Valley counties take aim at their targets

A lot has changed over the past two years as the eight county governments in the San Joaquin Valley began work on their Sustainable Communities Strategies.

Just two years ago, when the SB 375 GHG targets were first being issued for major regions in the state, representatives from the San Joaquin Valley transportation agencies were skeptical that they could achieve a 5% reduction in 2020 and a 10% reduction in 2035.

Now, the same Regional Policy Council that asked for the targets to be cut in half during Target Setting 2010, is recommending that the Air Resources Board (ARB) maintain the 5% and 10% targets.

That’s great news, and the Valley Councils of Government (COGs) should be proud of the strides they’ve made.  They have upgraded their travel models’ ability to measure reductions, and many COGs have begun hosting public committees and developed new scenarios. However, there is still a lot of work to be done, and when the ARB takes up the issue of the Valley’s targets at its meeting on January 24th, there are a few important areas where they can weigh in.

One critical question remains: what does it mean for the Valley to meet its targets? SB 375 allows all eight counties to work together as a single region to reach the targets. But under this system, would certain counties do much less than others? What would that mean for that county’s residents, who would continue to face long commutes, traffic jams, and poor air quality? And do all eight counties want to sink or swim together?

In fact, right now, a San Joaquin Valley Regional Policy Council memo reveals (on p. 14 here) that while the Valley as a whole is planning to achieve nearly 11% (2020) and 14% (2035) reductions, some counties are intending to do less than others. Two counties intend to far overshoot the targets, a good handful of counties will approximately meet the targets, and at least one county projects that they will fall short.

ARB should help ensure that SB 375 provides benefits for residents across the San Joaquin Valley – and that no counties or communities get left behind. Residents everywhere need and deserve benefits like more transportation options, better access to economic opportunity, cleaner air and water, and the ability to live in a place that supports a healthy lifestyle.

ARB can play a key role here. First, the air board should encourage Valley COGs to determine how regionwide collaboration and targets achievement would be measured. This decision should be made quickly, and with public input. The approach selected should reward counties that achieve the targets on their own and encourage every county to take ambitious action.

ARB should also maintain public transparency by requiring each COG to independently report its reductions in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and greenhouse gases (GHG). It should apply greater scrutiny when reviewing submissions that do not reach 5% and 10% and submissions that achieve early reductions but then “backslide” significantly.

Finally, ARB should work with the Valley Councils of Government (COGs) to increase understanding of how SB 375 can be implemented equitably and not disproportionately impact low-income communities of color. ARB should support Valley COGs in using state-of-the-art methods to identify environmental justice communities, examine the health and equity benefits of scenarios, and communicate this information back to their local elected officials.

The communities in the Valley have come a long way in identifying ways in which we can build more sustainable, equitable cities and towns, and in the past couple of years, the number of groups and individuals who are engaged in sustainable communities planning has grown dramatically. In fact, a collaborative of public interest organizations have recently put forth a shared platform for how the Valley can seize this opportunity. They are inviting other organizations to join them in working toward this vision – and in just a week, 21 groups have signed on! The fact that so many diverse groups have come together to advocate for a shared vision is a testament to the wide range of potential benefits. We hope the ARB will continue to play a leading role in steering all of the Valley counties in the direction of a more sustainable future.

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