This summer, the San Joaquin Council of Governments (SJCOG) adopted a new plan for growth for the next 20 years — including how the region will invest $11.6 billion on transportation.
The San Joaquin Valley is suffering now from some of the worst air quality in the state, as this summer's terrible wildfires fill the Valley with smoke. Climate change is creating warmer temperatures, which leads to more dry fuel and intense heat waves: this creates the conditions for wildfire season to start earlier, last longer, and affect larger areas. Transportation investments that lead to more cars on the road could exacerbate poor air quality in a region already suffering.
By state law (SB 375), regional plans must lay out how new development and transportation investments will together reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
How much do the plans reduce greenhouse gases? The California Air Resources Board sets targets for each region. And as the impacts from climate change increase, the greenhouse gas reduction targets should become more ambitious with each new regional plan.
So how is the SJCOG plan looking?
The 2018 plan
In 2014, the SJCOG board adopted one of the most ambitious RTP/SCS plans in the San Joaquin Valley.
The 2018 plan, unfortunately, is not as ambitious. The draft 2018 plan showed strong greenhouse gas reductions, aiming for a reduction of 17% by 2035, but the final plan ended up with a target reduction of just 15.7%. That difference seems small, but it has real consequences — especially for the region's air quality and the people who live here.
Despite the fact that transportation is the biggest contributor to climate change, the plan only minimally reduces driving, or vehicle miles traveled. As we said in the LA Times recently: "Emissions from cars and trucks are on the rise. That’s because we are driving more. Zero-emission vehicles aren’t the only solution. We have to reduce the need to drive, and we can."
We are committed to working with SJCOG and other regions to create communities where people don’t have to drive, where people can find homes that they can afford near well-paying jobs, connected by sustainable transportation options, and surrounded by protected farmland and natural landscapes
There were also elements in the plan that we were very glad to see. The plan process included greater community participation and outreach to underserved communities, and the plan did allocate more funding than before to public transit. SJCOG implemented some of the best practices from ClimatePlan’s Leading the Way report, including community outreach and bolstering public health tracking, which is exciting to see.
While we weren’t pleased with the final greenhouse gas emission reductions in the plan, we are glad that the plan is better than "business as usual." And we are already working closely with partners and SJCOG to create the conditions for a better plan in four years.
Achieving all we can by implementing the plan
In the meantime, our work turns to implementation: making sure the plan actually does achieve its reductions in driving and greenhouse gas emissions. This is by no means a certainty; this too requires watchdogging and advocacy.
We are now working with SJCOG to develop a clear path forward to implement the plan.
The Bay Area offers an excellent model: The Plan Bay Area 2040 Action Plan. It lists actions to take, who will take them, and (roughly) when. It is divided into three areas:
SJCOG may decide on different areas, and even different actions. But it too can become a model. An action plan could be a great step in the right direction, toward a more equitable, sustainable, healthy San Joaquin Valley.