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8 Years Later, Still No Hi-Speed Train; Case Goes Back to Court

If you've been wondering whatever happened to California's high speed rail, you're not the only one. The latest news is that it's back in court.

So far, the project hasn't been very "high speed" at anything except rustling up legal issues.

On October 23rd, the Southern California Gas Company's natural gas storage well sprung a leak in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Porter Ranch. For over two months, it has spewed gas, releasing over 80,000 metric tons of methane. No one seems able to stop it, either.

While the leak pumps out thousands of tons of toxic greenhouse gases, the lawsuits are already piling up: 25 so far and climbing.

Sure, you'll have to die to take advantage of AB139, but it might be worth it. The new law, which goes into effect January 1st, lets Californians transfer real property to their heirs without going through probate.

California's new revocable transfer on death deed is an exciting new weapon in your estate planning arsenal. Here's why.

When Governor Brown instituted mandatory water restrictions on urban water users early this April, he was widely praised for taking drastic action to address California's worsening drought. Yet, that praise was often paired with skepticism and even condemnation, as Brown had failed to mandate any reductions for agricultural water users. In California, agricultural users are responsible for four times as much water use as all urban uses, or approximately 80% of all water use in the state.

Agricultural users' reprieve hasn't lasted long, however. On Friday, California instituted sharp cutbacks for farmers, the first reduction of its kind in 38 years. The cutbacks could raise tricky legal issues in California, where water rights complicated and often controversial.

Californians who resell art out-of-state will no longer have to pay a statutory royalty to the artist. Under the California Resale Royalty Act, a seller was required pay a five percent royalty to the artist if the seller is a California resident selling out-of-state or if the sale takes place in California. That out-of-state provision is an unconstitutional violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause, the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, ruled on Tuesday.

Under the Act, if a San Franciscan auctions off a sculpture by a German artist in New York City, the artist is owed the royalty. Similarly, a royalty is required if a Brazilian businessman buys a photograph by a Chicago artist while passing through LA. Change "San Francisco" to "Paris" or "LA" to "Detroit" and no payment is needed in either scenario.

In a decision that could undermine California's ability to respond to increasingly dire drought conditions, a state appellate court has ruled that San Juan Capistrano cannot implement tiered water rates that are not based on the cost of service provision. Under the city's plan, the rate charged for water usage increased depending on the overall amount of water used. Users in the lowest tier paid about $2.50 per unit -- the most profligate water users paid over three times that rate.

The city's plan is designed to encourage water conservation by increasing water's cost the more one uses. It also violates a state law prohibiting government agencies from charging more than the cost of a service, the court found.

In response to California's continuing drought, Governor Jerry Brown will be instituting unprecedented restrictions on water usage with the hopes of reducing urban water consumption, Brown announced yesterday. The move comes as California faces one of its most severe droughts on record.

The new water restrictions, expected to last through February, 2016, direct the State Water Resources Control Board to impose restrictions to reduce urban water consumption by 25 percent. The new restrictions could result not just shorter showers and less lawn sprinklers, but increased inspections and enforcement actions by the state.

S.F.'s 2-Year Payouts for Ellis Act Evictions Nixed by Fed. Judge

The Ellis Act acts as a check on California's fairly tenant-friendly landlord/tenant laws. Even notwithstanding tougher locals laws (like those in Los Angeles and San Francisco), the Ellis Act allows a landlord to evict a tenant if he's getting out of the landlord business altogether.

Here's the kicker: In San Francisco, where the median market rent is now almost $3,500 for a one-bedroom apartment, landlords often find that it makes more economic sense to get out of the landlord business and sell their properties to someone else -- rather than continue to collect rent from long-term, practically unevictable tenants paying much lower than market rate.

S.F. Supervisors OK New Airbnb Rental Regulations

By a 7-4 vote on Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a law permitting the operation of Airbnb rentals in the city.

The law establishes some regulation of Airbnb rentals, but not as much as Airbnb's opponents wanted.

Vinod Khosla Loses in Court, but Beach Access Battle Continues

The last time we saw Voldemort, I mean Vinod Khosla, the Silicon Valley billionaire was playing the role of mystical villain to local beachgoers. The venture capitalist purchased property in San Mateo County that contained a private access road -- the only access to Martin's Beach, which is otherwise surrounded by cliffs -- and closed off the road.

The history nerd in us quivered: The case involved property rights derived from the freaking Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Yeah, that one, the one that predated America and ended the Mexican-American War. These exact land rights were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1860, a few years before the California Constitution was revised to protect water access. Last October, a judge ruled that because the grant and treaty predated California's Constitution, Khosla's land was exempt from state law.

Yesterday, in a parallel case, a second judge reopened access to the beach, but it may be only temporary -- her holding was that Kosla was missing a permit. Still, two more challenges, in the legislature and in a state agency, are pending.