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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April 24, 2017
CITY IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Lodi, Galt schools recognized by California leaders (Lodi News)
Several local schools have been listed among California’s highest achievers by the Educational Results Partnership. In Lodi Unified School District, Elkhorn School and Middle College High School were recognized as 2016 Honor Roll STEM Schools — institutions that show high achievement in science, technology, engineering and math. Schools that receive this honor also have a high percentage of students from low-income backgrounds. Lodi, Tokay, Bear Creek, Middle College and Liberty Ranch high schools have been selected among 1,866 public schools in California to receive the title of 2016 Star Honor Roll School. Julia Morgan, Larson, Manlio Silva, Podesta Ranch, Reese and John Muir elementary schools, as well as Christa McAuliffe Middle and Elkhorn schools, also received the distinction. Schools receiving the Star Honor Roll distinction have demonstrated consistent high levels of student academic achievement, improvement in achievement levels over time, and reduction in achievement gaps between student populations. The Honor Roll recognition, awarded by the Educational Results Partnership and the Campaign for Business and Education Excellence, is part of a national effort to identify high-performing schools and highlight successful practices, according to a press release.
San Diego aims to set the pace for smart city networks (Forbes)
The announcement by the City of San Diego that it will deploy over 3,000 smart sensors as part of an ambitious upgrade to its street lighting system provides evidence that we are on the cusp of a new phase for smart street lighting and city networks. As part of an upgrade to 14,000 city lights, San Diego will deploy 3,200 GE Current CityIQ sensor nodes to create a multi-application city IoT network. The intelligent nodes can support a range of applications including gunshot detection, smart parking, air quality sensing, and vehicle and pedestrian monitoring. Deployment of the platform and fixtures is expected to begin in July and to be completed before the end of 2018. The upgrade is expected to save the city $2.4m annually in energy costs.As well as supporting a number of smart city applications, San Diego is also looking at the network to provide a broader platform for innovation. According to David Graham, San Diego’s Deputy Chief Operating Officer, the goal is to allow the community ‘to put their hands on the heartbeat and nervous system of the city is our way of building a smart city app store’. Delivering on this vision will put San Diego at the leading edge of smart city innovations.
California unemployment rate reaches lowest point in a decade (The Sacramento Bee)
California’s unemployment rate dropped below 5 percent last month, reaching the lowest point in a decade, state officials announced Friday. Statewide unemployment fell to 4.9 percent in March, down one-tenth of a percent from February, the Employment Development Department reported. In the four-county Sacramento region, the unemployment rate was 5.0 percent, also down one-tenth of a percent. More significantly, California continued to lead the nation in job growth, with its 19,300 new jobs accounting for nearly 20 percent of the 98,000 created in the United States. The U.S. unemployment rate stood at 4.5 percent for March. While economists hailed the latest figures as signs that the economy is still healthy and growing, they cautioned that the state was closing in on full employment and that future job gains would be much smaller. Sung Won Sohn, a professor of economics at California State University, Channel Islands, estimates that full employment would be achieved at 4.5 percent, a figure he said would be difficult to reach.
Unemployment in California falls to 4.9%, lowest since 2006 (Los Angeles Times)
California piled on 19,300 jobs in March and its unemployment rate dropped to 4.9%, according to figures released Friday by the state’s Employment Development Department. That’s the first time since December 2006 that the jobless rate has fallen below 5%. It was another month of solid but not breathtaking job gains in a state that has slowed a bit after years of unbridled growth. Still, California grew faster than the rest of the country in March, expanding at a rate of 2.1% year over year, compared with 1.5% nationwide. Californians were still slightly more likely to be unemployed; the U.S. jobless rate hit 4.5% in March. The standout sector in March was construction, which increased payrolls by 18,900. The information sector — which includes tech businesses in Silicon Valley and moviemakers in Hollywood — faltered last month, cutting head count by 9,400. Los Angeles County gained a net 16,000 jobs in March. The county's unemployment rate fell to 4.6%, down from a revised 4.8% in February. Here are some key insights into the latest labor-market report from the world’s sixth-largest economy.
Sacramento council says it will consider homeless tent camp in north city (The Sacramento Bee)
After months of resistance, Councilman Allen Warren this week convinced his fellow Sacramento City Council members to consider a homeless tent camp in his North Sacramento district if he can come up with a solid plan. Steinberg has opposed Warren’s tent pitch for months, and the mayor’s cautious blessing came with formidable caveats, including the need to finalize a site and budget. Warren told the council he would like to find a vacant city-owned parcel of at least 1 acre in his district to use as a “test” for an outdoor triage center that could house up to 200 homeless people for as many as 120 days. After that, the facility would close. He described the project as a cluster of large barrack-style tents that could house up to eight people each. The village would be low-barrier, meaning there would be few restrictions on who or what could be brought in, including pets and significant others. In many current shelters, men and women can’t stay together, nor can they bring animals. The site would have portable showers, restrooms and staff around the clock. It would also offer services such as mental health and addiction counseling, and have the goal of stabilizing residents enough to move into more permanent housing at the end of the trial period.
Sacramento’s new home market is blossoming this spring, but one new neighborhood struggles to keep up (The Sacramento Bee)
Just west of Sacramento’s Curtis Park neighborhood, a tightly packed row of new, three-story houses stands shoulder to shoulder like silent sentinels. Their view is of empty lots sprouting spring weeds for blocks and blocks, some with signs pointing to “new homes” that don’t exist. More than two years since these brownstone-style row houses went up for sale in Crocker Village, an infill development previously called Curtis Park Village, the promise of a dynamic new urban neighborhood has gone unfulfilled. Just 33 of the planned 331 homes have been built, along with a senior apartment complex, even though Sacramento is in the midst of what real estate analysts say is the best new home sales moment in the region in a decade. Other infill communities in Sacramento’s central area are faring far better. The Mill at Broadway has sold 126 homes in one year. McKinley Village in East Sacramento reports 75 sales in a little more than a half-year. And home sales hit 50 in less than a year at The Creamery at Alkali Flat in downtown.
Los Angeles County may lose 14,000 affordable apartments (NBC Los Angeles)
Los Angeles County is at risk of losing 14,000 affordable rentals over the next five years as property owners begin to take advantage of the county’s prospering housing market, NBC4 media partner KPCC reports. As a condition to receive financing or permission to build, property owners priced their apartments at below-market rates for about 40 years. But as these agreements begin to expire, some property owners are looking to profit with the market values on the housing market. About 14,000 units across 232 buildings are at "high" or "very high" risk of being converted into market rates, according to the California Housing Partnership Corp. Matt Schwartz, the president of the housing nonprofit, told KPCC that "LA has more at stake than any other county" when it comes to losing affordable housing. To help save the affordable apartments, Doug Baron, the manager of economic development and affordable housing in the Los Angeles County CEO's office, told KPCC that $30 million of the county budget for 2016-2017 will be spent on affordable housing. It is not yet clear how much of the budget will go to the construction of new housing versus the preservation of units.
Cities in the Los Angeles County Division
Lakeport City Council approves updated affordable housing project, Measure Z committee (Lake County News)
The Lakeport City Council has given the go-ahead for an expedited review of an updated affordable housing project and appointed members to a new committee to oversee how proceeds from the Measure Z sales tax are spent. Community Development Director Kevin Ingram received the council’s approval to revise an award from the HOME Investment Partnership Program, which in 2015 granted the city – in partnership with Pacific West Architecture – a $4.5 million grant for a 32-unit affordable senior housing project at 1255 Martin St. Pacific West Architecture developed the Bella Vista affordable housing apartment project for seniors, also on Martin Street, a successful project that has a waiting list that’s estimated to be up to two years long, according to statements at the meeting. Ingram said the city has formed a good working relationship with the developer, which is how the current project became possible. Due to the recent flood events, Ingram said the city became aware of an extreme shortage of affordable housing in the city, noting that the situation hit a “critical emergency point.” Although the project originally was supposed to be a 32-unit apartment complex for seniors, Ingram said that city staff is recommending changing it to a 24-unit affordable multifamily housing project, with two- and three-bedroom units. He said that the city has approached the California Department of Housing and Community Development – which administers the HOME programs – about the changes, and the agency is open to the project being modified. Ingram said the project also needs offsite improvements in the form of another grant, a $1.2 million Community Development Block Grant program award.
New website offers tools to solve housing crisis and #BringCAHome (CA Economy)
With so many news headlines about skyrocketing rents, the housing crisis has become a well-known hazard to life in California, like earthquakes or wildfires. But when you consider that 1 in 3 families are barely making their rent each month and our economy is suffering under the burden of the super-inflated rental markets, the severe housing shortfall is a crisis California leaders can no longer afford to ignore. That’s why the California Housing Consortium has joined California Forward and the California Economic Summit to advance the ambitious One Million More Homes Challenge, and sponsored legislation that would renew state investment in affordable home construction and begin to reverse the backward and broken state policies that impede homebuilding. With these goals in mind, CHC has launched a new resource to educate Californians on the roots of the crushing affordability problem facing families—and to put new tools in their hands to help solve the crisis.
California considers energy impact of commercial pot (SF Bay)
As California gears up for the implementation of Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use, state regulators are trying to figure out how the new industry will impact the energy supply. In February, the California Public Utilities Commission held a workshop to assess the potential energy impacts of widespread legal pot growth. Panelists consisting of utility representatives, cannabis growers and regulators mulled over ways to make cultivation more energy efficient, according to CPUC officials. Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, the California Department of Food and Agriculture will begin accepting applications for licenses to grow pot, but it’s still unclear what the energy impacts of the industry might be. Based on information from other states where recreational pot use is legal and California’s own experience with legalized medicinal marijuana, many growers appear to prefer indoor cultivation, according to a CPUC report based on the workshop’s findings called “Energy Impacts of Cannabis Cultivation,” which the CPUC released Thursday, also known as 4/20.
Sonoma makes way for cannabis wine (North Bay Business Journal)
“Cannabis grows well wherever wine does — and it grows incredibly well here.” So said George Van Patton over 18 months ago, talking about the underground economy of the Sonoma Valley. “And on equal plots of land, cannabis would be more lucrative than wine.” The insights of Van Patton, also known as Jorge Cervantes and under that name the author of a dozen books on marijuana cultivation, seem prescient now, with the passage of both Proposition 64 legalizing recreational marijuana in November, and Measure A establishing a regulatory framework in Sonoma County in March. Both of these showed that public support for legal cultivation of marijuana is growing like a week: cannabis has mainstreamed in a way that seemed inconceivable just a year or two ago. That mainstreaming is cutting a deep channel indeed. If you need further proof, there’s this week’s CannaCon, being held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa (it began on 4/20, naturally, and continues through Saturday). Meantime several local cities are renegotiating their rules for cultivation, both indoor and out, though the city of Sonoma has shown no inclination to loosen their already tight regulations against cultivation, delivery and sales.
Cities in Sonoma County
Underfunded CalPERS, CalSTRS dislike divestment (Cal Pensions)
A bill that began life as a requirement that CalPERS and CalSTRS divest holdings in Dakota Access Pipeline firms emerged from a legislative committee last week reborn — a requirement that the pension funds only report on their “engagement” with the firms. The revised AB 20 by Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, reflects a new emphasis on what the two big state pension funds say is often a less costly and more effective alternative to divestment: remaining a shareholder with a “seat at the table” to advocate change. Since the sale of investments in firms doing business with apartheid South Africa in 1986, all CalPERS divestments have resulted in a total loss of $7.9 billion, including transaction costs and foregone investment returns, Wilshire consultants estimated earlier this year. The two state pension funds, still struggling to recover from huge investment losses a decade ago, are taking a harder look at a small wave of divestment bills proposed by legislators on a wide range of political issues. Both pension funds recently were about 64 percent funded, CalPERS as of last January and CalSTRS last June. Most of their employer contribution rates are doubling over a decade or less, squeezing local government and school budgets.
Split roll property tax proposal is really a pension tax (The Sacramento Bee)
When state Sens. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, introduce a split roll property tax to increase taxes on business property, you’ll hear arguments from advocates that the tax money is for the schools and local services such as libraries and police. In actuality, the measure is a tax to fund public employee pensions and health care costs. Public pensions continue to eat away at state, local and school budgets. A number of cities pay more than 15 percent of their general fund budgets for pensions and retiree health care. Sacramento is over 17 percent. Los Angeles is at 20 percent, up from under just 5 percent a decade-and-a-half ago. When cities must spend so much more than they have spent historically for employee benefits, reductions have to be made in other areas. In the East Bay city of Richmond, for example, staff positions have been cut, library spending is down, after-school programs have been reduced and still city officials worry that Richmond will follow other California cities into bankruptcy. It’s easy to understand why when pension debt and health care is projected to take 41 percent of the city’s general fund in five years.
Borenstein: City managers concerned pensions will cause more bankruptcies (East Bay Times)
Lodi City Manager Steve Schwabauer worries about his town’s fiscal solvency — and estimates roughly a third of California’s municipalities are in the same position because of rising pension costs. Nancy Kerry, city manager of South Lake Tahoe, says her community will avoid bankruptcy but will have to make severe cuts in services to do so.
Schwabauer and Kerry are among a small number of top administrators now publicly talking about the financial crisis ahead. They both say the only way to stave it off begins with reducing pension benefits for existing employees. Kerry and Schwabauer independently contacted me recently. It’s refreshing to hear their candor. For far too long, top government administrators in California have remained silent, or offered up timid ideas, while most of them knew, or should have known, a crisis was brewing. These are the people who are supposed to provide the financial expertise and neutral analysis, and be the bearer of good or bad news. Rather than sound the alarm, many of them have been enablers of the 21st Century financial can-kicking.
Lodi, South Lake Tahoe
Gas tax bill — designed to fix California’s roads — could lead to more smog (Los Angeles Daily News)
For Southern California’s clean air and public health advocates, it must have felt as though their ability to clear skies of harmful air pollution in the nation’s smoggiest air basin had suddenly disappeared in a cloud of diesel soot. When it was passed earlier this month, the state’s landmark legislation to hike vehicle fuel taxes to raise billions of dollars to repair and improve California freeways, roads, bridges and other transportation facilities included wording limiting the ability of regulators to crack down on big-rig trucks, Southern California’s greatest source of smog-forming emissions. And once Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill into law as expected, owners of trucks that currently meet California rules cannot be required to retire or upgrade their rigs until their machines are either 13 years old or have traveled at least 800,000 miles. Some truck owners would be able to operate their rigs here for up to 18 years. This would keep older, higher-polluting trucks at 2010 emission standards for years to come, according to officials with the South Coast Air Quality Management District. And rules now under consideration that would require seaports, rail yards, warehouse-distribution centers and government fleets to use cleaner trucks would be more vulnerable to legal challenges, the regional air-quality officials said.
It’s time to abolish California’s dysfunctional tax board (The Sacramento Bee)
The most recent revelations about self-serving hijinks of politicians on the state Board of Equalization, such as commandeering civil service workers for political chores, have a depressing familiarity. The once-obscure tax collection and oversight agency has become steadily more politicized, with the board’s four directly elected seats treated as either well-paid sinecures or stepping stones to higher office. The current revelations, such as spending lavishly on personal offices, misusing civil service workers and interfering with pending tax cases, are distillations of what has been happening for decades. Even without overt scandal, the Board of Equalization is a poor way of setting tax policy. One example: A decree that although popcorn is hot when delivered to movie patrons, it’s cold by the time it’s consumed and therefore untaxable. It was a favor for one movie chain from a board member whose district included its headquarters.
Sunrise Boulevard is the region’s real congestion champion, readers say (The Sacramento Bee)
Last week, after getting stuck in that mega-morass of an intersection, Watt and Fair Oaks, I asked readers what intersections got on their nerves, and whether any were worse. Plenty, it turns out. Lynn Wilcox is one of several who says Sunrise Boulevard at the Highway 50 offramps is worse than Watt and Fair Oaks: “Traffic backs up out onto the freeway during rush hours, and Sunrise is stuffed with bumper-to-bumper cars from many blocks south of Folsom Boulevard to the American River,” Wilcox said. Notably, Sunrise and Watt are among the few streets that cross the river. Several readers pointed out that there once were plans – we’re talking 1970s, 1980s and briefly in the 2000s – to build another river bridge. One route would have involved a connector from Highway 50 to the east end of Arden Way. That would take some pressure off Howe, Watt, Sunrise and Hazel. Residents in affected neighborhoods, river parkway advocates, environmentalists and some urban planners oppose that idea. That group includes a reader who complained about traffic jams at the Fair Oaks and Arden Way intersection but said she would not want to see a mega-boulevard bulldozed through there, turning that quiet end of Arden into another Watt or Sunrise.
Caltrans must redo failed surfacing job on Highway 50 bridge in Sacramento (The Sacramento Bee)
A multimillion-dollar resurfacing job on the Highway 50 bridge over the Sacramento River has failed – mysteriously, officials say – and will have to be scrapped and replaced this summer at three times the original cost. The resurfacing, conducted in late 2014 on the Pioneer Memorial Bridge between West Sacramento and Sacramento, began failing immediately, state Department of Transportation records show. Cars and trucks shudder when they pass over ruts that are now more than 50 feet long and 7 feet wide at numerous spots on the bridge. Caltrans officials say the repair could run $15 million to $18 million. The original resurfacing in 2014 cost $5 million. Caltrans chief Malcolm Dougherty said the higher cost is because the state has decided to use a thicker and sturdier surfacing material to avoid further problems, given uncertainty about the cause of the pockmarking in the first place. Dougherty said the state will pay the extra cost from its highway maintenance account, then likely will file a claim with the manufacturer of the resurfacing material.
Senator: Kern will get roads money despite no votes (Bakersfield)
The author of a controversial gas tax bill assured local officials Friday that Kern County won’t be punished because all of its state legislators voted against the legislation. Beall’s bill, SB 1, would provide $5 billion annually in new state transportation funds statewide through a gas tax and vehicle registration increase for mostly road repairs. That money, Beall said, would be allocated around California and to communities based on a formula. The bill is currently awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. The League of California Cities estimates Bakersfield will receive $2.6 million this fiscal year, around November, for road rehabilitation and maintenance if Brown signs the bill. Next fiscal year, 2018/2019, it predicts Bakersfield will nab another $6.9 million. While $3 billion in SB 1 money will go to fix state and local roads, namely taking care of the backlog of road repair projects, the rest of the funds will go to other projects like relieving congested commuter corridors. That’s where Bakersfield’s ongoing Thomas Roads Improvement Program projects can receive more funding.