The Golden State Goes Greener

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In California, an historic effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles by curbing sprawl will likely soon become law. Senate Bill No. 375 would compel local planning agencies to make planning choices that reduce vehicle miles traveled between residential areas and employment centers. The bill has passed both the California Assembly and Senate and currently awaits Governor Schwarzenegger’s approval. He is expected to sign.

SB 375 provides a mechanism for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the single largest producer, cars and light trucks. The bill’s broad coalition of supporters maintains that changes in land use and transportation policy must be made to achieve the state’s emissions reduction goals. To this end, SB 375 provides the California Air Resources Board (CARB), charged with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with the authority to coordinate their efforts with metropolitan area transportation and land use planning.

The bill mandates that metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) include sustainability strategies in their community growth and transportation plans. It integrates housing, transportation, and climate change policies for all 17 MPOs in the state. The bill’s basics:

• Transportation planning: CARB will set regional greenhouse gas reduction targets in consultation with local governments. Those targets will be incorporated into each region’s long-term regional transportation plan.
• Housing planning: Each region’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) – the mandated process by which local jurisdictions address their fair share of regional housing needs – will be adjusted to become aligned with the land use plan in each region’s regional transportation plan. This adjustment will result in a “fair share” redistribution in which municipalities growing more jobs must also provide for a larger share of housing and is inclusive of affordable housing near municipalities with strong job growth.
• California Environmental Quality Act reform: Environmental review will create incentives to implement the strategy, especially for transit priority projects.
Green strings: SB 375 offers local governments regulatory and other incentives to encourage more compact new development and transportation alternatives. Local governments found to be in noncompliance with the new plans will be ineligible for state and federal funding.

In one efficient stroke, S.B. 375 mandates regional cooperation in several major policy areas. It compels regional governments to take steps toward correcting jobs-housing imbalances. It positions affordable housing near central business districts. Finally, it coordinates a shared responsibility strategy for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Let’s hope that the passage of this legislation will serve as an example to other states seeking to rectify the host of problems caused by sprawling growth.

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