Climate Plan, a coalition of more than fifty nonprofits working on California climate policies, released a report [PDF] about what we’ve learned from S.B. 375, one of California’s policy efforts to grapple with climate change. The coalition held a day of presentations in Sacramento on Monday to celebrate the release. Presenters—people who’ve been working in state and local agencies and advocacy organizations—confirm that we’ve learned quite a lot, that planning practices in California are changing, and that there is still more work to do to achieve state goals.
S.B. 375 requires regional planning agencies to create, as part of their already-required Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS). The SCS is supposed to identify ways regions can reach state-mandated greenhouse gas reduction targets by coordinating land use and transportation planning. This had never been done before; land use planning—which decides the location, shape, and size of housing, jobs, retail, schools, etc.—is done locally, and regions planned transportation around it. Under S.B. 375, regional agencies had to find a way to make all those plans consistent with each other and work with local agencies to shorten and reduce driving trips as much as possible.
It was a recognition that you can’t just plant housing out where land is cheaper, have everyone drive to jobs in the city centers, and expect to reduce emissions.
The SCS has to take into account current development patterns (is your community a sprawled suburban place? A small town? A dense city?), local general plans (which likely don’t address greenhouse gas reductions and probably need updating), housing needs (few areas are building enough housing), federal Clean Air Act requirements, and input from community residents and their advocates.
Because the regional transportation planning agencies control most state and federal transportation funding, these requirements affect what kind of projects get funding. Even self-help counties that tax themselves for transportation projects still rely on state and federal funding, so the regional requirements to address greenhouse gas emission reductions have brought pressure on local planning efforts to do the same.
Of course, this is a giant simplification of a very complex process, for which I apologize. Even the full day of talks at Climate Plan’s event couldn’t begin to cover every caveat, complication, and unintended consequence of S.B. 375. But it’s fair to say that eight years after that bill became law, transportation planning throughout the state has changed, and generally for the better.
Climate Plan’s report [PDF], “Leading the Way: Policies and Practices for Sustainable Communities Strategies,” outlines how that happened, and how the progress can continue. Read more…