A few days ago I attended a public workshop on the Stanislaus Regional Transportation Plan / Sustainable Community Strategy (RTP/SCS) in Ceres, a small agricultural city just south of Modesto. The workshop was the last of three hosted this fall – part of StanCOG’s outreach designed to get feedback from residents on RTP/SCS scenarios. The scenarios are designed as a framework for how, where, and when growth will happen in the region; they are a key element of the SB 375 land use and transportation planning process. There are great opportunities in this latest round of RTP/SCS updates: in the four years since the last RTP/SCS was adopted, the funding landscape has shifted and new leading practices have emerged from around the state that can strengthen the RTP/SCS.
At the workshop, community residents shared their thoughts with staff, both in comments and by voting electronically. Overwhelmingly, residents spoke up for two scenarios that most favored infill development and reduced car trips. At the final tally, residents strongly favored Scenario 3 (Intensified Infill and Alt Mode Development) and Scenario 4 (Corridor Centric). We’re excited that community members voiced support for scenarios that center on shifting more funding towards transit and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure and programs, as well as focusing growth in compact, mixed-use development inside existing communities.
Stanislaus county faces an array of challenges specific to a fast growing and urbanizing region with rural agricultural roots. Fortunately, there are emerging strategies to address those challenges, strengthen the final plan, and ultimately make the Northern San Joaquin Valley a more vibrant, healthy region with economic opportunity for all residents.
Key Opportunities in the Northern San Joaquin Valley
Although progress has been made on many fronts, there’s still great need (and opportunity) to build on the work that was started with the 2014 RTP/SCS plans:
Investing in Small Towns: Investment in small towns will drive better health outcomes, create economic opportunity, and reduce air pollution in addition to protecting the climate. Rural communities enjoy open space and a slower pace than cities, but certain amenities come with undesirable tradeoffs; open spaces usually mean more distance traveled between homes, jobs, and services like grocery stores, banks, and medical clinics. In order to cover that distance, residents rely on cars, increasing vehicle miles traveled (VMT). More VMT adds to carbon and particulate pollution emitted, impacting the climate, local air quality, and health. The number and distance of those trips (and VMT) can be reduced by economic investment in small towns and rural communities.
Capturing and Quantifying Inter-regional Trips: Capturing and quantifying inter-regional trips is critical to accurate VMT reduction projections. Many trips originate in Northern San Joaquin Valley but terminate elsewhere, like long-distance commuter trips to the SF Bay Area. Capturing and measuring VMT from those trips is challenging; inaccuracies can lead to an overestimation of VMT reductions in the RTP/SCS.
Saving Farmland: Preservation of these working lands were identified as key indicators for both StanCOG and SJCOG in their 2014 SCSs; both COGs committed to prioritizing working lands conservation through better coordination of land use planning and transportation efforts. Millions of acres of some of the finest farmland in the world can be found in the San Joaquin Valley, complimented by ideal growing conditions for food crops. Development pressure has driven the conversion of over thousands of acres of into housing and industrial spaces. Through 2040, StanCOG’s RTP/SCS calls for the reduction of prime farmland conversion by 4100 acres; SJCOG calls for a reduction of over 10,000 acres of the same. This is a good start, but more can be saved through careful, deliberate infill development and economic development within existing communities.
New Funding Opportunities
An influx of new state funding from SB 1 and the Volkswagen settlement will potentially enable new projects including complete streets initiatives, new bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and transit improvements. These new funding opportunities can augment existing state money, regional ballot measures L (Stanislaus) and K (San Joaquin) funding and bridge gaps between project proposals to project implementation.
Get Involved:The 2018 RTP/SCSs in Northern San Joaquin Valley
The 2018 RTP/SCSs in the Northern San Joaquin Valley are now moving at full speed; both StanCOG and SJCOG are wrapping up their first rounds of public outreach and are in the process of refining scenarios and presenting their findings to their respective Boards of Directors. As we move into winter, we’ll be working with advocates and staff to make the upcoming SCSs the best they can be: investing in economic opportunity for all, improving public health, promoting infill development, enabling better transportation choices, improving air quality, and protecting working and natural lands.
To get involved, please contact me at [email protected]. Great coalitions are already in place in both Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties and there is room at the table for advocates and community members.