“California MPOs Reveal Results of SB375 Soul-Searching” by Jerry Walters, Fehr & Peers

Policy in Motion Note:

Lauren Michele is also an editor for Fehr and Peers’ climate change blog, CoolConnections.org, and recently contributed to an article written by Jerry Walters on the SB 375 greenhouse gas target setting process which is currently underway at the California Air Resources Board.  Jerry Walters is the Fehr & Peers Chief Technical Officer and leader of the firm’s Cool Connections initiative on transportation strategies for sustainable climate, energy and health — he has also served as a member of the SB 375 Regional Targets Advisory Committee (RTAC).  The following posting is from CoolConnections and can be found by clicking here.  Observations by RTAC member Jerry Walters, along with his opinions on unresolved issues appear here.


In May, California’s Metropolitan Planning Organizations revealed their self-assessments of their ability to curb climate change.  MPOs representing over 90% of the state’s population went on record with estimates of their “ambitious and achievable” 25-year reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The announcements followed more than seven months of public outreach and stakeholder discussions, scenario testing and modeling representing the “bottom up process” within the regions to assess their GHG reduction potential.  The process was prescribed by the State’s SB375 Regional Targets Advisory Committee (RTAC) in its September 2009 report California Air Resources Board. The resulting MPO reports will inform the Board’s deliberations on regional GHG targets required under the California’s landmark SB375 climate legislation.

MPOs representing the state’s four major regions Los Angeles (SCAG), San Francisco (MTC), San Diego (SANDAG) and Sacramento (SACOG) submitted a unified report, though the proposed land use and transportation strategies varied from region to region (as shown in the following table), as did each regions’ estimated performance levels.  The MPOs and Regional Transportation Planning Agencies representing Fresno, Kern, Kings, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito, Butte, and Shasta counties also presented target-setting proposals.

Based on information provided for the May 25 RTAC meeting, the MPO land use and transportation scenarios identified as “ambitious but achievable” would reduce GHG per capita in 2020 to between 5% and 11% below 2005 levels.  Each MPO estimated that its region could double those reductions by 2020 through much more aggressive land use, demand management and transportation investment strategies that they deemed very ambitious, but not necessarily achievable.

Ambitious Enough?

The reported scenarios and performance levels provoked a full day’s public comment and discussion by the RTAC.  Observations by RTAC member Jerry Walters, along with his opinions on unresolved issues appear here. Questions include whether the MPO scenarios and GHG reductions are ambitious enough, including:

  • whether assumptions on land use respond to anticipated growth in market demand for compact growth
  • whether roadway pricing assumptions were ambitious enough, given the above-mentioned modest escalation in fuel prices projected over the next 25 years
  • the reasons for worsening jobs/housing balances in several regions
  • differences in the estimated effectiveness of travel demand management (TDM)
  • the lack of information on vehicle miles traveled in the MPO reports
  • the fact that the achievable 2020 reduction percentages for the three largest MPOs were actually higher than projected reductions in 2035

Questions Remain

In addition to the specific questions on the MPO scenario analysis above, several substantial issues remain for ARB to address in its deliberations in the coming months:

  • whether ARB should set a uniform statewide target, as suggested in the September 2009 RTAC findings, or allow that regional variations, matching the individual target proposals submitted last week
  • whether to set target ranges, rather than specific targets, that might allow the MPOs to perform within the ranges between “ambitious” and “achievable” as defined by each MPO
  • the extent to which MPOs and others might perform technical reasonableness checks on the MPO modeling analysis , using information on typical effectiveness of land use and TDM strategies that the University of California has been preparing for ARB
  • how to translate the final SB375 GHG reduction targets  into update goals in the AB 32 Scoping Plan which predicted that the land use and associated changes in transportation emphasis could deliver a 4% reduction in GHG (or 5 million metric tons) relative to 2020 trend-line conditions

ARB workshops and Board hearings on the targets begin on June 24 and through July. For more information, visit:  http://arb.ca.gov/cc/sb375/meetings/meetings.htm

Leave a Comment