SB 375: Good Models or Good Planners?

Regional Targets Advisory Committee

As part of the SB 375 process, a Regional Targets Advisory Committee (RTAC) has been established to help inform the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on a methodology to determine greenhouse gas targets for the state’s 18 Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs).  The current direction of the RTAC is to suggest that CARB applies a greenhouse gas per capita target reduction below a baseline year (e.g. recommendation of X  GHG/capita reduction below 2005 GHG/capita levels).  Through communications with the MPOs, CARB has proposed a framework where they set a uniform GHG/capita target across the state and through feedback from MPOs modify those targets individually.  Barry Wallerstein, Executive Officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, and Jerry Walters, Chief Technical Officer of Fehr & Peers, presented excellent frameworks at the July 22 RTAC meeting in Sacramento.  These frameworks were very similar, focusing on the reality that most of California’s MPOs do not have the modeling capabilities required to meet new state requirements through SB 375.  Jerry Walters spoke of the need to bring transportation demand models up to date in terms of increased sensitivity to land use and pricing effects of reducing vehicle travel, while Barry Wallerstein recommended an approach to satisfying the GHG reduction targets through a best practices/checklist approach where an MPO would get X amount of points for each GHG reduction strategy (e.g. pricing mechanisms, transit investments, bikeway infrastructure).  The complete frameworks can be found on CARB’s website:

Funding the New Law

The elephant in the room during the RTAC process was largely pointed out at the July 22 RTAC meeting: where are the incentives that were promised to implement this new law?  One point I’d like to stress is that much of the incentive and funding conversation has been focused on the need to update transport demand models and develop local general plans.  While this is absolutely a necessity for the implementation of SB 375, I’d like to point out that local governments are suffering so much from budget cuts that they are not only laying off city and county planners, but entire planning departments are being eliminated from local government.  I’m not kidding; this is a serious problem we need to realize in order to prioritize what little funding is coming into the transport/climate change funding pot.

“In a budget-cutting move, the City of Petaluma is disbanding its Community Development Department. After slashing the department from 23 to 11 employees in September 2008, the City Council more recently voted 4-2 to lay off all remaining planners, including the community development director.” California Planning & Development Report

The RTAC brought up an excellent point at the latest meeting when they noted the inconsistency from the legislature and the governor moving forward with laws that mandate changes at the local level while at the same time passing a budget that cuts transit, borrows funds from local jurisdictions, and provides no financial help to secure existing planning jobs.  A good use of the federal stimulus money in terms of supporting greenhouse gas reduction goals through transportation and land use planning would have been better spent on retaining existing planning staff rather than creating short-term highway infrastructure jobs.  Outlined below is what is about to hit local government even harder.  However, I should note that $12 million from Prop 84 funds will be going toward model development, and the Strategic Growth Council will be allocating additional funds to assist model development.  I still maintain my position that perhaps we should go with Barry Wallerstein and Jerry Walter’s recommendations and approach GHG reduction through “best management practices” — if we tabled modeling investments for the time being that would free up $12 million that could be used to retain existing planning jobs: equivalent to about 300 entry-level planning positions.  Good models won’t solve our problems, but good planners might.

Here is what the State of California has planned for local government:

  • Local transportation (funding withheld) — $1 billion
  • Redevelopment agencies (funding withheld)– $1.7 billion
  • Local government borrowing — $2 billion