TCBC County and State Issues
Ron Kopf’s “Top Three”
TUD’s Phoenix Lake Restoration Project Set to begin this Spring
A long-awaited multi-million-dollar restoration and dredging project for Phoenix Lake is now on track for construction to start late spring. Phoenix Lake is a key component of the water storage and delivery for Sonora, Jamestown, Mono Village and East Sonora. Dredging up to 400,000 cubic yards out of the lake will increase water storage by roughly a third (to 850 acre-feet) and improve water quality. Grant funding has been secured to pay for most of the work. Tuolumne Utility District estimates it will take through the end of this year and possibly part of the 2021 construction season to get everything done.
City of Sonora Hires New Administrator
Mary Rose Axiak-Rutikanga was approved to be the next City Administrator for the City of Sonora. Axiak-Rutikanga grew up in Copperopolis, is a Bret Harte High School graduate and a resident of Sonora. She has most recently been serving as the Deputy County Executive Officer for the County of Merced where she was responsible for helping to plan, organize and develop Merced County’s $700-million annual budget and overseeing the county’s 45-million jail remodel. She also previously worked for Calaveras County in a similar position. Her first day on the job was February 3rd and her starting salary will be $130,000.
Newsom Issues Potential Emergency Homeless Shelter Site List
Governor Gavin Newsom’s newly released list of state-owned properties available for local governments to use for local homelessness solutions includes one in Sonora at 785 Mono Way (on corner by Adventist Health Cancer center and across street from Rite Aid) Newsom states he wants local leaders to review the available state-owned sites in their areas and work with the state towards developing housing and shelter proposals that help move people off the streets. Under his plan, the state is offering local governments one-dollar leases to use the identified properties and the ability for qualifying projects to tap into some $650 million in State Emergency Homeless Aid and technical assistance for building out the sites.
County Director of Innovation and Business Assistance Department identifies Three Industries for Development Innovation and Business Assistance Department Director Cole Przybyla has identified Hospitality, Senior care and Natural Resource Manufacturing as the three main industries that Tuolumne County should target when trying to attract businesses. Director Przybyla noted that we need to be much more focused on our attraction efforts and presented data that showed that showed the three industries were the best suited for growth in the county. One factor supporting the need for more hospitality is the that more traffic to Yosemite National Park goes through Tuolumne County than Mariposa County, but Mariposa County receives $15 million in Transient Occupancy Tax revenue per year while Tuolumne County receives less than $5 million.
Tuolumne County Water Supply Update
TUD reports that although there has been very little precipitation in the region for the last several weeks, enough snow has accumulated to fill Lyons Reservoir and Pinecrest Lake and provide water for the year. The next steps for TUD will be to monitor the weather forecasts and snow accumulations for the remainder of the winter season and adjust accordingly. The total average rainfall in inches at this time of year at TUD’s regional plant is 5.99 inches and so far, Tuolumne County has received 1.95 inches at that location.
TUD Plans to Exercise Federal County-of-Origin Rights for New Melones Water Supplies
The TUD Board has authorized the General Manager to submit a formal request letter to the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) to exercise federal county-of-origin rights for a water supply contract in New Melones. Tuolumne County (specifically TUD) has a Federal right to water in New Melones Reservoir that has not been exercised and TUD is the last agency in the nation that has this ability. TUD already has pumps and a pipeline with the ability to divert from New Melones and the TUD Board and staff have made it a high priority to diversify supply sources and diversions, interconnect systems through consolidation and make the system more efficient and reliable. Water from New Melones does have additional cost to pump but is worthwhile to ensure that during a drought TUD customers will have another backup water supply.
The current Melones diversion connects to the Columbia water treatment plant and downstream ditches. TUD is looking at options to extend a transmission line from Columbia to Sonora and possible state and fed grants and partnerships to leverage ratepayer dollars to make it affordable. In that TUD’s application to USBR is federally recognized and no act of Congress needed, TUD estimates a two-year timeframe to complete the administrative process.
The Economic Impact of Tourism on California’s Rural Counties
After nine consecutive years of growth, California’s travel and tourism economy continues to surge. Visitors pumped more than $140 billion in travel spending in the last year, stimulating business development and providing Californians with more than one million jobs. Increased travel spending is leading to record-setting hotel construction and more than $4 billion in annual investments in theme park, restaurant and other tourism-related infrastructure. These projects are creating secondary employment effects, generating high-quality jobs in building and construction.
Not only does tourism support the state, the industry is a boon for city and county budgets. Last year, visitor spending generated $11.8 billion in tax revenue for state and local jurisdictions and was among the top three sources of funding for many counties. This revenue helps fund vital programs and infrastructure projects and saves California households an additional $890 in taxes each year to maintain state and local services.
It takes more than having the perfect destination to attract visitor dollars. For more than 25 years, Visit California’s marketing programs have delivered billions of dollars of new visitor spending and helped establish California as the number one travel destination in the U.S. Over the next five years, Visit California will be building on this success by investing $500 million in global marketing campaigns to ensure that the state remains a top consideration when travelers around the world are planning a trip.
To learn more about the economic impact of tourism upon our benefits of travel and tourism to California’s economy go to: travelmattersca.com
Tuolumne County TOT Revenue and Proposed Lodging Facilities
It is no secret that Tuolumne County has had a difficult time balancing the Budget over the last several years and changes in employee retirement allocations and normal cost adjustments will not make this process any easier. A County ballot tax increase initiative is on the March 2020 ballot to increase revenues. Two measures are being proposed. The first is proposing that voters consider a 1% tax increase on sales from 7.25% (the base amount currently collected within the unincorporated area of the county) along with a 2% increase in the existing 10% transient occupancy or TOT tax. In addition to raising the TOT on lodging the tax would extend to camping and RV facilities.
Two tourism-based resort projects in Groveland have been proposed that would add significant TOT revenue however, they have been stalled for additional study due to local opposition from neighbors and CSERC. One project is called Terra Vi and the other is Under Canvas. Terra Vi had proposed 100 hotel rooms, 26 cabin rooms which will probably be scaled back due to opposition. Under Canvas has 99 units planned and they are seasonal – generally April through September – but this could be extended). Microtel by Wyndham is 60 units and has just applied for their site developer permit so still to be seen if this is to be opposed as well.
Visit Tuolumne County Director, Lisa Mayo has estimated revenue being lost from the three delayed resort projects located past Groveland on the way to Yosemite as follows:
- For Terra Vi Assuming 80% occupancy and assuming average room night of $300/night 292 nights per unit = $87,600 x 126 units = 11,037,600 X 10% = 1,103,760
- For Under Canvas Assuming 80% occupancy and assuming average room night of $200/night 144 nights per unit = $28,800 X 99 units = 2,851,200 X 10% = $285,120
- For Microtel by Wyndham Assuming 70% occupancy and assuming average room night of $125/night 255.5 nights per unit = $31,937.50 X 60 units = $1,916,250 X 10% = $191,625
TOTAL: $1,580,505 in Yearly TOT (note the 10% is the current TOT amount and not the increased amount of 12% on the March Ballot and sales tax is also charged to hotel rooms)
Additionally, there is lost property tax increases and with new hotels come more visitors who are out spending money in the community and increasing the travel spending and the local economy. We need economic development and unfortunately opposition groups continue to have a large negative impact on needed County tax revenue.
Tuolumne County Government Leaders Forums
Tuolumne County government leaders have been hosting forums titled, We Are Tuolumne County, in an effort to break down barriers and better connect with the public. County Administrator Tracie Riggs and staff from various departments are on hand to answer questions and meet face to face with residents. says “it is really our effort to reach out to the community, and begin engaging and building relationships. The goal is to create more effective lines of communication.” Future forums will take place at:
- Columbia on April 2nd at 6:00PM at Tuolumne Memorial Hall
- Soulsbyville on April 16th at 5:00PM at Soulsbyville Elementary.
MEET COUNTY ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICER (CAO) Tracie Riggs
Tracie Riggs will be available to hear from Tuolumne County Citizens. Plan to participate in one of the events noted below.
March 6, 2020: Noon—2p.m. The National 18183 Main St, Jamestown
April 3, 2020: Noon—2p.m. Tuolumne Park 18603 Pine St., Tuolumne Parks & Recreation
May 1, 2020: Noon—2 p.m. Groveland 18720 Hwy. 120, Groveland Community Hall
Tuolumne County Highlights Fourth Quarter Accomplishments
County leaders gave a presentation on some of the highlights of the fourth quarter of last year. Public Safety and Roads were identified as the board of supervisor’s top priorities, and the six focus areas were fire preparedness, land use, road improvements, vulnerable populations, county infrastructure and employee development. Some highlights include:
- The two planned community resilience centers are going through the planning process, with one planned in Groveland and the other in Tuolumne.
- The 60,000 square ft. jail construction has faced delays from the initial completion scheduled for this winter it is now sometime in the spring.
- County is working to identify potential best use of three parcels sitting vacant at the law and justice center site.
- A request for proposals for a Title 17 zoning code update has been released which includes addressing issues related to affordable housing and new related state laws
- Also released is a request for proposals to conduct a Climate Action Plan which is one of the mandates of the new General Plan Update and County hopes to make decisions and initiate those two projects in March.
- CDD is also continuing to implement and work on its first-time home buyer program, and housing rehab program
- Public Works crews patched 30 roads with hot asphalt, conducted clearing, repairs, striping and sign placement. They also finished j-59 shoulder repairs.
County Quarterly Update by Supervisor Anaiah Kirk
After being in office for a year Supervisor Kirk has provided a blog on MyMotherlode. The quarterly update covers Budget Transparency, Meeting with Governor Newsom’s Department of Finance to address the county budget short-fall, Local State of Emergency, Economic Development Authority, Resiliency Center for Tuolumne, Sledding along Highway 108 in Little Sweden, Homelessness, Broadband, Waste Management, Meet County Staff, CEQA and NEPA Reform, CSAC Appointment, Juvenile Hall, The Historic Preservation Review Commission (HPRC), Planning Committee, Agriculture Production, Tuolumne City Parks and Recreation (TPRD), Election Recommendations and State and National Politics. The quarterly update can be viewed here: mymotherlode.com/community/blogs/quarterly-update
County General Plan Lawsuit Settled
The Tuolumne County Supervisors approved a settlement agreement in January that ended a lawsuit filed by the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center (CSERC) against the General Plan Update that was approved on January 3, 2019.
The settlement will make minor amendments related to areas of the General Plan that include the Climate Action Plan, Wildland Fire, Agricultural Resources, Special Commercial and Biological Resources (Oaks). Tuolumne County has stated that it believes strongly in the defensibility of the 2018 General Plan and its adoption however, the county believes this settlement is a reasonable conclusion of the litigation considering all of the factors involved. The factors would include the costs in time and resources of going to trial; and the possible costs of appeal regardless of which party prevailed in the trial court. The County will also pay CSERC’s attorney fees ($70,000) in addition to the cost of the County’s attorneys and considerable staff time. One would hope that in the future CSERC would agree to negotiate the final changes that are now adopted, without the need for a lawsuit that has resulted in lost staff production and cost our County taxpayers considerable expense.
County Staff now has considerable work ahead to bring Zoning and Ordinances in line with the revised General Plan.
For specific details about the changes to the General Plan Update view the pdf on myMotherLode.
New Retailer Slated to Fill OSH Vacancy at Sonora Plaza
The former Orchard Supply Store in the Sonora Plaza Shopping Center on Mono Way will have the Wilco company of Oregon as a new tenant for the 58,000 square foot space. Wilco is a farmer-owned cooperative that has history dating back to the 1930s. The plans include a retail store with farm/feed and hardware supplies, clothing and livestock gear. There will also be a pet self-wash and grooming service area along with an outdoor plant/garden center.
Tuolumne County Exploring Ways to Increase Juvenile Hall Revenues
Supervisors Karl Rodefer and Sherri Brennan and CAO Tracie Riggs, have been working with the Probation department to find additional cost savings at the Juvenile Hall facility. Tuolumne County is hoping to use five of the 16 beds for a “Steps to Success” juvenile camp program. In doing so, the facility could receive state funding for youths needing help related to a variety of things like mental health counseling, social responsibility training and drug and alcohol counseling. The county is hoping that other counties in the region will be interested in partnering and sending juveniles. If all five beds are filled over the course of the year it could bring an additional $100,000 to $143,000 annually.
Sonora City Council Approves Bank of Stockton
The Bank of Stockton site plan and architecture was approved at the corner of Washington street and Lytton Street, in downtown Sonora, with two minor concessions. The bank was conditioned to lighten the color of the building and to narrow the driveway. The City agreed to not require any marked parking on Lytton Street to allow for a little more additional parking.
The council also designated all the approvals for the concessions could be approved by Planning Director Kellogg. The estimated construction schedule is still being finalized however, construction is projected to begin this Spring.
Tuolumne County Business Council Speaker Provided Updates about Hurdles Created By CEQA
Kathryn Oehlschlager, with Downey Brand LLP., based in San Francisco, was the keynote speaker at the January Tuolumne County Business Council Luncheon and gave an overview of the history of CEQA, which was originally passed in the 1970s as a way to ensure environmental concerns were being considered when approving projects. She gave an overview of the various steps for approving projects through CEQA, including a negative declaration, mitigated negative declaration and an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). She also spoke about ways to reduce the risk of a lawsuit, such as determining if there is opposition, carefully evaluating the appropriate documents, mitigating properly and adequately responding to comments. Unfortunately, CEQA has now evolved into a legal tool to stop numerous development projects that groups or individuals find undesirable and noted that CEQA is the main reason new housing is not being built in California. Kathryn added that sometimes an exemption can be granted however the only projects that typically seem receive CEQA exemptions are major sports complexes.
Plans for a Recreational Complex on the Yosemite corridor
Tuolumne County Community Development Department officials have received a proposal and application for a conditional use permit from local businessman Timothy Caruthers for a recreational attraction on the Yosemite corridor.
Planned features include a ropes course, maze, climbing wall, and some associated accessory structures such as restrooms and an office on a nearly 336-acre property located off Highway 120 near Sprague Road East in Groveland. The proposed facility would be open year-round with summer hours from approximately 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and around 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year.
The parcel zoned AE-37: AP is for exclusive agricultural use in ag preserve areas that have a minimum of 37 acres. The project area has a Williamson Act Land Conservation Contract for cattle grazing and would require a new Williamson Act Contract and an amendment to the agricultural management plan to include the recreational facility. Those with input or questions are asked to call 209 533-5936 or send an email to the attention of Natalie Rizzi at email@example.com.
Tuolumne County Ends Its Tree Mortality Program
After four years, Tuolumne County is ending its tree mortality program after taking down almost 20,000 hazardous trees throughout the county that were killed by drought and the bark beetle epidemic. Homeowners are still encouraged to keep a lookout for potential hazard trees and PG&E will continue its enhanced vegetation management program of removing hazardous trees and vegetation that may impact its power lines or other infrastructure. The county’s program began in 2016 with over seven million dollars in state funding through the California Disaster Assistance Act (CDAA). A main priority for the County going forward will be dealing with the threat of wildfire with programs to clear away the dead and dying vegetation along roadways and help assist homeowners with their defensible space needs.
Dry February sends California back to drought
February is typically one of the wettest months in California, but the state is parched, and there’s no moisture in the forecasts.
The year began with snowpack at 90% of its historical average. But less than two dry, warm months later, it’s hanging in at just 52% of average. Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability said “This hasn’t happened in 150 years or more.”
Last year’s snowpack at this time was more than 125% of average, an indicator of what Swain calls “precipitation whiplash”. California has long weathered these wet and dry cycles. The state’s future in the climate crisis looks warmer and drier not because of a lack of rain, but because of the extra heat drawing moisture out of the ecosystem. That heat is a major contributor to reduced snowpack, both as less snow falls, and as more of it melts more quickly.
“We have a fair bit of single-year drought resilience. No matter how severe it is, the cities and most of the [agriculture] zones won’t run out of water.” said Swain.
The more immediate impacts of this trend will be on the ecosystem and the inevitable fire season, as California’s grasslands and forests continue to dry out.
California Water Update – New Federal Rules
President Trump visited Bakersfield in early February, to celebrate new federal rules delivering more water to Central Valley farmers and rolling back protections for fish. The official water “record of decision” comes after the Department of the Interior (DOI) late last year reversed its opinion on scientific findings that extended endangered species protections to various types of fish.
Central Valley leaders have complained for years against water restrictions intended to help salmon and smelt that inhabit the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and Delta further north. President Trump said the changes to the “outdated scientific research and biological opinions” would now help direct “as much water as possible, which will be a magnificent amount, a massive amount of water for the use of California farmers and ranchers.” The order comes as California has taken several steps to deal with the water scarcity that has lasted for decades.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the California Natural Resources Agency, and the California Environmental Protection Agency have filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration alleging failure to protect endangered fish species from federal water export operations. The lawsuit asserts that biological opinions prepared by federal agencies under the Endangered Species Act to direct water project operations lack safeguards for protected species and their habitat in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River watersheds, including the Bay-Delta.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the lawsuit requests that the court declare the Trump Administration’s adoption of the biological opinions unlawful. This action precipitated the following response from the Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt: “Our team of career professionals did a great job using the best available science to develop new operational plans for the coordinated operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. The governor and attorney general just launched a ship into a sea of unpredictable administrative and legal challenges regarding the most complex water operations in the country, something they have not chartered before. Litigation can lead to unpredictable twists and turns that can create significant challenges for the people of California who depend on the sound operation of these two important water projects.” -Rural County Representatives of California
Insurance Commissioner Mandates State FAIR Plan Insurers Offer Full Coverage
State officials are ramping up response actions as more high wildfire risk area homeowners are being turned away for insurance coverage.
State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, who has the power to revoke approval of how the state’s FAIR Plan operates, ordered that association of insurers to offer a comprehensive homeowner insurance policy in addition to the current dwelling fire-only coverage by June 1, 2020. The FAIR Plan, established under state law as the homeowners’ “insurer of last resort,” currently offers fire insurance, requiring consumers to purchase additional policies in order to attain coverage for other potential hazards, such as liability, water damage, and theft.
Lara also mandated doubling coverage limits from $1.5 million to $3 million, a no-fee monthly payment plan, and the ability for policyholders to pay by credit card or electronic funds transfer without any fees.
Lara’s office has been receiving consistent input from government officials in impacted counties, including Tuolumne and Calaveras, and industry groups like the Tuolumne Association of Realtors (TCAR), which spearheaded a local survey to gather hard data and anecdotal accounts of homeowners’ experiences with multiple cancellations, non-renewals, and surging premium costs.
The California FAIR Plan Association has filed a petition for a writ of mandate with the goal of getting a judge to annul, vacate, or withdraw a state order.
FAIR Plan Association officials outlined a litany of concerns, including that Lara’s order would have unintended consequences such as increasing insurance costs for all of the FAIR Plan’s policyholders. Officials stated the suit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court after attempts at working with the Department of Insurance to determine an alternative to the order that would expand options for California homeowners seeking property insurance “without unduly burdening them with additional risks and costs.”
Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention and Response
Governor Newsom signed two bills to start to step up both community fire resilience and the state’s response capabilities. There are:
AB 38 by Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) provides mechanisms to develop best practices for community-wide resilience against wildfires through home hardening, defensible space, and other measures.
SB 190 by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) was Approved by Governor October 02, 2019 and Filed with Secretary of State October 02, 2019. The Bill includes a specific requirement to develop best models for defensible space and additional standards for home hardening and construction materials to increase the resilience of communities.
On Deck is Senate Bill 944 (McGuire): Fire Safe Home Tax Credits. Senate Bill 944 creates a personal state tax credit scheme to off-set costs of home hardening and vegetation management for homeowners.
Status: SB 944 awaits action in the State Senate.
Reducing Wildfire and the Impact of Public Safety Power Shutoffs
While all California utilities plan to continue shutting off power to customers during dry and windy conditions to prevent sparking deadly wildfires, the companies have outlined to the California Public Utilities Commission, ways to shorten outages by targeting smaller areas to avoid widespread blackouts. PG&E says its wildfire mitigation plan expands and enhances the company’s existing Community Wildfire Safety Program, which is designed to address the growing threat of extreme weather and wildfires across its service area. The plan calls for expanded trimming of vegetation that can cause a fire when it strikes electrical equipment and to fortify power lines, making them less likely to produce sparks or become vulnerable to fire damage. The PG&E plan is designed to result with outages that would be smaller in scope and shorter in duration and lessen overall impacts of shutoffs while working to keep customers and communities safe during times of severe weather and high wildfire risk.
California Considering Legal mandates to House the Homeless
151,000 is the latest official estimate of California’s homeless population which is the most of any state and a quarter of the nation’s homeless. Their makeshift camps on sidewalks and in parks and other public places throughout the state spark both compassion and revulsion in the larger population.
A recent Public Policy Institute of California poll found that homelessness is one of Californians’ most vexing concerns, with more than 80 percent seeing it as a problem, and little variation of concern either geographically or ideologically. Another 11% named housing costs.
As mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom tried, but failed, to stem the explosive growth of the city’s homeless street dwellers and has kicked off 2020 by pledging to plow an extra $1.4 billion into homeless services. The commission Gov Newsom appointed to study homelessness has delivered its preliminary report, recommending that both state and local governments be held legally accountable to achieve the aims of dramatically reducing homelessness and creating avenues to rapid resolution.” The report also recommended that “A legally enforceable, results-based, accountability mandate will require state and local governments to provide resources for, and reduce barriers to, the creation of both interim and permanent housing that is high quality, low barrier and complies with fair housing rules.” In other words, governments could be compelled to act by lawsuits filed on behalf of homeless people.
If Newsom adopts the commission’s recommendation, he would have to persuade the Legislature to also endorse it with a two-thirds vote for a constitutional amendment and then voters to ratify it. Local governments would resist having such a mandate thrust upon them unless Newsom, et al, would also provide a lot of money to finance it. Shifting local funds from police patrols, fire protection and other popular services would be a nonstarter.
Governor Gavin Newsom also announced other strategies for fighting homelessness. These included making 100 travel trailers and modular tent structures available for cities and counties that will be used for temporary housing and to provide health and social services. In addition, the Governor hopes to create a $750-million fund to help people facing homelessness pay their rent. Eligible people, facing homelessness, could use it to cover rent costs. Newsom has also directed state officials to identify surplus public property that can be used to shelter homeless residents on a temporary basis. It could be areas like land near highways or vacant state buildings (See Newsom Issues Potential Emergency Homeless Shelter Site)
Political Spending in California
California State Budget
When Governor Brown left office in 2019, the strong economy helped state reserve accounts accumulate more than $18 billion.
During Gavin Newsom’s first year as governor he was also fairly cautious however, his second budget, targets affordable housing, homelessness and offering improved mental healthcare as one way to combat those issues. The current budget also projects spending virtually every dollar of projected revenue and making only minimal increases in reserves.
Senator Andreas Borgeas Response to the Governor’s Proposed 2020-21 Budget noted that the Governor’s proposed budget increases spending to an alarming $222.2 billion. California’s $21.5 billion surplus in Fiscal Year 2019-20 has dropped to an estimated $4 to $7 billion surplus in FY 2020-21, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) 2020. California’s fiscal approach should be prudent and responsible, remembering that investments in infrastructure, disaster preparedness, transportation, housing and water are our most immediate concerns.” Borgeas acknowledges that affordable housing and homelessness are important issues to address citing the “skyrocketing” numbers in Fresno, Turlock, and the foothill communities. How to deal with the crisis is where he differs from the Governor. Borgeas has noted that “resolving the housing crisis will never be achievable unless Sacramento also pursues CEQA reform to reduce the high cost of building. This is one of the single most frustrating elements preventing the construction of more housing.”
Borgeas also chastised the governor for failing to mention a plan to enhance water infrastructure and storage. He also blasted Newsom for supporting the new “gig economy” law, enacted this year that makes it harder for companies to treat workers as independent contractors and imposes tough restrictions on who can be considered independent contractors or freelancers rather than employees. Senator Borgeas Represents 11 out of 58 counties in California.
The full budget can be viewed by pasting the following link: http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/
Senator Andreas Borgeas argues the need to reform the California Environmental Quality Act.
Senator Borgeas says that CEQA has primarily morphed into a legal weapon for lawyers and activists to stall development projects and feels that that there is a heightened need to pass legislation due to the state’s affordable housing crisis. He has written a Blog on mymotherlode that states he has a deep appreciation for California’s public lands and natural resources but feels that CEQA has morphed into a legal weapon for lawyers and activist groups to stall essential projects and infrastructure. If the legislature wishes to tackle challenges such as income inequality and affordable housing then CEQA abuse must end. Last year he introduced Senate Bill 659 that would authorize courts to award reasonable attorney’s fees to a prevailing party if the court found the petitioner used actions, tactics, or claims that were both made in bad faith and were frivolous or intended to cause unnecessary delay. In a nutshell, SB 659 aimed to dissuade non-meritorious CEQA litigation. With the skyrocketing costs of housing in California, the state needs to take all measures necessary to prevent delays and high-cost litigation from discouraging affordable housing projects.
The bill passed both the Senate Environmental Quality and the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support, proving there is common ground on CEQA reform but was then rerouted from the Senate floor vote to the Senate Appropriations Committee where it languished.
Senator Borgeas stressed that developing more infill housing directly aligns with the state’s climate change and land use planning goals yet Sacramento fails to acknowledge that a well-intentioned piece of legislation has been wielded by opportunists as a legal weapon. Rather than leaving important environmental regulations up to ad-hoc court decisions, we must craft new legislation in Sacramento to reflect our need for both economic growth and reasonable environmental protections. California will continue to endure an affordable housing crisis until CEQA reform is achieved. Read the entire blog here.
New State Building Codes
A lot of new codes took effect on January 1st, including the new solar mandate and other changes to the energy code. In addition, the EV-ready requirements for new apartment construction have increased as well.
If you submitted your plans prior to January 1, 2020, CBIA-sponsored legislation has doubled the length of the permit expiration period. AB 2913 (Wood) increased from 6 months to 12 months the life of a permit once that permit is issued. Also, all local jurisdictions have the authority to grant one or more six-month extensions once that initial 12-month period expires. These six-month extensions are entirely up to the discretion of the local jurisdiction.
California Alters Solar Mandate
The California Energy Commission eased off the state’s groundbreaking new law requiring solar rooftops on most new homes, agreeing to allow developers to use a Sacramento utility’s off-site solar installations instead. Most low-rise single-family and multifamily buildings will be included under the new rules. The California Building Industry had raised concerns about the new law, noting that it will add between $8,000-$13,500 to the cost of a new home and the California Energy Commission estimates the average price increase will be $9,500, however, homeowners are estimated to save around $19,000 in energy costs over the course of 30 years.
In a closely-watched vote on the future of California’s groundbreaking rooftop solar program, state regulators today approved a proposal to power some new Sacramento housing developments using offsite solar panels instead.
The California Energy Commission’s decision ended a months-long standoff between rooftop solar advocates and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, commonly called SMUD. SMUD had asked regulators to allow developers to use its offsite solar installations rather than the rooftop solar panels required in California starting Jan. 1.
California’s solar regulation already allowed new developments to be powered by an alternative option called community solar, particularly some apartment buildings or shaded homes. The energy commission chose to leave the term community solar essentially undefined, but today’s decision loosens the regulation, allowing developers to decide themselves whether to use rooftop or SMUD’s community solar.
- Some environmentalists and advocates of rooftop solar said the move undermines California’s commitment.
- Energy commissioners and developers believe the decision will allow the state to meet its green energy goals more efficiently.
Governor Urging Rejection Of PG&E Bankruptcy Plan
Gov. Gavin Newsom urged a bankruptcy court judge to reject PG&E’s financing plan for exiting bankruptcy contending that the company’s plan leaves it with too much debt, which would impede it as it tries to improve the system’s safety. In a filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in San Francisco, Newsom’s lawyers wrote:
- “Given the Debtors continue to refuse to implement the changes to the Debtors’ Plan necessary to effect the required transformation and satisfy AB 1054, the Governor is pursuing strategies to protect California’s interests through further intervention, including a state takeover of the Utility.”
PG&E countered that it remains engaged with the administration:
- “While PG&E has made substantial progress in resolving victim claims and restructuring our finances, additional changes to the plan are forthcoming.”
The governor last month rejected PG&E’s proposed reorganization plan and demanded the company oust its board and replace it with a majority of Californians, including experts on utility safety. Newsom also wanted a provision that its operating license be transferred “to the state or a third-party when circumstances warrant.” While Newsom does not have the power to block PG&E’s current bankruptcy plan, he does have the leverage to make changes because the company’s plan hinges on its ability to draw upon a special insurance fund California created last summer to help insulate utilities from potential wildfire losses in the future.
Cybercrime Booms as Scammers Hack Human Nature to Steal Billions
California Finalizes Program to Speed Up Wildfire Prevention Projects
The California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection has certified a new California Vegetation Treatment Program (CalVTP) that helps analyze potential environmental impacts associated with different types of projects. It will help them move quicker through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review process.
The program will benefit projects like fuel-breaks, planned burning and vegetation treatments. The programmatic analysis is designed to reduce redundancies in each project’s environmental review by allowing project sponsors to build upon verified environmental analysis contained in the CalVTP as they begin their site-specific study for their individual efforts.
The state has set a goal of treating 500,000 acres of non-federal lands each year. Full story on myMotherLode here.
CA Vehicle Laws Taking Effect In 2020
The DMV has several new laws beginning on January 1st, as well as a notable change taking effect in October.
- On October 1st of 2020 the US Department of Homeland Security will require a valid passport or another federally approved document, like a REAL ID driver’s license, to board flights within the US and to access secure federal facilities and military bases. To apply for a REAL ID, Californians must bring proof of their social security number, proof of identity (birth certificate or valid passport) and two proofs of residency (utility bill, bank statement, etc.) to the DMV office.
Other new laws taking effect on January 1st include:
- Ban on selling DMV appointments,
- no longer allowing courts to remove driving privileges for non-vehicle related offenses,
- removing motorized scooters from a list that requires a special M2 permit or license,
- new rules for approaching and passing waste vehicles.
Water Optimization for the West – WOW Act
Mother Lode District 4 Congressman Tom McClintock is introducing a new measure that he touts “will provide a pathway to water abundance” for western states. Details posted on myMotherLode here.