SB 375: Still Ambitious & Achievable?
Hope everyone had a Thanksgiving full of love and gratitude. Hard to believe it’s already the last month of 2014! Approaching a new year is a great time of reflection on where we’ve been and what our goals are going forward. I’d like to take this opportunity to offer some reflections on one of the key areas in the transportation sector: SB 375.
In 2008, California established a process and program for regional GHG reduction from land use — SB 375. SB 375 was crafted to be a performance-based, yet flexible, approach to meeting greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals. It successfully blended the need for “ambitious” GHG reduction goals with an “achievable” and practical approach so that cities and counties could ultimately create significant changes in land use patterns. Because it is actually land use, not transportation investments, that create the most GHG reduction impacts. This successful approach emerged not magically overnight, but after a year of collaboration via the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) Regional Targets Advisory Committee who examined the best approach to create meaningful GHG reduction goals for SB 375. And it was that process that led to every MPO creating a Sustainable Communities Strategy that actually hit the State-assigned GHG target for their region. Remember the Alternative Planning Strategy? That was supposed to be the Plan B for any MPO who couldn’t create a Regional Transportation Plan that hit its target — but because of the performance-based approach in the crafting of these plans, MPOs were all able to make it happen.
Now it’s time to help those responsible for IMPLEMENTING these plans — local cites and counties. Local governments deserve the same thoughtfulness and approach that worked for the MPOs if we want to see SB 375 be truly successful. It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that the all the great work done to date follows in the original spirit of SB 375: tackling these ambitious GHG goals through an achievable, performance-based approach — maximizing GHG reduction while creating ample flexibility for the communities who must now implement these regional plans.
As we approach 2015 in an era of cap and trade funding possibilities, we have an incredible opportunity to make this happen. But only if we do it right. Lack of funding for the SB 375 process presents a threat to AB 32 and all of the existing work that CARB and the MPOs have done since 2008. Funding individual transportation and housing projects alone that happen to be consistent with the Regional Transportation Plan isn’t really what SB 375 is about, nor is that the way to maximize ambitious GHG reduction. Funding should be prioritized to projects that create the greatest GHG benefits under the Sustainable Communities Strategy. While the cap and trade program is a start, it needs not only more attention in the administration of the first year funding, but significantly more funding for future years. And the only way to make the case for more funding is to show that we can do a really good job with limited resources in the first year.
So what do we need to do? I think we need to look backward before we can look forward. Six years ago we decided to pass a landmark bill that included in it a process for collaboration with technical, policy, and political experts. We then identified what was needed: better transportation and land use modeling so that we could create these plans. The Strategic Growth Council allocated $12 million in Prop 84 funding to the MPOs so that they could build modeling capacity to make this process actually take off. That’s what we need now, but it’s time to shift focus from the MPOs who have been so successful in helping us get this far and figure out how we can empower local communities to do the implementation side. Because local agencies and institutions are at the front lines of implementing SB 375. Let’s ensure that local government gets the chance it now needs to create “ambitious and achievable” SB 375 implementation.
Cap and trade is our one shot this decade to make SB 375 work. For the next year let’s focus on giving locals maximum flexibility to achieve maximum GHG reduction. And the great thing? When we empower communities to come up with their own innovative solutions they not only reduce GHG emissions even more than expected, but they maximize other community benefits like better health, better access, and better quality of life.