SCAG Meeting Tomorrow Could Determine How SoCal Will Grow

Screen_shot_2010_09_01_at_12.16.54_PM.pngA sprawling view from Griffith Park. Photo: Shiner Clay/Flickr

(The SCAG Joint Policy Committees & Regional Council meets tomorrow, Thursday, Sept. 2 from 11:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. If you want a seat, get there by 10:30 and feel free to bring a lunch. This isn’t Metro or City Hall, you can eat in the hearing room The meeting is held at S.C.A.G. headquarters, 818 W. 7th Street, 12th Floor, Board Room, across the street from the Metro 7th Street Station.)

Back in July, Matthew Roth summarized the goals of California’s groundbreaking S.B. 375, the first piece of legislation in the country to tie sprawl development to declining air quality and quality of life. Roth, quoting work done by NRDC’s Amanda Eaken, noted that there are a lot of great things that S.B. 375 would accomplish if properly enacted by state Metropolitan Planning Organizations (M.P.O’s), but that the local politics of the M.P.O. could prevent Californians from seeing the benefits provided by Smart Growth and proper transportation planning.

At a meeting tomorrow in Downtown Los Angeles, Southern California will have its chance to show that it can put the long-term health of the state over provincial politics. The Southern California Association of Governments Joint Policy and Regional Council will consider a proposal from the state’s Air Resources Board to set targets for Greenhouse Gas reduction in the region. The ARB wants to see an 8% reduction in the next ten years and a 13% reduction in the next 25.

That’s a complicated way of saying that tomorrow, regional leaders will decide whether or not they want to clean the air to meet state law or not. Eaken lays out what’s at stake in more simple terms:

Thursday, SCAG has the opportunity to adopt ambitious 13% targets that will deliver significant co-benefits of better transit, improved air quality and public health, and reduce household transportation costs for Southern California residents. Across California, there’s a shifting market demand embodied by SB 375 that is already pushing in the direction of more walkable, transit oriented communities-exactly the kind of growth needed to help Southern California achieve emission reduction targets and create sustainable communities.

What makes S.B. 375 so controversial with some segments of society isn’t that they’re recommending to make the air cleaner through high-tech vehicles or solar paneling; but through land-use patterns that support density, transportation options, and open space over sprawl. In other words, by growing in a denser fashion, the state can reduce automobile miles traveled and clean the air. A noble goal. And one that has the sprawl lobby and reactionary politicians up in arms.

Too often, activists get caught up in the numbers and goals of legislation. Read that second paragraph again, but the activist group Climate Plan asks that we look beyond the numbers at the real goals of S.B. 375 and anti-sprawl activists. The end goal isn’t for a scientist to look at an air sample and proclaim, "we did it!"; but to develop in a way that puts people closer to work, reduces the cost in terms of time and money of their commutes, lowers the rate of asthma and other respiratory illness caused by our state’s worst in the nation air quality and preserves parks, beaches and other forms of open space.

In other words, it’s not just about density, it’s about giving back Californians the time, money, health and open space that we’ve been robbing them of in the name of sprawl development.

While this might seem like a political slam-dunk, there is some concern.  First, the SCAG region isn’t just Los Angeles City or County, it also includes politicians from Imperial, Orange, Riverside, San Bernadino and Ventura Counties.  Second, most of the politicians from the City of Los Angeles who would be the beachhead for this sort of vote are on vacation because the City Council is on recess.

So what can you do?  Assuming you don’t have several hours to spend at a meeting tomorrow; you can email comments to salcido@scag.ca.gov.   Remember, focus on the effects of smart growth; not just the set targets.

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