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Thoughts on AB32 / SB375

Climate change bill will change shape of cities

Redding Record Searchlight/ - April 29, 2010

We’re from Sacramento, and we’re here to help.”

Cut through the acronyms and the bureaucratic verbiage about “sustainable communities strategies” and “alternative planning strategies,” and that was the message from a California Air Resources Board representative at Tuesday’s meeting of the Shasta County Regional Transportation Planning Agency board.

The local elected officials who make up that board can be forgiven for their skepticism.

Kurt Karperos, the Air Resources Board’s head of air quality and transportation, came to Redding to explain the details of Senate Bill 375, a 2008 law that aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions through better urban planning. The goal is to reduce driving by building more compact communities and providing more transportation alternatives — from walking to mass transit — so every little trip doesn’t require starting the car.

Opponents of the law denounce it as requiring everyone to live in a condo by the railroad tracks, but Karperos told a different story. Shasta County’s “sustainable communities strategy,” he said, will be built form the ground up, based on local input and local priorities. The state is not, he stressed, imposing one-size-fits-all plans. What works in Los Angeles won’t work in Redding, he said, and vise versa.

Our job is to help you realize your vision,” he told the board.

That’s all very soothing, but is it true?

As the board’s chairman, Redding City Council member Dick Dickerson, asked, if local decision-makers are in charge anyway — as they already are — “Then why are we doing this?”

The answer is that SB 375 is the law, and that reducing carbon dioxide emissions is a state mandate. As gently as state officials might try to break the news, those laws will change how we do business locally.

Later this year, the Air Resources Board will set long-term targets for reducing vehicle miles traveled. (The target will apply per resident, so population growth will not in itself lead to violations.) If we don’t meet those targets, over time, courts will start striking down local governments’ approval of new developments for not complying with the law. And, on the flip side, we’ll stop receiving our share of state transportation dollars if we don’t do things the state’s way.

That’s not all bad. SB 375’s incentives to build smarter cities hold a lot of promise — for encouraging infill development in cities’ existing footprints instead of never-ending sprawl, for providing a spectrum of ways to get around town. (That’s not just a green issue: Next time gasoline flirts with $5 a gallon, as it did in 2008, even ardent climate-change skeptics will appreciate a few options.)

Like any change, it will bring good and bad. Unfortunately, the state and local planners whose job is to put SB 375 into action are working so hard to downplay the shift involved that they might just persuade citizens and decision-makers to ignore the law altogether.

That, we would do at our peril. Sooner or later, the hammer of SB 375’s mandates will fall on Shasta County. And we’ll need to be ready.

How will we pay for public climate policy?

By Ed West, - April 29, 2010

On April 22 I attended a pep rally for SB375 and AB32 with an estimated 350 elected officials, staff and some private consultant types. It was supposed to be “Understanding SB375's Public Participation Requirements.” What we heard was three hours of the terrible consequences, if we fail to enact the standards set by these bills. We heard that these two bills will save mankind, stop asthma, lung disease, and cure hunger. We actually had a panelist expert state that she lives in the Oakland Hills and does not want to see her house become beach front property.

We never heard how to pay for any of this.

I also heard a very scary gentleman from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) state that cities had screwed up land use and needs a regional approach to controlling land use, and that CARB needs the ability to punish punitively any government agency that does not fall into line. An appointed board with the power to punish local government?
What was painfully obvious was that I was not going to hear anything about the negative impacts on my community and how to mitigate those issues, just a pep rally supporting SB375 and AB32.

As an elected official I used a day of my personal vacation time to take off work, to hear both sides of these controversial bills and how they will affect my constituents in American Canyon. The session was not balanced and informative, as an example, nowhere during this discussion was it explained how we would PAY for all of these great ideas or mitigate the many purported negative effects from these bills.

Then the rally really revealed it's true colors: A straw vote was called for to send a representative to Sacramento to try to direct the League of Cities to NOT support the ballot initiative attempting to suspend the implementation of SB375 and AB32.

As the room erupted into applause because the straw vote appeared to be overwhelmingly in favor of supporting SB375 and AB32, I stood and asked a question: “Where's the other side?” I tried to express that these two bills have been extremely controversial and are purported to possibly have a devastating effect on our economy, jobs, businesses will close, (in fact CARB has been quoted as saying that it is OK if some businesses close) not because of a drop in consumer interest, or the natural transition of business, but because of government regulation and taxation. I asked the panel, where is the other side to this issue and how can we call for a vote of support if we have not heard both sides? I wanted to hear both sides to this issue, unless people had already made up their minds before they arrived.

If that is why we were there then it is a rally and not a fair and equal representation of the bills and their affects on us.
Suddenly an applause started. Not everyone, but a large portion of the representatives were in favor of what I had just said and were as “unconvinced” as I was. I spoke to dozens of people from around the Bay Area that have the same concerns and did not feel comfortable speaking out, thanking me for saying it.

Suddenly ABAG stated that they were the messenger and not to kill the messenger and that this is the law. Isn't the question, do we suspend these two bills until the unemployment rate is below 5.5 percent? It won't be law then!
If ABAG was the “messenger” then the message should have been balanced. It should have been thorough, it should have talked how do we will pay for all of this? Will it kill 1,000,000 jobs and cost each household $4000 in additional expenses, drive businesses out of the state? What will the end result be? What percentage of green house gases will be reduced? The estimate by CARB is less than 2 percent.

ABAG did not address a March 11, 2010 Gallup Poll showed that 48 percent of Americans now believe that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated, up from 41 percent in 2009 and up from 31 percent in 1997 (conducted by Gallup March 4-7). Be concerned when you read that a politician feels that this issue is the most important issue facing elected officials today. Ask yourself, are you willing to be one of those lost jobs, because your employer has to offset costs by laying you off, or has to close down because of over regulation and taxation? Your elected official will not worry about being replaced, or laid off, unless you take a serious look at this issue and replace those that don't understand that the main issue facing local government is the economy, our home values and maintaining our jobs or find new ones when we are unemployed. Would it be nice to work where we live, bike to work or walk? Of course. Will it happen? Not without incredible amounts of money.

ABAG is not the objective messenger, ABAG is interested in gaining control of local land issues. There is a move to develop a regional land use policy taking away your ability to go to City Hall and weigh in on what we do with our land. A regional approach will allow surrounding communities to control what we do with our land. Just look at their web site name:

It was hard to speak out against what appeared to be the popular opinion amongst 350 people. I am asking you to send an email or write your elected officials and express that we all love our earth and want a clean and sustainable environment. Why is 1990 a better environmental goal than today? Cars were not as efficient in 1990 as today, industry is much cleaner today, our rivers and streams are cleaner today. Was 1990 the pinnacle in environmental cleanliness and we have slid down since? The answer is no.

You must also support the idea of jobs and the economy. There is no need to debate global warming, rather ask how will YOU pay for these public policies? Ask what the return will be regarding the benefits to the environment? The most liberal estimate is 2 percent. I hope you are not the one that loses their job to help the environment improve by 2 percent. Empower your elected officials to feel comfortable speaking out at these events and representing your best interests.

Ed West is Vice Mayor of American Canyon

ABAG is committed to enhancing the quality of life in the San Francisco Bay Area by leading the region in advocacy, collaboration, and excellence in planning, research, and member services.