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Land Use: Better Regional Plans

Where we live, work, and go to school has a major impact on our daily lives. Too many people must drive long distances to find work or homes that they can afford. This driving pollutes the air, emits greenhouse gases, and strains the budgets and time of California families.

We can do better.

The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, SB 375, launched a sea change in regional planning. It recognized that land use and transportation are inextricably intertwined: the locations of homes, jobs, services, and schools determine how much people must drive. The way that California regions spend transportation dollars shapes where we can live and work.

Better regional planning can not just reduce our our greenhouse gas emissions, but improve Californians’ health, expand economic opportunities, conserve natural and working landscapes, and much more.

All the state’s regions have now created Sustainable Communities Strategies, as the law requires. Some have now adopted their second plans as well.

We are now ready to look at how this approach is working. Are we making progress toward California’s ambitious climate goals? How can we make sure we meet them?

Current projects include:

Leading Practices

All eighteen Metropolitan Planning Organization regions in California have now adopted Sustainable Communities Strategies, making this an excellent time to spotlight what’s working best, and where innovation is still needed. Our Leading the Way report, released in October 2016, identifies policies and practices that can make our communities more healthy, equitable, and sustainable. In this report, we highlight:

  •      – Leading practices that have emerged so far in adopted Sustainable Communities Strategies, based on extensive input from ClimatePlan partners, transportation planners, and others.
  •      – Recommendations to go further in challenging areas such as climate adaptation, water, affordable housing, and preventing displacement.

This report presents a selection of leading practices, prioritizing those that accomplish the most and are not yet uniformly adopted. Our goal is to open a conversation about what’s working best – what’s leading the way – and how California’s regions can do even better. We hope you will read the report, share it with colleagues, and build on these ideas to develop your own leading practices. Download the report or Executive Summary.

Assessing Progress

The benefits of strong plans can only be realized if these plans are implemented. In spring 2016, ClimatePlan released a report, “Toward a Sustainable Future: Is Southern California On Track?” that assesses the Southern California region’s progress on implementing its first Sustainable Communities Strategy. The “On Track” report was produced by ClimatePlan and eleven other partner groups. We presented a webinar on the report’s findings and recommendations, now available online.

ClimatePlan and partners are now advocating for a state agency to do more of this assessment — are these plans being implemented in every region? Are cities and towns taking action to reduce the need to drive, improve communities, and lower greenhouse gas emissions? Is it enough? Are we on track to meet our goals?

Regional Transportation Plan Guidelines

SB 375 brought profound change to regional planning in California, by integrating land use and transportation and requiring that regions reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The regional transportation plans (RTPs) required by the law are the tools to implement it. The guidelines for these plans — the RTP Guidelines — are in turn a powerful tool the state can use to make sure these plans will actually do what they should: fight climate change and make communities healthier, safer, more sustainable, and more equitable.

Recently, as the state updated both the guidelines for regional transportation plans and the statewide California Transportation Plan, ClimatePlan and partners called for changes to the guidelines, to help these plans achieve their potential for profound positive change. Read our group’s guiding principles here.

See the final guidelines here, including new language around health, equity, and protecting landscapes.

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