The Art of Working Together: Highlights of 2012

As we reflect on the past year, we want to start by expressing our gratitude for all of the groups and individuals we work with. ClimatePlan came together as a cohort of eleven organizations working together with no paid staff, and faced a seemingly insurmountable task. Now we are a coalition of almost 50 partners with connections to dozens more. We’ve already accomplished so much together and with our collective movement strong and growing, we look forward to what we will do in the coming year.

Now, without further ado, and in no particular order, here are our Highlights of 2012.  It’s been an action-packed year!

Unanimous Adoption of Southern California’s SCS

In a region long known for its suburban sprawl, Southern California’s new Regional Transportation Plan was hailed as a major turnaround. Following admirably wide-ranging outreach to over 200 local governments and agencies, SCAG’s politically-diverse Regional Council adopted a transformative plan by unanimous vote. Its ambitious land use vision directs a much greater share of new development near transit and plans for only 10% as much open space loss as the previous plan. It triples funding for active transportation and devotes almost half its funds to transit. The result? It reduces VMT and congestion over much of the region. The plan was not perfect, but it was a good step forward, and SCAG has already begun efforts to make its next RTP even better!

Momentum Shifts with November Elections
While a couple of local tax measures that would have expanded transit systems failed by the slimmest of margins in Los Angeles and Alameda Counties, bells were certainly jingling as we saw a number of exciting victories at the federal and state levels. The biggest news was that California Democrats won a supermajority in the legislature, and while new bills have yet to be introduced, it is undoubtedly a great opportunity to advance policies to help build sustainable communities.  We might ring in an especially exciting year in 2013…

Sacramento Region Sets the Bar High With its SCS
In their report examining Sustainable Communities Strategies in the state, authors at NRDC and Move LA noted that the Sacramento SCS is “exemplary, setting the bar high for other regions.”  Indeed, the Sacramento region has long been a leader in blueprint planning, and it remains in the lead as its latest RTP contains the greatest greenhouse gas reductions yet, 9% and 16% (by 2020 and 2035). It includes model efforts to help the plan become reality by supporting local planning around Transit Priority Areas, selected in part for their potential to advance regional equity. The new plan would improve the ratio of homes to jobs in 14 out of 15 job centers, and SACOG is now working to measure the fit between jobs and nearby workforce housing. They will also improve their ability to measure health indicators and build upon the Rural-Urban Connections Strategy with better analysis of the region’s natural resources. Go SACOG!

All We Want for Christmas is Healthier Transportation Plans. And We Got ‘Em!
The connection between our transportation systems and the health of the communities that they serve is clear — with more sidewalks, bike lanes, and transit opportunities, community residents have more opportunities to be active and healthy. So, CPEHN and TransForm must be on Santa’s nice list for co-sponsoring AB 441 which makes it easier to promote healthy planning by explicitly requiring long-term, comprehensive transportation plans to incorporate health indicators.  Three cheers for healthy communities!

San Joaquin Valley Keeps Steady Aim at its Target
Earlier this month, the San Joaquin Valley Regional Policy Council recommended that the California Air Resources Board maintain its targets for the San Joaquin Valley, a 5% reduction in 2020 and 10% in 2035. Yes, this is the same Regional Policy Council that asked for the targets to be cut in half during Target Setting 2010! But since 2010, Valley COGs have been developing new scenarios and upgrading their models’ ability to measure reductions. In fact, the latest memo (starting on p. 14 here) estimates that working together, the 8 San Joaquin Valley counties may be able to achieve reductions of nearly 11% and 14% — something to watch for in 2013!

Demand for Transit Continues to Increase Faster than a Spinning Dreidel
According to a recent report from the American Public Transit Association, transit ridership is up all across the country, and California is no exception. Just one example is the LA Metro system, which reports that in October 2012, their system’s rail ridership was up 23% compared with the same month last year. And other areas of the state are experiencing all-time highs in ridership levels. Some routes in San Joaquin County were getting so crowded that the Regional Transit District added trips in early 2012. Too bad that funding for transit operations hasn’t kept pace with the increase in use, and has in fact been cut drastically in the last few years. Our New Year’s wish is that 2013 is the year of identifying a dedicated funding source for transit systems all over the state!

Gifts Aplenty for Lake Tahoe Lovers  
In December, the Lake Tahoe region adopted a new Regional Plan that included an RTP and SCS (for the California side of the lake). While its population and size might be comparatively small, its Regional Plan took a serious look at revamping the region’s commercial areas and providing more opportunities for walking and biking. In fact, if our number-crunching is right, in 2013 dollars, Tahoe’s RTP devotes 10% of funding to bike-ped projects, the highest percentage in the state! Plus, the regional planning agency is implementing a new Transferable Development Rights program in an effort to encourage development in the more urban areas. Way to go Tahoe, for showing how smaller regions can make big strides!

San Diego Parking Policy Speeds Along Affordable Housing Construction
And in the southern half of the state, the City of San Diego took a major step in the right direction in late 2012 by adopting a policy that lowered the parking requirements for affordable housing developments that met certain criteria (like being close to a bus or trolley line!). The policy is a win-win, as it both provides an economic incentive to build affordable homes by reducing the overall cost to the developer, and it promotes other modes of transportation like walking, biking, and transit.  San Diego should be proud of adopting this model policy — here’s hoping the idea spreads to other local governments.

One Bay Area Grant Program Makes Commitment to Conservation
The Bay Area’s transportation authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, has had a grant program for a number of years, but 2012 saw an exciting development — the program now includes an innovative $10 million pilot grant program specifically geared towards conservation.  As noted by the Greenbelt Alliance, “this is a historic step by a transportation agency.” The conservation grant program was developed because of the recognition that for some of the counties in the Bay Area, protecting natural areas and farmland is essential for a successful SCS. The program isn’t perfect, and advocates are working to ensure the grants go to projects that meet the intent, but it’s a huge step in the right direction and a program that other regions will be watching closely.

High Speed Rail Gets Back on Track
With Governor Brown-appointee Dan Richards at the helm, the California High Speed Rail Authority unveiled a new business plan in April 2012 that was a huge improvement over previous plans. The HSRA’s new vision addressed public concerns about the project’s overall cost, risk, and impacts to communities. While there are still many unanswered questions, particularly its impact on farmland in the San Joaquin Valley, we are excited about the investment that will go towards upgrading existing rail systems such as the Altamont Commuter Express and Metrolink, and we are hopeful that the Rail Authority will take a closer look at how to minimize impacts on communities and farmland in the train’s corridor. In addition, a TransForm report that analyzed the new business plan, notes that investing in high speed rail, if done right, will avoid costly airport and highway expansions, saving Californians money. So while Santa may be delivering presents by sleigh this year, in the future maybe he’ll choose to take the train – it’ll be fast!

Rail~Volution and New Partners for Smart Growth Descend on Southern California
We’ve loved both of these conferences for years — what could be better than coming together with so many other advocates, community leaders, builders, and transportation gurus and nerding out on planning and transportation issues? But we enjoyed it even more this year since both conferences took place in Southern California, and gave some of our partners a chance to highlight the work that’s been happening there. At Rail~Volution, attendees got a chance to see firsthand how far Los Angeles has come with its transportation system, and at New Partners, we all enjoyed the chance to explore some of San Diego’s great neighborhoods and see the progress there. Now we’re looking forward to learning from other cities in 2013!

There are so many ways in which our partners and local and regional governments advanced sustainable and equitable growth in California in 2012, and we probably missed some that could have been part of this list. What were some of your highlights from the past year? Let us know in the comments below.

We have much to look forward to in 2013, so stay tuned for our upcoming list of things to watch for in the year to come.

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