Local News RoundUp

The Local News RoundUp is the League's daily news clipping service of articles related to California cities and local government.

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March 24, 2017

 
TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE
House Republicans launch a petty attack on a smart rail project (Sacramento Bee)
Gov. Jerry Brown this week urged House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to free $650 million for an important commuter rail project on the San Francisco Peninsula. Now, 121 Silicon Valley leaders are making their pitch. The idea behind all public works projects, CalTrain included, is straightforward: We collectively pitch in to pay for work that benefits large numbers of people. Too often, however, funding falls victim to politics, as residents of the San Francisco Peninsula have found. There’s much to commend the project to electrify what now is a diesel commuter train that chugs from San Jose to San Francisco. The standing-room only train carries 65,000 people a day now. It would carry 110,000 once the electrification and other improvements are completed.
Statewide
 
Advocates urge immediate passing of bill to help fix state roads (Bakersfield Now)
Local leaders met Thursday with advocates of a package of bills that would help with road repairs in Bakersfield.
Members of the group say the bill is intended to raise money for the road repairs by raising gas taxes and fees. They say a 12-cent tax would generate $800,000 for the city of Wasco alone for road repairs. Gov. Jerry Brown has given lawmakers a deadline of April 6 to pass a transportation bill. The group says drivers pay an average of $762 a year in additional car maintenance because of the roadway conditions.
Statewide
 
HOMELESSNESS/POVERTY
797 unsheltered homeless in Anaheim alone report says (Voice of Orange County)
When Orange County’s first year-round homeless shelter opens in Anaheim next month, it will have an initial capacity of 100 beds. But even at its full capacity of 200 beds, with 400 more beds available at a temporary emergency shelter in Santa Ana, the county can’t shelter the homeless in just Anaheim. A census conducted by the nonprofit CityNet found 906 homeless adults in Orange County’s largest city, 797 of them unsheltered. Matt Bates, vice president of CityNet, told the City Council Tuesday that shelter provides stability, allowing people to move past worrying about basic needs. The county’s 10-year plan to end homelessness says that there are 66 shelters with 3,400 beds countywide. But estimates put the county’s homeless population at more than 15,000.
Anaheim
 
WATER/DROUGHT
Opposing sides in California water wars forced together in groundwater agencies (Sacramento Bee)
With all the downpours and flooding across California this winter, it might seem that the pressure to begin managing the state’s precious groundwater supply would ease up a bit. Instead, the state is pushing to quicken the pace of implementing groundwater regulations. At the same time, the process of forming local agencies to manage groundwater basins is fueling anxiety among farmers and environmentalists alike. For all, there is uncertainty – in part because state law now requires all users to work together for the first time on the groundwater issue when many may have been on opposing sides in previous water disputes. Some view these new agencies as an opportunity for disadvantaged communities and small farmers to have a voice in decision-making; others worry that the agencies will be dominated by the same powerful agriculture interests that have held sway in the state for so long.
Statewide
 
PENSION
Pension crisis too big for markets to ignore (Bloomberg)
In late 2006, Aaron Krowne, a computer scientist and mathematician, started a website that documented the real-time destruction of the subprime mortgage lending industry. The Mortgage Lender Implode-O-Meter caught on like wildfire with financial market voyeurs, regularly reaching 100,000 visitors. West Coast lenders, some may recall, were the first to fall in what eventually totaled 388 casualties. A year earlier, to much less fanfare, Jack Dean launched another website in anticipation of the different kind of wave washing up on the California coastline. Called the Pension Tsunami, the website was originally conceived to provide Golden State taxpayers with a one-stop resource to track news stories on the state’s mammoth and numerous underfunded public pensions. As the years have passed, though, the site has become a font of information for states and municipalities nationwide as well as corporate pensions. In all, over 40,000 headlines have been posted to the website to date. On a recent Friday, Dean posted multiple stories on the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the country’s largest pension program, as well as a budget cliff facing San Francisco, six Los Angeles public safety officers who collected over $1 million apiece last year in pensions, and eight cities that could face bankruptcy when the next recession hits.
Statewide
 
HOUSING
Marin median home price hits $992,550; sales drop (Marin Independent Journal)
The median price of a Marin home jumped 7 percent in February, to $992,550 compared with the previous February, while sales dropped 16 percent, a real estate information service reported Thursday. The median price of a Marin condominium increased, going from $448,800 in February 2016 to $508,000 in February 2017, and sales fell 17 percent, to 48 condos, according to Irvine-based CoreLogic. Sales were down throughout the Bay Area, the service reported. The analyst attributed the weak sales to “declining affordability caused by both higher prices and, more recently, higher mortgage interest rates, as well as a tight inventory of homes for sale and, possibly, the very wet winter.” Arundel Burrell, an agent with the Holmes Burrell real estate brokerage, said LePage’s observations jibed with his experiences in the field.
Marin
 
Home prices continue to rise in Sacramento region (Sacramento Bee)
The price of homes in the Sacramento region continued to spike in February, according to Thursday’s report by Irvine-based real estate market tracker CoreLogic. In Sacramento County, the median price of a resale house was $310,500 in February, compared to $290,000 in January. When compared to February 2016, the figure represents a 10.9 percent increase, CoreLogic reported. Sacramento’s year-over-year gains “stand out” among large counties in California, LePage said. Other counties that registered double-digit increases included Santa Clara (11.4 percent), Alameda (12.3 percent) and Riverside (10.3 percent). Despite the price appreciation, the number of resale home transactions in February was generally down in the four-county Sacramento region that also includes Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties. Sacramento saw a 4 percent decline, while Yolo and El Dorado transactions decreased by 5 percent and 23 percent, respectively. Placer County gained 1 percent.
Cities in Sacramento County
 
Seller’s market? Bay Area home sales slip, but prices soar (Mercury News)
Declining Bay Area home sales last month made it the most sluggish February in nine years, but prices jumped sharply as buyers bid on a shrinking supply of single-family homes. Prices soared 11.4 percent higher across the nine-county region compared with the same month of the prior year, reaching a median price of $675,000 — the largest such increase in more than a year. Only 3,272 home sales closed across the region, 21 percent below the February average going back nearly three decades. But short supply and high demand turned the February market into a pressure cooker as prices moved back toward peak levels in some areas. In Santa Clara County, the median price of a single-family home rose 11.4 percent from a year earlier to $960,000 — 4 percent under last spring’s $1 million peak. Bucking the region’s sluggish sales trend, transactions in Santa Clara County actually rose 11.2 percent over the same period. The market is “frothy,” especially for entry-level homes, said Pacific Union agent Adam Touni, who is based in Palo Alto, where a so-called starter home can cost $2.5 million.
Cities in Santa Clara, Alameda, San Mateo and Contra Costa Counties
 
ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
California adopts strictest methane rule in the nation (San Diego Union-Tribune)
As expected, California officials on Thursday night passed what is considered the nation’s strictest rule aimed at curbing emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) approved the measure on a unanimous vote at a meeting in Riverside. The regulation is sweeping, covering oil and gas sites on land as well as offshore and would apply to private, state and federal property. Tribal land, however, would be exempt. It would also cover storage sites such as the Aliso Canyon natural gas facility, site of a massive leak that forced thousands from their homes in the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles County. Methane is estimated to have 72 times more potential impact on global warming than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. Advocates for the rule say 75,000 tons of methane go into the atmosphere in California through leaky equipment and venting from oil and gas producers. The rule mandates regular inspections at facilities and promises to slash methane releases by as much as 45 percent over the next nine years. The regulation will go into effect in phases, starting Jan. 1, 2018.
Statewide
 
California regulators launch new campaign against harmful climate pollutants (Los Angeles Times)
California opened another front in its fight against global warming on Thursday, launching a new strategy for slashing so-called super pollutants that have an outsize impact on the climate. The plan targets emissions such as methane from cow manure, black carbon from diesel exhaust and hydrofluorocarbons from refrigerators. Regulators at the Air Resources Board, which approved the strategy, and other government agencies will now need to write detailed rules for achieving the reductions. As the world races to limit rising temperatures from climate change, some experts have suggested that targeting these pollutants could help make big gains more quickly. They hope the state's action will help demonstrate policies that other governments could imitate. The emissions are sometimes referred to as “short-lived climate pollutants” because they have a relatively short life span once they’re dispersed into the atmosphere. But they’re particularly potent — methane, for example, is about 80 times more damaging in terms of heating the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
Statewide
 
California passes nation’s toughest methane emission regulations (SF Gate)
California air quality officials have approved what are widely considered to be the most rigorous and comprehensive regulations in the country for controlling methane emissions, a move that helps cement the state’s status as a standard-bearer for environmental protection. The new rules, green-lighted Thursday by the state’s Air Resources Board, seek to curb methane emissions at oil and gas production plants by up to 45 percent over the next nine years. The cuts will come from a combination of heightened efficiency requirements, inspection mandates and rules meant to ensure that leaks are discovered and fixed swiftly. The regulations apply to both onshore and offshore oil and gas centers. The standards, which experts said mark the first major piece of environmental regulation passed by any state since the turnover of power in Washington, were hailed as a triumph by environmental activists, but criticized as cumbersome, costly and ultimately unnecessary by oil and gas producers.
Statewide
 
PUBLIC SAFETY
Sacramento City Council decisions creating crisis in the Police Department (Sacramento Bee)
The Sacramento City Council once again demonstrated it is blissfully unaware that it is causing a crisis in the Sacramento Police Department, one that will take years to undo. Rather than encourage strong, independent leadership in the department, the council continues to substitute its judgment for those who have dedicated their lives to the profession of public safety. Since I’m sure Sacramento police officers do not feel it from their City Council, let me here state it unequivocally – the Sacramento Police Department is a first-rate, mission-focused organization full of outstanding men and women. Conversely, the City Council, including its mayor, does not. Yet the council develops and adopts use-of-force guidelines without law enforcement input and creates an oversight committee in which members are precluded from having any law enforcement experience. The council is developing a policy that seems intended to placate detractors without regard to their public safety efficacy, and council members are making public statements against the findings of District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. Just this week, the council shut down Chief Brian Louie’s recommendation regarding an ongoing investigation. The council then has the audacity to publicly state how it supports and appreciates the Police Department when it is politically advantageous for members to do so.
Sacramento
 
MARIJUANA
Medical marijuana dispensaries running afoul of California tax board (Press Telegram)
Thirteen medical marijuana dispensaries owe more than $12 million in unpaid state taxes, according to a report recently published by the Board of Equalization. The list includes several pioneers of the medical marijuana movement, who opened dispensaries not long after California became the first state to legalize weed as medicine in 1996. Many of the businesses on the list have long been shut down, though a few continue to sell marijuana in some fashion. The list comes from the Board of Equalization, which is required by law to publish details every quarter on the state’s 500 largest delinquent taxpayers. The idea is to encourage Californians to settle up, since their names are removed from the public list as soon as they make arrangements to start paying their debt. Among the many tax-dodging car dealers, fast food franchisees, contractors and gas station owners on the list are a baker’s dozen of pot shops. Together, these canna-businesses owe nearly $12.2 million, with the first three dispensaries alone racking up nearly $5 million in debt. That’s hardly an exhaustive number, though. Some debts on the top 500 list are tracked only by the individual business owner’s name, or by business names that are meant to be tough to pinpoint. And the state only lists debtors who owe at least $100,000.
Statewide
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