Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New report on SB 375

I'm pleased to announce that we've released a new report on how California's regions can create more sustainable communities through Senate Bill 375, California's new law that aligns regional land use and transportation planning toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The report, Leveraging a New Law: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions under Senate Bill 375, describes the key factors that will determine whether SB 375 ultimately results in more efficiently planned communities that enable Californians to drive less or merely in another well-meaning but toothless planning exercise.

As Ezra Rapport, the Executive Director of ABAG, said in a talk at the Commonwealth Club earlier today, successful regional planning in a home-rule state like California is ultimately an act of political will--it's not something that can be legislated.  SB 375 creates several opportunities for metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to foster alternatives to driving and encourage development in vibrant, mixed-use neighborhoods that are well-served by transit.  It's ultimately up to MPOs--and the local elected officials that make up their boards--to take advantage of these opportunities, but given the long-term, abstract nature of regional planning it can be hard to understand whether or not they're doing this.  In order to clarify the issues surrounding SB 375, we interviewed over 50 planners from across Calfiornia and conducted an in-depth financial analysis of current regional plans.  Our report offers recommendations to MPOs and the state on how to leverage SB 375 to reduce sprawl that smart growth advocates can use to evaluate the first round of regional growth and transportation plans subject to SB 375 that MPOs will be releasing over the next several years.

The biggest carrot that SB 375 offers to local governments in exchange for implementing regional land use plans is the promise that MPOs will allocate more transportation funding toward the areas that these plans target for growth.  One of our key findings is that MPOs only control 10 percent of statewide transportation funding, and 15 percent of funding for capital projects.  This share is unlikely to be sufficient to fund a large-scale shift in growth patterns, especially since MPOs consider much of their funding committed, either to projects funded by local sales taxes or to "fair-share" distributions among local governments.  In order for SB 375 to work, MPOs must create regional plans that outline clear goals for regional growth, and pass supplementary policies that prioritize funding to projects that meet these goals. 

In a previous post, I evaluated SANDAG's draft regional plan against the recommendations contained in our report.  I'll be keeping an eye on regional plans as they come out--check back for updates.

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