California Regulators Release Draft Report on Sustainable Communities

The California Air Resources Board last week released a draft report marking the first major milestone in implementation of a law designed to improve how cities and counties plan for growth and development.

The draft report proposes targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 and 2035 associated with passenger vehicle travel in the state’s 18 Metropolitan Planning Organizations, including the four largest: Southern California, San Diego, the Bay Area, and the Sacramento region. The Air Resources Board will consider adopting these targets at its September board meeting.

The proposed targets are designed to help coordinate land use and transportation planning to produce sustainable strategies for growth and development for cities and regions over the next 25 years. The goal is for people to live close to where they work and play to reduce vehicle miles traveled and the greenhouse gas emissions that come from cars.

"These proposed targets are ambitious, achievable and very good news for Californians. Improved planning means cleaner air in our cities, less time stuck in your car, and healthier, more sustainable communities," said ARB Chairman Mary D. Nichols. "Cities that choose to develop Sustainable Communities Plans that meet these targets have an advantage when it comes to attracting the kinds of vibrant, healthy development that people want."

Work on the report began immediately after Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill in September 2008. The first step was the formation of a 21-person advisory committee of experts to recommend methodologies to be used when setting targets.

Over the past several months, a number of the planning organizations have proposed their own targets for ARB to consider. Those recommendations and the technical work behind them form the basis of the proposals described in the current report.

"This report builds on the pioneering efforts of cities throughout the state that blazed the trail and set the standard for developing more livable communities," said Nichols. "Working together, ARB and all cities can benefit from those models and develop coordinated growth, development and transportation planning that will benefit families and businesses in every region of the state."

Modeling to develop the targets also reflect demographic shifts and a changing housing market in California as baby-boomers (and many young people) are moving away from single-family suburban homes to smaller lots and multi-unit housing closer to a city’s center.

The resulting targets for the four main regions also recognize the significant differences among the regions and the need to address the specific needs and requirements of growth and development in each. The report outlines proposed targets of per capita greenhouse gas reductions of 7% to 8% by 2020, and between 13% and 16% in 2035 compared to 2005 levels. 

A separate approach was developed for the eight planning organizations that comprise the San Joaquin Valley, establishing placeholder targets of a 5% reduction in per capita emissions in 2020, and a 10% reduction in 2035. Targets for the remaining six Metropolitan Planning Organizations’–the Monterey, Butte, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Shasta and Lake Tahoe region reflect each region’s current plans for 2020 and 2035.

Once the targets are finalized, cities within each planning region will work together with their regional planning agency on developing a Sustainable Community Strategy that outlines where growth and development will occur, and how the transportation system can support that growth, so that their region’s targets can be achieved. Cities and municipalities retain full local decision making and zoning authority.

Regions that meet the targets will receive incentives in the form of easier access to federal funding and streamlined environmental review for development projects.

Additional information and the full report are available at the link below.

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