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Yesterday, the State Water Board adopted stringent new permit requirements for development projects in California that may impact wetlands or other surface waters.  These new requirements have been in the works for a decade, but the Trump administration’s proposed rollback of federal wetland laws provided the impetus for adoption this year. Continue reading →

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There are no surprises in the President’s proposal to vastly narrow the definition of wetlands and other waters protected by the federal Clean Water Act.  Within a month of taking office in 2017, the President issued an executive order directing EPA and the Corps of Engineers to begin that process. 

Nor are there any surprises in the new definition itself.  As expected, EPA and the Corps of Engineers propose to replace the Obama-era definition – which was based upon the Supreme Court’s Rapanos decision – with a much narrower definition proposed by late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Under the new rule, the Clean Water Act’s protections will extend only to truly navigable rivers and their tributaries, as well as wetlands abutting those rivers or having a direct hydrologic connection.  The Clean Water Act will no longer protect millions of acres of wetlands found in different habitat types around the Country, including most of the vernal pools and other seasonal wetlands found throughout California’s rangelands and foothills.

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 A. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

  1. Presidential Executive Order 13807 (Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects) (August 15, 2017):

Applies to any project that requires approval by multiple federal agencies, requires an EIS, and has a “reasonable availability” of funding.  Requires NEPA reviews to be limited to 2 years, publication of all federal decisions in a single ROD (“One Federal Agency”) and federal authorizations to be issued within 90 days of ROD.

  1. Interior Secretary Order 3355 (Streamlining National Environmental Policy Act Reviews and Implementation of Executive Order 13807) (August 31, 2017).

Limits environmental impact statements to 150 – 300 pages (the latter for unusually complex projects), excluding appendices, for all EIS documents prepared by DOI.  Final environmental impact statements required to be completed within one year from issuance of NOI unless Asst. Sect’y approves 3-month extension. Continue reading →

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Californians could be forgiven for becoming cynical about our State Legislature’s willingness or ability to tackle the ever-worsening housing crisis. California’s rising home values, outpacing people’s ability to afford to buy or rent decent housing close to the job centers, is not a new phenomenon. But it has worsened. While our Legislature has repeatedly recognized that there is a housing crisis, nothing in the past legislative cycles has emerged that will actually stem the tide.

Could that be changing? In the current session, there are two bills sponsored by state senator Scott Wiener that are worth watching: SB 827 and SB 828. These two bills follow on Senator Wiener’s successful introduction of SB 35 last year. While SB 35 was intended to make certain types of urban infill housing “by-right,” Senator Wiener himself has recognized that SB 35 alone (with all of its qualifications and conditions) may not yield much in the way of new housing.

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Restored historic and old buildings, particularly in cities like San Francisco, contribute to the distinctive character that lure tourists and thereby creates jobs. Two relatively recent changes affect those buildings and the potential for their continued revitalization. First, changes to the Historic Tax Credit may alter the capital stack used to finance the rehabilitation of historic projects, as well as the overall return on investment for such projects. Second, changes to the Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring and Reconstructing Historic Buildings may alter how historic resources are treated and the mitigation measures required under the California Environmental Quality Act.

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On February 1, 2018, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (“HCD”) released its much anticipated determination regarding the local governments that are now subject to streamlined entitlements for housing development under Senate Bill 35.  HCD’s methodology for this determination utilizes pro-rated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (“RHNA”) targets for the local governments that have not yet reached the statutory reporting period. (Additional information regarding HCD’s methodology can be found here: http://www.hcd.ca.gov/community-development/housing-element/docs/SB35_DeterminationMethodology013118.pdf)  Overall, the HCD release underscores the scope and scale of the housing shortage in California, and the opportunity for housing developers to benefit from a ministerial approval process for qualified housing projects.

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As we have done for the past nine years, the Retail Group of Cox, Castle & Nicholson LLP has, once again, taken on the daunting task of forecasting what to expect in the forthcoming year in four critical segments that affect the retail industry. In doing so, we analyzed the social, political and economic events of 2017, reviewed various economic data and projections and have come to certain opinions relating to the retail industry and where it is heading in 2018. Below is the product of our thinking, in the form of four articles of interest addressing such topics as capital markets, retailing, retail development and the impacts of residential development on retail:

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On December 22, 2017, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor issued an opinion that resets its view of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (the “Act”) and could give developers, renewable energy companies, and other industries regulatory relief and certainty for the inadvertent take of migratory birds. Continue reading →

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On December 13, 2017, the Los Angeles City Council passed and Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a “linkage fee” ordinance that has been in the works for over two years and is projected to bring more than $100 million in annual revenue to the City.  The ordinance was published on December 18, 2017.

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On September 29th, Governor Brown signed a long-anticipated package of 15 housing-related bills, as summarized in our prior post, “California Legislature Passes Historic Housing Legislation in Effort to Tackle State’s Housing Crisis” (9/22/17). Collectively, these bills constitute the legislature’s farthest reaching action in years to address California’s ongoing housing crisis.  Though the bills are expected to make only a small dent in California’s annual shortage of new housing stock, they are, at the very least, a resounding acknowledgment that the state’s housing crisis requires action at the highest level.  This post highlights AB 1505, also known as the “Palmer Fix”.

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