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California eyes shuttered malls, stores for new housing

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California eyes shuttered malls, stores for new housing

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California state lawmakers are grappling with a particularly 21st-century problem: What to do with the growing number of shopping malls and big box retail stores left empty by consumers shifting their purchases to the web.

A possible answer in crowded California cities is to build housing on these sites, which already have ample parking and are close to existing neighborhoods.

But local zoning laws often don’t allow housing at these locations. Changing the zoning is such a hassle that many developers don’t bother trying. And it’s often not worth it for local governments to change the designations. They would prefer to find new retailers because sales taxes produce more revenue than residential property taxes.

However, with a stubborn housing shortage pushing prices to all-time highs, state lawmakers are moving to pass new laws to get around those barriers.

A bill that cleared the state Senate last week would let developers build houses on most commercial sites without changing the zoning. Another proposal would pay local governments to change the zoning to let developers build affordable housing.

“There has always been an incentive to chase retail and a disincentive to build housing,” said Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Los Angeles-area Democrat who authored the bill to pay local governments. “There is more dormant and vacant retail than ever.”

If successful, it’s believed California would be the first state to allow multi-family housing on commercial sites statewide, said Eric Phillips, vice president of policy and legislation for the California chapter of the American Planning Association. Developers who use the law still would have to obey locally approved design standards. But Phillips said the law would limit local governments’ ability to reject the projects.

That’s why some local leaders oppose the bill, arguing it undermines their authority.

“City leaders have the requisite local knowledge to discern when and which sites are appropriate for repurposing and which are not,” wrote Mike Griffiths, member of the Torrance City Council and founder of California Cities for Local Control, a group of 427 mayors and council members.

It’s a familiar battle in California. While nearly everyone agrees there is an affordable housing shortage, state and local leaders face different political pressures that often derail ambitious proposals. Last year, a bill that would have overridden local zoning laws to let developers build small apartment buildings in neighborhoods reserved for single-family homes died in the state Senate.

Sen. Anna Caballero, a Democrat from Salinas and author of this year’s zoning proposal, said her bill is not a mandate. Developers could choose to use the bill or not. The Senate approved the measure 32-2, sending it to the state Assembly for consideration.

“It’s always a challenge when you’re trying to do affordable housing, because there are entrenched interests that don’t want to negotiate and compromise, and we’re working really hard to try to break through that,” she said. “I’m trying to give maximum flexibility to local government because the more that you start telling them how they have to do it, the harder it becomes for them to actually do it.”

Even before the pandemic, big-box retail stores were struggling to adapt as more people began buying things online. In 2019, after purchasing Sears and Kmart, Transformco closed 96 stores across the country — including 29 in California.

The pandemic, of course, accelerated this trend, prompting major retailers like J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus and J. Crew to file for bankruptcy protection. An analysis by the investment firm UBS shows online shopping will grow to 25% of all retail sales by 2025. The analysis predicted that up to 100,000 stores across the country could close.

Local governments and developers in California are already trying to redevelop some retail sites. In Salinas, a city of about 150,000 people near the Monterey Peninsula, city officials are working to rezone a closed Kmart. In San Francisco, developers recently announced plans to build nearly 3,000 homes in the parking lot that surrounds Stonestown Mall — a sprawling, 40-acre site that has lost some anchor retail tenants in recent years.

Still, the idea of repurposing shopping centers has divided labor unions and affordable housing advocates, putting one of the Democratic Party’s core base of supporters against backers of one of their top policy goals.

Housing advocates love the idea, but they don’t like how Democrats want to do it. Both proposals in the Legislature would require developers to use a “skilled and trained” workforce to build the housing. That means a certain percentage of workers must either be enrolled or have completed a state-approved apprenticeship program.

Developers have said while there are plenty of trained workers available in areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles, those workers are scarce in more rural parts of the state, potentially delaying projects in those areas.

California needs to build about 180,000 new housing units per year to keep up with demand, according to the state’s latest housing assessment. But it’s only managed about 80,000 per year for the past decade. That’s one reason the state’s median sales price for single-family homes hit a record high $758,990 in March.

“At a time when we’re trying to increase production, we don’t believe we should be limiting who can do the work,” said Ray Pearl, executive director of the California Housing Consortium, a group that includes affordable housing developers.

Robbie Hunter, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, dismissed that argument as just greedy developers trying to maximize their profits.

He said there is no construction project in California that has been delayed because of a lack of workers, adding: “We man every job.”

“When there is a demand for workers, we rise with the demand,” Hunter said.

Labor unions appear to be winning. A bill in the state Assembly that did not initially require a “skilled and trained” workforce stalled in committee because it did not have enough support.

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Europe carbon prices expected to soar amid tougher climate goals

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Steam rises from the cooling towers of the coal power plant of RWE, one of Europe's biggest electricity and gas companies in Niederaussem, Germany, March 3, 2016.

LONDON – Carbon prices in the European Union’s emissions trading system are expected to rise significantly in the next decade due to tougher climate goals, market participants said in an industry survey published on Monday.

The EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) is the largest carbon market in the world, covering around 45% of the bloc’s output of greenhouse gases and charging emitters for every tonne of carbon dioxide they emit.

The survey by the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) found members expect carbon prices in the EU ETS to average $57 a tonne between 2021 and 2025 and $71.06 a tonne between 2026 and 2030.

This is mainly due to a tougher EU goal of cutting emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

Last year’s survey predicted an average price of 31.71 euros a tonne for the third phase of the ETS which runs from 2021 to 2030. Benchmark prices in the ETS currently trade around $64.24 a tonne.

Britain’s domestic emissions trading scheme started trading in May this year. The majority of survey respondents expect it will link with the EU scheme by 2023.

Participants anticipate that the average global carbon price needed by 2030 to put the world on track to meet goals to curb global temperature rise is $76.61 a tonne, up from last year’s expectation of $67.84 a tonne.

IETA’s members include banks, exchanges and energy and industrial firms. The association received responses from 158 member representatives for the survey.

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Chicago man jumps into Lake Michigan for 365th straight day

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Dan O'Conor, the "Great Lake Jumper," makes his 365th leap into Lake Michigan, Saturday, June 12, 2021, in Chicago's Montrose Point.

CHICAGO — A Chicago bus driver looking for a way to relieve stress during the coronavirus pandemic jumped into Lake Michigan for a 365th straight day on Saturday.

Dan O’Conor said he started jumping into the lake at Montrose Harbor on the city’s North Side last year to relieve stress.

“It was during the pandemic, it was during the protest, it was during an election year. … So it was somewhere where I could come down here and block all that noise out and kind of be totally present with me in the lake, and find some moments of Zen,” said the father of three.

He continued jumping into the lake through the fall before the hard part: Hacking a hole in the ice on the frozen lake that was big enough for him to jump through during the winter. He said when he got home after one such jump, he found about 20 scrapes and cuts on his body.

Dan O'Conor, the "Great Lake Jumper," reacts after making his 365th leap into Lake Michigan, Saturday, June 12, 2021.
Dan O’Conor, the “Great Lake Jumper,” reacts after making his 365th leap into Lake Michigan. He says he started as a way to “find some moments of Zen” during a tumultuous year.
AP

He was encouraged by the response he got for his undertaking.

“People started asking me what this was benefiting and how they could support — and when I say people, I’m talking strangers online, you know. When I started posting the videos on Twitter and Instagram … I got more wind in my sails there because people started commenting like, ’This makes my day, it’s nice to see this,” he said.

Saturday was special because it was the culmination of doing it for a full year.

“I just wanted to celebrate just that drive to dive for 365,” O’Conor said.

Dan O'Conor, the "Great Lake Jumper," shares a "High-5" with one of his well-wishers after his 365th leap into Lake Michigan, Saturday, June 12, 2021, in Chicago's Montrose Point.
O’Conor celebrates with one of his well-wishers after his 365th leap into Lake Michigan.
AP

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Father of ‘world’s largest family’ dead at 76 in India

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FILE PHOTO: Ziona poses for a picture in Baktawng village in the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram

The purportedly most prolific father in the world has passed away. 

Ziona Chana, 76, died on Sunday in the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram, the BBC reported. Chana, who was the head of a polygamist Christian sect, is survived by an estimated 38 wives, 89 children and 36 grandchildren — thus making him, by some reports, the head of the “world’s largest family” during his lifetime. 

“With heavy heart, #Mizoram bid farewell to Mr. Zion…believed to head the world’s largest family, with 38 wives and 89 children,” Mizoram’s chief minister, Zoramthanga, tweeted in condolence on Sunday. “Mizoram and his village at Baktawng Tlangnuam has become a major tourist attraction in the state because of the family. Rest in Peace Sir!”

Chana was declared dead on arrival at a hospital Sunday after deteriorating at his home, doctors told the news agency PTI, according to the BBC. He allegedly suffered from both diabetes and hypertension. 

During his extreme life, Chana made headlines across the globe, and he and his record-breakingly large family’s mansion in Baktawng Tlangnuam became a local attraction. The four-story, 100-room home features a dormitory shared by Chana’s wives, located close to his private bedroom, according to past media reports. 

ziona-chana-family
A view of Chana’s four-story house in the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram on Oct. 6, 2011.
REUTERS

Reuters previously reported that Chana was born in 1945 and met his oldest wife, who’s three years his senior, at the age of 17. The sect he led, Chana Pawl, has approximately 2,000 followers and was founded by Chana’s grandfather in 1942. 

While Chana and his family have been twice featured on the TV series “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” others have challenged him to the title of most plentiful patriarch, and his alleged 181-person household’s exact number is difficult to confirm. 

“Reports are different. Quoting the last known accepted record with locally accepted picture. Thanks and regards !” Zoramthanga noted in a reply to his initial tweet. 

Chana at age 66 in 2011.

REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: Family members of Ziona poses for group photograph outside their residence in village Baktawng

Family members of Chana pose for a group photograph outside their residence on Oct. 7, 2011.

REUTERS

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