San Jose City Council approves taller buildings
■The Mercury News - March 12
After more than a decade of debate over how tall buildings in the nation’s 10th largest city should stand, San Jose’s notoriously squat skyline is finally set to rise in the coming years. The City Council set the change in motion when it voted unanimously this week to allow higher buildings downtown and near Diridon Station to the west despite intense opposition from members of the airport commission and critics who worry the city is kowtowing to Google, which is planning to build a large campus west of Highway 87. Under the new height limits, buildings downtown could rise between 5 and 35 feet, or a modest couple of stories. But near the SAP Center, which is 110 feet tall, heights could more than double, going up 70 to 150 feet. That, the city says, could add about 9.5 million more square feet of commercial and residential development.
Lawmakers roll out bills to strengthen rent control across California
■Curbed LA - March 14
Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly unveiled several bills this week aimed at protecting renters across California, including a far-reaching proposal for a statewide limit on rent hikes. That measure, from Assembly member David Chiu (D-San Francisco), calls for a cap on how much landlords can raise rent every year. In the city of Los Angeles, that’s typically around 3 or 4 percent. About a dozen cities in California already have rent control laws. Chiu’s proposal, Assembly Bill 1482, would apply to cities that do not, including many in and around Los Angeles, from Burbank to Redondo Beach to Long Beach to Pasadena.
They moved to make way for California’s high-speed rail. Now they wonder if it was for nothing
■Fresno Bee - March 19
Hundreds of residents up and down the proposed high-speed rail route – from north of Madera to the Kern County community of Shafter – have been relocated to make way for the project. Some are wondering now whether their move – either through eminent domain or as leveraged sellers – will have been for nothing. Governor Gavin Newsom’s change in priorities for the project announced in his State of the State address, and the Trump administration’s plan to cancel or pull back about $3.5 billion in federal grant funds awarded for high-speed rail construction in the Valley, have fueled uncertainty over the fate of construction in the Valley. As of January, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has acquired more than 1,400 pieces of property that have been deemed necessary for the rail route and made those parcels available to its contractors for construction. But that leaves about 400 more parcels of land in various stages of the purchase process, from making an offer to buy to reappraising to winding through the legal process of condemnation, according to information from the state rail agency.
Land swap expected to create jobs, more protections, and recreation in Santa Ana River wash
■The Sun - March 15
The Santa Ana River Wash Land Exchange Act, sponsored by Representative Pete Aguilar, D-Redlands, and signed this week by President Donald Trump, lets the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) trade 327 acres in the Santa Ana River wash area for 310 acres owned by the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District. The conservation district may also exchange another 59 acres, and the BLM another 90 acres, if those deals are needed to equalize market values. The plan streamlines permitting for various construction projects and operations by protecting habitat, as well as water conservation, water supply infrastructure, sand and gravel production, transportation improvements, trails, and other recreation. To implement the plan, several land swaps need to occur — not only between the federal government and conservation district but also between the city of Redlands and the mining companies. The BLM must next review and, if appropriate, approve a report on how the plan might change the environment.
San Luis Obispo County officials agree on new construction fees to foster affordable housing
■KCBX - March 13
As part of a plan to increase affordable housing, last week San Luis Obispo County officials took some first steps: passing higher development fees on new homes and streamlining the environmental permitting process in an effort to get homes built faster. The county board agreed Tuesday to make changes to the 2008 Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, a local law mandating developers set aside a percentage of units for low income residents. If not, they must pay into an affordable housing fund, used to fund low-income building projects elsewhere in the county.
As costs skyrocket, more U.S. cities stop recycling
■New York Times - March 16
Recycling is collapsing in many parts of the country. Hundreds of towns and cities across the country have canceled recycling programs, limited the types of material they accepted, or agreed to huge price increases. “We are in a crisis moment in the recycling movement right now,” said Fiona Ma, the treasurer of California, where recycling costs have increased in some cities. Prompting this nationwide reckoning is China, which until January 2018 had been a big buyer of recyclable material collected in the United States. That stopped when Chinese officials determined that too much trash was mixed in with recyclable materials like cardboard and certain plastics. With fewer buyers, recycling companies are recouping their lost profits by charging cities more, in some cases four times what they charged last year. Amid the soaring costs, cities and towns are making hard choices about whether to raise taxes, cut other municipal services, or abandon an effort that took hold during the environmental movement of the 1970s.
Ridership rebounding on San Diego public transit
■KPBS - March 15
San Diego's public transit system has been struggling with declining ridership for the past few years. But recent data suggest that trend may be ending — and a host of local policy reforms may be planting the seeds for stronger transit ridership in future years. The Metropolitan Transit System announced last month that ridership on the bus and trolley systems had gone up by more than 50,000 passenger trips in the first seven months of the fiscal year, compared to the same period one year prior. The current fiscal year began in July 2018.