Ready, aim: Improving California’s targets on climate change and land use

By Chanell Fletcher, Associate Director
August 18, 2016

These are exciting times in California. All eyes are on SB 32 (Pavley), a bill now on the floor of the State Assembly. This bill would carry on the legacy of AB 32, California’s landmark climate change law, which set targets to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. SB 32 would extend the targets to make deeper cuts to greenhouse gases by 2030.

Many ClimatePlan partners are working hard on SB 32, hoping to keep California the national leader on climate change. Some observers, like the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board, are hopeful but not optimistic, since the legislative session ends in less than two weeks.

Regional targets matter too

One key part of implementing AB 32 — and SB 32 if it passes — is SB 375, which requires that regions meet their own targets for reducing greenhouse gases, through planning for growth and transportation investments that reduce the need to drive. The state’s Air Resources Board (ARB) sets these regional targets, and now they are re-examining those targets for the first time.

This is the chance to set new and better targets that will enable California to meet its ambitious climate goals — and promote healthy, sustainable, equitable communities.

In 2010, ClimatePlan and partners worked to ensure that ARB adopted ambitious initial targets. In addition to reducing greenhouse gases, we wanted the targets to address other important benefits:

Offering more and safer transportation options through investments in better bus and train service, bike lanes, and sidewalks.
Improving public health by reducing driving, resulting in cleaner air and greater physical activity.
Creating more affordable homes near transit, jobs, schools, and services, so all Californians can enjoy the benefits of sustainable communities.
Protecting natural lands, by guiding development thoughtfully and investing in habitat mitigation and preservation.

And these are just some of the benefits that can come from this type of planned growth.

Now, ARB is embarking on this process again: setting greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030. Done right, these new targets will help the state meet its climate goals for 2020 and beyond—while maximizing the benefits to public health, social equity, conservation, and more.

Speaking up for stronger targets

In late June, ClimatePlan submitted a comment letter to ARB, in which we called for:

 – A more robust public process: It’s been eight years since SB 375 passed; ClimatePlan and many partner organizations worked on the first round of targets and the subsequent regional plans. We have valuable lessons to share, and we need a chance for input.
Scenarios that show the climate impact of changing land use: As Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) start to develop their draft targets, ARB can ask them to produce scenarios that show how greenhouse gas emissions can truly be reduced through changing land use.
Better modeling to achieve real change: To improve modeling, and help people better understand that modeling, ARB can give the MPOs guidance, stating what should – and should not – be included in growth scenarios. Until now, it’s been too easy to tweak the model to get the right results instead of doing the hard work to change land use and reduce driving.
Targets that maximize co-benefits: SB 375 is unique because it not only focuses on greenhouse gas reduction, but also many ways the public can benefit through land use and transportation changes. These targets shouldn’t just focus on emissions, but also maximize (and show) these “co-benefits” to the public.
Plans that address social equity: The targets – and the regions’ plans – should address community concerns such as displacement and lack of affordable housing. For example, building affordable housing near public transit both reduces greenhouse gases and gives lower-income families places to live.
Clear performance indicators: To measure progress, we need clear performance indicators that align with the goals embedded in SB 375. ARB can develop statewide performance indicators that will help advocates and agencies know whether we are on track.

After submitting this letter, we hosted a forum for ARB board members and staff with our partners at the Local Government Commission, Natural Resources Defense Council, and American Lung Association in California. There, we were joined by former Senator Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, author of SB 375 (and now Mayor-Elect of Sacramento!). We had a lively discussion about how we all—advocates, ARB staff, and ARB boardmembers—can work together to achieve our state’s climate goals.

What comes next

ARB is now working with regional agencies to develop the draft regional targets. Draft targets from the MPOs are due to ARB by December 31. In early 2017, ARB plans to update its board members at a meeting that will be open to the public.

We are continuing to meet with ARB staff and regional agencies. Not only do we want strong targets, we want to make sure advocates can continue to play a role in developing them.

Stay tuned.

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