How regions can lead: Helping California meet big new goals to fight climate change

By Chanell Fletcher, Associate Director
August 29, 2016

The times in California are even more exciting than when I last posted, as on Tuesday the state Assembly passed SB 32, extending the state’s ambitious climate goals beyond 2020. The new law, which is expected to be signed by Governor Brown, requires the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. AB 197, which is linked to SB 32, also passed the Assembly, also focuses more attention on reducing pollution in disadvantaged communities. Many ClimatePlan partners worked hard moving these laws forward.

With their passage, California is now looking at a big goal. The current law requires California to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020—then we have ten years to almost cut them in half again.

Putting the puzzle together

So how will we get there? How will California make these steep reductions?

We continue to work on what we see as the fundamentals: fixing land use and transportation planning so people can drive less and live healthier lives.

That’s where some new state guidelines have a lot of power.

Regional Transportation Plans are key

As the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and Streetsblog have shared, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and California Transportation Commission (CTC) are updating the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) Guidelines. These haven’t been changed since 2010. Now we have the opportunity to weigh in.

Why are these important?

These guidelines are where the state says what it wants to see in regional transportation plans. From SB 375, each region has a target it has to meet for greenhouse gas reduction, and its sustainable community strategy (which is included in the transportation plan) is how it gets there.

Regional transportation plans are key pieces of the puzzle. These are where the decisions are made about how and where to build, whether to widen freeways and build sprawling subdivisions, or whether to invest in public transit and walkable neighborhoods.

Leading practices: Sharing what’s working, and what’s next

In the past six years, we have seen California’s regions take impressive steps to meet their targets for greenhouse gas reductions. With state law SB 375 as a driving force, regions are investing in strategies to create more sustainable communities. We have learned a lot about the strategies that work.

This fall, ClimatePlan will be releasing a report on leading practices in regional transportation plans – what regions are doing well, what’s still needed, and exciting ideas for next steps. We have been working closely with advocates and agencies to pull out examples of leadership from all over the state. We look forward to celebrating these leading practices and thinking together about how to

These leading practices should also help inform the state’s guidelines, so that all the state’s regions are working together to meet the state’s climate goals. Highlighting leading practices also enables regions to continue to learn from one another, and we hope it creates a culture where meeting or surpassing goals is recognized and celebrated.

Improving the guidelines for all regions

In partnership with Safe Routes to School National Partnership, California Pan Ethnic Health Network, and Public Advocates, ClimatePlan has been speaking up on the guidelines. In June, we submitted comments asking for more time on the guidelines; the timeline is rushed, and we were—and still are—concerned that disadvantaged and underrepresented communities will not have the opportunity to meaningfully engage in the process.

In July, we also submitted three comment letters:

– First, with partners, we shared our overarching principles for the guidelines

– Then we submitted, together with partners, a letter calling for specific improvements on the guidelines: we’d like to see more transparency and public participation; more on complete streets, public health, equity and environmental justice, rural issues, and land conservation; existing best practices and leading innovations; and clear performance measures.

– ClimatePlan also submitted our own additional letter with a list of leading practices from Sustainable Community Strategies across the state. This initial list was more comprehensive; our forthcoming report will be a smaller subset of highlighted practices.

Earlier this month, the CTC and Caltrans completed another workshop and are now busy incorporating our feedback in the next draft guidelines. From our conversations with agency staff, we’ve heard that some of our feedback may go into the Regional Planning Handbook or the Desk Guide: Environmental Justice in Transportation Planning and Investments (last updated in 2003). We continue to meet with Caltrans and CTC staff to better understand how these documents work with RTP guidelines and help improve land use and transportation in California.

More coming soon

In September, Caltrans and the CTC will release the second draft of the guidelines. We are looking forward to seeing this next draft—and ensuring the innovation from SB 375 is embedded into the guidelines. In late October, we anticipate releasing our leading practices report.

We are deeply relieved that the state is moving ahead to set new tougher goals on climate change. Now let’s make sure we can meet them.

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