Posted by: kbvale | February 17, 2009

SB 375: The Solution for Regional Planning?

SB 375 is the recently approved, state-wide legislation aimed at fighting climate change in California through smart development. Besides creating a state-mandated program that brings together formally disjointed planning activities, SB 375 will set benchmark goals of carbon emission reduction within the different regions of California. Also, by creating Sustainable Community Strategies, each region will be led to incorporate housing needs, transportation alternatives, and regional targets for emission reductions into their already existing planning structures. Uniting invested stakeholders in the planning discussion, as well as creating timetables for the implementation of new ideas, SB 375 hopes to considerably reduce climate change and promote sustainable development throughout California.

But, there is one question left by political commentators: is SB 375 enough? Nowhere in the legislation’s text is there any note of enforcement or penalties for a region’s failure to comply with their Sustainably Community Strategy. The State Senate’s analysis concluded that the lack of requirements to follow the advised strategies sought for in the new planning process was a big factor its implementation, citing that a reliance on regional pressure would probably do little to contradict the natural zoning tendencies of city governments. While certain perks of applying the bill to planning processes (such as extensions on deadlines to submit housing elements from every five to every eight years, and generous exemptions to environmental restrictions), even supporters of the bill say they wonder how accepting local governments will be to this new shift of power to the regional level. Also, many have noted how the lack of additional funding for projects resulting from SB 375 planning, such as for building infrastructure for infill developments, could act as a further disincentive for implementation. With funding still as limited as ever, there is no guarantee that new development proposals focused on SB 375’s goals will win approval over those that are more affordable, yet less sustainable in nature.

The bill’s author, Senator Darrell Steinburg, admitted in an interview that the intent of this bill was to encourage regions to consider climate change in their planning, adding that the lack of punishments for a region’s failure to meet such goals was intentional. Though this optimistic interpretation of the inherent nature of city planning and development is always nice to hear, it is without basis in our state’s history. Too often have developers and those with financial interests won out over smart, sustainable planning. The governor’s fact sheet on SB 375 even cited that the biggest source of carbon emissions is from automobiles and small trucks, directly resulting from the sprawling development that is winning out in most areas of California. This is probably why most newspapers across the nation have cited SB 375 as a revolutionary and encouraging beginning to our fight against climate change.

As for my opinions, I wonder how SB 375 will be united with the state’s Regional Blueprint efforts. It seems as if those planning processes would be a great opportunity to take SB 375 to a new level of understanding and implementation at the regional level. Also, I feel that the more pronounced presence of regional councils of governments (COGs) could be something to consider, for a more formalized planning role at their level could be most beneficial for regional planning on the whole.

Even with the optimistic progress being made to date, proponents and opponents seem to agree on one point: there is still more to be done.  Whether the initiative comes from government actions or by regional movements, though, it is clear that something has to happen before climate change overwhelms us.  SB 375 is a great start to addressing this problem, but it will take state-wide support to bring about success.  It can’t do it alone… it’s time we all jumped on board and started to demand more from city planners throughout our state.

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Responses

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