May’s Must-Reads: Top 10 Articles From Last Month

The month of May featured a lot of stories on local and state bans, as well as a controversial move to split Baton Rouge in two.

4 minute read

June 7, 2024, 8:00 AM PDT

By Mary Hammon @marykhammon

May was a month of impactful stories and heated debates. The most popular stories of the month on Planetizen include several controversial legal and legislative moves, including Baton Rouge splitting into two cities, bans of guaranteed income programs bans and carwashes, and suspension of natural gas bans in California. But it’s not all contention. There’s also good news for passenger rail projects and YIMBY advocates in Arizona.

1. Baton Rouge Will Split into Two Cities Following Court Ruling

The Louisiana Supreme Court has authorized the creation of St. George, a new city in Baton Rouge's suburbs. The decision comes after legal challenges over financial feasibility of the new city. Critics argue this move could deepen racial and economic divides, creating a predominantly white enclave and negatively impacting the communities and schools within Baton Rouge, which is a majority Black city.

2. States Are Banning Guaranteed Income Programs

Guaranteed income programs face growing backlash. Since 2018, over 100 pilots have launched in cities across the country, but states like South Dakota, Idaho, and Iowa have passed legislation banning them, and others are following suit, despite data from multiple pilots showing the majority of recipients used the money to become more housing and food secure.

3. Hawaii Passes First Legislation Regulating Short-Term Rentals Statewide

Hawaii's legislature passed a bill allowing counties to regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb to address the housing crisis, which has been worsened by overtourism and wildfires. Under the new law, counties will be able to limit the number of short-term rentals and even force some to convert back into long-term housing.

4. LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

In Los Angeles, the abandoned twin skyscrapers intended to be part of the $1.2 billion Oceanwide Plaza project stand as a symbol of failed global investment. Construction halted in 2019 because of financial issues faced by the Chinese developer, leaving the towers unfinished and highlighting the risks and challenges of international real estate ventures.

5. California Cities Suspend Natural Gas Bans Following Court Ruling

After a federal court invalidated Berkeley's ban on natural gas appliances in new buildings, other Bay Area cities like Sunnyvale, Cupertino, and San Mateo County have suspended their bans to avoid litigation, despite ongoing efforts to promote electric infrastructure for environmental benefits.

6. Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

Some communities in northeast Ohio are updating their zoning codes to ban new car wash facilities. High profitability and demand has led to an explosion of new car wash businesses in southern United States. By limiting the number of car wash facilities, officials aim to get ahead of the influx and maintain a diverse mix of businesses. 

7. Virginia Data Centers Draining State’s Water Supply

Data centers in Northern Virginia, the world’s largest data center hub with over 300 facilities, consume up to 5 million gallons of water daily for cooling. This high water use, driven by evaporation-based cooling, doesn't return to wastewater systems. A bill to hold companies accountable failed, delaying further action until 2025.

8. Arizona Legalizes ADUs and Higher Downtown Density Statewide

Two new Arizona laws mandate denser development near city centers, overriding local zoning codes. House Bill 2721 requires cities with over 75,000 residents to allow duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and townhomes within a mile of central business districts. House Bill 2720 requires these cities to permit accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on single-family lots without design or parking requirements.

9. The Passenger Rail Revival Is Here

Passenger rail projects in the U.S. are progressing thanks to funding from the 2021 infrastructure law, including Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, funding for Colorado’s Front Range line, plans to restore Gulf Coast service, and potential service expansions in Montana and between St. Paul and Chicago. However, challenges remain, particularly coordinating with freight railroads that own most tracks. 

10. More Passenger Rail Coming to Montana

Montana's Big Sky Rail Authority confirms plans for two passenger rail routes: upgrades to Amtrak’s Empire Builder line and restoration of the North Coast Hiawatha route. Funded by $8 billion in federal grants, the projects aim to enhance transportation and rural access to services. The rail routes promise economic benefits for the state, including tourism and connecting rural communities to essential services.

Editor’s note: Portions of this Planetizen blog post were generated using OpenAI’s language model, ChatCPT. Planetizen editors have been looking into ethical uses of AI in journalism and wanted to test it. In this post, ChatGPT was used to summarize previously published Planetizen stories, which provided text that served as a starting point and then was edited and refined further. We want to assure our readers that any policies adopted around the use of AI on Planetizen content will be grounded in transparency .

Mary Hammon

Mary is an editor and writer who is passionate about urban planning and the direct impact it has on people's lives and how we experience the world around us. Prior to joining Planetizen as editorial manager in December 2023, she spent eight years as an editor for Planning magazine, the flagship publication of the American Planning Association.

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