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More Housing, Less Sprawl: Tackling Los Angeles’ Affordable Housing Crisis through Smart Growth

It is no secret that Southern California is currently facing one of the worst housing crises it has faced in more than half a century.

Eric Garcetti is a long-time believer in density built around transit. Photo:##http://endinggridlock.org/blog/congratulations-to-las-next-mayor-eric-garcetti##Angelenos Against Gridlock##

Eric Garcetti is a long-time believer in density built around transit. Photo:Angelenos Against Gridlock

That’s the point Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti drove home Wednesday at the Los Angeles Business Council’s annual Mayoral Housing, Transportation, and Jobs summit.

While it isn’t a revelation to most that it’s getting harder and harder to be poor or even middle class and afford to live in Los Angeles County – especially in westside cities like Santa Monica – it was refreshing to hear Garcetti address the root cause of this crisis: a lack of new housing being built.

But even more refreshing was to hear Garcetti, who currently chairs Metro’s Board of Directors, talk about making sure new housing – especially units affordable to low and middle-income residents – gets built next to the region’s expanding transit system.

At the summit, Garcetti announced his plan to increase L.A.’s housing stock by 100,000 new units by 2021. At the same time, he announced his intention to bring a motion before the Metro board to “analyze affordable housing preservation and construction around our transit system, from using MTA-owned land and targeting transit-pass programs.”

Does that mean we may see some of those sprawling surface parking lots redeveloped into places where middle- and low-income residents – many of whom rely on public transit for their daily commute – can live?

Studies have shown that lower-income residents will leave their cars at home 50 percent more often if they live within a quarter mile of reliable public transit.

Placing affordable housing near transit is a major tool in combating these issues, which is one reason why State Senator Darryl Steinberg fought for a generous portion of the California’s cap-and-trade money to be used to subsidize transit-oriented development.

The reality is, Garcetti said, that without growth, especially near transit, the region’s problems will only get worse. While the housing crisis may be evocative of the post-war era, regional leaders seem to realize that sprawl – the answer to our mid-century housing crisis – is not the answer today. (In case you didn’t already realize it, sprawl is really bad for people, the environment, and the economy.) Read more…

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The Hidden Gas Tax That Doesn’t Exist

GasTaxMobileBillboardYou may have seen the ads on Facebook, or on one of the roving billboards being pulled by a gasoline-powered truck. They warned darkly of a coming “hidden tax” on fuel that was so hidden nobody in the media was talking about it. You may have wondered what it meant, even as the ads urged you to sign a petition today.

Last week, the oil-industry-backed effort to get people riled up about the “coming hidden gas tax” delivered its petition [PDF] to the California Air Resources Board’s monthly meeting in Diamond Bar.

The California Drivers Alliance gathered a whopping 115,000 signatures, and “dozens” of people showed up to deliver them. It urges the Air Resources Board to delay its “plan to increase fuel prices next year” and charges that the agency has been “unresponsive” and “has not even put this far-reaching policy on its agenda for public discussion.”

Not a word of which is true.

There is no “hidden gas tax” that will suddenly come into being in January. The Air Resources Board has no “plan to increase fuel prices,” nor could it do so. The only change coming is that transportation fuels will become subject to California’s cap-and-trade system.

That means that distributors and transporters of fuels must either 1) comply with requirements to produce no more than a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions (the “cap” on emissions), or 2) buy enough “pollution credits” from the state to “meet” the cap. This is the “trade” part of the system.

The EPA estimates that transportation contributes a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

To adopt the industry’s tactic of endless repetition: “There is no ‘hidden tax,’ or any other tax associated with [California climate change law A.B. 32] programs,” according to a written statement from Dave Clegern of the Air Resources Board. “There is simply a market mechanism, which industry preferred, to allow businesses to spread their emission reductions between now and 2020 . . . instead of having to make those greenhouse gas reductions all at once.”

The Air Resources Board knows that the industry prefers this method because it has said so. “The oil industry and dealers were at the table through this whole process, and have been aware this coverage was coming for at least five years,” wrote Clegern.

In official comments submitted to the Board in 2011, the industry’s trade group, the Western States Petroleum Association, wrote: “WSPA reiterates its support for the Cap and Trade program and a market-based approach to implementing AB 32.” [PDF]

Read more…

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More Workshops on CA Affordable Housing Program

"Concept drawing" of an idealized street at the Strategic Growth Council website shows a mix of modes and multi-familuy dwellings.

“Concept drawing” of an idealized street at the Strategic Growth Council website shows a mix of modes and multi-family dwellings.

California’s Strategic Growth Council is holding a second round of workshops on its guidelines for spending cap-and-trade funds on affordable housing and sustainable communities. The draft guidelines [PDF] incorporate input gathered over the summer as well as at several packed workshops held throughout the state in August of this year.

The Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program was created this year with $130 million in funding from California’s cap-and-trade system. Its goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by funding projects that connect land use and transportation, support infill and compact development, and contribute to other public policy goals including reducing air pollution, increasing mobility options, and increasing transit ridership.

The program is trying to do many things with not very much money. However, it is slated to receive an ongoing twenty percent of future annual cap-and-trade funds, which are expected to grow considerably in the next few years.

The draft guidelines set program requirements and eligibility, application procedures, and performance requirements. “We want to hear your ideas about the program and how it can best benefit your communities,” said Mike McCoy, the Strategic Growth Council’s executive director.

One of the sticking points at the last workshops was how to define and quantify benefits to disadvantaged communities, which by law must benefit from half of the program’s funding–but that was only one of many points of discussion. This round of workshops will not include the small group discussions of the past round, but staff members say there will be plenty of time for discussion and public comment.

The first in this round of workshops will be held in Merced today, October 23, from 1 to 4. Preregistration for all the workshops is necessary, and they will probably fill up, if the last series is an indication. However, as of today there are still tickets available for all of them. Read more…

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CA Tackles the Question: What Is a “Disadvantaged Community”?

Workshop attendees discuss what makes a project eligible for cap-and-trade funds. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Workshop attendees discuss what makes a project eligible for cap-and-trade funds. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

In a packed, airless room last night in Oakland, several hundred people grappled with the question of how to define those communities in California that shoulder a heavier burden of pollution than others.

The workshop was the third in a series of three—the other two were held recently in Fresno and Los Angeles–led by the California Air Resources Board and the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) to gather input on the question. The room was packed with experts and advocates from a wide variety of fields—emissions, housing, transit, recycling, you name it—and there may even have been a few members of disadvantaged communities present.

The question of how to define a disadvantaged community is not merely an academic one. Millions–potentially billions–of dollars are at stake. By law, a portion of all revenue generated from the auctions of pollution credits under the state’s cap-and-trade system must be spent in, or for the benefit of, “disadvantaged communities.”

The mayors of Richmond, Oakland, and Berkeley showed up, as did state Senator Loni Hancock. Invited to speak briefly, each brought up local concerns, with Oakland’s Mayor Jean Quan quipping: “We’re probably all going to say the same thing.”

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin addresses a workshop on defining "disadvantaged communities" that will benefit from cap-and-trade funds. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin addresses the workshop on defining “disadvantaged communities” that will benefit from cap-and-trade funds. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

And indeed each mayor pointed out communities in their areas that bear a heavy pollution burden but did not show up on the preliminary maps of disadvantaged communities produced by CalEPA. Quan said she was surprised that several areas in Oakland were left out, including low-income tracts along the heavily traveled 880 corridor and East Oakland.

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, noting her city lays claim to the state’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, the Chevron oil refinery, added, “Our community has shouldered the burden of pollution and subsequent health impacts for 100-plus years. Those communities that suffer the most should be put front and center—not in the back, not in an appendix–for getting the resources that we need.”

Those preliminary maps, included in the ninety-plus pages of material passed out at the workshops, were developed by the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as part of CalEnviroScreen. This was presented at the workshop as the state’s chosen tool for defining disadvantaged communities. It combines twelve pollution factors (such as ozone, diesel emissions, and groundwater threats) with seven population factors that studies have found make people more vulnerable to the effects of pollution (for example, asthma rates and poverty). The data is available at the census tract level so the information can be mapped at a fairly detailed level.

It’s a groundbreaking tool resulting from years of work, and is an impressive achievement. But as evidenced by the mayors’ remarks, it’s also just a starting point.

Read more…

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Steinberg Kills Bill That Sought to Delay Cap-and-Trade on Fuels

Mobile billboard against the "hidden gas tax." Photo via CA Drivers Alliance Twitter

Mobile billboard against the “hidden gas tax.” Photo via CA Drivers Alliance Twitter

The misinformation campaigns trumpeting an imminent “hidden gas tax” in California lost a battle with the defeat of Assemblymember Henry Perea’s bill, A.B. 69, which was designed to delay application of cap-and-trade to the fuels industry for three years.

Fuel companies have already begun participating in the state’s cap-and-trade auctions, buying pollution credits that they can use to help them meet the greenhouse gas emission cap set by the state. Emission caps will not apply to the fuel industry until this coming January, but they have had years to prepare for it.

Senate President Pro Tem Darryl Steinberg sent a letter to Perea [PDF] explaining his decision not to let A.B. 69 go forward. The bill may not have had much of a chance of passing anyway, but this settles the question without the Senate or Assembly having to take it up in the final few days of the legislative session.

A.B. 69 was originally a bill about water quality, and had been considered and passed in the Assembly as such, when at the last minute Perea completely rewrote it, in what’s called a “gut and amend.” At that point, it was in the Senate, where it would have had to pass out of several committees and then pass with at least a two-thirds vote on the Senate floor before the Assembly could take it up.

Steinberg killed it in the Rules Committee. In his letter to Perea, he wrote that “bringing non-stationary fuels under the cap is not an unforeseen issue that demands legislation which sidesteps the democratic process.” And “a measure of this importance should not be considered in the final weeks of a two-year session.”

Read more…

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State Agencies Host Various Workshops on Cap-and-Trade Funding Programs

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Disadvantaged Communities in California, as measured by CalEnviroScreen. For detailed maps by census tract, go to this website.  Image: CalEPA.

The end of summer has become Public Workshop Season in California. With new funding coming from the state’s cap-and-trade system in several categories, state agencies are figuring out how to best spend that money, and the first step is asking for help in creating guidelines for eligible projects.

Last week the Strategic Growth Council held workshops on guidelines for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program.

This week and next the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) will ask for help figuring out how to define “disadvantaged communities,” which by law must benefit from a proportion of projects funded by cap-and-trade money (more about this below).

Last week and this week, the California State Transportation Agency is hosting input sessions for the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program ($25 million, and 10 percent of future cap-and-trade proceeds) and the Low-Carbon Transit Operations Program ($25 million and 5 percent of future proceeds).

These somewhat overlapping efforts are all supposed to demonstrate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to move California towards the climate change goals of SB 32, which requires a reduction in GHGs to 1990 levels by 2020.

It’s all new: the funding source, the program intentions, the attempts to measure GHG reductions, and the collaborations required between agencies, operators, and government sectors.

Transit Capital and Operations Funding

The low turnout at Friday’s workshop on transit funds—the first of three—may have been due to lack of publicity or maybe the amount of money available ($50 million total for all of CA) does not add up to much for individual agencies. There are more than a hundred transit agencies, large and small, throughout the state. While the Intercity Rail portion will be allocated to particular projects, the Low-Carbon Transportation Fund will be divided up according to existing state funding formulas.

Only $25 million spread statewide for operations funding means that small agencies in areas with low populations and low farebox revenues are likely to see only very small amounts of money. For some, this will be less than $100—at least in this first year.

That’s hardly enough to enhance or expand services to increase mode share, as required by the allocation.

And it may not be worth the effort at all, if reporting requirements are anything more than a simple check-box. A number of those attending the workshop requested that administrators keep the process as simple as possible so as not to cause more work for small and understaffed agencies.

The last workshop on transit funding will be in L.A. this Wednesday, August 27,  from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. 
at the Metro Board Room. Written comments on transit funding can be submitted to tircpcomments@dot.ca.gov and lctopcomments@dot.ca.gov

What Qualifies as a “Disadvantaged Community”?

CalEPA workshops this week and next on defining “disadvantaged communities” will play a crucial role in deciding how to allocate cap-and-trade funds. Overall, at least 25 percent of all cap-and-trade funds must be spent in, or somehow benefit, a disadvantaged community. In the case of the Affordable Housing/Sustainable Communities category, half of funds must benefit these communities.

So the definition of “disadvantaged community” is pretty important. Read more…

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California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 4.34.24 PMHere is Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of California legislation related to sustainable transportation.

Today was the last day to amend bills for this legislative session. Any bill that doesn’t get passed by midnight next Sunday, August 31, will be officially dead.

Among the flurry of votes, the following bills passed out of both the Assembly and the Senate and are now waiting for the governor to sign—or veto:

Vehicle registration surcharge for bike paths and trails: SB 1183 from Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) would allow local jurisdictions–cities, park districts–to place initiatives on the ballot to fund bike paths and trails with a local vehicle registration surcharge. Because this fits Brown’s ideals about fiscal responsibility—that is, the surcharge cannot be imposed unless 2/3 of voters approve—let’s say this one is likely to be signed.

Bike racks on buses: AB 2707, from Assemblymember Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), would allow newer, longer buses to carry bike racks that fit three bikes. Right now buses are generally restricted to two-bike racks, except in a few places that argued for an exception. This would make the rules consistent statewide.

Traffic violation fines in school zones: S.B. 1151, from Senator Anthony Canella (R-Ceres). Despite unanimous passage in both houses and all the committees it passed through, advocates are worried that Brown may decline to sign this bill because it uses fines to generate revenue. In this case the revenue would have been used for active transportation projects.

The bill originally called for fines to be doubled, to match fines in construction zones. However, the original language would have required new signage and legislators balked at burdening locals with those costs. Now, the bill merely adds a mandatory $35 increase to any other fines a scofflaw motorist would incur for unsafe driving in a school zone.

Meanwhile the following bills passed the Senate and returned to the Assembly for approval of Senate amendments: Read more…

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CA Seeks Input for Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program

Housing and transportation advocates discuss California’s Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities guidelines, last week in Oakland. Photo: Melanie Curry

Housing advocates and local officials gathered in Oakland last week to discuss guidelines for California’s new Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program (AHSC). It was one of three packed meetings held throughout the state by the Strategic Growth Council (SGC), the state agency that oversees the AHSC, to gather input on the new program’s guidelines. 

The ASHC was created to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by fostering the development of affordable housing near transit hubs, as well as improvements to transit, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure in those areas to provide low-emission alternatives to driving. A funding stream for the program was created through a late-hour deal last month between Governor Jerry Brown and state legislators which provided $130 million in revenue from CA’s cap-and-trade program.

The $130 million, however, is a drop in the bucket for California’s affordable housing funding needs. Despite growing demand, revenue for housing subsidies was slashed heavily in recent years after Governor Brown dissolved redevelopment agencies and federal sources of affordable housing funds dried up.

If the legislature sticks to its budget bill plan, the AHSC will receive 20 percent of future cap-and-trade funds each year. This is projected to be between $600 million and $1 billion per year over the next five years, according to estimates by the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Read more…

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The Debate Over CA’s Cap-and-Trade Funds Is Not Over

From left to right: California Mayors Robert Garcia (Long Beach), Chuck Reed (San Jose), Jean Quan (Oakland), Miguel Pulido (Santa Ana), and Ed Lee (San Francisco) at a press conference in Sacramento, yesterday. Photo: Melanie Curry

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti led a group of California mayors on a trip to Sacramento to push for legislation on a number of issues that impact cities before the final, frantic weeks of August that mark the end of the legislative session. On their agenda was getting assurance that cap-and-trade funds would be available to help cities reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years.

While the fate of cap-and-trade funds has been decided for this budget year, the mayors said they want to be certain that the program operates as intended and that funds are allocated fairly to urban areas down the line. With hundreds of millions in cap-and-trade funds generated this year, and tens of billions in the years to come, it is hard to blame them.

Garcetti said cap-and-trade funds should support new construction as well as operations of existing mass transit and affordable housing in California’s cities, “and not just in the coastal, wealthy areas of the state.” Of the $850 million in cap-and-trade funds allocated in this year’s budget, only $50 million go towards transit, including capital improvements, intercity rail, and operations.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said 10,000 potential residents could be housed along transit corridors in Oakland, adding that investment in transit and affordable transit-oriented development could address issues of wage equality and diversity.

The current state budget allocates $130 million from cap-and-trade funds to a new program, Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC), aimed at concentrating affordable housing in transit-rich areas to encourage new residents to make more trips by transit rather than driving. Read more…

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California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

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Here is Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of California legislation related to sustainable transportation.

The legislature just came back from its August recess and spent the week catching up on its to-do list. The next few weeks will see a flurry of bills being voted on—and amended—before the session deadline on August 31.

LOS gone from CEQA: Big news! California is taking a big step away from wholly car-centric planning measures. Jarrett Walker calls it the toppling of a tyrant. Earlier this week, a bit after its July 1 deadline, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research published its draft recommendation to replace Level of Service (LOS) standards with Vehicle Miles Traveled under the California Environmental Quality Act. A 45-day public comment period just started, so if you have something to add to the conversation, say it by 5 p.m., October 10: CEQA.guidelines@ceres.ca.gov.

School zones treated as safety zones: S.B. 1151 from Senator Anthony Canella (R-Ceres) flew through the Appropriations Committee Wednesday and is headed to a vote by the full Assembly. The bill would raise the fines for infractions and moving violations within school zones. Any funds generated would go into the state’s Active Transportation Program.

Gas price scare tactics: A.B. 69, the attempt by Assemblymember Henry Perea (D-Fresno) to delay the application of cap-and-trade emission limits to fuels, has been causing a ruckus. The press has been covering the issue with uneven success; some completely missing the mark (including  this story claiming that the law requires a gasoline “tax” to go into effect as soon as the new year hits: wrong). State Air Resources Board (CARB) chair Mary Nichols last week responded to a letter from Perea [PDF], emphasizing that any gas price volatility would likely  be less than what California consumers experience regularly.

Meanwhile the Legislative Analyst Office sent Perea’s office its analysis of the possible price effects of bringing fuels into the cap-and-trade program [PDF]. The LAO put its estimate of gas price increases—resulting from oil companies passing on the costs of cap-and-trade, NOT because they would be required to charge consumers more money—at between 13 and 20 cents per gallon by 2020 (and maybe as high as 50 cents). However, the letter continues, if fuels are not made subject to cap-and-trade, hypothetical alternative strategies might have a similar effect on gas prices. It also notes:

Even if cap-and-trade leads to a large price increase, it might be difficult to distinguish this increase from other fluctuations in gasoline prices. For example, a price increase of 60 cents per gallon of gasoline—an increase larger than many of the estimates we reviewed—would be smaller than the difference between the highest and lowest weekly gasoline prices observed in 2013.

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