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Justin Horner’s Blog

Smart Growth Plan Moves Forward for Bay Area

Justin Horner

Posted July 18, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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Always a source of environmental innovation, the San Francisco Bay Area is set to lead the way yet again.  The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) are poised to adopt the Bay Area’s Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS), called Plan Bay Area, tonight. 

Under SB 375, California’s Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act each major region must create a regional land use and transportation plan, called a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS), that reduces greenhouse gas emissions from transportation to help meet the goals of AB 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act. 

AB 32 requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.  To do this, the state calculated the GHG emissions in 1990, estimated what GHG emissions would be in 2020 if without any action, and then crafted a plan (The AB 32 Climate Change Scoping Plan) to put the state on a path to make up the difference.

Through more than a hundred separate measures and programs, spanning the state’s economy from vehicles and utilities to manufacturing and building energy efficiency, AB 32 calls for a 20 percent reduction of carbon dioxide (a harmful global warming pollutant) by 2020. 

An important part of that total comes from each region’s improved transportation and land use planning under SB 375. To make sure their plans accurately accommodate population growth, each region must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions on a per capita basis (otherwise, a region could just refuse to build more housing, or simply pretend that people won’t move in, to meet their targets).   Each region has different targets, but as AB 32 is a statewide mandate, it’s the total reductions from all regions put together that really matters

San Diego, Southern California, and the Sacramento region have already completed their SCSs.  Together with the Bay Area’s, these plans reduce greenhouse gas emissions by supporting land use changes and transportation investments that reduce the distance of car trips or eliminate the need to drive altogether.  Strategies include more compact, mixed use development, investing in public transit, and the expansion of bicycle and pedestrian facilities in our cities and towns. 

Plan Bay Area is remarkable in a number of ways:

  • It is the only SCS so far that includes all of its planned development within the current urban footprint.  That means no new sprawl in the Bay Area for the next 30 years.
  • The SCS not only meets its greenhouse gas emissions targets, but exceeds them.
  • It is the only SCS that includes specific funding and programming for the preservation of open space.
  • It is the only SCS that includes a special grant program specifically to foster inclusive infill development near transit; and
  • The SCS includes funding for an ambitious expansion of a suite of transportation innovations, including carsharing, commuter incentives for transit, and the expansion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Good regional transportation and land use planning, like in Plan Bay Area, provides a host of other benefits and improvements to the quality of Bay Area life.  The Plan Bay Area projects that by 2040, there will be a 71% decrease in premature deaths from exposure to poor air, significant improvements in the condition of local streets and bridges, a more than doubling of the Gross Regional Product, and improvements in public health through a 17% increase in the average time people spend biking and walking. 

For a region committed to open space preservation, public transit and encouraging compact development, the Plan Bay Area reveals a vision for the Bay Area that continues this legacy of leadership in sustainability.  MTC and ABAG have a lot to be proud of.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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