ICYMI: Here’s why we need to implement SB 743 in the middle of a global pandemic

Recently we at ClimatePlan came across a webpage from the California Building Industry Association (CBIA) entitled, “Housing Killers & Creators.” Imagine our surprise when we saw SB 743—also known as “New transportation analysis will add to the cost of building a home”—on CBIA’s webpage. According to CBIA, “effective July 1, 2020, cities and counties will be required to analyze the amount of driving, known as Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), residents do every day. Then, those local agencies will then tax new homes to punish people who drive. The primary target is lower- and middle-income people who are often communities of color. These communities often have the longest commutes. Applying this new metric is an arbitrary and unproven strategy that runs the significant risk of litigation, delay, cost-overruns and constraints on housing production.

After perusing their webpage, we’d like to encourage you, the reader, to do two things:

  1. Read the facts of what SB 743 will (and will not) do here and here. As you will see, SB 743 doesn’t require local agencies to “tax new homes” nor does it target low-income communities of color.
  2. Read Amy’s blog below on why we need to implement SB 743, especially in the midst of COVID-19.

In the past two months, many Californians who own cars have rarely driven them or spent money on gasoline. It may even feel odd now to drive on a highway or go over 55 mph. Many have instead spent time gardening, going on neighborhood walks, learning to navigate homeschooling while working, monitoring our news intake, and moving at a vastly different pace. For those who are healthy and financially stable, there is gratitude for their safe circumstances in the midst of the pandemic and simultaneously devastated at what so much of the world is going through.

Why we need SB 743
While day to day lives have dramatically changed, there is still quite a lot of action in state agencies. Along with other advocates, transportation planners, and state officials, ClimatePlan is continuing to work on Senate Bill 743 (SB 743), which will be implemented statewide on July 1st, 2020. SB 743 changes how the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) assesses transportation by making the shift from looking at LOS (Level of Service) to VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled). This law has the ability to transform transportation in California by creating communities where people have to drive less to get to where they need to go. With COVID-19, the need for SB 743’s implementation has never been more pressing than right now. The Guardian recently reported a “cycling explosion” in the United States; SB 743 would make it easier to build bicycle networks that could help people safely access essential goods.

As we consider planning in the near and long-term future, we need to consider what unexpected outcomes during COVID-19 may have the potential to truly steer us in the right direction in our effort to create resilient, equitable, and sustainable communities. Implementing SB 743 could result in:

  • Shifting California away from dependence on cars: Our state’s mandatory shelter in place has been an experiment in the ability of workplaces all over California to figure out telecommuting, working from home, or working remotely. Many companies, like Twitter and Google, are already considering more permanent work from home policies, allowing thousands of people to stay out of cars to get to work. SB 743 could build on this effort by making it easier to create well-resourced communities that require less vehicle travel and instead invest in multi-modal travel options such as walking and bicycling.
  • Increase Opportunities for Walking and Biking: In many areas of the world, we see open streets policies, slow streets, and/or the closure of streets to cars. These streets are altered to make them more conducive to walking or biking. Only pedestrians or bicyclists can venture into these areas. The city of London, for example, is expecting biking to increase tenfold. SB 743 would make it easier to create these types of streets that allow for physical distancing and physical activity. SB 743 also allows for planners and local governments to think more creatively about new opportunities for people to get around that also benefit public health.
  • Maintain Clean Air: Both Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area have experienced some of the best air quality in decades during shelter-in-place. In rural parts of California, stars have lit up the sky at night in a clearer and more vivid way than residents have seen in decades. SB 743’s goal to reduce how much people have to drive allows residents to benefit from cleaner air and iconic views that have been blocked by smog and air pollution.
  • Slow Down and Simplify: Without long daily commutes, people can choose into living a slower, more intentional lifestyle. Our basic needs of food, shelter, rest, movement, and connection feel more important than ever. Our ancestors lived at a slower pace and often lived in much closer relationship with the Earth. As we move forward beyond this pandemic, SB 743 could help to eliminate the chaotic nature of long commutes, and create more space to spend time with friends, family, and loved ones.
  • Create Localized Economies: All of us have been faithfully supporting many of our local businesses - restaurants and cafes, florists, and bakeries - during the pandemic and doing our best to spend locally in order to keep local businesses afloat. SB743 can have the collateral impact of creating more localized, regenerative economies that are allowing dollars to circulate within the community rather than constantly spending online or outside of a community.

As we implement SB 743, we must consider structural inequities
COVID-19 has amplified structural inequities that have existed for a very long time. While sheltering in place, there has been a marked difference in the experiences of middle / high income communities and low-income communities. Vulnerable communities, including low-income communities and communities of color, have a higher likelihood of being an essential or front line worker as seen in places like Chicago, and have had no choice but to work in high risk jobs. Black and Latino Californians are dying of COVID-19 at higher rates than whites or Asians as a result of socioeconomic inequities and unequal access to healthcare.

As SB 743 moves forward and makes it easier to build infill development, we must center equity in the creation of new and/or expanded communities. As infill projects are built, how are we assessing risks of displacement and gentrification while also prioritizing affordable housing? How are we planning transportation projects and making sure vulnerable communities have access to essential services, schools, hospitals, and open space and nature? How do we make sure that the most vulnerable communities reap the benefits of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution? These are all considerations that need to be addressed as SB743 moves forward.

Next Steps
Along with our network partners, ClimatePlan is continuing to provide input on how the state communicates SB 743 to stakeholders, including elected officials, planners, and the general public, and how that message can be made relevant to these times. Additionally, we’re providing feedback on strengthening VMT mitigation efforts and ensuring that advocates across the state are able to shape implementation in their local jurisdictions to meet the needs and desires of their communities.

This pandemic is forcing us to think, both personally and organizationally, about how we are and are not living in the right relationship with each other and with the Earth. It’s also given us the opportunity to imagine what a world beyond COVID-19 may look like, thinking about what we miss and what we would like to keep. As SB 743 implementation moves forward, there are key questions and ideas to explore in how this law can bring about a renewal in the way California plans. Within the ClimatePlan network, our work continues to move forward with an even newer and more evolved awareness of what it will mean to build resilient, equitable, and sustainable communities for the future.

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