Local News RoundUp

August 7, 2017

August 7, 2017
Cell transmitters on every block? Cities, counties fight to retain control over expanding industry (Sacramento Bee)
Dave Roberts has seen plenty of calamitous fires, and the lingering thought after they’re extinguished always is, “If we’d only been there sooner.” The El Dorado Hills fire chief knows well that for every minute a structure fire burns, it doubles in size, putting both civilians and his firefighters at risk. He also knows there has to be a way to cut response times. That’s why he and the California State Sheriffs’ Association have joined with California telecommunications companies and chambers of commerce to back legislation aimed at providing a more robust system of cellular telephone service. Senate Bill 649 would make it easier and cheaper for the companies to place small transmitters in cities and counties. More cells, they argue, will improve service and add critical redundancy to phone systems in areas affected by wildfires or other natural disasters. “This is a very important bill to ensure that we provide the best and most high-level communication service to the people of our state in a way that contains costs,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego.
More affordable housing needed for San Diego baby boomers (San Diego Union Tribune)
San Diego lacks enough affordable housing to meet the needs of our growing senior population and local government could do much more to increase the supply. By 2030, there will be approximately 9 million baby boomers between the ages of 66 to 84. Most boomers will be on fixed incomes and will need some form of affordable housing. Some will have the option is to live in a nursing home or an assisted-living facility. The average cost to stay in a semi-private room in a nursing home in San Diego’s is $93,805. The cost to stay in an assisted-living facility is approximately $42,000 a year and most seniors pay for assisted living with private funds. One solution to the senior housing crisis is to ease building restrictions surrounding accessory dwelling units also known as granny flats. Granny flats are smaller, independent units on the same lot as a single-family home. These units can accommodate future growth and could help meet the long-term care needs of baby boomers. Granny flats are particularly appealing to homeowners who anticipate that they may have a future need for senior housing options, because they are generally less expensive to build than a standard single-family home. A recent Point Loma Nazarene University study determined building regulations are a significant factor in San Diego’s high housing costs accounting for approximately 45 percent of the total costs, so granny flats make the most sense. Granny flats also allow for flexible living arrangements for families and can provide financial stability to homeowners, especially seniors living on fixed incomes.
San Diego
Poll Reveals Strong Support for Large Affordable Housing Bond (Markets Insider)
Amid Californians' mounting concern over rising homelessness and out-of-reach rents, California State Treasurer John Chiang and a coalition of affordable housing advocates have released the results of a new poll, which shows strong voter support for a $6-9 billion statewide affordable housing bond in 2018. Today in California, more than 1 in 3 families can't afford their rent and 1.5 households pay more than half their income toward housing. The poll, conducted by JMM Research for Advocates for Affordable Housing, found that the electorate is attuned to the state's housing problems, with 60% of likely November 2018 voters supporting a $6 billion to $9 billion statewide affordable housing bond. Earlier this month, Governor Brown and legislative leaders committed to begin tackling the growing housing gap with a housing package that would include a permanent source of state investment in affordable homes; a bond measure to provide a significant, short-term jumpstart to get affordable homebuilding underway; and reforms to speed approval and construction of affordable developments.  Housing leaders said the poll shows voters are ready and willing to pass a housing bond two to three times the amount currently under consideration by the legislature.
Napa planners support 51 affordable apartments on Soscol Avenue (Napa Valley Register)
For the second time this year, land-use authorities in Napa are trying to funnel dozens of lower-priced rental apartments into one of California’s costliest, tightest housing markets. The nonprofit developer of the Manzanita Family Apartments is nearing the go-ahead to build 51 rental dwellings at 2951 Soscol Ave., after winning the city Planning Commission’s endorsement Thursday night. The unanimous vote sends the proposal toward an expected City Council decision this fall, which could clear the way for a groundbreaking in the spring of 2019 and completion late the following year. Estimated to cost $25 million and marked for a 1.85-acre parcel on the west side of the fork of Soscol Avenue and Old Soscol Way, Manzanita is the second project consisting entirely of affordable housing to come before Napa officials in recent months. Its creator, Satellite Affordable Housing Associates of Berkeley, seeks to offer its units at rents within reach of families earning less than 60 percent of the county’s median income.
Trim the thicket of hindrances to housing construction (The Sun)
Legislative leaders have promised to tackle housing affordability when they return to session later this month. They need to make a concerted, successful effort to relieve some of the regulations that enable not-in-my-backyard-ism and stymie housing construction — and not just pile on more taxes. Even some Democrats have lost their stomach for new taxes or tax increases after passage of the gas-tax package and the cap-and-trade deal. California leaders may need to divert some revenue to affordable-housing efforts but, more important, they need to stop what’s stopping the construction of housing, affordable and otherwise. One culprit is CEQA — the California Environmental Quality Act. It’s widely recognized that the act is abused for purposes that have nothing to do with the environment, such as to leverage union demands, thwart rival businesses and stall development where neighbors don’t want it. Gov. Jerry Brown said a few years ago that reforming CEQA was “God’s work,” but apparently he is content to leave it to God. Nor, frankly, do we expect to see the Legislature act on CEQA reform anytime soon. What does stand a chance is state regulation of the regulators — local officials who too often block developments at the behest of homeowners who don’t want housing for others built in their vicinity. Brown put forth a plan last year to reduce some local obstacles to building for any developer who pledged to set aside some units for low-income residents, but his proposal went nowhere. This year’s Senate Bill 35, by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would streamline the approvals process for new construction by limiting local officials’ authority — but only when they are failing to meet established housing goals.
Orange County needs temporary and permanent housing solutions for the homeless (Los Angeles Times)
Somewhere in cars, on streets or in shelters across California, more than 20,000 homeless families — infants included — will sleep tonight. Among them will be unaccompanied homeless children and youth too. Californians are used to trending, but here’s one category where our leadership shows our failings: The Golden State leads the United States with the largest number of unaccompanied homeless youth under 18 years of age. Families with chronic patterns of homelessness are nothing short of an epidemic in California and a moral outrage that engulfs nearly every community. Orange County is no exception. About 1,650 school-age children in this county are housed in motels, vehicles or are unsheltered. Their families are caught up in never-ending cycles of poverty, often forced into homelessness through job loss, divorce, domestic abuse or medical crises. Orange County’s housing market is one of the most expensive in the nation, creating a gap between rental costs and median family income. This economic trend is forcing the lowest-income families onto the streets and into shelters. As reported over a three-day outreach during Family Assessment Week in May, 131 homeless families were identified and connected with housing resources. This outcome is not the same for all families, however, their plight must be addressed through cooperative public-private partnerships.
Cities in the Orange County Division
How affordable housing can chip away at residential segregation (San Francisco Chronicle)
With the health care debate stalling, Republicans are beginning to make more noise about tax reform. President Donald Trump has promised to make his bid to alter the code his next big battle, as has House Speaker Paul Ryan. Though the low-income housing tax credit could land on the chopping block, it’s probably safe due to its history of bipartisan support. Along with politicians from both sides of the aisle, developers and many banks and nonprofits embrace it because the tax credit makes creating new affordable housing units financially feasible and less risky. Yet the program, which is the only significant federal subsidy for building affordable housing, could be in jeopardy as lawmakers seek to close tax loopholes and lower tax rates. As a tax law researcher who has studied where properties built with this tax credit are located, I see good reasons to preserve it. Above all, this program has the untapped potential to help solve the intractable problems of residential segregation by race, ethnicity and class. Each year, the federal government delivers approximately US$8 billion in low-income housing tax credits to housing developers that agree to set aside a certain number of units as rent-controlled affordable housing for qualified tenants. Since it began in 1986, the program has helped create at least 45,905 affordable housing projects with nearly three million units. Some recent research suggests that the affordable housing properties built with the tax credits help to integrate and revitalize otherwise poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
Bring budget transparency into the 21st Century (Folsom Telegraph)
The private industry keeps getting smarter, but our government remains stuck in the past. Across every industry imaginable, number crunchers are leveraging access to an ever-expanding supply of information to improve people's lives: from enhancing healthcare diagnoses to reducing traffic congestion to teaching computers to play Go. Unfortunately, this enthusiasm for more informed, transparent and data-driven decision-making has yet to reach the California state government. Though just two hours from Silicon Valley, Sacramento remains an information black box, where money goes in and government programs come out with little-to-no accountability. For good reason, the state is rated last in the nation for access to government data. Worst of all, California fails to offer what citizens in almost every other state take for granted – a digitized state budget that can be searched online.

Recreational marijuana now available in Lake Tahoe area (KCRA 3)
As if the scenic beauty and slew of outdoor activities weren’t enough, there’s now a new way to relax around Lake Tahoe -- buying recreational marijuana. NuLeaf Dispensary in Incline Village opens its doors Saturday, becoming the first and only place to legally buy recreational marijuana in the Tahoe area. Inside the 2,500-square foot store, marijuana flowers, joints, dabs and edibles are neatly laid out in display cases. Having a polished look is important to co-owner Sean Luse. “We really feel that a dispensary should be friendly and welcoming and clean and a safe environment,” Luse said.  Recreational marijuana became legal in Nevada last month and some dispensaries in Las Vegas and Reno opened on the first day the state allowed. However, Washoe County took its time crafting an ordinance and is only now giving recreation marijuana sellers the green light for anyone 21 and older. “It’s been many years of the campaigns and the political work and we’ve been working on this dispensary here in Nevada for years,” Luse said. “And now finally, the day has come.”
South Lake Tahoe
Pomona marijuana meeting addresses questions from residents (Daily Bulletin)
Questions related to commercial marijuana operations, and the city’s interest in a permitting plan for the drug’s cultivation for personal use were among the queries that came up during the first of a series of community meetings about pot. About 40 people gathered at Washington Park Community Center recently where they were briefed on the voter approved Proposition 64, also known as the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act, and the steps the city is taking leading to the establishment of local regulations involving the use of marijuana for recreational use.  The purpose of the meeting, the first of three scheduled to take place around the city, was to provide a means by which residents could express their opinions associated with cannabis. “We’re here to listen to you,” Mayor Tim Sandoval told the audience.  Also present at the Community Center were Council members Rubio Gonzalez, Adriana Robledo, Cristina Carrizosa and Elizabeth Ontiveros-Cole. Assistant City Attorney Andrew Jared explained that on Nov. 8, 2016 California voters approved Proposition 64. Under Proposition 64 it became legal the day after the election for people 21 and older to use marijuana and to cultivate a maximum of six marijuana plants per residence.  At this time, the state is preparing for Jan. 1, 2018 when the state will oversee the cultivation, testing and distribution of nonmedical marijuana along with the manufacturing of nonmedical marijuana products. While that is taking place, cities who wish to have a say in the regulation of recreational marijuana within their boundaries must take action before Jan. 1. Pomona City officials took a step toward establishing local regulations on July 17 when City Council members gave preliminary approval to a proposed ordinance. Under the proposal, permits would be required to carry out the indoor cultivation of marijuana for personal use. The same proposal calls for prohibiting the use of marijuana in the same place were tobacco use is banned. A final vote on the proposal is expected in September.
This tiny Sierra Valley town voted to pull out of CalPERS. Now city retirees are seeing their pensions slashed (Los Angeles Times)
The tremor in John Cussins’ right hand worsened as he described restless nights haunted by worries about paying the bills. After suffering a stroke in 2012, he retired as a 21-year employee of the city of Loyalton, Calif., where he oversaw the town’s water and sewer systems. Cussins, 56, believed his city pension and the Social Security payments he and his wife received would bring in enough to provide a decent retirement in the tiny, old timber mill town in the Sierra Valley. Then a letter arrived in October. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System was cutting his $2,500-a-month pension by 60 percent, bringing it to about $1,000 a month.  “I was really shocked when I found out about it,” Cussins said. “We thought the pensions were there for the rest of our lives.” Loyalton’s four retired city employees became the first in California to see their pensions sliced by CalPERS because of a city defaulting on its payments to the fund, but hundreds of other government retirees across the state may soon face a similar fate. At the same time, financially strapped local governments that considered pulling out of the state pension system, some hoping to find more affordable alternatives, have found it next to impossible to do because of the large termination fees they must pay CalPERS if they do.
What happened after CalPERS cut pensions of former San Gabriel Valley agency employees (San Gabriel Valley Tribune)
For nearly three decades, Sandy Meza helped young people, unemployed workers and former jail inmates find work.  Now, after CalPERS slashed pensions for Meza and hundreds of other former employees of a defunct San Gabriel Valley job training agency by nearly two-thirds, the 62-year-old Chino resident is looking for a job of her own. “It’s like this dark cloud hanging over you all the time,” Meza said on a recent morning. In January, the California Employees’ Retirement System notified more than 170 former employees of the East San Gabriel Valley Human Services Consortium, known as LA Works, that because the agency hadn’t made payments on their retirement benefits in over a year, their pensions could be reduced. The cuts were approved by the CalPERS board in March and took effect July 1. Most saw their pensions reduced by about 63 percent. That meant a drastic change in lifestyle for 78-year-old Shari Plaster, who lives in Indio. “Everything you planned for during your working years must be reduced by 63 percent — living expenses, planned vacations, certain activities with the grandchildren, friends and life in general,” Plaster, who worked at the agency for 27 years, said in a written statement. Meza and her husband recently asked their three adult children to pay the mortgage on their Chino home. Sitting in the living room of the house they purchased 25 years ago, Meza fought back tears. Her husband Miguel’s voice was audible from the next room as he spoke with a Medicare representative about lowering the costs of his Parkinson’s disease medications — his request was later denied.
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