THE NEXT BIG VISION :: California and Global Leaders in Sustainability Convene for 2014 VerdeXchange in Los Angeles

Yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti address the 2014 VerdeXchange – a green energy conference packed with leaders in sustainability from across the globe, not to mention a few of California’s own like CARB Chairman Mary Nichols, University of California President Janet Napolitano, Former Chief of Staff to Gov. Schwarzenegger Susan Kennedy, ITS-Davis Director Dan Sperling, Senior Advisor to Gov. Brown for Renewable Energy Michael Picker, and hundreds of others I had the pleasure of speaking alongside.

From auto manufactures discussing green technologies to the Urban Land Use panels on innovative community designs and “urban acupuncture,” the underlining theme of the conference seemed to convey a message of solidarity – that California’s past environmental successes have been due to great vision, that we have done seemingly insurmountable things to make that vision a reality, and that we must continue to ask ourselves: WHAT IS THE NEXT BIG VISION?

While the State has pioneered solutions to some of our greatest environmental challenges over the past few decades, largely through new technologies, I would say Mayor Garcetti really hit the nail on the head when he talked about the role of “cities as the innovation hub of the state” – because this time it is our communities that need to be pioneering the NEXT BIG VISION.

For those of you who were not able to join us in Los Angeles the past few days, I wanted to share Policy in Motion’s presentation on “Financing Sustainable Communities “ capturing how we can really empower communities like Los Angeles and other cities and counties across the state to be pioneers for our sustainability challenges.

Cap and Trade for “PODs” :: Tuesday, January 28th :: Lauren Michele, Policy in Motion

“We don’t struggle from ingredients, we struggle from how we combine them.” I wanted to open with this quote from Mayor Garcetti’s address to the VerdeXchange because it illustrates exactly what I want to talk about today: that our success lies in local innovation and integrated solutions.

It’s really a pleasure to be here at my first VerdeXchange among such leaders to talk about financing sustainable communities through new sources and approaches.  I’m here to share a concept that has been the result of my years of technical research on greenhouse gas reduction through transportation strategies, as well as my personal experiences living car-free in Sacramento for 8 years (before leasing an Electric Smart Car two weeks ago!).

The dialogue for promoting sustainable communities is often driven by a dialogue about transportation infrastructure, but if you look at all the great cities of the world and the great neighborhoods to live in you find one thing in common: they fundamentally are “people-oriented” and have evolved to include within its land use patterns the diversity of commercial, residential, retail, public space, and other services that create a quality life.

So really, sustainable communities are fundamentally People Oriented Development—not transit oriented development, not vehicle oriented development —but “POD.” We need to create PODs across California.

In looking for ways to reduce GHG emissions as required by law we see a fascinating phenomena—POD has inherently lower GHG footprint, lower infrastructure cost, AND provides a more livable community.

The great thing is when we design communities around people instead of infrastructure like roads or transit there is less dependence on it – so a reduction in vehicle miles traveled and GHG emissions becomes a co-benefit to really awesome communities.

But integration is the key.

State and federal governments have a tendency for single purpose funding programs – one pot for roads, another for active transportation, one for transit, etc. But we don’t get GHG reductions from just single purposes.

All the research points to the same central message: you get compounding reductions in GHG emissions when you combine transportation strategies with land use changes.  For example, you get a magnitude of around four times the reductions you would get with just transit when you combine transit with land use changes that increase density, and even more when the transit is linked to good pedestrian, bike, and automobile access.  So it’s not really about just funding transit – it’s about leveraging land use changes and incentivizing combinations of transportation investments across all modes.

Integration is critical for ensuring that we use our limited financial resources in the most cost-effective way.   Changes in land use, if properly supported with transportation infrastructure, are vastly more important to achieving more livable communities—and GHG reductions—than any transportation investment alone.

Compact development isn’t “one ingredient” – it’s a “combination of ingredients.” It’s buses and bike lanes, people and sidewalks, underground infrastructure, trees, apartments, coffee shops, and banks.  It’s also schools and parks, and how we connect to them safely, conveniently, and pleasantly.

Likewise “funding compact/infill development” doesn’t magically happen with the stroke of one funding source.  Local governments have to piece together funding from multiple, usually single purpose programs, to get to the kind of integration we see in vibrant and sustainable neighborhoods.

We have programs in place across California to encourage cities, counties, and regions to do smart growth and compact/infill development, to make better use of existing infrastructure, and to support transit oriented development.  What we haven’t done is evolve our transportation funding programs to align with this new vision.

A key reason for this misalignment is purely institutional—taking advantage of local government’s ability to integrate transportation investments with land use changes requires giving local and regional agencies more discretion in how they spend transportation dollars.  That decreases the level of control at the state level, and giving up control is hard to do.

SB 375 was created in 2008 to help the State achieve the GHG reduction goals of AB 32.  It requires Metropolitan Planning Organizations like SCAG here in LA to develop integrated transportation and land use strategies to achieve their assigned regional GHG targets.  The four largest MPOs have all adopted Sustainable Communities Strategies to meet the GHG targets and are now faced with the elephant in the room: how will we fund these integrated approaches.

California’s MPOs are all showing trends toward sustainability: a shift toward more compact development, more diverse transportation alternatives, and a more diverse mix of development with multi-modal, integrated transportation infrastructure.

But planning is one thing, implementation another.   Our existing funding sources for transportation tend to focus on one purpose: one program for road maintenance, one for transit capital, one for transit operations, one for bikes, one for pedestrians, one (if any) for streetscape enhancements.  While some progress has been made, the current mix of funding simply does not support the integrated strategies found in the Sustainable Communities Strategies.

So what’s the solution? The State has an opportunity to start fixing this through cap and trade revenue, or at least using that new program to provide the overarching integration funding we need to achieve the vision of sustainable communities.

The Governor’s budget proposes directing $100 million through the Strategic Growth Council—an organization founded on the notion of increasing integration of infrastructure and environmental goals—to fund planning and implementation of Sustainable Communities Strategies.

The language in the Governor’s proposal has a number of good points—recognizing the need to link land use and infrastructure, housing and transportation—but it also reverts to traditional siloed thinking is several ways.  It fails to run the funds through the MPOs, the institutions charged with implementing SCSs, instead keeping control at the state level.  It also fails to explicitly require projects to achieve the greatest GHG reductions through combining land use changes with infrastructure investments.  However, both of these deficiencies do have the potential to be corrected in the budget process.  But failure to do so will mean the state misses an opportunity to achieve the maximum benefit from its investment.

Cap and trade revenues will grow into billions of dollars per year in the next few years, so this source of revenue could provide the missing piece in achieving Sustainable Communities throughout California.

By aligning our funding and programs under an integrated approach we will shift the focus of sustainable communities toward people-oriented infrastructure rather than forcing local governments and people to conform to transportation infrastructure driven by funding steams.

So in closing, we have been cultivating a new vision across the state’s communities but also need a new vision for integrated funding approaches to support this and SB 375 implementation.  Innovation, integration, and collaboration are the key elements that underline “POD.”

A performance-based approach to reducing GHG emissions is at the heart of cap and trade – it is a market mechanism geared toward innovation beyond what can be achieved purely through regulatory measures.  We have a real opportunity to use a unique funding source to re-create communities across the state.

We can do this through new sources of funding that are allocated at a regional level where the technical and policy expertise is greatest, and through competitive grants for local communities that are based on maximizing GHG reduction through combinations of transportation investments and land use changes needed to implement SB 375.

I would be happy to talk with anyone interested in learning more about this statewide effort to support this concept and implementation!

Lauren Michele, Principal/Founder, Policy in Motion.

Lauren earned a Master’s of Science degree from the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies after working as a transportation planning professional at Fehr & Peers, a climate change policy analyst at the Center for Clean Air Policy in Washington D.C., and an air quality program assistant at the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.  At the UC Davis Urban Land Use and Transportation Center (ULTRANS) she focused on the links between California’s Senate Bill 375 and developing federal climate/energy legislation and the transportation reauthorization.  Her academic work includes teaching undergraduate courses in Transportation Policy at UC Davis and experiential learning while living and researching multi-modal transportation planning in Europe.

Lauren currently serves as Policy Director for the Transportation Coalition for Livable Communities — an organization which includes the California Alliance for Jobs, California Transit Association, National Resources Defense Council, League of California Cities, State Association of Counties, and the Metropolitan Planning Organizations and Councils of Governments throughout the state. The Coalition promotes the investment of cap and trade revenue to address both the greenhouse gas reduction goals of AB 32 and critical transportation system maintenance and operation needs that build on the framework of SB 375 and other GHG reduction strategies.

Her firm, Policy in Motion specializes in sustainable transportation policy.  Policy in Motion offers planning practitioners, policy makers, and public agencies an understanding of how to integrate sustainability policy into transportation infrastructure and land use decisions.  Lauren Michele’s book, “Policy in Motion: Transportation Planning in California after AB 32” explores the State’s evolving policies for sustainable living through transportation planning, and identifies how outdated regulatory frameworks must be aligned with supporting paradigm shifts if California is to move forward in a truly unified vision for “People-Oriented Development” and transportation.  Lauren’s 2012 film documentary, “Policy in Motion: Growing Beautiful Communities” continues to explore how an integrated approach to transportation planning and funding based on “People-Oriented Development” (POD) can improve community quality of life while meeting California’s environmental and economic goals. Policy in Motion’s book and film are available for purchase on-line at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and


By Lauren Michele

Lauren Michele – Founder/Owner of Policy in Motion – is a policy consultant/advisor and communications strategist, specializing in progressive and non-partisan politics. She helps candidates and clients build campaigns, coalitions, and communication strategies. Lauren has 15 years of experience working with federal, state, and local government agencies; non-profit organizations; foundations; universities; and political/issue campaigns, including a Presidential Campaign and a California State Bond. Ms. Michele has over a decade of experience working virtually both in team and individual environments, with Policy in Motion offices in California. Policy in Motion’s mission is to promote the environmental, economic, and social well being of communities —fostering a sustainable future for all people and the planet.

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