Will State’s New Sprawl Law Actually Contain Development?

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Earlier this fall, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law a piece of groundbreaking legislation that would address global warming by curbing sprawl development.  A recent piece in the San Francisco Chronicle takes a closer look at the legislation to see whether it will actually have an impact on how California grows.

The ultimate impact will depend on how the legislation is put into
effect, and whether its carrots and sticks will outweigh the cries from
people who don’t want big new buildings on their block.

Whatever the law’s accomplishments, proponents hope it sends a clear
message that will be reflected in future legislation and policies on
the state and local levels: Dense, transit-oriented development is a
critical goal for the collective good.

"A small step can be an important step if it’s the step that turns
the corner," said Tom Adams, board president of the California League
of Conservation Voters, the principal drafter of the legislation. "I
think it will change forever the way we look at land use in California."

This small step could have big dividends for California if the Governor empowers agencies to enforce the legislation as written.  During the debate before the legislation was passed, the California Progress Report outlined what the new law should accomplish:

The California Progress Report summarizes what the legislation does:

• Transportation planning: The California Air Resources Board (CARB)
will set regional greenhouse gas reduction targets after consultation
with local governments. That target must be incorporated within that
region’s Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), the long-term blueprint of
a region’s transportation system. The resulting model will be called
the Sustainable Communities Strategy.

• Housing planning: Each region’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment
(RHNA) – the state mandated process for local jurisdictions to address
their fair share of regional housing needs – will be adjusted to become
aligned with the land use plan in that region’s Sustainable Communities
Strategy in its RTP (which will account for greenhouse gas reduction
targets).

• CEQA reform: Environmental review will create incentives to implement the strategy, especially transit priority projects.

This article has gathered a lot of interest from around the Internet so far drawing stories from Planetizen and The City Fix.  However, no matter who looks at the issue, nearly everyone agrees that the deciding factor on whether this legislation will be more than just a "feel good" move will be in how it is enforced.  Will Governor Schwarzenegger empower state agencies to the point of overwhelming local pols in a ratable chase to build the biggest box on a street corner near you.

Photo: Exhuberance/Flickr

  • I was listening to KPCC this morning, and the Homebuilders Association is pushing Congress to help them build more suburban tract housing by loosening housing loan standards and home builder credit standards.

    The automakers are going to get bailed out, and the financial crooks who lent money that could not be paid (and made money on transactional fees), are getting their billions as I type.

    This law will never come close to affecting the kind of change we need to protect our wilderness areas, natural resources and biodiversity.

    A huge chunk of our economy goes into auto-based activity and large scale construction. Everyone cries out “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” when you touch their precious entitlement programs (which they see as “free market enterprise”).

    We need an alternative system of federal entitlement – and we need to do away with many of the current entitlement regimes that keep automaking, sprawl-based construction, and finance at the top of our economic pecking order.

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