Will California Achieve Its Anti-Sprawl Targets?

As California’s big four metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) try to determine how much they can influence growth and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, significant questions remain. The state’s Senate Bill 375, typically referred to as the Anti-Sprawl Bill, requires planners and policymakers to develop meaningful solutions to curb sprawl, reduce driving, and promote growth in areas that will have the least impact on the environment.

As Amanda Eaken from the Natural Resources Defense Council writes on the Switchboard, the predictions are encouraging. By bringing Californians closer to their jobs and providing better transportation choices, by 2050 SB 375 could:

  • Help Californians drive 3.7 trillion fewer miles
  • Help Californians save $6,400 per year on transportation and other household costs
  • Save the state $194 billion in infrastructure costs with smarter planning
  • Save 140 billion gallons of gasoline
  • Save more open space than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined

But the models won’t mean much, she argues, if policymakers don’t invest in projects that can bring about the needed change. Without shifting funds away from destructive development and transportation projects, you will only have plans sitting on shelves.

Eakan writes:

In every case there are certain ambitious policies and there are certain areas where we know the MPOs can do more. For example, in every case, we fail to see a shift of transportation funding to support the improved land use patterns every MPO is calling for. This is the thrust of SB 375 – to align regional investments to support a more sustainable land use pattern. The MPOs make assumptions – in certain cases very ambitious and laudable assumptions about the increase in walkable, transit oriented development, but then fail to shift their transportation investments to make sure we realize these better futures.

The challenge for advocates like the NRDC lies in pressuring MPOs to revise their long-term transportation plans to better reflect the targets set by SB 375. Adding capacity to freeways or permitting greenfield development now will only make the laudable targets more difficult to realize in the future.

Elsewhere on the Network, read the latest argument from sprawl apologist Wendell Cox that the demographic shift away from suburbia has been exaggerated. Richard Florida analyzes a new report on attracting the "creative class" to rural areas. And finally The Dirt has a good post describing some of the finalists in the Build a Better Burb design competition.

0 thoughts on Will California Achieve Its Anti-Sprawl Targets?

  1. It’s big thinking like this that will change for the better our human impact on the rest of the biosphere. Compare this vision for massive change to the many would-be productive hours spent in San Francisco fussing over bottled water sold at street fairs or whether Mrs. Smith is properly composting all her food scraps at home.

  2. I don’t think it’s fair to denigrate the efforts in the city you mention. They address huge problems too, and we have to start somewhere.

  3. @icarus12 –

    “Big thinking” is inseperable from earnest cumulative individual action if one really wants the ‘big’ results. A city can’t force a complete change to an industrial process and marketing system, but it can carve a niche of alternatives that invite entrepreneurs and new politics. Shopping bags, plastic bottles, and composting are part of that change. So are bike lanes, integrated transit, shared cars, mobile web, and TOD. Pretty soon, other cities can see for themselves what is and isn’t working from that experiment, and pursue their own attempts to attract the entrepreneurs.

    SB375 may be a roadmap, but it’s individuals and communities competing for their futures that are going to earn it.

  4. I think that France has the most ridiculous concern with shopping bags over more important issues. By national law, it’s illegal for supermarkets to offer bags free of charge; they may only sell them for a (small) price. Thus you see hypermarkets located at highway crossroads, surrounded by hundreds of free parking spots, offer people no plastic bags. Not only is there no comparable law against free parking, but also there are incentives for reduced-price parking. In the tourist-laden Riviera, even its dense city centers, parking garages charge a few Euros per day. The worst is Monaco, where on the one hand plastic bags aren’t free, and on the other hand the law requires all parking garages to offer free parking for the first hour.

  5. A minor point, but I’ve never heard anyone at all– let alone anyone in the planning or land use law communities– call it the Anti-Sprawl Act. It’s always called SB 375.

  6. Hmmm. A grand plan to be headed up by unelected government bureaucrats who will be out there creating “strategies” for telling us how to live and where we can live. Should go splendidly.

  7. I think that part of any anti-sprawl thinking needs to include how to mandate that neighborhoods include the services those neighborhoods need to thrive- food markets, hardware stores, shoe repair shops, libraries… no community of a given area should be allowed to be residential only. The Sunset district was a prime example, and in many respects still is. You can walk for blocks and blocks and blocks and there will be no services or reliable transportation (there are 11 long blocks between the N and the L, 10 long blocks between the 18 and the 29…) It is better now than it was when I was a kid but that kind of “planning” does nothing to get people to stay local.

  8. That would sure help push the need for California High Speed Rail if that passed since state officials are so skeptical of the financing.

  9. Nick,

    I think Dr. Donald Shoup would say that there are many people capable of championing his parking reform ideas.

  10. Hi ZA,
    Your comment is correct up to a point, and it got me thinking. What bothers me about “going green” is the tremendous amount of political posturing that as San Franciscans we pay for. All the things you mentioned are great experiments and ones I participate in.

    Here’s an example not of entrepreneurial thinking or true political action you cite but rather stupidity: the mayor has an office for the environment that does studies of how to save energy, etc. For the city school system this high priced coordinator figured out that folks should 1) turn out the lights in a classroom once students left for the day, and 2) employees should copy papers double-sided. The study took months by someone making a six-figure salary. How many school district staff hours did this environmental specialist take up while formulating his plan?

    A directive from the superintendent or a list of recommendations coming out of 2 to 3 meetings of a school committee could have sufficed for these recommendations. The waste in everyone’s time, patience, and tax dollars for what did occur is unconscionable.

  11. @icarus12 –

    Thanks for your response. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about that specific school ‘going green’ plan to really comment. From what you’ve written though, it seems there is a(n expensive!) problem in the process – either the (mal)function of Mayoral appointments, the failure to negotiate more significant changes, or the failure to find the $ to put in more significant improvements. We may never know what proposals a consultant had that never made it to the public draft.

    It doesn’t change the need to start somewhere, as someone else wrote earlier. Like any free market, the more people who are competing, the better it’ll be for everyone … the “thinner” San Francisco’s green initiatives will take a drubbing when Fresno, San Diego, Houston or Detroit achieve something unexpected. At least San Francisco’s composting program is a really authentic solution that a lot of other cities can adopt, adapt, and improve for their local conditions.

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Will California Achieve Its Anti-Sprawl Targets?

Photo: Mark Strozier As California’s big four metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) try to determine how much they can influence growth and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, significant questions remain. The state’s Senate Bill 375, typically referred to as the Anti-Sprawl Bill, requires planners and policymakers to develop meaningful solutions to curb sprawl, reduce driving, and promote […]

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