Transportation, Land Use, Housing and SB 375
Bob Allen, Director of Transportation, Urban Habitat
Amanda Eaken, Land Use Policy Analyst, Natural Resources Defense Council
Ann C. Chan, Director of California Programs, Center for Clean Air Policy
Evelyn Stivers, Field Director, Non-Profit Housing Association
The second Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute Wednesday night panel shed light on the relationship between transportation, land use, housing, and climate change and the opportunities that SB 375 may offer in advancing regional equity as it meets its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. SB 375 is one of the many new legislative bills, including AB32, the Waxman-Marky Bill, and the federal transportation reauthorization bill, that have the potential to address climate change and provide funding opportunities for public transportation. Scroll down to download the presentation and materials from the event by clicking on the links or click the image.
The California Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act (SB 375) links regional transportation planning processes to land use planning in an effort to meet the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets created through AB 32. The goal of this legislation is to develop regional plans that encourage compact development served by high quality public transit and reduce the need to drive. SB 375 relies primarily on transportation funding incentives and improved planning processes to achieve its goals, and works with processes already established by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), and the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). It also relies on the recommendations of the Regional Targets Advisory Committee (RTAC) for setting emissions reduction targets.
Amanda Eaken, one of the writers of SB 375, provided an overview the bill. Major components of SB 375 are the addition of the Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) element, consistency requirements to the Regional Transportation Plans (RTP) completed by Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to secure transportation funding, and new CEQA exemptions. The SCS element outlines how regions will meet GHG reduction targets through land use and transportation planning that support compact, transit-oriented development. In addition to creating the SCS element, SB 375 aligns and requires consistency between RTPs, regional housing allocations, and uses CEQA to deter sprawl and support development projects that will meet the goals of the SCS.
According to Eaken, SB 375 includes co-benefits that will positively impact communities as a result of SB 375. Compact development patterns will result in taxpayer savings through reduced infrastructure cost, farmland and habitat protections through the reduction of sprawl, improved public health as people live in more walkable communities, and fuel and water savings.
Ann C. Chan discussed some of the health and equity implications of SB 375. She noted that there has not been significant analysis of the equity concerns of SB 375. While there will be health benefits as a result of lower GHG emissions, equity concerns exist around the potential for displacement and gentrification and housing and transit price increases. A major concern is that the new CEQA exemptions could be used to undermine advocacy efforts in low-income communities and communities of color.
Bob Allen outlined the current Regional Transportation Planning process, which has created an unequal transportation system that disenfranchises low-income communities, and the opportunities for SB 375 to support a more equitable transportation system. Equity groups have not been successful having their priority projects included in the RTP, and too often committed projects fail to adequately benefit transit dependent populations. Although MPOs set ambitious goals around creating a transportation plan that address the transit needs of all communities and positively affect climate change, SB 375 will create a system that forces MPOs to follow through and support a transportation system that reduces GHG emissions and provides safe, reliable transit service for all communities. SB 375 has the potential to bring in new funding sources for public transportation and create a connection between transportation justice and sustainability.
Evelyn Stivers emphasized that affordable housing is the key to creating and maintaining strong communities. Currently, local jurisdictions are guided by the RHNA and housing element in general plans to map how cities will create the full income spectrum of housing based on growth projections and decide where affordable housing will be located and how much to build. Affordable housing advocates are not clear exactly on how SB 375 will impact the distribution of affordable housing throughout the region. While SB375 promotes higher-density development, high density does not automatically correlate with the creation of more affordable housing. In many case the families that need affordable housing also rely on public transportation, and the implementation of SB 375 could create land speculation around transit areas and increase land prices that would displace affordable housing developments that are less transit accessible.
All of the panelists agreed that SB 375 has the potential to dramatically shape development in the region, but most were unsure of the direct impacts on low-income communities and communities of color. As of now, both regional and local decision makers and equity advocates are trying to better understand what SB 375 means for the communities that they serve.