SACOG Adopts Visionary Plan, but Sprawl Projects Loom on the (Literal) Horizon

Today, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) continues their legacy of leadership in regional planning, with the adoption of the 2012 Metropolitan Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy.  The plan is an impressive achievement, one that could guide the Sacramento area to a more sustainable economic and environmental future, but its successful implementation could be jeopardized by sprawling projects on the exurban fringe.

Local grassroots advocates including the Coalition on Regional Equity (CORE), Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) and WalkSacramento have worked hard to ensure this plan expands opportunities for transit, walking and biking, directs growth into the urban core, and establishes a strong process for planning new development in Transit Priority Areas.  SACOG’s staff and leadership should also be recognized for their hard work and outreach efforts.  They held public workshops across the region and were forthcoming and helpful with the concerns and recommendations from stakeholders.  Despite having 12% less funding than the previous transportation plan, SACOG nonetheless has managed to include a suite of projects that will improve transportation options and housing choices throughout the region.  Here’s just a few of the plan’s specific strengths:

– The amount of bike lanes increases by 77%.
– Transit service nearly doubles.
– Traffic congestion declines for the first time in any of Sacramento’s MTPs, by 7%, a dramatic turnaround from the worsening congestion planned for in 2002 (58%) and 2008 (22%).
– The portion of jobs and housing near high-quality transit increases substantially, by around 150% and 200% respectively.
– The jobs-housing balance will improve in 14 out of 15 job centers.

The payoff for Sacramento of implementing this plan will be tremendous — it will create healthier communities and improved air quality, a stronger economy, more open space, and less traffic congestion.  But we’ll only see those benefits come to fruition if the plan is actually implemented and projects are approved that are consistent with it.  That’s a big if.  We’re confident that the planned growth in Transit Priority Areas will be successful, in part because of the plan’s innovative process for planning in Transit Priority Areas.  This process both ensures strong community input AND allows developers to take advantage of SB 375’s CEQA streamlining benefits for projects that are close to transit.  This is a model policy – other MPOs should give it a closer look.

However, we’re much less confident that this plan means an end to sprawling growth on the exurban fringe.  SACOG’s plan doesn’t include several of the worst sprawl projects, such as the Cordova Hills plan to build up to 8,000 housing units in the foothills of southeastern Sacramento County, or Elk Grove’s oops-I-didn’t-notice-the-sprawl-era-is-over request for expansion of its sphere of influence. By excluding these bad ideas from the SCS, SACOG has sent a strong message about the region’s priorities.  That message is backed up with CEQA incentives and transportation funding directed to the urban core. But it’s up to local governments to make the final decisions about whether to approve projects that help – or hurt – achievement of the region’s priorities.

That’s why we’re so glad that groups like ECOS and CORE and WalkSacramento are fighting the good fight each and every day in the SACOG region.  Keep up the good work, Sacramento!

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