Last Thursday, the California Air Resource Board (CARB) voted unanimously to adopt ambitious targets for greenhouse gas reductions statewide by 2020 and 2035. Thursday’s vote, hours after the Metro Board of Directors voted to endorse high standards for the Southland, will compel Municipal Planning Organizations (MPO’s) to create development and transportation plans that will encourage Smart Growth and discourage catering to long commutes in single occupancy automobiles.
Under California’s landmark anti-sprawl bill, SB375, the state’s 18 MPOs were required to set emissions reductions targets and Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS) within regional transportation plans. Los Angeles’ MPO is the Southern California Association of Governments, a body that voted endorsed weaker standards a few weeks ago. That vote, while politically telling, can and was overturned by CARB. To be clear, Southern California’s targets are an eight percent reduction by 2020 and a thirteen percent reduction at 2035 of yearly greenhouse gas emissions from the 2005 emission levels.
In a press release, ARB Board Mary Nichols explains how a state mandate to meet certain development goals can be both a carrot and a stick:
“These targets are ambitious, achievable and very good news for California communities. Improved planning means cleaner air in our cities, less time stuck in your car, and healthier, more sustainable communities,” said ARB Chairman Mary D. Nichols. “Cities that choose to develop Sustainable Communities Plans that meet these targets have an advantage when it comes to attracting the kinds of vibrant, healthy development that people want.”
Opponents of higher standards were energized early in the meeting when Ken Yeager, a Board Member from the Bay Area, took on the sprawl lobby and sharply criticized the Building Industry Association’s claims that setting these standards would cause gas prices to rise to $9 a gallon. While this type of fear-mongering might work in the Inland Empire or Orange County, it fell flat in front of the CARB.
But now Southern California’s political leadership is faced with a challenge. Remember, SCAG is the largest MPO in the country and represents Los Angeles County as well as Imperial, Orange, Riverside, Ventura and San Bernadino Counties. There’s going to be a lot of negotiating to devise a plan that works for all of these areas and has a chance of meeting these goals.
That being said, a little personal responsibility could go a long way in reducing emissions. A terrified op/ed in the San Diego Union Tribune does the math on what kind of changes people would have to make in their own transportation plans to reach San Diego’s emission reduction goals. The Union-Tribune writer calls the measures to reach a 13% personal reduction, “harsh.” Remember, achieving just one of them would allow a driver to meet their personal goal:
To achieve a 13 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, a motorist could do one of the following:
• Telecommute to work two days a month
• Carpool to work four days a month
• Bike or walk instead of driving 18 miles a week
• Take a bus instead of driving 21 miles a week.
As SCAG responds to last week’s CARB meeting, we’ll keep you posted.