Waving the flag

Local environmentalists and public transportation advocates are finding that hours sitting in stuffy boardrooms and talking about concepts like “sustainability” and “quality of life” are having little effect on regional transportation planning.

Time for Plan B.

“We’re going to wave the flag,” said Alan Hirsch, director of the Sacramento Transportation Equity Network.

Hirsch and others have blasted a 23-year transportation plan by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) on the usual grounds that it encourages sprawl, neglects public transit and worsens air quality.

But as the U.S faces coming decades of uncertain oil supplies, and with political instability in the oil-producing regions of the world, Hirsch says SACOG’s draft Metropolitan Transportation Plan makes our region more dependent on foreign oil for years to come.

That’s why several local community groups, such as Association of Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN) and the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS), will be marching, Old Glory held high, in front of SACOG offices to protest the current plan. The protest will be held on April 18 at 8:30 a.m, before that day’s SACOG board meeting.

There are two main beefs with the draft plan. First is little commitment to new public transit. Hirsch said planned spending for public transportation would just keep up with population growth, and wouldn’t allow for any meaningful increases in service.

“That’s just business as usual,” said Hirsch, adding that the region should bolster its anemic public transit system as it enters a future of likely oil price shocks, global warming and worsening air quality. “We have to let our elected officials know that business as usual isn’t OK.”

Second, critics are also alarmed at proposals for new regional beltways in Sacramento and Placer counties.

Both the Placer Parkway and Cosumnes Connector, as they are being called, have come under fire for potentially opening up tens of thousands of acres of farmland to new suburban development. SACOG’s own 55-member citizens advisory panel, of which Hirsch was a member, rejected both beltway proposals. Nonetheless, SACOG board members will consider inserting the beltways into the draft plan when they meet April 18.

Hirsch said he is disappointed that SACOG staff would override the citizen panel and continue to push the beltway proposals.

“We’ve been at the table. We’ve been a constructive part of the process. Now it’s time to try something different.”