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   Remember, focus on the effects of smart growth; not just the set targets.

  • Thanks for covering this issue. I will be there.

  • Also, I’ve attempted to explain the technical aspects of SB 375 without being too confusing:

  • Alex

    Two Words…JOB KILLER! These targets are infeasable and will never be met. The only way those reductions could be met is by taxing gasoline to the point of $10 per gallon or more. That would absolutely cripple the economy. Actually, there would be no more economy and the limosuine liberals and their bureaucrat buddies will be wondering why their PHDs and Master’s Degrees in sociology are worth nothing in the market place. The good news is, since government cannot exist without revenue (provided buy business and commerce), their constant attack on prosperity is legislating themselves out of business. “Gosh I wonder why our state and municipal governments are all going bankrupt and bureaucrats are being laid-off? Oh, because we bit the hand that was feeding our fat pension faces!”

  • Funny that, cartoon conservatives decrying an attempt to reign in massivve entitlement programs that are literally poisoning the planet.

    Did it occur to you that the car only network we spend so much on is the reason we’re in so much trouble? Why would high gas prices hurt us? Because there is no living arrangement allowed by nincompoops like you that will give us the freedom to choose how we want to travel.

    Your solution … ? More of the same, I suspect.

  • Alex

    Southern California was designed and built around the car. The toothpaste is out of the tube. You cannot simply scrap it and start over. Incremental measures to reduce emissions is the only way to get there. Fleet mix and telecommuting are a good start. Demanding massive emissions reductions in the face of population growth and massive unemployment are a recipe for disaster.

  • Chris

    Up until the 40s, Southern California was primarily designed around the Yellow Car system. There would be large gaps in development between stations because people wouldn’t live more than 2 miles (a half hour walk) from a rail station.

  • Chris

    Oops, I meant to say the Red Car System. Yellow Car was for DTLA.

  • Alex

    Sure but since the 40’s our population has exploded and transit is nearly non-existent. The transit that does exist is slow and terribly inconvenient. The state government keeps on passing draconian legislative mandates while robbing local transit and transportation dollars. If they want this to work then they need to pay for it! Stop waisting trillions of dollars to expand government and build some damn infrastructure!

    The ARRA “stimulus” bill is a perfect example…back when the New Deal (the original stimulus bill)was enacted we built things…bridges, streets, Dams, etc… This time around the federal government has spent more than both wars put together and have nothing to show for it but a bunch a lame signs. Obama won’t build any dams; He will spend $300 million to commission some study to gauge the feasibility of building an wind powered wheel chair access ramp to a dam! Wake up liberals! We need jobs not more nanny regs and wasteful programs!

  • Build some damn infrastructure? ARE YOU BLIND?

    That’s all we’ve been doing – highways, highways, highways, interurban (light rail), highways, and road resurfacing.

    This meeting is about shifting away from all highways all the time, and moving towards other modes.

    Your rhetoric about “liberals” is way off base. Both parties jumped on board the automobile bandwagon long ago. The “libertarian” (i.e. know nothing transportation wonks) side tries to make this about evil government spending, but ends up calling for more 100% government sponsored highways, bond debt, home and auto loan subsidies!

  • This is a great opportunity to support investing in the cost effective investments such as making communities walkable and bikable – safe and inviting for everyone – for reals, for everyone.

    This conversation/meeting today is a key part of the next regional transportation plan – which is beginning to be developed now – for adoption in 2012.

    The last regional transportation plan – adopted by SCAG regional council in 2008 – was a $530Billion, 6 county plan – that devoted less than half of one percent to walking and biking projects. That’s gotta change.

    We need policy makers to have a regional vision that is no longer business usual.

    With 12% of all trips in So Cal being done via bike or walking – and 25% of roadway fatalities/accidents pedestrian and bicyclists – less than half of one percent as investments in these modes is not acceptable – it must to change significantly in the 2012 RTP.

  • Chris

    Alex: Southern California was designed around the car.
    Chris: No it wasn’t. Here’s some proof.
    Alex: Never mind that. I want to rail at OBAMA!!!!

  • Alex

    “The last regional transportation plan – adopted by SCAG regional council in 2008 – was a $530Billion, 6 county plan – that devoted less than half of one percent to walking and biking projects” I would venture to guess that the same ratio actually contributed to the overall tax base (revenue that your fantasy relies on). What I mean is, its all relative right? You bike and walk, but the people that actually contribute tax revenue need to get somewhere in a hurry, so they drive a car to work, earn a wage and pay for your ability to enjoy nature and leisurely stroll through the park. Wake up hippie! Get a new trail map, one that leads you to a job…J O B !

  • Silly people, don’t you know your history? Southern California wasn’t designed around the car or the trolley.
    It was designed around horses. Each of the missions was designed to be no more than a day’s journey by horse.

    *ahem* Actually, SoCal was never designed. For the most part, it has evolved, and it is still evolving. And, like dog or cat breeders, we have been trying to direct that evolution as best we can.

  • Putting condos next to bus stations is not going to save the world from global warming. All it is going to do is generate another wave of unwanted high density development that will rot on the market just like the last batch of Sacramento driven construction. This is just a lobbyist driven boondoggle designed to prop up developers.

    Greenhouse gas emissions will be cut through home officing and the next wave of personal transportation. No emission automobiles will be here way before 2030, and a fully wired virtual workplace will make commuting a waste of valuable time. In which case people will be able to sprawl out just as far as they want and have little impact on the environment.

    SB 375 is a dinosaur solution predicated on current conditions. It has a lot more to do with pay-to-play corruption in Sacramento than it does anything else.

  • Chris

    It’s more than just emissions reductions, it’s also about irresponsible, unsustainable land use patterns. We’ve already eaten up the most productive farmland in the country and forced almost all new development out of Los Angeles and Orange counties because we’re so stuck on perpetuating the same type of land use that was in place when the LA Metro area population was less than a third of what it is now. How is LA supposed to accommodate its growing population and grow its tax base if it doesn’t have any room left to throw up ranch-style subdivisions? When circumstances have changed so dramatically, it is unconscionable to pursue the same development patterns.

  • Unfortunately for you Chris, this is a free country. If people choose to flee urban areas and live where they want, it is their right. I doubt that you will be able to force march the citizenry to live in small urban apartments where the sun cannot be seen and children cannot walk in the streets in safety. Give them a choice and they will drive as fast as they can out of whatever grim high density hellhole you think we should all live in.

    To use the language, your position is politically unsustainable. And if you think that might not be the case, watch this November’s elections. Yours is a position closely associated with the Democrats, the party that is about to be sh-canned. Hopefully Pleasanton’s favorite functionary Jerry Brown is washed out to sea with the rest of the rubbish.

  • Chris

    Ahhh, the false logic of market forces when government has been subsidizing all forms of urban sprawl for decades….

  • Oh good Lord. Public transportation is privately funded?

    Of course, it could be that if – a big if – the gummint funded “urban sprawl” (as you assert) it might have been because it was doing what the taxpayers wanted.

    Government used to do crazy things like that, you know.

  • John Manning

    Reading through these comments it’s obvious that neither mass transit nor auto/highway system offers a way out. We’ve been on course with these systems for about a century. They are fully mature and worn out. Trying to change landuse practices to solve transportation problems is a particulary “shoveling s–t against the tide” exercise. No the wave of the future lies in developing new fully automated transportation networks.

    New – separated from current roads and rails

    fully automated – no human drivers

    networks – the ability to go from origin to destination non-stop via a true network, not transferring as buses require.

    Impossible? No. These systems are now reality albiet in infant form. All we have do is to allow them to proliferate and grow. The millions of people involved in perpetuating current tranist and auto systems know precious little about them simply because they haven’looked, and access to know about them is no further away than a few clicks on the Internet. I’ve no sympathy for doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.


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