In recent months, legislators in California have begun a concerted effort to use state law to address the state’s ongoing housing crisis. The moves come amid worsening regional inequality that has pushed housing affordability outside the reach of many populations. Facing mounting pressure from a growing cohort of pro-housing YIMBY activists and increasingly grim economic and social impacts—including a sharp increase in the number of rent-burdened households and the number of individuals and families experiencing homelessness—state-level legislators have begun to take action where municipal leaders have thus far stopped short. Late last year, the California State Legislature approved a bundle of housing-focused bills in what amounted to the first key win for state-led housing reform efforts. The legislature passed a total of seven bills aimed at streamlining permitting, enforcing regional housing production benchmarks, and preventing municipalities from down-zoning parcels or rejecting by-right projects. Several of the bills also aimed to stimulate new housing spending for affordable units, including a measure that will allow for a low-income housing–focused $3 billion bond to go onto the November 2018 statewide ballot and a measure that institutes a modest levy on certain real estate transactions in the state in order to raise up to $250 million each year for low income housing construction. The two combined measures could make over $8 billion in new funding available for affordable housing production over the next decade. These bills followed the adoption in late 2016 of a streamlined Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance that legalizes backyard homes across the state while also providing minimum zoning standards for ADUs that homeowners and developers can follow when local rules do not exist. The shift has led to a surge in ADU applications across California’s big and small cities alike, as homeowners move to build new ADUs while also legalizing existing bootlegged units. In a blow to NIMBY activists, the move also essentially doubled the residential density of the state’s single-family zoned lots overnight, with the added benefit that ADUs developed in certain areas—historic districts, ½-mile from transit—could be built without added parking. A recent report from the University of California, Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation concluded that “ADUs are poised to play a significant role in alleviating California’s housing crisis and state, regional, and local leaders should continue to examine ways in which barriers to this type of development can be removed.” The report cited an explosion in building permits for ADUs following their legalization, with 1,980 units pending in Los Angeles for 2017 compared with just 90 the year prior. Efforts are currently underway to continue to streamline ADU development at the state level. Hopes of using state law to right California’s housing market were boosted further this year by the introduction of SB 827, a transformative new state law that would, among other things, override local planning code to raise height limits and boost density while abolishing parking requirements for lots located near mass transit. The bill is authored by State Senator Scott Wiener—one of the authors of several of the 2017 housing bills—and has the backing of many of the state’s increasingly influential pro-housing activists. Specifically, for properties located within ¼ mile of a transit corridor or one block from a major transit stop, the bill would disallow height limits lower than 85 feet, except for when a particular parcel fronts a street 45 feet or less in width, in which case the minimum height limit would drop to 55 feet. The bill would also forbid height limits below 55 feet for all areas ½ mile from transit routes. The law, if passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, would also forbid the imposition of minimum parking requirements for parcels within a ½-mile radius of a transit stop or within a ¼-mile radius from a transit corridor. One of the bill’s strengths is that these provisions lump high-performing bus routes in with light and heavy rail infrastructure, making their potential effects across the state quite vast, as many of its major cities have extensive bus networks. Wiener’s bill is seen widely as a potentially earth-shattering piece of legislation that would upend decades’ worth of ever-tightening local control—often at the expense of density and new construction. The abolition of parking minimums in particular would represent a sea-change in car-loving California, where parking takes up a lot of space and significantly adds to the cost of building new housing. Policy Club, a collective of digitally-savvy professionals who aim to utilize data to help politicians craft “smarter public policies that will move the needle on some of California’s most pressing challenges” has generated a visualization that postulates what some of the changes in density, parking, and maximum height might look like for the City of Los Angeles. Hunter Owens, a Policy Club contributor, explained that, at least in L.A., parking reductions associated with the bill will do the most to change the way the city builds in response to the bill. Owens said, "We were surprised to find that it's the parking requirements that are keeping building heights and density down," adding that many potentially affected areas in L.A. already benefit from lenient height limits. Doing away with parking requirements would allow housing developers to build more of the units they are entitled to build and make for a more efficient use of land, the maps show. The group is currently working to digitize city planning codes from across the state in an effort to create more visualizations. Another potential benefit from the bill would be the dramatic increase in the number of new sites where deed-restricted affordable housing units could potentially be built if SB 827 and the affordable housing bond pass later this year, according to Brian Hanlon of California YIMBY. SB 827 would permit nonprofit developers to build affordable housing in many so-called "high-opportunity" areas throughout the state that currently prohibit dense development. The bill would also dramatically expand the production of deed-restricted affordable housing in cities with inclusionary zoning policies, since building market-rate homes also requires providing homes for low-income Californians, Hanlon explained. These changes could make deed-restricted affordable housing an additional major force in resolving the crisis by incentivizing—rather than requiring—inclusionary development along transit routes. That component as well as the other provisions of the law could generate “millions” of potential new units, according to Hanlon’s early projections. Though official estimates are still pending, the prospect for lots of new housing construction are good if SB 827 passes later this year.
Posts tagged with "California":
Gehry Partners has released a new batch of renderings of their mixed-use tower on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, California, nearly five years after initially announcing the project. What was once a 22-story tower has now been cut down to 12, after the Santa Monica City Council imposed wide-ranging height restrictions on new construction in the city’s downtown in April of 2017. When AN last wrote about the Ocean Avenue project in 2013, Gehry’s tower-on-a-base was still 22 stories and 244 feet tall, and destined to sit in a major 1.9-acre redevelopment at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. The $72 million mixed-use tower would have housed 22 condos, 125 hotel rooms, two stories of restaurants and retail, and a 36,000-square foot art museum with a glassy facade nearby. After years of legal battles stalled out development at the site over the tower’s height, Gehry’s rippling building could finally be on the rise following a City Council meeting on January 11th. While the overall massing and white-paneled, rippling façade of the revised tower still resembles the original plan, Gehry’s team has implemented sweeping changes. The project will now top out at 130 feet at its peak, with an average height of 44 feet across the tiered building. According to the Ocean Avenue Project website, the floor area ratio (FAR) has been reduced from 3.2 to 2.6, all condo units have been removed, the number of residential and affordable units has been increased, and Gehry has tried to improve integration with the street. A more concrete timeline for the project’s construction will likely become available following the upcoming City Council meeting.
2017 Best of Design Award for Civic – Administrative: Boston Emergency Medical Services Architect: The Galante Architecture Studio Location: Boston, Massachusets This new Emergency Medical Services facility replaced a dilapidated garage located on the historic grounds of the old Boston Sanatorium. Working in concert with the City of Boston Public Facilities department, the firm built a modest yet elegant building that provides security and stature through its solid shell and minimalist form. The approximately 10,500-square-foot structure comprises 11 bays—each capable of double loading and outfitted with a vehicle exhaust system—to house emergency vehicles already in Boston EMS’s fleet, plus additional equipment provided by Homeland Security in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon attack. A robust thermal envelope, efficient LED lights and daylighting units, and low-flow plumbing fixtures help make the building energy efficient. Its inherent flexibility supports Boston’s first responders in their efforts to protect the public and manage emergencies in both the short term and foreseeable future. "This project is a wonderful use of quotidian materials in a sharp, sophisticated way. Robert Venturi would be proud." —Matt Shaw, senior editor, The Architect's Newspaper (juror) Contractor: Gianluca Morle, WCI Corporation Project director: Scott Dupre with Boston Public Facilities Department Metal Wall Panels: Morin Daylighting Units: Firestone Building Products Site Lighting: RAB Lighting Honorable Mention New United States Courthouse – Los Angeles Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Location: Los Angeles, California Modern in spirit and rooted in classic principles of federal architecture, the New United States Courthouse contains 24 courtrooms and 32 judicial chambers within 633,000 (energy efficient) square feet. Envisioned as a “floating” cube, the building’s innovative structural engineering concept elevates the glass volume above its stone base, mitigating blast threats while appearing as a single hovering form. Honorable Mention San Diego Central Courthouse Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Location: San Diego, California This project consolidates San Diego County’s Criminal Trial, Family, and Civil Courts into a 22-story, 704,000-square-foot tower in the city’s downtown—a catalyst for the emerging government district. A three-story public lobby serves as the heart of the courthouse, while the traditional courthouse pediment has been reinterpreted as a shade-giving soffit.
2017 Best of Design Award for Civic - Cultural: Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art Architect: SO-IL with Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Location: Davis, California Defining the museum as a landscape of cultivation, the design of the recently established Manetti Shrem Museum at the University of California, Davis, captures the Central Valley’s spirit of optimism, imagination, and invention. “Cultivation” has a divergent etymology, on one hand rural, on the other, urban-bourgeois. The overarching “Grand Canopy” seeks to embrace both contexts, extending a rolling form patchworked with aluminum beams over both site and building. An environmental silhouette, the design provides identity and awareness to multiple constituencies. "The project makes me optimistic for architecture in the U.S. —intelligent and rigorous architecture that is also delightful and humanist at the same time. I love how the building connects an intimate experience to the scale of the landscape around it." —Eric Bunge, principal, nARCHITECTS (juror) Contractor: Whiting-Turner Structural Engineer: Rutherford & Chekene Mechanical Engineer: WSP Lighting: Fisher Marantz Stone Canopy Engineer: Front Honorable Mention Name: Chrysalis Designer: MARC FORNES / THEVERYMANY Place: Columbia, Maryland Chrysalis is an amphitheater, but it is first a pavilion in a park, a tree house, and a placemaking public artwork, ready to be activated at any moment. Here, temporary occupations are staged under a series of cascading arches that vary in size and function: a structural system that gives form to play.
Several bills aimed at alleviating California’s persistent and worsening housing affordability crisis advanced through the state legislature late last night, re-igniting the state’s housing activists and raising hopes that housing relief is on the way. The six initiatives address different facets of the crisis, but have been seen as a collective success and an initial step toward more full-fledged efforts by the state to rein in skyrocketing rents and reverse the housing shortage. The California State Assembly passed Senate Bill 2 (SB 2)—the most controversial of the batch—a proposal that adds $75 to a $225 fee to mortgage refinances and other real estate transactions, excluding home and commercial property sales. The fee is projected to raise $250 million per year for low-income affordable housing, and provide a permanent and consistent funding source to rehabilitate and expand that market, the Los Angeles Times reported. When matched with federal, local, and private funds, it is estimated that the fee could raise over $5 billion for such housing over the next five years, according to The Mercury News. Senate Bill 3 (SB 3), also passed Thursday night, paves the way for a $4 billion bond designed to finance low-income housing development and provide mortgages to military veterans to go onto the 2018 statewide ballot. Providing housing for formerly-homeless veterans has been a particular focus of ongoing housing efforts across the state. Senate Bill 35 (SB 35) would streamline the approval of housing development, requiring cities and counties to develop land use plans that include a housing element and hold municipalities accountable to those figures. Senate Bill 166 would also pressure municipalities to meet their housing goals while also forbidding them from lowering residential density in their respective zoning codes to reduce the overall number of required units. Senate Bill 167 would strengthen the state's Housing Accountability Act—which compels municipalities to approve low-income housing projects, among other types of housing—by fining municipalities automatic fines of $10,000 per unit of unbuilt housing resulting from their violation of the act. Various municipalities around the Bay Area have caused controversy in recent years for violating the act, which in turn, has resulted in lawsuits from housing activists. Senate Bill 540 incentivizes “workforce housing opportunity zones” by allowing municipalities to adopt specific plans for local areas that are particularly in need of housing. The bill would streamline redevelopment efforts, especially in relation to California Environmental Quality Act approvals. Both SB 2 and SB 3 cleared the California State Senate earlier this year; those bills and the four additional measures will head back to that chamber for final approval today before being sent to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. Brown has until October 15th to veto or sign the bills.
American Green, Inc., a publicly-traded, technology-focused medical cannabis company, recently purchased the entire town of Nipton, California for $5 million with the intention of modernizing the locale into a cannabis-friendly and sustainable recreational destination. The historic mining town has a current population of about 20 inhabitants and is located roughly an hour south of Las Vegas, Nevada in the far northeastern corner of California’s San Bernardino County. The town, a short distance from Interstate-15, is also roughly three hours east of Los Angeles and on a major route connecting regional centers like San Diego and Salt Lake City, Utah. The company hopes that with increasing legalization, the booming recreational cannabis trade will be an economic boon to the region. Under American Green’s stewardship, the 120-acre town will become a hub for recreational cannabis use and cannabis normalization at the municipal level. American Green plans to use the town as a testing site for cannabis-friendly regulation and has plans for opening a slew of bed and breakfasts, hotels, and production facilities for edible cannabis products with the intent of creating a complete “small town experience,” according to a press release. An artist-in-residence program is even in the works, as are plans for extensive eco-tourism initiatives. The company will also pay to expand a nearby solar farm with the intent of making Nipton energy independent while also upgrading the town’s water aquifer and water delivery systems. David Gwyther, chairman and president of American Green, said in a statement, "We are excited to lead the charge for a true 'Green Rush.' The cannabis revolution that's going on here in the US, has the power to completely revitalize communities in the same way gold did during the 19th century.” The company is currently in the planning stages of the project and is soliciting input and public comment via its website.
The San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation (SFBARF) is suing the Berkeley, California City Council over allegations that the body has repeatedly violated California’s Housing Accountability Act (HAA), a 1982 piece of legislation that compels municipalities to “not reject or make infeasible” housing developments that help meeting housing needs. As is well-documented, the San Francisco Bay area—and not to mention, pretty much the entire state of California—is suffering from a prolonged and detrimental housing affordability crisis, a phenomenon that has been compounded by the heavy-handed influence that single family homeowners wield over the approval of new housing projects in low-density neighborhoods. In a civil court filing with Alameda County, SFBARF—and the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education fund (CaRLA), a statewide nonprofit founded to ensure compliance with HAA that has joined SFBARF in the suit—alleges that the Berkeley City Council has violated HAA by rejecting the application for a new three-family development at 1310 Haskell Street. The development aims to replace a dilapidated single family home with three new single family units. The R-2A zoned parcel, the suit alleges, was being developed in compliance with “all applicable, objective general plan and zoning standards and criteria, including design review standards” and even had a use permit issued for the new development. Problems arose when unhappy neighbors appealed the project to the City Council, which then voted to scuttle the project’s previous approvals. According to the suit,
Under the HAA, if a proposed housing project complies with a city’s general plan and zoning standards, the city may not disapprove or condition the project at a lower density unless it provides written findings supported by substantial evidence that the project would have a specific, adverse impact upon the ‘public health or safety’ that cannot be mitigated.A later City Council meeting rescinded approvals for the project for good, as City Council members argued that because the project required a demolition permit to remove the existing residence, HAA did not apply. The demolition permit, the City Council argued, constituted a discretionary approval that voided the HAA “general plan and zoning standards” requirement mentioned above. The City Council then, the suit alleges, continued to pursue this course of action despite the Berkeley City Attorney's opinion that approvals like demolition permits were in fact covered by HAA’s broad scope and authority. The suit alleges further that rather than enforce HAA legislation, the Berkeley City Council instead changed course on the project due to Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) outcry, a course of action HAA was explicitly designed to prevent. The suit is the second attempt by SFBARF to “sue the suburbs” to comply with HAA legislation. A previous suit against the community of Lafayette was settled in May 2017. For now, the case will continue to make it’s way through the court system unless the City Council changes course.
After several months of blustering and delays, the Federal Transit Administration has finally signed off on the full $647 million in federal funding needed to electrify California’s Caltrain commuter rail system. The move comes several anxious months after the new administration indicated it would scuttle previous funding agreements for public transportation projects across the country as a way to punish cities that have so thoroughly rejected the new president. The funding was originally completely left out of the earliest budget proposals announced by the White House, but hope returned two weeks ago when a preliminary congressional plan seemed to walk back the de-funding talk. That budget contained partial funding commitments for urban transportation initiatives, including $100 million for Caltrain electrification. After weeks of outspoken criticism from California’s political leadership and pleas from transportation activists, news this week of full funding for the project was widely seen as a welcome political victory. In a statement celebrating the new funding agreement, Jim Hartnett, CEO of Caltrain touted the economic development potential for the project, Mass Transit reports, saying that Caltrain Electrification will ease congestion in “one of the country’s most economically productive regions” while also “creating almost 10,000 American jobs in the process.” Caltrain, a regional commuter rail network that serves the Bay Area and its environs, is in the midst of converting its diesel-powered train fleet into an electrically-powered one. Train electrification produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than diesel power—especially when the energy used to power the trains is generated through renewable means—and has also been recently touted as a vehicle for so-called solutionary rail reforms. Solutionary rail approaches combine sustainable electrical grid modernization initiatives with high-speed rail expansion to multiply the environmental benefit of train networks. Although electrified railways are the norm in countries with advanced train networks, only about 1% of rails in the US are electrified. In California, the move is a necessary precursor to the state’s forthcoming High Speed Rail network. Electrification will require that Caltrain purchase new locomotives and the organization is currently soliciting input on forthcoming train graphics. Caltrain is currently working on the designs for the electrification improvements and is expected to begin construction sometime this year, with a project completion deadline of 2020 or 2021. For more information on the Peninsula Corridor Electrification project, see the Caltrain website.
If it seems like legalized recreational marijuana’s potential to instigate positive social change at the urban scale is little more than a pipe dream, think again. Several states and municipalities are already experimenting with innovative uses for legal marijuana revenues that hint at a possible urban dimension to the notion of so-called “marijuana reparations,” but these efforts do not go far enough. One approach comes from the state of Colorado, where lawmakers are working to change state law to allow municipalities to spend tax revenues raised via recreational marijuana sales to build new units of affordable housing for individuals experiencing homelessness. Officials there see a recent rise in homelessness as being related to the legal marijuana trade and are looking to utilize revenues from booming marijuana sales to fund re-housing and recovery efforts. The plan, if enacted, would seek to redirect $12.3 million in revenue—legal weed sales brought in $199 million in tax revenue in 2016—to build roughly 1,500 affordable housing units over the next five years. Oakland, California, on the other hand, is aiming to increase access to marijuana sales licenses via its equity permit program. That program aims to streamline the process by which formerly-incarcerated individuals who were jailed for marijuana-related crimes can apply for licenses to sell recreational marijuana. City Lab reports that by Oakland’s official estimates, African Americans made up 77 percent of marijuana-related arrests in the city during 2015. With such skewed figures, whites made up only seven percent of arrests for marijuana-related crimes that year while Latinos made up 15% of arrestees. The city is banking that by earmarking legal marijuana permits for formerly incarcerated individuals, some of those who suffered the most under the war on drugs will be some of the first to benefit from changing laws. These types of changes are a positive first step, but they do not go far enough in addressing the inequality engendered by the discriminatory racial paradigm that launched the war on drugs in the first place. Simply put, state and local municipalities have a moral, social, and financial obligation to rectify the impacts of the decades-long war on drugs that has unnecessarily criminalized African American and Latino communities across the country. The majority of people in prison are currently incarcerated at the state level, often due to local policing efforts. In the United States, the effects of racism on housing discrimination and incarceration rates are ongoing and well-documented. The intimately-related nature of post-World War II redlining practices, coupled with the facilitation of concentrated urban poverty by the interstate highway system, are directly responsible for the ease with which hostile policing and drug enforcement practices have been able to tear into communities of color left behind by suburbanization. Recent episodes of police brutality against people of color—and African Americans, in particular—point directly to the historical legacies that racist land use and policing policies have left on many communities to this very day. The historical legacy of these initiatives has also set up the parameters through which contemporary gentrification has been allowed to take hold in American cities. States and local municipalities are on the hook for limiting housing production over the last several decades. States like California have done an abysmal job facilitating housing production for years, a phenomenon that has created the rampant unaffordability crisis that is choking working class populations—the same groups suffering under draconian criminal policies—in major cities and small towns alike. Given these connections, it’s clear to see that the time to lay the groundwork for bold action is now; municipalities can no longer treat unaffordability and mass-incarceration as separate issues to be addressed piecemeal because they are a product of the same system of oppression. Here’s an idea for a holistic approach: What if states were to combine social justice–minded marijuana reparations efforts with housing market reform, as well? First, states like California should expand Oakland’s equity permit program to as many municipalities as possible, enabling at least the sales of legalized marijuana to economically benefit marginalized communities. The state should then administer revenues generated from recreational marijuana sales to directly incentivize the development of affordable and market rate housing within a certain proximity—say, one-quarter of a mile—of recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries or production facilities. This effort, if coupled with thoughtful increases in density around these facilities, would double- and triple-up the positive effects of the marijuana trade on marginalized communities by ensuring that new jobs and new housing are brought directly to communities besieged by the drug war. With this proximity-based approach, both urban areas and the rural communities across the state now responsible for growing and processing many cannabis products can benefit, as well. The state should also facilitate the development of community-based banks—again, located near dispensaries—tasked with providing private financing to individuals, families, business, and housing developers aiming to develop workforce housing within these communities. Formerly incarcerated individuals and their families should be given priority access to these funds, as well, an element could begin to facilitating paths to self-directed home ownership while also embedding more equitable access to financing within these communities. The potential impact of these policies could be high. In California, for example, recent legalization included levying a 15 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana sales as well as a wholesale tax of $9.25 and $2.75 per ounce on marijuana flowers and leaves, respectively. Recreational and medical marijuana sales are expected to reach $6.46 billion per year by 2020, potentially generating roughly $1 billion in tax revenues for the state. A rough calculation of the figures given earlier for Colorado’s affordable housing program indicates that state is aiming to spend roughly seven percent of marijuana revenue on supportive housing. Scaled to California’s marijuana economy, that would translate to roughly $70 million for housing reform. That’s a good start and, of course, the seven percent percent figure could go much higher. Additional funding could potentially be leveraged against funding from federal agencies for a larger effect, also. Either way, $70 million would certainly go far in communities that have seen economic disinvestment and marginalization for decades. Given the monumental shifts in marijuana policy and public opinion and the potential the booming industry has to generate vast amounts of wealth, it is essential that the spoils of legalized marijuana trade not only go to those who have access to capital and privilege necessary to start a marijuana-related business. It is also essential, given the ongoing housing crisis—and that phenomenon’s ties to other aspects of institutionalized racial inequality—that municipalities move to make housing reform a central component of any marijuana reparations program. These funds should be harnessed directly toward increasing business opportunities for individuals caught up by the war on drugs and be put toward the equitable redevelopment of the very communities torn apart by those policies.
Today marks a new age for the always-evolving design of Taco Bell stores. The first permanent shipping container-based Taco Bell has opened in South Gate, California. The 1,080-square-foot restaurant has five modules and was developed by SG Blocks. The concept was first devised for a pop-up Taco Bell at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference & Festivals in Austin. The original Taco Bell location opened in 1962 as a walk-up counter in Downey, California, in the days when many fast food joints were windows. In early 2015, a social media campaign #savetacobell cropped up in favor of saving this original location. While the original Taco Bell was California Mission-style, it has gone through a series of upgrades over the years. Through the 80s, the Mission influence remained, but by the end of the 90s, it had become very simplified. In the 2000s, a more modern box was outfitted in wild colors, and recently, a “Scandi-National Park” version has made the Taco Bell even more modern. Is the Taco Bell shipping container here to stay? It is certainly timely for 2017. Will it be a sign of the fall of the modern democratic project, and the dawn of a new libertarian era where only strongest survive and we have to eat our Cheesy Gordita Crunches in the off-sheddings of capitalism? If anyone wants to find out, the address is 13601 Garfield Ave, South Gate, CA.
The Oroville Dam, which supports California’s second largest reservoir and is the tallest dam in the country, is showing increasing likelihood of failure after an exceedingly wet winter rain season. This year's rainy season has brought record rains to the state after years of drought. The 770-foot-high dam is located in northern California 75 miles north of Sacramento, the state capital. The dam, built between 1961 and 1967, holds roughly 3.5 million acre-feet of water—an acre-foot is equal to the volume contained within a sheet of water one acre in area and one foot in depth, or, 43,560 cubic feet—and is integral to the California Water Project, the state’s expansive flood control and irrigation system that delivers water from the wetter and more sparsely-populated areas in the north to the drier and more densely-populated communities along the coast and south. The dam, which holds back Lake Oroville, suffered a partial fracture along its emergency spillway early last week. The emergency spillway acts as a relief valve for the dam and is designed to be opened up when water levels in the dam get too high. It was used for the first time in the dam’s history this weekend. The damaged spillway is not paved over in concrete like the main spillway, but instead, exists as a wooded slope. The damage caused engineers tasked with managing the dam to slow down the release of excess water along the emergency spillway and, as a result, the reservoir reached capacity over the weekend. Use of the emergency spillway persisted to alleviate the high water levels. Despite assurances from officials that the dam was safe and structurally sound throughout the weekend, officials announced emergency evacuation orders late Sunday as it became obvious that water being released over the emergency spillway had resulted in the steady erosion of the hillside holding the dam’s foundations. The state’s Emergency Mass Notification system sent out the following message via email Sunday afternoon:
Emergency Mass Notification Message (2/12/17 4:20 p.m.) This is an evacuation order. Immediate evacuation from the low levels of Oroville and areas downstream is ordered. A hazardous situation is developing with the Oroville Dam auxiliary spillway. Operation of the auxiliary spillway has lead to severe erosion that could lead to a failure of the structure. Failure of the auxiliary spillway structure will result in an uncontrolled release of flood waters from Lake Oroville. In response to this developing situation, DWR is increasing water releases to 100,000 cubic feet per second. Immediate evacuation from the low levels of Oroville and areas downstream is ordered. This in NOT A Drill. This in NOT A Drill. This in NOT A Drill.The dam sits above a wide swath of wooded and agricultural areas, including the communities of Oroville and Yuba City. As a result of the evacuation orders, roughly 190,000 residents were asked to leave the area to find higher ground. Engineers were able to lower the water level enough over Sunday evening to cease use of the emergency spillway, a development which will theoretically allow engineers to observe and try to repair the damages to the dam. Joe Countryman, a member of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board and a former engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told the Sacramento Bee, "I think between now and Thursday, when the next storm arrives, they need to get the reservoir down as low as they can. Tomorrow, they need to start grouting the hell out of that embankment to try to shut off where that leak is." As a result of the potential catastrophe, The Los Angeles Times reports Governor Jerry Brown has put the entire California National Guard—a force of 23,000 of soldiers and pilots—on call for the first time since the Los Angeles riots in 1992. As of 7:00 AM Pacific Time, the dam is still in immediate danger of partial failure. We will bring more updates as they happen. For a list of evacuation sites and shelters, see the Butte County website.
The Walt Disney Company announced plans this week to open new 14-acre Star Wars-themed extensions to both Disneyland and Disney World theme parks by 2019. Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger announced the new timeline via a quarterly earnings call. Disney has also released a series of artists renderings for the theme parks, showing stylized views of a mountainous, forested planet with many of the images depicting the Millennium Falcon spaceship. The theme park worlds are being designed in the manner of a remote, intergalactic trading post, according to the company. The parks will be set on a “never-before-seen planet—a remote trading port and one of the last stops before wild space—where Star Wars characters and their stories come to life,” by a representative on the Disney Parks blog. Disney began construction on Disneyland’s Star Wars-themed expansion in April of 2016. The project, announced with a $1 billion budget, has also spurred a slew of upscale developments in the Anaheim Resort District (ARD), a 1,100-acre, purpose-built hotel and entertainment area in downtown Anaheim. The area sits between the city’s convention center and the Disney theme parks and caters to both groups with increasingly high-end accommodations. Controversy has erupted in the area in recent months as luxury hotel developers have rushed to build new high-end units—using taxpayer subsidies—in anticipation of the new Star Wars theme park. Taken together, an expected 2,380 luxury hotel rooms are on the way across a variety of developments. Disney is planning to build its own 700-room hotel to overlook the new Star Wars theme park. A pair of 580-room developments by Wincome Group is also on the way. One, a 580-room complex, will be located adjacent to Disney’s California Adventure park while the second hotel will sit across from the convention center. That second project will contain an additional 40,000 square feet of meeting space. JW Marriott hotels also has a 466-room hotel planned for the area. The Wincome and Disney developments alone will receive a combined $550 billion in taxpayer subsidies; subsidy estimates on the Marriott property are not readily available. The subsidies come in the form of tax breaks, which could allow the hotel operators to keep as much as 90 percent of the taxes collected on site, sending only 10 percent back to the municipality. There are fears that the new developments would cannibalize business—and tax revenue—from existing hotels that do not have access to the subsidies. The new Star Wars lands will take over space formerly occupied by portions of Disney’s existing Frontierland and Critter Country grounds and will replace several attractions, including Big Thunder Ranch. Upon completion, the new Star Wars areas will be the largest single-theme expansions each of the respective parks has undergone.