Calif. Senate Blocks Secret Coastal Commission Deals

By NICK CAHILL : courthousenews – excerpt

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Seeking to close a loophole that allows private meetings between lobbyists and California Coastal Commission members, lawmakers advanced a bill Monday that would shed light on backroom commission decisions and restrict “ex parte” communication.

Senate Bill 1190 comes in response to the commission’s sudden and controversial February ouster of executive director Charles Lester, a decision made behind closed doors that led critics to accuse commissioners of being under the “undue influence” of developers.
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said the bill will increase transparency within the beleaguered commission by forcing lobbyists to disclose private communications with the powerful regulator responsible for protecting public access to the Golden State’s 1,100 miles of coastline.

Jackson said “quasi-lobbyists” often travel with commissioners in an attempt to sway them on coastal development decisions, and that the lobbying loophole has allowed the decision-making process to become “seriously flawed.”
“This measure will reestablish due process and fairness at the commission,” Jackson said on the state Senate floor.

Following Lester’s firing, environmentalists and lawmakers have rallied together and demanded reforms to the commission that was established by voters in 1972. Currently, ex parte communications with commission staff or commissioners is allowed as long as they are disclosed through a form or if they are verbally announced during a public hearing.
Supporters of the bill claim these off-the-record conversations regarding building permits, enforcement penalties and other potential development items have tarnished the integrity of the commission.

Former commissioner and current state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, said lobbyists often reached her at home and “overwhelmed” her during her stint on the commission. She noted that being a commissioner is a part-time job, typically just three days a month, and that while on the commission she was simultaneously a teacher and mayor of Agoura Hills.

“I know the problem, and it appears it has gotten even worse,” Pavley said. “I unfortunately think we need this protection in place.”… (more)

So long, NIMBYs? Gov. Brown’s housing proposal could mean sweeping Bay Area changes

by Roland Li : bizjournals – excerpt

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed sweeping statewide legislation that would allow new market-rate projects with onsite affordable housing to be approved “as of right,” in potentially California’s most significant housing policy change in years.

The proposal has big ramifications for the Bay Area, where many cities and well-organized residents’ groups have long fought residential development.

The trailing legislation to the state’s 2016-2017 budget would require state assembly and senate approval. Under the proposal, new projects with 20 percent affordable housing for tenants making no more than 80 percent of the area median income or projects with 10 percent affordable housing near transit would be exempt from most local reviews.

That would be a sharp break from the current policy of most Bay Area cities, including San Francisco, where each new housing project is subject to discretionary review and usually takes years for approval.

The move is a major step after Brown has been criticized by affordable housing advocates for ignoring, or even obstructing, funding for affordable housing. In 2011, Brown eliminated Redevelopment Agencies, which were the biggest source of funding for affordable housing, and last year he vetoed bills that would have provided more funding. Both steps were to improve the state’s finances, he said.

The new measure is consistent with Brown’s fiscal conservatism, as no new funding for affordable housing is proposed. But Brown is taking a significant step to reduce the approvals process for new projects, despite previously saying that potential change was limited… (more)

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Transportation power has regional land-use group in a bag

By dailyrepublic – excerpt

VALLEJO — A regional coalition of nine counties and 101 cities is trying to keep a heartbeat while being squeezed by a more powerful regional commission.

Ezra Rapport, executive director of the Association of Bay Area Governments, presented an overview of what the organization hopes to accomplish by merging with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

But the Metropolitan Transportation Commission does not have to accept anything that the Association of Bay Area Governments offers, and could essentially sign the association’s death warrant by cutting off a $3.7 million grant that represents about a third of the group’s grant funding.

“That is what’s been referred to as the hostile takeover,” Rapport told a gathering of seven representatives of Solano County and some of its cities Wednesday night at Vallejo City Hall.

Rapport anticipates a proposal in which the Association of Bay Area Governments’ land-use planners would be shifted under Metropolitan Transportation Commission administrative control. Negotiations would then begin to redefine how the commission – or at least the new land-use planning element – is constructed.

Rapport, whose own job would be at risk with the merger, sees 2018 as the deadline for the new governing format to be completed. That coincides with the commission board election.

But the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which has an 18-member board composed of elected officials appointed to the panel, has been reluctant to make any changes to its structure. Rapport is trying to convince the leadership that the proposal does not change the commission, only the land-use planning structure so the cities would continue to have a voice.

The Association of Bay Area Governments, with a 38-member board composed of elected officials appointed to the panel, will take up the proposal at its May 19 meeting. The regional transportation commission meets May 25.

A key figure in the outcome, as far as Solano County is concerned, is Supervisor Jim Spering. He sits on the transportation commission board but has not been supportive of the Association of Bay Area Governments.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission was created by the state Legislature in 1970 to oversee regional transportation planning and coordination for the nine-county Bay Area region.

It does not have any authority over land-use planning, which is constitutionally directed to the cities and counties – the volunteer members of the Association of Bay Area Governments that pay a total of $2 million in annual dues.

Those members want a voice, but do not have as much political leverage as the state-funded Metropolitan Transportation Commission. They could choose to drop out completely, and take their dues with them.

Rapport said efforts to get the governor’s office or a legislator involved have been unsuccessful.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has traditionally provided the Association of Bay Area Governments with a grant, but recently adopted a resolution that would end that funding, creating the need to merge the organizations or see the Association of Bay Area Governments dissolve.

The Association of Bay Area Governments was formed in 1961 and has membership that represents more than 7 million residents. It does not have a direct revenue source. Instead, it depends on membership dues and grants.

Rapport said a merger of the two regional organizations could be a benefit to residents because it would bring huge issues such as water, affordable housing, earthquake insurance, climate change and energy under a single planning roof.

Even if the two groups can come to some kind of compromise, there are other issues to overcome. One of those is that the Association of Bay Area Governments is a union workplace, while the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is not… (more)


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