What’s on the horizon for sustainable communities?

From cap-and-trade to CEQA reform to regional plan development, 2013 is shaping up to be a big year! With so much happening around the state in the effort to build more sustainable communities, we thought we’d put together a quick list of things to keep an eye on in the coming months.

Debating the Future of CEQA

One of the most talked-about issues throughout the state is the movement to make changes to California’s landmark environmental law, CEQA. Until last week, the effort was being led by Senator Michael Rubio, head of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, but his truth-is-scarier-than-fiction resignation to go work for Chevron certainly slowed the momentum of that effort. Many environmental groups, health advocates, and unions are standing firm, defending CEQA and pointing to the law’s many successes over the years. Nonetheless, last week Senator Steinberg introduced a placeholder bill on CEQA reform, so we know that the issue isn’t going away this session.  How could potential changes impact the development of sustainable communities?  We’ll find out as the debate heats up this spring and summer.  Keep an eye out for updates on our CEQA Reform webpage.

Lowering the Voter Threshold for Local Sales Taxes
In the elections last November, two local transportation sales tax measures, in Los Angeles and Alameda Counties, failed to pass despite the fact that they both received more than 65% of the votes. The current threshold for such measures to pass is 66.6%,  but a number of advocates and legislators think it’s time to change that to a simple majority or 55%. Eight bills have already been introduced in the state legislature, and we’re hearing talk of interest from other lawmakers. Legislation focused specifically on lowering the threshold for transportation and TOD projects include  SCA-4, SCA-8, and SCA-9, but some observers are betting on a broader approach that includes other local government services such as education and public safety, such as Hancock’s SCA-11.

Show me the Money: Cap-and-trade Revenue  
As revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program begins to flow into state coffers, debate continues about exactly how the money should be spent. There are, of course, a number of worthy projects, but we were heartened to read the Governor’s budget proposal in January, where he acknowledged that transportation is the single largest contributor of GHGs in California and said that reducing transportation emissions will be a top priority.  In addition, last year’s SB 535 requires that 10 % of the revenue directly benefit disadvantaged communities.

The state Department of Finance will be developing a framework for spending the money, and the first round of public workshops just wrapped up last week! The Governor’s office expects the auctions in this fiscal year to generate $200 million,  and in subsequent years it’s expected to rise significantly, so stakes are high and many advocates are weighing in. Check out this platform being circulated by Housing CA, TransForm and others as well as this set of principles from Public Advocates. In addition, the Transportation Coalition for Livable Communities, a coalition that includes local and regional governments and transportation agencies from across the state, has developed a proposal for the state to invest  “a major portion of revenues related to fuels in integrated transportation and land use strategies consistent with the SB 375, the California Regional Blueprint plans and other regional planning processes.” Download their proposal here.

Air Resources Board: Scoping Plan 2.0 & SCS Reviews
Also at the state level, the California Air Resources Board will be busy in the months ahead with a number of issues related to SB 375.  First up, the agency will be revisiting the AB 32 Scoping Plan, which includes a whole suite of strategies to reduce greenhouse gases throughout the state. In the Scoping Plan adopted in 2008, the land use and regional transportation goals were to be achieved through SB 375 implementation, and we’ll be paying close attention to see how the ARB handles it this time around.

The ARB will also be rebooting the AB 32 Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (EJAC). This committee was established to inform development of the last Scoping Plan, but in the end many committee members felt their input was not included in the state’s plan. ClimatePlan’s equity workgroup, led by Public Advocates, is coordinating efforts to ensure the new EJAC is able to leverage better outcomes for the state’s most vulnerable communities and individuals.

And finally, the ARB will be reviewing the Sustainable Communities Strategies from the eight Valley counties as well as the Bay Area to determine whether the plans will achieve their targets.

State Guidelines for City and County General Plans
General Plan Guidelines serve as a ‘how-to’ resource for cities and counties to develop general plans consistent with state law. This year, a key priority for California’s Office of Planning and Research is a comprehensive update of the General Plan guidelines, which were last updated in 2003.  With this year’s update, OPR intends to broaden the scope of the guidelines beyond the concept of a ‘how-to’ resource to address how plans can take a more holistic approach to GHG emissions, infill development, public health, and regional planning under SB 375. One of our partner organizations, the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN), will be hosting a series of convenings in April to gather input on the new guidelines, and OPR representatives will be in attendance.  We’ll post details about the convenings on our website when available.

A Brighter Future for the San Joaquin Valley?
Sustainable Communities Strategies are on the horizon in the eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley, and two dozen diverse groups have come together to envision how the SCSes can best support strong, healthy communities.  In late spring, Valley COGs will vote on preferred scenarios, and by the fall the SCSes will be adopted.

How will Valley COGs plan to spend approximately $40B in transportation  funds? Will  they respond to the shifting housing market demand and prepare for a 2050 when 42%  of available homes will need to be townhomes, condos, and rental flats, while preserving and building more affordable  homes?  Will it accommodate its rapidly growing population while preserving its natural resources and $136B agricultural economy?  Will these plans re-invest in existing communities, both urban and rural, particularly low-income communities and communities of color?  Will every county do its share to ambitiously reduce air pollution and provide its residents with healthier options?  Keep an eye on our webpage dedicated to the Valley for updates as the process speeds along!

Bay Area to Adopt its First SCS
In addition to the SCSes being drafted in the Valley, the Bay Area will adopt its first SCS in June 2013.  The Draft Plan is scheduled to be released for public comment in late March. The One Bay Area Grant program  continues to take shape as an important tool for SCS implementation in the region — while there were a number of exciting elements incorporated into the grant program, advocates have their work cut out to be sure that every Bay Area county awards these funds to worthy projects.

How are Adopted SCSes Being Implemented?
Now that many regions in the state have adopted their first SCS, it’s time to see how the rubber meets the road.  Here at ClimatePlan, we’ll be taking a closer look at how SCSes are moving forward in regions where they’ve been adopted. Are they moving ahead with policy commitments promised in the SCS?  Do short-term funding allocations align with the priorities they’ve identified? Keep an eye out for more info on our efforts to track SCS implementation in the coming months.

We know there’s even more exciting work happening besides what’s included here — let us know in the comments section below what your upcoming sustainable communities priorities are.

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