A Big Week for Sustainable and Equitable Communities

Last week saw a flurry of milestones for SB 375, culminating in a hearing at the Air Resources Board that shined a spotlight on key issues such as gentrification, “Redevelopment 2.0,” and the transformation of SCAG into a leading force for healthy and sustainable communities in Southern California.

Both Southern California (SCAG) and Sacramento (SACOG) are poised to adopt their first-ever Sustainable Communities Strategies under SB 375. These plans, taken together, allocate $560 billion in transportation funding over the next 25 years and lay out a vision for where and how their regions should grow.  Grassroots community organizations in both regions have been deeply engaged in the development of these plans for the last two years.  Final adoption of both plans happens in the next few weeks.

These plans are remarkably good – as evidenced by the glowing public comment at last Thursday’s hearing and detailed in Amanda Eaken’s blog post. The celebratory mood was in marked contrast to last September’s hearing on the San Diego plan, which was far more contentious and divisive.  That plan remains mired in litigation, while SCAG and SACOG are moving forward with plans that enjoy broad support from environmental, social equity and public health advocates.  Many pointed to the leadership role of SCAG Executive Director Hasan Ihkrata in creating such a successful plan in Southern California.

But even SACOG’s Mike McKeever – widely considered the godfather of regional sustainability planning in California – acknowledged that they’ve got work to do when it comes to addressing gentrification around transit stations and the resulting displacement of low-income communities.  A February 2012 letter from 35 non-profit organizations called on the Air Resources Board to pay closer attention to how SB 375 implementation affects low-income communities and people of color. That letter was the basis of much testimony and discussion at Thursday’s hearing, including amazing testimony from youth advocates from Oakland’s New Voices Are Rising project.  No definitive conclusions were reached at the hearing, but ARB Chair Mary Nichols directed her staff to work with equity advocates to develop a plan to better evaluate these impacts.

The other exciting tidbit was an announcement by Mike McKeever that Senate President Darrell Steinberg has committed to authoring a bill that would create “Redevelopment 2.0.”  Such an effort, if successful, would restore one of California’s most important tools for implementing sustainable communities at the local level. No details on the bill yet, but we’re eagerly awaiting the specifics.

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