Two years after approving a landmark anti-sprawl law to cut greenhouse gases, California is poised
to adopt long-awaited rules targeting land-use and vehicle pollution in regions across the state.
The idea is to encourage regional planning that reduces
carbon emissions to levels set by the state over the
next three decades. One way to do that, for example,
is to cut into commute times by reconfiguring housing
developments and having peoples’ homes closer to work. Less driving means less fuel
consumed, less greenhouse gas.
The new regulations -- to be adopted this week by the Air Resources Board
-- stem from a 2008 bill, SB 375, authored by Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and signed into law by Republican Gov.
The rules address “one of the largest and most rapidly growing sources
of greenhouse gas emissions – the vehicle miles an average California family travels.
Poor land use and transportation decisions have left
an increasing number of Californians stuck with long
car commutes to meet basic needs,” according to the Planning and Conservation League.
This connection between long-term regional planning and air pollution makes the
regulations of crucial interest to cities and counties
– and to developers, commuters, environmentalists, business
owners and just about everybody else.
The emphasis is on long-term: The locals, the regulators, environmentalists, the
business community – all agree it won’t happen overnight.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s not going to be easy. There have to be incentives,
resources,” said Riverside Mayor Ronald Loveridge.
Loveridge has an unusual perspective in the proceedings: Apart from his role as mayor of a major California
city, he also serves as a member of the ARB and will
be voting on the regulations.
“There has been a fairly divisive discussion,” he added, over what emission targets are achievable
and which ones aren’t.
Ironically, the fate on the November ballot of Proposition
23, the initiative to suspend California’s principal anti-greenhouse emissions law, will have little or no effect
on the new regulations.
Steinberg’s bill, which faced a difficult fight in the Legislature
and won approval, finally, because developers received
environmental exemptions, requires the ARB to write
the new rules.
On Thursday, the board is expected to adopt the board’s staff recommendations calling for greenhouse gas
emissions be cut per capita by 7 percent to 8 percent by 2020, and reduced between 13 percent and 16 percent by 2035.
Not everyone likes those numbers, and many complained
that they were crafted at the 11th hour without sufficient review.
On Sept. 2, the regional council of the Southern California Association
of Governments voted to urge the ARB to require more
modest targets, of 6 percent by 2020 and 8 percent by 2035.
Other regional government groups are more disposed
toward the proposed ARB rules.
But SCAG is dubious, and its views carry weight: The group’s territory includes some 18 million people, about half of California’s population, in six counties. The nine-county organization in the San Francisco Bay area,
the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, also was
skeptical, proposing 5 percent by 2020 and 5 percent more by 2035.
The lower numbers proposed by SCAG and MTC reflect
fears that doing too much too quickly will disrupt
the economy. One MTC analysis even suggested that the
price of gasoline could rise above $9 per gallon – about triple what it is now. Critics also cited the
possibility of the loss of federal transportation dollars,
sharp increases in parking costs and a drain on local
Politically, the crux of the issue is the power of
regional government vs. the power of state government.
There are 18 regional groups – known as Metropolitan Planning Organizations, or MPOs
– in the state. About nine out of 10 Californians live in the four largest MPOs – the Bay Area, Southern California, Sacramento and
Traditionally, land-use decisions are made by local officials and SB 375 does nothing to disturb that. But the new law does
set regional goals, and this is where the tensions
“What we really want to do is have a partnership with
the ARB,” said Larry McCallon, a Highland city council member
and the president of SCAG.
“It has put together the housing and transportation
forecasts together, and that is good. And it has focused
attention on greenhouse gas reduction. But in reality,
I believe our jurisdictions and our members are doing
a lot of things to achieve what SB 375 wants to achieve without having that greenhouse gas
law,” McCallon said. “The jurisdictions are doing better planning for compact
development. This year, we’re putting forward a program, a sort of competition
to see who can come up with the greatest greenhouse
gas reductions, and we’ve asked the ARB to be a partner in this.”
Despite its potential impact, Steinberg’s SB 375, has not received widespread public attention -- like a number of other major laws and regulations,
it has been overshadowed by the attention to the state’s omnibus law to curb carbon emissions, AB 32.
And experts differ on what the long-range impact of the measure will have on sprawl and
Bill Fulton, a land-use analyst of the California Planning and Development
Report, noted after the law was signed that SB 375 “is both more and less powerful than it’s advertised to be, and whether it leads to sweeping
change depends on how aggressively California’s regional planning agencies implement it.”
“It’s more powerful than advertised because it contains
potentially revolutionary changes in California’s arcane processes of regional planning for transportation
and housing – largely by mandating the creation of “sustainable” regional growth plans.
“But,” he added, “it’s less than revolutionary on the land-use front, largely because it’s incentive-based. Despite the headlines, the law doesn’t ‘tie state transportation funding to land use;’ it merely charges regional planning agencies, which
are run by local elected officials, with making sure
their own funding decisions are consistent with the
new regional plans. Local governments don’t have to comply with the plans.”
But whatever the ultimate impact of SB 375, the regional nature of the debate is valuable, Loveridge
“Since I’ve been on SCAG, this is the first time there has been
a serious discussion about the future of transportation,
housing and the quality of life.”