Think globally while planning locally

SB 375 wouldn’t supplant general plans—it strengthens them

Retired Chico State professor Irv Schiffman is chairman of the board of River Partners, a Chico-based riparian restoration organization, and former chairman of the Chico Planning Commission.

California city and county planners live in a “home rule” state and are not used to having to conform to state and regional guidelines as they initiate and carry out their comprehensive land-use plans. Here in Chico, there’s concern that Senate Bill 375 would invalidate the efforts of local folks engaged in creating a new general plan.

Senate Bill 375 is designed to encourage housing close to job sites, rail lines and bus stops to shorten the time people spend in their cars. It seeks to achieve this goal by tying state and federal transportation subsidies to cities’ and counties’ implementation of policies aimed at reducing the sprawl that contributes to global warming.

If California wishes to get serious about global warming, it has to do something about automobile trips. Passenger vehicles produce about 30 percent of the state’s heat-trapping gases, making cars the single greatest source of such emissions.

California is behind many other states in its reliance on local governments to grapple with growth decisions that affect the lives of a much larger population. Such states recognize that housing, employment, transportation and environmental issues are mostly of a regional or statewide nature and must be dealt with accordingly. State and regional guidelines are designed to ensure that local planning is consistent with the needs of the larger community and that critical values are not sacrificed to parochial interests.

This kind of limited “top down” decision-making leaves plenty of room for local initiatives, as seen in the innovative and imaginative planning being done by Oregon and Washington communities. Both of these states have established land-use goals that require local governments to protect critical environmental and resource areas and designate rational and efficient urban growth areas.

Within the framework provided by the state legislation, local governments have many choices regarding the specific content of their comprehensive plans and implementing development regulations.

More recently, a number of states have passed laws that specifically require local governments to consider the onset of global warming in their planning process. In June, for example, Florida passed a law that, among other things, requires local governments to address climate change with greenhouse-gas-reduction strategies, energy-efficient development patterns, and factors to increase energy conservation.

“Think Globally, Act Locally” may still be true when it comes to the battle against global warming, but local decision-making can no longer be exclusively locally oriented. For many reasons, including climate change, in order to be truly comprehensive, local planning must incorporate issues of importance to the region and state, if not the world.