Senate Bill 375: California’s attack on climate change

What’s the best way for California to combat climate change?

With recent polls showing that more than two-thirds of likely voters want to see the state take decisive action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and fight global warming, that’s a question state lawmakers should be asking in earnest. And fortunately, state Sen. Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento has an answer.

Steinberg knows that in order to reach the goals of the state’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, which was passed in 2006 and requires a 25 percent reduction in California’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020, the state will need to do more than replace a few light bulbs and recycle some cans. We’ll need to address larger issues of where people will live and what their transportation options will be. Specifically, we’ll need to reverse policies that have supported suburban sprawl and resulted in the construction of whole communities where people can’t get to work, go to school or run basic errands without driving their cars and contributing to global warming.

Steinberg’s Senate Bill 375 would do just that. The measure, which has already been approved by the Senate and is under review by the Assembly, would offer incentives for local governments to adopt growth strategies that support “infill” development near transportation hubs and employment centers, giving residents the opportunity to make fewer car trips.

All of this is long overdue. For almost half a century, California’s land-use policies have tended to encourage sprawl over infill development, and the results speak for themselves. Developers have all too often found that state environmental reviews have made it more difficult to gain approval for projects within cities than for projects outside existing urban cores. It’s been cheaper and easier to buy up cheap rural land; build vast expanses of tract-home developments lacking employment centers, schools and services; and let the state pay for the roads and infrastructure needed to link these “leapfrog” developments to the places where residents will work, go to school and shop.

Steinberg’s proposal would change that pattern by offering incentives for more sustainable types of development. Based on the landmark Blueprint growth strategy adopted by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments in 2004, the bill would ask planners across the state to adopt plans that preserve farmland and watersheds, place growth in areas that support public transportation and give preference in distributing state highway funds to communities that do so. In addition, the bill would streamline the approval process for infill projects designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

With California predicted to gain as many as 11 million new residents by 2025, there simply is no way to make the emission reductions required by the Global Warming Solutions Act without addressing land-use issues and growth. Steinberg’s bill points the way toward a future where California can accommodate the need for new housing yet still fight global warming. It must pass without delay.