New report: “Leading the Way” on strategies for a more sustainable California

Leading-the-Way-Front-Cover-Web.jpgOn Monday, ClimatePlan released a new report—Leading the Way: Policies and Practices for Sustainable Communitiesat an all-day event in Sacramento, bringing together elected officials, advocates, planners, and other leaders from across California to share successful tools for creating sustainable communities.

Leading the Way presents the best strategies yet—what we’re calling “leading practices”—that regions around the state have used for public engagement, funding, planning land-use scenarios, and more. It offers inspiration and solutions that advocates and planners can use in their own communities. You can download the executive summary here or the full report here.

At the event, the high-energy discussion throughout the day showed us how much people want to come together and share ideas about this work—it was inspiring and galvanizing. You can see the event summary on Storify.

Star-studded lineup

We were fortunate to have these excellent speakers (see full agenda here):

– Former California Senate pro Tem and Mayor-Elect Darrell Steinberg introduced and congratulated an award-winning leader for not just implementing but actually inspiring the groundbreaking law that kicked off this work: the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, SB 375. Keep reading to see who won the award…

– Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) emphasized the importance of prioritizing benefits to disadvantaged communities in all policies.


Keynote speaker Mary Nichols of ARB flanked by ClimatePlan’s Chanell Fletcher and Carey Knecht

– Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board, gave a brief survey of California’s climate progress—and the work yet to come.

– Executives from five Metropolitan Planning Organizations:
Mike McKeever (Sacramento), Steve Heminger (Bay Area), Andrew Chesley (San Joaquin), Tony Boren (Fresno), and Darin Chidsey (Southern California) shared the leading practices they see in regional planning, the challenges they face, and how the state can support their work.

– Representatives from six state agencies: Chris Ganson (Office of Planning and Research), Kurt Karperos (Air Resources Board), Kate White (California State Transportation Agency), Solange Gould (California Department of Public Health), Lisa Bates (Department of Housing and Community Development), and Monica Palmeira (Strategic Growth Council) discussed how the state can align its work to support regional progress.

– An array of practitioners in morning and afternoon panels shared smart strategies in many areas: planning for growth, allocating transportation dollars well, investing in disadvantaged communities, fighting displacement and preserving affordable housing, and planning for climate adaptation, especially in the face of ongoing drought. All these leading practices can conserve landscapes, improve public health, and help the state meet its tightening climate goals.

Award-winning leadership

We want to give a special congratulations to the winner of our Leading the Way award:

Mike McKeever, retiring CEO of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG)

Mike McKeever has not only led, but actually inspired so much of this work—his region’s smart and comprehensive planning was the genesis for the state law that requires all regions to create Sustainable Communities Strategies.

Thank you, Mike, and congratulations! The work you’ve done is helping to shape a better future for all Californians.


At left: Chanell Fletcher of ClimatePlan and Former Senate pro Tem and Mayor-Elect Darrell Steinberg At right: Leading the Way Award winner Mike McKeever of SACOG, Amanda Eaken of NRDC, and Carey Knecht of ClimatePlan

Tackling big topics

When you set out to plan for an entire region’s future, there are a lot of things to cover. Our panels address a broad array of topics, but I heard several cross-cutting themes:

People are paying attention. The past five years have seen a valuable influx of participation: As Tony Boren, Executive Director of Fresno Council of Governments said, “In the early 90s, we couldn’t get anybody at our Regional Transportation Plan meetings. Now, we have the Building Industry Association, public health experts, American Farmland Trust, environmental groups, and more. It brought together the conversation on many issues […] Quality regional planning involves breaking down silos. To do it right, everybody needs to be around the table.”

These plans can solve many problems at once. Regional transportation plans can integrate solutions to multiple issues: As Kurt Karperos, Deputy Executive Officer of the California Air Resources Board said, “[these plans] may not be a tool for solving everything, but they are the plans where affordable housing, water, and many issues cross paths.” These plans offer a lens on an array of topics, from improving opportunity for low-income residents to adapting to a changing climate and conserving landscapes.

Addressing inequity must come first. Equity must be “more than an appendix.” Representatives from disadvantaged communities must be included from the start. Regions cannot ignore long-standing areas of under-investment and the widening equity gap. New tools have been developed, like the Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing fund, that agencies can bring home and use.

Good targets have great power. A well-chosen target is valuable: Mike McKeever spoke to the way that SB 375’s climate target gave “a discipline and a focus” to work in the Sacramento region. The region was right on the threshold of meeting its target, and this forced the agency to evaluate transportation spending more closely. Because more equitable plans are more climate-friendly, the target also pushes the agency toward a more equitable regional plan. In another panel, Ken Kirkey described how performance targets require the Bay Area to balance multiple important objectives, including environmental, equity, and health goals.

It’s time to cut off projects that pollute. We must stop funding the worst transportation projects. Several speakers attested to the value of evaluating transportation projects, and confronting those projects that do not meet regional goals, especially in a time of limited budgets.

The state needs to support this work. State and regional alignment is crucial. Without aligning state policies behind regional efforts, some of the most important health, equity, and environmental goals will be difficult to achieve. Great work has begun, but more is yet to come.

We were all left with a great deal to think about, and to work on.

Thank you to all our contributors

ClimatePlan particularly wants to thank our generous event sponsors:

Fehr & Peers, American Lung Association in California,
The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council,
American Farmland Trust, California Bicycle Coalition,
Housing California, PolicyLink,
and TransForm.

We want to congratulate the lead author on the report, Adam Livingston, and the lead researcher, Matt Baker, for their excellent and thorough work.

Thank you to the many experts, advocates, and agency staff members from around the state who contributed to the report.

Last but certainly not least, we extend our deep appreciation to the funders that made this project and all of our work possible: The California Endowment, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, Surdna Foundation, and an anonymous donor. We are very grateful for your generosity.

Stay tuned for more

The conversation this week skimmed the surface of the practices that can be shared and the policy changes that are needed. ClimatePlan would like to support ongoing dialogue.

If you would like to help define the next phase of the conversation, drop me a line! I’m at carey at climateplan dot org. Thanks for being part of a better future for California.

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