Southern California’s SCS sets lofty goals – but can it reach them?

The draft SCS for Southern California’s 6-county megaregion hit the streets in December.  The plan’s nearly 2000 pages and whopping $525 billion pricetag are reminders of just how much is at stake.

The good news is that if all the components of the plan come to fruition, Southern California will achieve its air quality goals, grow its economy, reach its targets for per capita greenhouse gas emissions, reduce traffic for many residents, and expand and diversify the region’s housing options. Creating such a plan for a region of 18 million residents is an achievement in itself – it required leadership and effort by local elected officials, agency staff, and SCAG.

The proposed plan, if implemented, would:

Reduce overall traffic congestion and vehicles miles traveled per person in the region.
Triple spending on bike and pedestrian projects.
Increase transit investments by 13%.
Build 68% of new housing as apartments, townhomes, and condos (up from 39% in the last boom).
Save 400 square miles of open space, and mitigate habitat loss via a precedent-setting advanced mitigation strategy.
Reduce per-capita greenhouse gas emissions by 8% (2020) and 16% (2035), as compared to 2005 levels.

But there are two pieces of bad news. The first is that some of the most critical components of these plans may not come to pass – and if they don’t, business as usual may just continue.

One big concern is funding. In developing this plan, the region faced a large funding shortfall. Rather than cutting back on projects, SCAG’s Regional Council made the policy decision to find additional sources of funds to pay for its infrastructure. We applaud their vision and ambition, but we’re concerned that the plan relies on highly speculative new funds from state and federal sources.  SCAG and its local agencies need to take responsibility for ensuring this comes to pass by developing revenue sources at both the local and regional level. And because this plan relies upon many new homes and workplaces being built in opportunity areas near transit – at a time when local government planning funds are at historic lows – SCAG needs to make a financial commitment to expand its Compass Blueprint planning grant program and give priority to local governments whose efforts will make Southern California more sustainable, equitable, and healthy.

Even if this plan is implemented, it does not benefit communities across the region equally. In fact, it disproportionately helps those who are already doing well, leaving many of the most vulnerable populations with higher risks of health impacts from pollution than the region as a whole. This plan will also have about twice as much benefit for those in Los Angeles and Orange County – who will eventually be able to spend over 20% less time in their cars than they do now – than it will have for those in San Bernardino & Riverside – who will receive only half that reduction in per capita vehicle hours. In fact, while people in LA and Orange Counties now spend the most time per capita in their cars of Southern California counties, Riverside and San Bernardino will surpass them by 2035 to hold this dubious honor.

In response, we’re asking SCAG to:

Frontload and expand transit investments, especially in fast-growing places with a shortage of high-quality transit services, with a particular focus on cost-effective improvements to bus service and frequency;
Aggressively mitigate disproportionate air quality impacts;
Increase funding for bike/ped investments and adopt policies to use that money well;
Improve tools to measure and monitor plan performance.

While SCAG does not directly control land use or transportation expenditures, it can clearly communicate the choices that the region faces and the impacts of those decisions. Before finalizing the plan, SCAG should move the regional conversation forward and help leaders work together to achieve the shared goal of creating a healthier region with greater opportunity for all Southern Californians.

ClimatePlan and our partners in Southern California are finalizing detailed comments on the plan, and we hope you’ll weigh in too. Comments are being accepted on the plan until February 14th.  You can review the plan and submit your comments here.

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