LOS ANGELES - Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, began this afternoon's general assembly session by saying that the organization's 2012 - 2035 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy "isn't perfect, but it's good." In some circles, that sort of candid modesty would probably get Ikhrata fired, or at least booed off the stage. Instead, he got applause from general assembly members, and none of roughly 20 speakers who offer public comments offered lodged any major objections. 

In a room full of public policy wonks and elected officials representing six counties and nearly 200 cities, "good" is good enough. 

"It is going to change the way we do business an the way we think about the urban form," said Ikhrata. "It's going to provide choices for people to move around."

Shortly after Ikharta's introduction, the general assembly adopted the RTP/SCS on a unanimous vote of its 83 members. The age of climate-friendly, smart-growth regionalism has official begun in Southern California. 

"Today's approval of the 2012 – 2035 RTP/SCS was a historic decision made by Southern California elected officials on SCAG's Regional Council.  This action establishes a roadmap to welcome four million new residents and 1.7 million new jobs into our region by 2035," commented Pam O'Connor, SCAG President. 

SCAG's is the second RTP/SCS to be adopted under California's 2008 landmark climate change and smart growth law, Senate Bill 375. The San Diego Association of Governments adopted its plan in November, but that plan is facing legal challenges under the California Environmental Quality Act. So far, no one has raised legal objections. The Sacramento Area Council of Governments is soon expected to adopt its SCS and Metropolitan Transportation Plan update. 

As CP&DR reported in December, the RTP/SCS is based on a decidedly "bottom-up" approach. The plan does not ask jurisdictions to swallow growth or transportation strategies that they are not already willing to take. And, notably, the plan allows for some subregions to create their own alternative SCS's so that they can meet the greenhouse gas targets of SB 375 as they see fit. 

Implementation of the RPT/SCS is now a looming challenge. It is expected to cost $524 billion over 25 years. The plan dedicates 54 percent of funding to transit and non-highway options, more than triples the funding for bike and pedestrian projects, and reduces traffic congestion overall and per-capita delay by 24%--despite the addition of 4 million residents in the 6-county region by 2035. It would locate 87 percent of all jobs and 82 percent of all housing within a half mile of rail stations and bus stops. Apartments and condominiums would account for 68 percent of all development, up from 39 percent in the previous plan.

Some environmental highlights of the plan include the following (noted by NRDC's Amanda Eaken on her blog): 

  • Increases funding for biking and walking by over 350% from $1.8 to $6.7 billion;
  • Spends $246 billion—nearly half the plan's total revenue-- on public transportation;
  • Reduces congestion 24% per capita despite adding 4 million residents;
  • Brings 12 key transit expansion projects to Los Angeles in the next 10 years under Mayor Villaraigosa's 30-10 plan;
  • Creates 60% more housing near transit than is currently available;
  • Creates 4.2 million jobs in the region, 87% of all jobs will be ½ mile from transit;
  • Achieves a 24 % reduction in pollution-caused respiratory problems, resulting in $1.5 billion per year in health care savings' and;
  • Saves over 400 square miles of open space--more than a third the size of Yosemite--from development by shifting to a more walkable land use pattern for the region.

Supporters contend that this investment could yield savings of $3,000 per resident because of savings in fuel, electricity, and water. These savings are based on the premise that more compact development patterns will eliminate expenditures on laws, cars, and heating and cooling.  

"We can expect a reduction in per capita emissions, supporting the construction of new homes and businesses but with a plan to connect the dwellings with multiple transportation options, preserving the natural beauty of the California landscape for today's recreation and our future generations enjoyment, and ensuring that businesses remain in the Golden State and prosper," said Ikhrata in a statement.