridership, and one of the country’s slowest recoveries of jobs. White-collar employees embracing remote work have decamped to less pricey areas, raising the question of if they’ll ever come back.

“With Covid concerns receding and U.S. employers calling staff back to offices, San Francisco stands to be an important test case on the persistence of remote work and how a leading American city is forced to adapt.

“The San Francisco metro area has the lowest share of workers back at the office among 10 U.S. cities, according to swipe-card data from security company Kastle Systems, with about a quarter of employees returning as of Feb. 23. 

“California’s property-tax system is helping to keep San Francisco’s finances stable. Valuations for property-tax purposes are often well below market prices, so local governments have a cushion in downturns.”

Read the full article here. (~4 min.)

Also in Bloomberg CityLab (February 28, 2022), Alexandre Tanzi reports that the dramatic increase in telework nationwide is likely to be more persistent than many planners anticipated. 

“About 75 percent of the increase in telework over the course of the Covid-19 crisis will likely stick, according to a paper from researchers at Arizona State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the Dallas Federal Reserve.

“Cities [for example, Philadelphia and San Francisco] have been bracing for this in their five-year budgets. But their projections for the share of people who will continue to work from home rather than return to the city office might underestimate the magnitude of the shift.”

Read that article here.

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To fix its housing crisis, California must unleash the duplex

By Emily Hamilton, Bloomberg CityLab, March 1, 2022

“California’s Senate Bill 9 … circumvents local zoning rules by allowing owners of single-family homes to split their properties into two lots and build two units on each. The first SB9 project will include four new homes on a one-acre, formerly one-house lot in Palo Alto.

“But … SB9 will have far more impact if local leaders cooperate with the spirit of the law by relaxing some of the rules that … make duplexes less attractive to build.

“Under SB9, localities are only required to permit units up to 800 square feet … but the average detached house sold in 2020 was 2,333 square feet. … California needs … local leaders to go further…: Legalizing larger units would lead to more of them being financially feasible.

“[L]ook to Palisades Park, a small town in New Jersey with an approach to zoning for duplexes that works for homebuilders and homebuyers. 

“The town’s comparatively open zoning codes allow … three-story, side-by-side duplexes with small setbacks; they are typically spacious and well-appointed, with each of the two units often larger than the single-family house they replaced. … [The] new … units are less expensive than new construction in neighboring localities in part because two households can share the cost of one lot. 

“[T]he success of duplexes in Palisades Park hinges on the size and desirability of its new housing. If their duplex units were limited to 800 square feet, redevelopment wouldn’t make financial sense. … For SB9 to succeed in substantially expanding California’s housing supply, its cities will … need to increase the square footage of living space permitted on their lots.”

Emily Hamilton is the director of the Urbanity project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and coauthor of the new study“Light Touch Density.”

Read the full article here.

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