Learning how California and the Bay Area plan to deal with — and reduce —the impending onslaught of climate change drew more than 100 representatives of Bay Area cities, counties, transportation agencies, business and environmental organizations to a half-day conference at the Joseph P. Bort MetroCenter in Oakland on February 24, 2009. AB 32 , California’s Climate Warming Solutions Act ,and SB 375, the state’s aggressive new greenhouse gas-reduction law, were - the focus of the conference, sponsored by MTC and the Northern California Chapter of the Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT).
Three speakers presented some hard facts regarding projected global warming impacts on the Bay Area and the basic requirements of AB 32 and SB 375. In order o help defray the impacts, SB 375 aims to make sweeping changes in land use, transportation and environmental planning. Several case studies illustrated how creative community planning can change behavioral and life-style patterns to reduce sprawl and curb greenhouse gas emissions. The basic message of the conference — and the mandate of SB 375 — is that California must make significant reductions in its greenhouse gas emissions through dramatic changes in land use and transportation policies.
Ted Droettboom, Regional Planning Program Director of the Joint Policy Committee (JPC), offered some reality checks, noting that the Bay Area’s carbon footprint is three times that of the world average; 41 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, compared to 14 percent worldwide; and that by 2020, the Bay Area’s vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is projected to increase 50 percent over 1990 levels. The JPC is a consortium of four regional agencies: MTC, the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
While reducing emissions through technology (i.e. better gas mileage and hybrid vehicles) is important, location of jobs and housing matters more. “Location trumps technology,” Droettboom said. “The 2035 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP, also known as the Transportation 2035 Plan) to invest $226 billion in transportation infrastructure over the next 20 years hardly does anything to reduce CO2 emissions. We have to do a lot more,” he said.
Droettboom highlighted several essential elements of SB 375 and draft policies to guide the Bay Area’s implementation of it. These policies will be considered by the JPC at its March 20th meeting.
- Regional CO2 targets for cars and light trucks will be adopted by the state by 2010. The draft policies call for targets that challenge "business as usual" and promise to require serious reductions in carbon emissions.
- A”Sustainable Communities Strategy” (SCS) must be an integral part of the next RTP that will be adopted in 2013. The SCS requires land-use plans by each region in the state to accommodate all of the region’s housing demand within its boundaries. Land-use plans must be integrated with the transportation network and with transportation measures and policies. For the Bay Area, this means ABAG and MTC must work even more closely together. “The SCS must be realistic and attainable over 20 years,” Droettboom said, “and local governments must buy in to the SCS voluntarily, through incentives. In the law, there is nothing binding on the local governments; it must be voluntary.”
- If a region’s SCS falls short of the state’s targets for reduced emissions, it must develop an alternate planning strategy. “We propose that the Bay Area make every effort to achieve our CO2 targets through the SCS,” Droettboom said, “but unless local governments and congestion management agencies agree to the plan, we cannot argue that it’s attainable. It must be an open process of inclusion, not just outreach.”
- The regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) and the next RTP must be completed simultaneously and must be in synch with the SCS. This means that ABAG's assessment of the region’s housing needs and MTC's transportation planning must be coordinated. After the RTP is adopted, local governments will have 18 months to adopt their housing elements and three years to adopt zoning measures to implement their housing elements. The location of new housing in the Bay Area will bring people closer to public transportation and to where they work, shop, go to school and recreate, with the goal of reducing dependence on automobiles — and carbon emissions.
Doug Kimsey, MTC planning director, outlined major components of the 2035 RTP, titled “Change in Motion,” which is scheduled to be adopted by the Commission toward the end of March 2009. Kimsey noted that by 2035, the Bay Area expects to have 2 million more people and 2 million more jobs. The 2035 plan, he said, calls for 80 percent of the region’s total $226 billion in transportation investments to be spent on maintaining the current network of roadways and transit systems, with only 20 percent allocated for new investments. Kimsey reiterated Droettboom’s comments that new vehicle technology, infrastructure improvements and road pricing (through tolls), in and of themselves, will not enable the Bay Area to meet its CO2 targets. “Shifts in individual behavior will ultimately drive change,” he said.
William Fulton, President/CEO of Solimar Research Group, offered a planner’s perspective on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through better land use. “Mono-density doesn’t solve the problem,” he said. “We need more of everything in close proximity. The obvious solution to sprawl is transit-oriented development, with a concentration of diverse activities. The mix of businesses and services (in a proposed development) is just as important as the land use, and means greater focus on neighborhood services.”
As example, Fulton cited Torrance, Calif., as a successful, mixed-use, dense community that was designed 98 years ago by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. Another example is Old Town Pasadena, where, he said, the middle of a former shopping mall was imploded and converted into four-story housing, resulting in a lively, mixed-use community. Fulton asserted that parking structures should be used as transit stations. “It’s the park-once strategy,” he said. “It keeps people out of their cars as long as possible and turns drivers into pedestrians.”
Unlike the suburbs of Manhattan, which suffer from the magnetic draw of the big city, Fulton said, “California is a state of small downtowns. We can leverage change in these old commercial areas, such as Fulton and Pasadena. We must find them and nurture them.”