change bill will change shape of cities
Record Searchlight/www.redding.com - 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
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
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
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.