Schwarzenegger signs anti-sprawl bill
By Kevin Yamamura -
September 30, 2008

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation Tuesday establishing new incentives to discourage sprawl in future decades, solidifying a major deal between environmentalists, homebuilders and local governments.

Senate Bill 375 requires the California Air Resources Board to provide regional targets by September 2010 for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The state will use its $5 billion pot of transportation money to encourage regions to account for compact development in the planning process.

The legislation also will relax California Environmental Quality Act requirements for housing projects that meet goals for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, giving homebuilders incentive to pursue high-density projects near transit.

"What this will mean is more environmentally-friendly communities, more sustainable developments, less time people spend in their cars, more alternative transportation options and neighborhoods we can safely and proudly pass on to future generations," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he sees the bill as a necessary step to meet the state's greenhouse-gas reduction goals. Under 2006's AB 32, the state must reduce its greenhouse gases 25 percent by 2020, and Steinberg believes the latest bill will cut down on harmful car emissions by reducing travel time.

Proponents believe the bill will lead to more infill projects and new communities that are transit-focused, discouraging car travel despite future population growth. Transportation, including commuter and errand traffic and trucks carrying goods, accounted for 38 percent of California's greenhouse gas emissions from 2002 to 2004, according to a CARB report.

The bill is based on a "smart growth" plan adopted by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

"Californians will see more infill," said SACOG Director Mike McKeever. "They'll see higher density housing, particularly in transit corridors. The new areas will look more like existing neighborhoods with a mix of uses between schools, stores and housing."

Homebuilders reached agreement in August with environmentalists and local government officials after receiving a streamlined CEQA approval process for projects that meet certain environmental goals.

Other business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce and commercial builders, remained opposed to the bill because they felt it could create two separate greenhouse-gas reduction processes with which they would have to comply, said Matthew Hargrove of the California Business Properties Association. He said the bill also gave residential builders special advantages in the CEQA process that commercial builders will not have.

"There's no guarantee within SB 375 that if you meet all of its goals you won't get sued under AB 32," Hargrove said. "We were looking for clarity on that. We also had hoped our projects would be included in the same way residential projects were."

While the California League of Cities and California State Association of Counties support the bill, some individual local officials remained opposed.

Auburn City Councilman Kevin Hanley said he fears that foothills communities such as his could lose transportation funding and suffer worse traffic than already exists. He said local governments, not CARB, should set regional targets for emissions.

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