With the election of President Obama and the emergence of a Democratic majority in Congress, it appears that the federal government may soon pass sweeping legislation to address greenhouse gas emissions. Based on a preponderance of research linking greenhouse gas emissions to urban sprawl and reliance on automobiles, a national program may usher in the next great trend in urban planning. If so, California may find itself well ahead of its fellow states.
California's continuing budget woes, coupled with the nation's stubborn recession, could hinder the state's ability to meet its ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. This is one of the chief concerns of the Regional Targets Advisory Committee, which will recommend how the California Air Resources Board should allocate greenhouse gas emissions-reduction targets among the state's metropolitan planning organizations.
Now that the age of greenhouse gas emissions reduction is upon us, I think there's an important point worth making: Government agencies in California can try to comply with SB 375 – or they can focus on reducing driving. There is a lot of overlap between the two, but they are not exactly the same thing.
Southern California's regional planning agency unveiled a new "conceptual land use plan" on Friday, May 8 –but the plan does not meet the presumed greenhouse gas emissions target for the region under SB 375, and SCAG has not revealed yet how growth would be split up under the most transit-oriented interpretation of the plan.
SB 375 is now law, but another year and a half will pass before the California Air Resources Board adopts the follow-up numerical regional targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. This puts California's cities and counties in a pretty big bind: How can they adopt plans for the future that will conform with the climate change law if they don't know what standard they are going to have to comply with?
Five million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.
This is the target – at least for now – that is likely to drive "smart growth"-style land use planning in California over the next few years. It's the tentative reduction target that the California Air Resources Board has assigned to the land use sector in order to help meet the state's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals by 2020.
Two recently released studies warn that California is not moving quickly enough to prepare for climate change, while a third study found that the San Diego region is not adapting. Meanwhile, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed an executive order directing state agencies to study the situation and recommend actions quickly.
Today more than ever planners are recommending— and being urged to recommend —"sustainable" development practices. But what makes a development truly sustainable remains an open question, as there is uncertainty over what the sustainable community may look like as little as one generation in the future.
In interviews that CP&DR recently conducted with planners, academics, developers and advocates, a rough consensus of sustainable development began to emerge: The sustainable community will be compact, have numerous transportation options besides the car, and be far more energy-efficient than today's neighborhoods and cities.
Numerous cities and counties in the process of updating their general plans are addressing climate change with policies for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and, to a lesser extent, adapting to changing conditions. Some localities have adopted climate action plans that affect the general plan and other long-term planning documents, while others have written specific general plan policies and implementation measures.