News Column

Calif. Climate Laws Impact Growth in Central Valley

Feb. 25, 2013

Zachary K. Johnson

Green footprint
Green footprint

The impact of California's climate change laws can be seen in a long-term transportation plan developing in San Joaquin County, which will exhibit a stronger-than-ever link to planned housing and other land use expectations.

The Regional Transportation Plan includes policies, programs and specific projects needed in the county. It's updated every three years, but the latest iteration for the first time will include a "sustainable communities strategy."

This comes from state climate change law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

For San Joaquin County, the California Air Resources Board target is a 5 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020 and a 10 percent reduction by 2035, according to the San Joaquin Council of Governments.

The 2014 Regional Transportation Plan being developed would set forth a forecast development pattern that will be able to meet those reduction targets, said Aaron Hoyt, an associate regional planner with COG, the county transportation planning authority.

"It also identifies the transportation network that will be needed to serve the needs of the future by all modes (of transportation)," he said.

The agency is seeking input before it sets the scope of an environmental report for the new plan, which will lay out the county's transportation needs until 2040. It is scheduled for final adoption in October.

The changes stem from AB32, climate change legislation passed in 2006, and SB375, which requires the sustainable-communities strategy.

About a third of the climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions in the county come from vehicle emissions, so it makes a difference where people live and how they get to where they need to go.

And one of the ways to meet state-mandated targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce vehicle miles traveled.

High-density housing linked to jobs and shopping areas by public transportation or walking and biking trails tends to lead to fewer vehicle miles traveled than spread-out housing connected only by roadways.

The impact of the state legislation is evident in other plans developed by local governments.

"It goes hand in hand with what we're doing with the Climate Action Plan," said Dale Stockton, a Sierra Club member who is also a part of the county Sustainable Communities Strategy committee, formed last year. But it's not a quick change, he said.

"My analogy is turning a battleship," he said. "You turn the rudder, but it's 30 miles later when the ship turns."

The Regional Transportation Plan includes specific transportation projects, and those projects would be shut out of certain funding if they were not included in the plan.

And housing developments that are found in compliance with the new plan can benefit from a streamlined environmental review process.

John Beckman, CEO of the Building Industry Association of the Delta, said he anticipates all of his membership would comply with the sustainable-communities strategy.

But it's important to ensure there is flexibility for developments as the plan develops, he said.

"With the direction it's going, it will still allow the flexibility to remain," he said. "Ideally, by complying with the Sustainable Communities Strategy, we will reduce our greenhouse gas levels."

Source: (c)2013 The Record (Stockton, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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