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Planning for the Future

How Local Governments Can Help Implement California’s New Land Use and Climate Change Legislation

Local governments have traditionally exercised control over local land use decision-making through their police powers. As a result, planning at the local level has been the critical means for determining land use policy in California, and sustainable development cannot occur without it. The regional planning process required by SB 375, California’s transportation and land use law, presents an opportunity to reorient and streamline local government planning for sustainable development.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and land use is essential to fighting climate change. In California, the transportation represents the single largest source of GHG emissions in the state at roughly 40 percent, compared to 33 percent nationwide.

Sustainable development will be necessary to reduce emissions from transportation.  Even with the state’s GHG regulations and improvement to the carbon content of fuel, projected VMT increases will outweigh the policies’ combined impact on GHG emissions.

Sustainable development patterns reduce VMT. Citizens who live in sustainable communities drive less and generate fewer GHG emissions on average. The average urban American resident in 2005 had a smaller carbon footprint than the average American.

Policy Needs

Policy Solutions

Building Political Will.

Motivate Citizens to Become Involved in the Planning Process.

Regional Entity Leaders, Local Government Officials & Sustainable Development Advocates

Develop a marketing plan to encourage public participation.

Citizens must be engaged early in the planning process to become excited about the possibilities for shaping their communities and to provide crucial input and public support for the resulting plans. Leaders should identify motivated stakeholders, such as local businesses, environmental groups, sustainable real estate developers, and other smart growth advocates, and develop a marketing plan that will attract public participation.

Local Government Planners & Advocates

Develop alternative means of educating the public about sustainable development

The public should be educated through alternative means such as interactive websites that provide information and on-line computer simulations or games where participants try to reduce traffic and preserve open space while accommodating increased population growth in a simulated version of their community. These advocates should enlist marketing professionals who could showcase these neighborhoods through virtual and physical tours.

Local Government Leaders & Stakeholders

Local government leaders and stakeholders should join with regional entities involved in the SB 375 process to conduct planning workshops.

Once stakeholders have engaged the public, local leaders will need to convene workshops that allow citizens to envision different growth scenarios and provide input on their preferred choices. Because this visioning process is likely to occur simultaneously at a regional level as MPOs develop Sustainable Communities Strategies, local governments should coordinate with the regional efforts.

Local Government Leaders & Sustainable Development Advocates

Ensure that participation in local and regional visioning translates to political support for implementing projects.

Local government leaders must ensure that participating citizens can be easily mobilized in support of sustainable projects in the event that opposition emerges. Without this majority ready to advocate for projects, opposition voices may have a greater chance of convincing officials to reject these projects.

Increasing Access to Financing.

Utilize Regional, State, and Federal Funding and Develop Alternative Models for Raising Revenue for Planning.

Local Governments

Apply for existing federal grant opportunities and urge greater federal support for sustainable development.

Federal funding for local government planning may be available through various grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and stimulus dollars.

State Officials

Target existing funds for sustainable development and streamline and improve the application process.

Officials should direct existing expenditures on state government buildings to sustainable development areas. The state could also develop a competition for local government that would provide them with matching funds for developing general plans with superior sustainability elements. The competitive nature of the award may spur innovation and attention to these issues among local officials.

Local Governments

Apply for existing state grant opportunities.

Strategic Growth Council offers planning grants for jurisdictions implementing sustainable neighborhood plans. However, grant guidelines expressly state that recipients cannot use the funding for any CEQA-related costs, which limits their functionality for local governments that want to undertake CEQA review in order to benefit from project-specific streamlining. State officials could consider amending the guidelines.

Local Governments

Raise funds for the planning and infrastructure work through tax increment financing.

Tax increment financing allows local government to borrow against future property tax increases that will likely result from improvements to the neighborhood that increase property values. With state authorization, this money can then be used for redevelopment around transit stations and other areas ripe for redevelopment as sustainable communities.

Local Governments

Raise revenue through differential impact fees.

Differential impact fees charge developers of auto-oriented, single-use projects in greenfields higher fees than sustainable development builders.

Local Governments

Consider levying fees on a range of services associated with auto-oriented development.

Fees can be levied to fund road maintenance and new utility services.

State & Federal Governments

Offer local governments revolving loans to help them finance new land use plans and redevelopment.

The local governments would repay the loans as increased revenue from the improved land use becomes available through property and sales taxes. Once state and federal sources receive the repayments, they can lend the money to other local jurisdictions that would like to plan for sustainable development.

Improving Technical Assistance.

Utilize the Expertise and Best Practices from Other Jurisdictions.

Local Governments

Utilize form-based codes for sustainable development.

Form-based codes are planning documents that shape the design of communities through general formula requirements instead of regulating land use through parcel-specific numerical restrictions on the type of uses that are allowed. These codes carry the force of law.

Sustainable Development Advocates & Builders

Promote form-based codes and best practices to local governments.

Many local government planners may not realize these models and best practices exist, or may not have the time or resources to research them. Sustainable development builders can also assist by informing policy-makers about the feasibility of various plans from a market and technical perspective.

Regional Entities and Universities

Use Sustainable Communities Strategy data and techniques to assist local government planning efforts.

As MPOs and university partners develop the technical resources to draft Sustainable Community Strategies, they should share data and modeling technologies with local governments. This data will help local government perform the required environmental review of their planning documents. In addition, universities and other research institutions can develop clearinghouse websites that contain the latest research and technical assistance for local governments.

State Officials

Encourage local planners and developers to “tier” off environmental review conducted at the programmatic level to avoid costly and duplicative analysis.

The new CEQA regulations may create an opportunity for programmatic greenhouse gas emission reduction plans by encouraging local governments to draft sustainability plans that address issues of sustainable development in order to meet emissions reduction targets. Local governments may apply for the  financing options discussed to conduct this planning.

State Officials

Provide guidance to local government on how to develop legally-defensible programmatic greenhouse gas emissions reduction plans.

To combat the perceived risk of litigation associated with tiering, the state should provide template plans, perhaps in the form of a model greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan, that local governments can easily adopt. A state-backed template may give local governments more confidence to adopt it and may be afforded deference by the courts in litigation.

"There used to be a set of agreed upon values, a shared vision that suburban living was good. But it hasn't panned out as we expected. So what is our vision for how we live going forward? We need a desirable dream."

Mark Friedman, Fulcrum Properties