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Building the future we deserve in California

Amanda Eaken

Posted September 24, 2012

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NRDC and Move LA released a report today touting the expansive benefits of sustainability planning in three of California’s largest cities—representing nearly two-thirds of the state’s population. The report explores how Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego are already building the cities of the future thanks to the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, or SB 375, authored by Senator Darrell Steinberg in 2008.

Four years ago, SB 375 was nothing less than a revolution in the way California plans for growth.  It linked regional transportation planning to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging a wide range of travel options and giving Californians the kinds of communities they want.

Our analysis found that enacting SB 375 into law was an achievement that distinguished California as a national leader in creating communities that meet both our economic and environmental challenges. The latest plans to be adopted will make it easier to walk, bike and take public transportation, and provide more housing options to Californians of all incomes.

But a plan is not enough.  From the very beginning, we knew that we needed to bring new resources to these communities if we wanted to see the real change SB 375 envisions.  

Fortunately, Senator Steinberg saw this need as well, and met it head on.  Earlier this year, he introduced SB 1156 to give cities and counties a modest tool to support the kind of sustainable economic development that these successful SB 375 plans envision--the kind of development that creates good jobs, affordable housing and a healthy environment. SB 1156 would give local governments a way to finance the very projects elected officials in Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego all agree will promote commerce, save Californians money and help stop global warming.

Senator Steinberg said the following of the report: “When Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB 375, we knew the law had the potential to significantly improve the California way of life. Four years later, the first round of regional plans have strongly embraced this vision. Governor Brown can help to ensure that California communities pivot permanently in the direction of sustainability by signing SB 1156, to give local governments the tools they need to implement these great plans.”

SB 1156 made its way through the legislature and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature. It is supported by business groups, labor unions, environmentalists, developers, housing advocates and public health experts.  The Governor’s signature on SB 1156 would take us that much closer to turning these great plans into California’s reality.

SB 375 has resulted in strong regional plans that create a blueprint for growth in California that meets our economic and environmental challenges. SB 1156 is the next piece in the puzzle, a constructive next step to move these innovative plans forward as the remaining SB 375 plans are adopted across the state—bridging our communities with the future we deserve.

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Eric MaundrySep 24 2012 05:24 PM

You would not believe how much people hate forced centralized planning in general, and this particular version in particular. The premise, that if you cram millions into small stacked apartments they will want to ride the bus - or even walk - to work is as insulting as it is bizarre. This was bought and paid for the the developers and realty organizations that line the pockets of our fine legislators.

Get out of the bubble and talk to people why don't you. Nobody wants it.

ChristineSep 25 2012 03:46 AM

I cannot believe you guys are supporting this especially after CARB set itself up as a Delaware LLc to allocate Cap and Trade money to SB 1156 in secret w/ NO accountability by public. Housing construction is NOT sustainable! This bill allows for the demolition of 1000s of existing buildings so developers can build new ugly buildings in their place. Throwing buildings into landfills is NOT sustainable! This is a giveaway to developers and undermines your credibility completely.

Rev. Earl W. KoteenSep 25 2012 11:01 AM

Young adults, and even some older ones like myself, appreciate living in bikeable, walkable neighbors with good public transportation. They see that our car culture isn't sustainable. They see how we are poisoning land, air, and water. Time to wake up and smell the . . .

Brian S.Sep 26 2012 10:17 AM

@Eric Maundry

I agree that "forced centralized planning" is bad. But 99.9% of California is under forced centralized sprawl planning. As an urban planner for years in was my job to force sprawl planning on people whether they wanted it or not.

Want to add another unit to your building, or even a couple of rooms? Not unless you add a bunch of government mandated parking spaces! Does that mean you lose your garden? Too bad! That much parking isn't needed and won't fit on your lot? Too bad, no building permit for you!

Want to build a new commercial or mixed use building? Then build three times the parking spaces as building! They won't all fit on the lot? Then take you jobs and tax revenue elsewhere!

Innovative new business idea? Sorry that isn't in our 50's era zoning code. No business permits for you! Take those innovative idea elsewhere!

I found it horrible to impose on people the crazy dictates of long retired on dead planners and politicians who thought that sprawl would be such a utopia that it should be imposed on everyone everywhere, no matter the price. But changing "the way we have always done things" is a really hard process. And some still WANT government to impose sprawl on their neighbors!

What is amazing is that there are plenty of people like Christine that will come out and shout for the heavy hand of government to land on any "developer" and smash their plans into sprawl-conformity, or say "build nothing at all." And by "developer" even a family trying to build a house for themselves the same size as the neighbors are attacked as "developers in disguise" so no one is innocent in the eyes of some.

Do you know why New York city has the lowest carbon emission per person in the U.S. they don't throw away their land on single-uses. They spent 400 years recycling their land to higher and better uses. This created the most walkable and transit friendly big city in the country. Recycling land to higher uses is far more important that preserving every building. You can dismantle and recycle a building. Building on new land always requires expensive new infrastructure and permanently destroys habit or ag land. Greenfield development is far worse for the environment.

Unless of course when you say, "Housing construction is NOT sustainable! " you mean we should not build any housing anywhere and embrace overcrowding and homelessness as the sustainable "solution" instead. I certainly hope you don't mean that.

Jake WegmannSep 26 2012 11:12 AM

@ Eric Maundry?

Anyone out there?

Do you have a response to Brian S's comments?

Can you honestly, in any way, claim that our existing system of land use regulations represents anything remotely resembling a "free market?"

Amanda EakenSep 26 2012 06:38 PM

Nothing like a lively debate! A couple points in response:
1. The assertion that “Nobody wants” to live in apartments or ride public transportation reflects a lack of familiarity with the latest stated—and revealed—voter preferences in California. And “get out of the bubble and talk to people” is exactly what we did. SB 375 calls for significant new public participation in planning, and so a survey was conducted of Southern California voters. This blog ( shows that by a 2 to 1 margin, Southern California voters prefer living in walkable communities with a mix of uses, rather than residential areas where driving is required, and would rather live in smaller house if it meant a shorter commute. Eighty percent say we need more public transportation. And the number one strategy the voters identify to reduce congestion: build more public transportation. And the voters aren’t just saying it, they are doing something about it: in 2008, more than 2/3 of LA voters approved Measure R to provide $18 billion for 12 major new transit projects in LA.
2. Another study by the Urban Land Institute ( puts the demand for living near transit so high that even if all new development located there in the next 25 years, you still fall far short of meeting 2035 demand. Take some time out and read the studies. It also finds that developers have so thoroughly overbuilt large lot single family homes that there are about a million more today than So Cal will need in 2035, even when you factor in adding another 4 million residents. By contrast, the demand is strong and growing for multi-family and small-lot, walkable single family homes.
3. In terms of the concerns about SB 1156, I’m also not sure what is meant by the phrase “housing construction is not sustainable.” What is the alternative? Continue to allow prices to rise by failing to match demand with supply? Just say no to any new growth? It’s not clear how this approach addresses the real need to accommodate millions of new Californians in the coming decades. The breakthrough of SB 375 was that the law’s supporters accepted that California is going to grow and develop, but that there are more and less sustainable ways to grow. The law then provides incentives to grow in ways that reduce the need to drive and associated pollution. SB 1156 follows through on the promise of SB 375 by making financing available to build communities that reduce pollution and emissions. I believe the commenter is confused about the connection between cap and trade revenues--which have not yet been collected, nor have any final decisions been made about allocation-- and SB 1156, which allows local governments to use their own revenues to finance infrastructure. Completely different processes.

1 The survey had a statistically valid sample size of 800, yielding an approximate margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points, with a 95% confidence level.

Eric MaundrySep 27 2012 10:29 AM

Brian is obviously high on planner ink. People buy homes in so-called "sprawl areas" because they want to buy there. What they don't buy is what we in the LA area call SCAG housing. High density generica is about as popular as cancer. Go to Rancho Cucamonga sometime and check out the fate of a community whose dumb leadership bought into the whole SB 375 lie. It is a financial disaster. The only way the state is going to get people to buy into SCAG housing is at gunpoint. Something I suspect that some of you crazy people think would be a great idea.

Brian S.Sep 27 2012 12:18 PM

@Eric Maundry

You did not address the issue that over 99% of American urban areas have zoning that does not allow property owners to add on to their buildings or rebuild on their their property with bigger higher-value buildings. Restrictive zoning is law, and is enforced with all police powers of local governments, up to and including police raids.

You may LIKE IT that your neighbor cannot tear down his single-family house and built a five story building with no parking, put that is still CENTRALIZED PLANNING. Now I don't know if a 5 story building makes sense in your neighborhood, but over 95% of the places where it would make economic sense zoning restrictions make it illegal or put so many unnecessary requirements on them that they are non-economical to build.

Would you agree that we should abolish all zoning restrictions on: units/acre and parking mandates?

If so GREAT we agree!

If not, then you favor CENTRALIZED PLANNING. Just the kind to imposes your tastes.

Carl MaySep 27 2012 05:14 PM

These senate bills, and the way SB 375 is failing in many places actual implementation, represent more cornucopian lunacy. You can't grow your way out of overgrowth. You can't get closer to sustainability by adding to the factors (no matter how well planned) that make a place or activities unsustainable.

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