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One way to address California’s housing crisis: turn dying malls into housing

Good morning, and welcome to Essential California newsletter. Are Thursday, March 2.

Remember the mall?

Of course you do – the pinnacle of consumerism and youth culture for generations of Americans.

My teenage memories of the mall are drenched in neon light, with essential stops at the Vans store, Hot Topic, and Game Stop. I stared at the risqué shelves at Spencer’s, then took a bite of Hot Dog on a Stick and washed it down with some Orange Julius, desperately trying to appear both interesting and disinterested to the passing girls, arms heavy with bags from Wet Seal, Hollister and Zumiez.

But as we got older, conditions in our malls began to deteriorate. For many, the convenience of online shopping has replaced trips to the mall. With the rise of social media, children found new spaces to connect with their friends. After decades of declining foot traffic, the pandemic has been a powerful underbelly that many retailers have been unable to recover from.

As California continues to sputter its way through a persistent housing shortagemore of those empty spaces are being watched for housing development.

That takes place in dead and dying shopping malls in Orange County, as my colleague Hannah Fry reported recently.

The City of Westminster has plans to convert its local shopping center into 3,000 residential units and 425 hotel rooms, plus 17 acres of surrounding green space.

About 20 miles southeast, construction is underway for up to 1,500 condos, a hotel, office space, green space, and new retail where the Laguna Hills Mall once thrived.

“Orange County is desperate for housing, with rents and home prices escalating and state laws requiring cities to provide zoning for new construction,” Hannah wrote. “In a region where there is little vacant land and neighbors are likely to push back on new homes, some view derelict shopping centers as ideal places to build.”

Projects like the one in Orange County are likely to spring up statewide in the coming months, thanks in part to upcoming changes in state law.

In September 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a pair of bills from the State Assembly And Senate which aim to make it easier to build housing on land currently designated for commercial use. Both will come into full effect on July 1 of this year.

Projects may also be catching on nationwide, as developers indicate they want to capitalize on converting commercial space into housing. a recent report from the Urban Land Institute and the National Multifamily Housing Council Research Foundation noted national estimates of up to “1 billion square feet of surplus and obsolete retail space.”

That report, funded by pro-development organizations, studied the feasibility of converting commercial space such as shopping centers into housing and concluded that “conversions could be financially viable in a wide range of markets” and “could make a major contribution to our housing stock.” .

So with the Golden State on the front lines of a national housing crisischipping away at some of our nostalgia to build new homes and green space could be a more common occurrence (but don’t sleep on the anything-but-guaranteed NIMBY recoil).

And now, this is what is happening in california:

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Here’s a summary of this week’s winter storm impact reporting (and a preview of more expected later this month):

Sculpted bears are covered in snow in Big Bear, while resort areas in the San Bernardino Mountains are carved out by successive storms.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

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A man who served 38 years in prison for murder was found virtually innocent by the LA County District Attorney’s Office this week. Maurice Hastings was released in October after newly tested DNA evidence pointed to another man in the 1983 murder of a woman and two other attempted murders for which Hastings was found guilty. The rare action by prosecutors could help Hastings with any legal action he takes over his wrongful conviction. LAist

The union for LA’s regular police officers says it is willing to stop officers from responding to a series of nonviolent calls. As part of upcoming contract negotiations, the Los Angeles Police Protective League said other city departments or nonprofits can handle calls for incidents, including panhandling, illegal curbside selling and mental health episodes, without threat of violence or criminal activity. Los Angeles Times


As officials in a California city close off public access to expected wildflowers, some conservationists worry it will send the wrong message to the public. That’s where the Hotline for wildflowers comes in. Beginning March 3, Californians can dial 818-768-1802 extension. 7 for weekly updates on where to view the best flowers, which are expected to be huge thanks to all the recent rain. Los Angeles Times

Orange poppies bloom and cover a hill.

A close-up of California poppies and wildflowers blooming early this year in the wake of heavy winter rains that blanketed parts of the upper slopes of Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore last month.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Despite the snow and frigid weather, California almond blossoms are in bloom. Every February, tourists flock to Modesto for a colorful Instagram photo. Aside from photo-hungry tourists, almond growers are also grappling with supply chain issues and bee shortages that threaten production of the state’s most important crop. The Washington Post


For Latina girls and their families, quinceañera celebrations are a milestone of coming of age, also highlighting heritage, family, and identity. Here’s a photo-rich peek into the dazzling world of quinceañeras in San Diego Countywhere vibrant celebrations resume after pandemic interruptions. San Diego Union Tribune

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Today California landmark comes out with a hint of time travel Merlin Dorman from Livermore: the Golden Gate Bridgephotographed more than 50 years ago.

Merlin writes:

What’s more iconic? Is there anything more representative, more used as an image or name to mean “California”? I took (this photo) more than 50 years ago. Battleship USS New Jersey came for a port visit… I believe this was 1968. I took a day off from work and drove from Redwood City to San Francisco. Obviously I wasn’t the only one with this idea.

What are the essential California landmarks? Fill out this form to send us your photos of a special place in California – natural or man-made. Tell us why it is interesting and why it is a symbol of life in the Golden State. Make sure to only include photos taken directly by you. Your submission may be featured in a future edition of the newsletter.

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