Land Use: Better Regional Planning

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 also improve Californians’ health, expand economic opportunities, conserve natural and working landscapes, and much more.

To support better land use and regional planning, ClimatePlan's current projects include:

Fixing CEQA to Support Good Projects

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is California’s landmark environmental law. CEQA requires that for every proposed development project, state and local agencies must analyze, disclose, and mitigate potential environmental impacts. In recent years, many people have called for change to CEQA, as its required procedure can hinder projects that are actually good for the environment, such as infill and transit-oriented development, bicycle plans, and affordable housing.

Advocacy Background: In 2012, ClimatePlan partner Public Advocates convened a diverse group of stakeholders to ensure that SB 226, a law to streamline the CEQA process for certain urban infill projects, would also include protections against gentrification and displacement. In June 2012, Public Advocates submitted a letter of SB 226 recommendations to the Office of Planning and Research, resulting in the latest version of the guidelines, now with streamlining for low-income housing as well.

In 2013, ClimatePlan teamed up with the Planning and Conservation League and Greenbelt Alliance for a dialogue of diverse stakeholders – from infill builders to environmental justice champions – to discuss the relationship between CEQA and infill development. That July, we submitted a letter to Governor Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Steinberg, and Assembly Speaker Perez with our consensus recommendations for CEQA.

In October 2013, SB 743 was signed into law. SB 743 eliminates traffic congestion and its proxy, Level of Service (LOS), as the focus of CEQA’s transportation analysis. This is great news for bike lanes, bus rapid transit, and infill projects – essential strategies for healthier, greener communities.

New CEQA Guidelines: In November 2017, OPR released proposed updates to the CEQA guidelines (see pages 77-80 for SB 743 changes) and the Technical Advisory on Evaluating Transportation Impacts in CEQA. The new guidelines will make it easier to build infill and transit-oriented development and invest in transportation projects that will reduce how much we drive. These guidelines are not perfect; they exempt roadway capacity projects and do not include strong enough protections against displacement. Read NRDC's press release for reactions from ClimatePlan partners. 

These guidelines are moving ahead for approval. Check back here for updates on our efforts to ensure SB 743 is implemented in a way that benefits sustainable communities.

Turning Plans into Action

Strong regional plans only succeed if they are actually implemented.

Assessing One Region's Progress: 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. The report's findings and recommendations are also available in a PowerPoint and webinar.

Statewide Accountability: Now, with the passage of SB 150, the Air Resources Board is required to prepare a report by September 1, 2018, and every four years after, that will:

  • Assess the progress each region has made in achieving greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.
  • Discuss best practices and the challenges regions face in meeting their targets.

This report will be developed with input from the regions and key stakeholders, and will be shared with the Legislature.

As a co-sponsor of SB 150, ClimatePlan looks forward to partnering with ARB, the regions, and other stakeholders to ensure that Sustainable Communities Strategies are being implemented to achieve real positive change.

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