SB35 Chills Neighborhood Control Over Development.

Recently signed SB35 is designed to expedite contruction of new housing development to meet the latest version of California’s housing crisis.  It’s impossible to browse any news outlet without seeing news on low income housing and affordability in California.  Municipalities, counties, and the state wrestle with this as a political and policy issue.

Struggling with good solutions, the state has succumbed to pressure from the mortgage, construction, and development lobbies to tear down environmental regulations.  The latest incursion is SB35.

The new law (SB35) eliminates CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review for projects that:

  • Meet underlying current local zoning codes
  • Aren’t single family homes
  • Not on the coast
  • Don’t replace rent controlled housing
  • Pay union wages during construction.

This sounds like a great way to reduce red tape and speed the process of building all kinds of multi-family housing.  For the University Neighborhood, this becomes important for properties like the 17 acres at E. Linden St.  Today the zoning for this property is R1 single family. If the zoning where pursued (by the city) to change that to R2 or R3 zoning we should become very concerned. The change in zoning would allow a large scale multi-family development to go in with no CEQA review.

Another property to watch as a result of this action is located at the corner of Blaine and Watkins. I wrote about the city rezoning properties and specifically called out the Blaine and Watkins property.

The city is working to re-zone 67 sites, about 300 parcels or 395 acres.  This to meet the requirements for low income housing.  The zoning change will have a significant number of R3 or R4 parcels added to the city housing element.

Viewed as separate events, the rezoning for housing element update and SB35 seem innocuous.  In context of SB35 these housing element changes are much more ominous.  Under SB35 any of these rezoned properties can be developed into high density projects without being subject to CEQA review.  In other words the developer has carte blanc on these R3 and R4 properties.  Sometimes this won’t make much difference; in the rare circumstance the projects are complimentary to the existing built environment.

I worry about developments that are proposed without regards to the existing neighborhood.  Often the developer will “involve the community” it’s the CEQA process that reveals the real consequences.  Sadly this is often the case. We need to watch as this evolves.  The city council has already been pressured into approving the housing element changes by a October 15th deadline. It was agendized and approved at the October 10th council meeting.

As a result we have sweeping zoning changes in Riverside and a new neighborhood hostile state law in SB35.  If you’ve got ideas on how we’ll guard against hostile development in the University Neighborhood please post them!  We are gonna need the help.

Remember, it’s our neighborhood!

UCR North District Plan Unveiling!

UCR is working on a major campus project in the North District (between Blaine, Canyon Crest, Watkins, MLK).  The plan is provide student housing in the now defunct Canyon Crest Student Housing along with activity fields, retail, food, and other collective space.  An article from Inside UCR overviews the project and invites the community to a meeting to hear the three developer proposals.

I’d encourage you to go if you’re available though.  The meeting is: 

Tuesday, Oct. 10 in Highlander Union Building (HUB) 302, 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Doors will open at 10:30 a.m

There are some things in the project scope,  as University Neighbors, we should keep eye on.

Athletic Fields

The inclusion of a NCAA Div 1 soccer field with seating for 5000.  While chancellor Wilcox claimed to have given up the dream of an arena in the North District this looks like a good (sneaky) way to reserve space for an arena.  

A 5000 seat arena would have dramatic traffic impacts to our neighborhood.  As far as I”m aware, there are no venues even close in size on UCR campus, on this side of town, or even in Riverside as a whole.  We need to proactively manage and plan for the surges in traffic that accompany such a huge venue.  

As we’ve learned from the athletic fields along Watkins, UCR’s lighting consultants likely worked with Las Vegas developers. They don’t know how to keep the lighting low key.  Up at my house we endure stray light from the Watkins fields almost every evening and it’s much worse if you live along Watkins, Campus View (should we call it Light View?), and that general area.

Dark Skies
The city is working on a dark skies ordinance that could help with stray light, but let’s not hold our collective breath hoping that the ordinance is useful, functional, or enforceable.  Even if it were, the city is terrified of holding UCR to any reasonable conditions of development.  It’s up to us to preserve our night skies, hills and sanity.

On Campus Housing

UCR has ambitious plans for expanded on-campus housing.  My naturally skeptical side leaves me wondering where they’ll get the money.  Skepticism aside, UCR wants to put 6000 more beds on campus.  2250 of those beds are intended to be completed by 2020.  In the scope of a project like this, 2020 is practically tomorrow!

The impact on our neighborhood from those 2250 new beds may be dramatic and catastrophic.  We currently house some undefined number of students in our 2000 or so University homes.  It is a near certainty that more beds on campus will result in fewer students renting in our neighborhood.  Many University Neighbors would welcome that, but I remain concerned about the prospects of a sudden decrease in student rental demand on the University Neighborhood.

  • Absentee owner/landlords might become desperate leading to all kinds of bizarre arrangements to keep the cash flow for a property making ends meet.
  • Neighbors that are dependant on renting a room out to students might also be hurt.
  • Many original or long term owners here that might like to cash out in coming retirement years.  Like it or not, rentals provide a price support and more than a baseline value for properties in the neighborhood. A massive decrease in rental demand could be very painful to us because of house value losses.
  • Preserve certain large pieces of property around the neighborhood, making them even less viable for development of higher density apartments.
  • Lose neighborhood vitality and vibrance.  I know that when you are awakened at 2 am by a loud party you aren’t treasuring the vibrance that students bring to our neighborhood.  In spite of some bad actors, the students are positive and energetic presence.
  • Impact the apartment buildings around the neighborhood.  If occupancy rates drop too much expect desperate, unneighborly actions from the LLCs that control those buildings.  In fact, with this project coming, it wouldn’t surprise me to see these buildings start changing hands as current holding LLCs take profits and move on leaving new owners holding the bag in a declining rental market.

This is our time to work with UCR and Riverside to our voices are heard and that the North District Project actually benefits our little neighborhood.

Remember, it’s our neighborhood.


Election Timing and Riverside

The on going discussion at the city council over election timing seem to have our leadership stymied.  The law CVPRA (California Voter Protection Rights Act) clearly states the requirement that local elections must be moved to statewide election years.  It also puts on pressure by specifying that the change in elections be implemented in 2018, or with a plan 2022 at the latest.

The rub for our local elected is three fold:

  1. We’ve got a ward 7 seat open that needs filling.  It will be filled by city council interview soon we hope.  Once a citizen is selected to serve, they’ll have the chance to run for the office when at the next ward 7 council election comes around.  Because we need to implement the CVPRA the next ward 7 election is a little in flux right now.
  2. The change in election timing creates the need to either lengthen or shorten council seat terms in order to conform to the timing required by law.   No councilman wants to shorten their term, that’s not why they ran for office.  Each of six sitting council members has a desire to serve the community and shortening the terms runs a little contrary to that idea.
  3. Changing the election cycle requires a city charter change.  Charter changes must be put to a vote.  The problem here is state law supersedes  the city charter; we don’t have a choice in this matter.  Our election cycle must be changed by January 1st 2018, or we must have a plan in place to make that change by 2020.

Clearly the council faces a trident of competing wants, needs, and requirements.  This is a situation that takes some out of the box thinking.  To that, I propose:

  1. The city council appoint a citizen to the ward 7 council seat right away.  For now, it looks like they do that on Monday, September 18th.
  2. Schedule a special election on June 5th, 2018.  This is the date of California Gubernatorial Primary Election.  In our special election put two things on the ballot:
    1. Ward 7 council seat.  The term for the ward 7 seat would be four years plus 5 months.
    2. Present the election timing change to the electorate of the city of Riverside.  Give two options which should be thoroughly discussed.  The outcome will be to change the city charter based on the voter’s choice of outcome.

This proposal puts the choice of ward 7 council seat back to the voters at a time when the turnout will be high, a statewide election date.

The change in election timing is more nuanced than the simple election of a council seat.  For that I suggest the following:  put the voters in charge of the election cycle, but make the ballot choices in conformance with the law.  This allows the charter change to conform to need for voter approval, which is a good thing, and also brings the city into conformance with state law.

Place all seven council seats on the ballot at the same time on even years and implement this change in 2018.  Placing all seven seat up for election will create incredible levels of voter interest and engagement in the election.  Imagine an election that can matter city-wide!  I realize that this might cause the current council members some heartache with the need to run for reelection again so soon.  Every seat would have a shortened term in this scenario.  Wards 2, 4, and 6 would be cut to a one year term and wards 1, 3, & 5 would have three year terms.  Ward 7 would have a five month first term.  I’m sorry for this pain, but the CVPRA and the interest of Riverside voters comes first.


New STEM campus on UCR

When I was a kid having a school in the neighbrohood was a great thing.  We all walked to and from school.  It wasn’t complicated by charter schools, vouchers, and magnet schools.  You went to the school in the neighborhood where you lived.  The school was a neighborhood resource that attracted people.  The facilities, outdoor courts, and fields supported and suplemented the city facilities for recreation.

The flow to school, on foot, knitted the community together.  We didn’t know “everybody in town” but you had an awareness of the neighborhood.  It was easy for the adults to keep an eye on things, to know whether kids hanging around at the Burger King were on lunch or skipping school.  The idea that people in a neighborhood are aware of comings and goings is a time proven way to deal with crime, education, and other quality of life issues.

Today’s world of grade, middle, and high school is quite different.  Getting to school no longer involves a short walk or bike ride.  Arrival and departure times at every school in california is a tsunami of traffic.  Traffic from all over the district because, in the case of our Riverside STEM Academy (RSA), it’s a magnet school so kids from all over come here.  Even more problematic is the nature of the traffic: sociopathic drivers dropped off and picking up kids.  They block driveways, run stop signs, and generally behave like savages in our neighborhood.  Sadder still is the poor example of citizenship and community that these drivers are providing their charges.  It makes it difficult to welcome schools into our neighborhoods.

At Hyatt elementary, located on Mt Vernon a two lane residential street, cars converge twice daily into an area that was never designed to support this level of traffic.  The same happens at North, Highland, and University Heights schools.  Highland and RSA were originally small neighborhood schools that were never invisioned to be subject to the massive vehicle surges.  People walked to school from the neighborhood when these campuses were built.

Complicating University Neighborhood relationship with RUSD is this joint RUSD and UCR proposal: move STEM to the UCR campus and more than double the schools enrollment from 535 today to over 1200 students under the proposal.  There are two UCR locations under consideration, one 4.2 acres parcel at lot 13 the other Iowa near Everton Place between University and Chicago.

The school board discussed the matter on 7/17/17 at the regular RUSD board meeting.  The agenda item relating to this are located here and here.

The short sighted consequences of the STEM lot 13 proposal on our neighborhood and the future of RSA could be significant:

  1. Traffic.  With 535 students RSA has become a logistical nightmare for residents in the Big Springs, Mt. Vernon, Watkins triangle.  By doubling the student load that nightmare will just get worse, with no benefits flowing to the suffering neighbors of the school.
  2. Parking.  Displacing the current UCR parking at lot 13 to some other location will undoubtedly worsen illegal and over capacity parking on the residential streets east of UCR.  In addition the UCR parking spaces will have to be replaced someplace, likely at a much higher cost than keeping lot 13 running.
  3. Critical infrastructure.  The east side of UCR lacks adequate sanitary sewer services to support so large a development without major (expensive) upgrades.
  4. Working team and design team.  There are no neighborhood residents part of the working team or design team. This is a major oversight and lends the appearance that RUSD and UCR are trying to exclude the local community from this process.  The board of education has excluded our voice from the process.
  5. RSA extra-ciricula activities.  For student-athetes it is necessary for them to either hustle to another RUSD campus for their sports or to simply transfer to another campus.  While the focus of RSA is academics, in today’s competitive college admission environment participation in extra-ciriculur activities matters.  This includes high school sports.  A number of highly qualified RSA students have transferred to other campuses for the particular reason of pursuing high school sports as a way to become well rounded and prepared scholars.
  6. Land-locked location.  Future expansion and improvements will be constrained.  There are no opportunities for athletics or athletic fields in the lot 13 location.

The Iowa proposal makes much more sense from a traffic planning standpoint.  With the construction of the new AQMD facility (ironically increasing vehicle trips along Iowa) that area is being preped to handling the traffic.  This will still impact the University Neighborhood by increasing the vehicle trips along MLK, Canyon Crest, Iowa and the neighboring residential streets (we all know about cut-though traffic).  But it’s a better proposal:

  1. Roadway.  The Iowa section between University and Martin Luther King is slated for multi-lane upgrades and could easily handle the twice daily surge in traffic that would accompany a 1200 student campus.
  2. Space.  There is ample room for athletic fields, experimental test facilities, and other expanded learning buildings.
  3. Proximity. The Iowa location is in close proximity to the East Side Neighborhood, an traditionally under served by college track opportunities.
  4. Resources.  Educational, recreational, staff, administration, and teaching resources could be shared between RSA and North High-School.

We need additional return on our investment from RUSD and UCR.  In the RUSD board document they reserve 10 slots at RSA for the regents of the University of California.  Giving this prefered status to UCR employees may seem innocent enough given that UCR is willing to donate the land for RSA.  However, that is not enough.  For many years UCR has successfully mined the city while returning little in direct support aside from lip service.  For the city and neighborhood to ask the following from UCR and RUSD does not strike me as unreasonable.

  1. The affiliation with UCR should not give UCR falculty and staff any priority in student placement at STEM over the local neighborhood residents.  Whether RSA is located at Iowa or Lot 13 the kids that live in the neighborhood should ALWAYS have priority admission.
  2. In order to obtain a slot high priority slot at RSA, the UCR faculty member must live in the UNA area if RSA is at Lot 13 or in the Eastside Neighborhood if RSA is located on Iowa.

RSA’s affiliation with UCR as justification for the Iowa or Lot 13 location also deserves scrutiny.  Currently located about 4 blocks from the UCR campus, does RSA have a strong ties with UCR?  Do the students and facility visit, support, and treasure RSA?  I have my doubts.  Putting RSA in lot 13 would not likely change the affiliations.

I often wonder how these locations for projects get engraved in stone (follow the money usually) before the public even knows.  Opening up our thinking allows that there is another location available for a new school and it’s in an underserved neighborhood with plenty of room for expansion: the Northside.  Currently in the analysis and input stages, the Northside will be subjected to a new specific plan.  What about a Northside location for STEM?  There is an enormous amount of land available, much of it already owned by the city.  The establishment of a large high school campus could be an economic boom for the Northside, promoting the establishment of services that go along with such a large institution.  In addition, the offerings at Northside STEM could be dramatically expanded to include construction and agricultural education.

Election Scheduling Will Increase Voter Turnout: RUSD Does the Right Thing!

I found this card in our mail the other day.  It announces a change in the election timing for the RUSD school board.   In the past, we elected school board members on odd years.  The last Trustee member election was November 3, 2015.  In that election the school board member position that covers the University Neighborhood was in contention.  It was contested by Patricia Lock Dawson and Sandra Ramirez.  That was the only race on the ballot. The turnout for that election was 11.9%.

Most people aren’t that engaged in school board politics.  It’s not just lack of engagement that leads to low turnout though.  There is a basic scheduling problem with these odd-year elections.  Often, we don’t even realize there is an election going on.  The gubernatorial and  presidential elections so dominate the news cycle that our little school board elections go completely unnoticed when they do finally come around.  If you are busy like I am, you can easily make a decision to blow off voting; it’s only a school board election.

Changing the election schedule for local issues (bonds, referendums) and elected offices (school board, city council) to be at the same time as either the presidential or gubernatorial elections (November even years) will increase voter turnout.  How much is to be seen.  The 11.9% for Patricia and Sandra’s RUSD race will certainly be a thing of the past.  Based on good research I would expect that voter turnouts will move to something between 40 and 70%.

Think about how quadrupling the turnout would impact who runs, and who gets elected and what policies are enacted.

Even more importantly, think about how larger turnout would impact the recently completed Riverside city council election.  Would a 40 or 70% voter turnout create a more closely representative democracy?

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

Remember, it’s our neighborhood!


Riverside Ward 4 Council Election: Full of Surprises!

Ward 4 incumbent Paul Davis failed to defend his seat against Riverside insider Chuck Conder.  Davis pulled 46% of the vote against Condor’s 54% a clear, undisputed, win for Conder.

Conder is Ward 5 councilman Chris MacArthur’s field representative.  While he is in a new ward now, concerns seem reasonable that we can look to MacArthur’s voting record to see a preview of Conder.  For ward 2 and University Neighborhood impact, just look at MacArthur’s vote on the Sycamore Canyon warehouse project:  it was aye!


Ward 6 Election Result has Reach into University: Pro-Warehouse Incumbent!

In the Ward 6 council race, Jim Perry clobbered Rafael Elizalde 66% to 34%.  This result isn’t a huge surprise, Rafael ran on a platform of identity politics.  While these issues can be important to our city, they aren’t the most pressing issues when we’ve got warehouses encroaching right up against our residential properties.
Speaking of warehouses, Jim Perry supported the Sycamore Canyon Project.  In the PE, he was quoted: “It came down to quality jobs” that developers promised.  I agree that we need a ladder of jobs including minimum wage warehousers.  I also think that we need to find some interest from other industries in our little town.

From the University Neighborhood, we need to watch Jim Perry closely.  It’s clear he’ll vote pro-developer no matter the impact on our neighborhood.