spacer search
Facilitating a local and worldwide synergy of suppliers, builders, architects, planners, educators, and visionaries committed to Creating a Sustainable Future for ourselves and generations to come
Main Menu
Contact Us
About Us
Home arrow Blog arrow 5/27/07-Sprawl clashes with warming in California

5/27/07-Sprawl clashes with warming in California PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Martin   
Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Sunday, May 27, 2007

(05-27) 04:00 PDT Sacramento -- California's pioneering push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is colliding with one of the state's most ingrained legacies: urban sprawl.

In litigation and legislation, environmentalists, lawmakers and Attorney General Jerry Brown are using a landmark law enacted last year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to argue that the state must rethink the kind of immense and far-flung housing developments that have defined California land-use patterns for decades.

The global warming fight has given new ammunition to the battle against sprawl, which detractors argue creates more cars on the road and energy use and is therefore a key ingredient in the climate-change crisis that threatens the California coastline and snowpack.

The need to rein in sprawl has not received much attention from Schwarzenegger, who has garnered international attention as he has talked about creating more efficient cars, boosting solar power, and developing new carbon-trading markets for industry. But experts, including the governor's own climate advisers, argue that changing how housing is developed is key to meeting the emissions reductions that AB32 calls for.

Those changes, aimed at nothing less than altering how and where Californians live and encouraging a car-crazy state to drive less, may be the most profound -- and difficult -- challenge for the state's global warming fight.

"This is just a preliminary step in the turbulent waters of AB32," Brown said.

Last month, the newly elected attorney general filed an unusual lawsuit against San Bernardino County over the county's recently adopted 25-year growth plan.

Brown accuses the Inland Empire county of failing to consider how growth and new development will impact climate change, suggesting the passage last year of AB32 requires that the county detail strategies to help limit the growth of carbon emissions as it contemplates how to accommodate an expected 25 percent increase in population. Brown has asked a state superior court judge to require the county to redo its general plan, account for the amount of greenhouse gas emissions new developments could create, and provide strategies for lessening those emissions or mitigating them.

The lawsuit could have significant impacts on Bay Area counties and outlying bedroom communities as they develop long-term growth plans. Brown said he would be watching other counties and would sue them as well is they didn't consider ways to help alleviate global warming.

"We can no longer pretend that carbon emissions don't exist," Brown said. "This is a plan that won't be changed again until 2030, and to not have a word in it about climate change is ignoring a very real problem."

The lawsuit is one of at least seven around the state using the global warming threat to challenge building or planning proposals by developers and local governments. Targets include proposals to build an 11,000-home development in Lathrop in the delta, a 2,600-home development in Riverside County, and a facility that would make agricultural compost in San Bernardino County.

Brown and the groups behind the other lawsuits argue that state environmental review laws require planners to calculate the effects on climate change that a project or general growth plan would have, and to attempt to mitigate them.

"Given the obvious impacts of climate change on California, we felt the time was right to push the issue into litigation," said Julie Teel, an attorney for the Center on Biological Diversity, which is behind four of the lawsuits.

Defendants argue, however, that the lawsuits are asking them to consider an issue they've never considered before, and one that isn't legally required.

"There is no requirement that general plans account for greenhouse gases," said David Wert, a spokesman for San Bernardino County.

"We think these lawsuits are way ahead of the game," noted Tim Coyle of the California Building Industry Association, a lobbying group for home builders.

But the lawsuits broach a topic that virtually every climate-change expert in California agrees on: Sprawl is contributing to global warming.

"We have to address land use to reach the AB32 targets," said Dan Skopec, undersecretary of the governor's Environmental Protection Agency.

The problem is this: Low-density housing developments built far from where people work, and far from public transportation, increase everything from the energy use generated to bring water to outlying areas to the amount of miles people drive in their cars. Brown's lawsuit against San Bernardino, which is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, notes that the current population logs 28 million miles per day in vehicles.

The answer to this, many agree, is to change land development patterns to encourage more high-density housing near public transportation and employment centers to get people out of their cars.

Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, chairwoman of the California Energy Commission, noted that the state has pursued laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars, ratcheted up regulations requiring more energy-efficient buildings and homes, and initiated efforts to increase the use of renewable power.

"But while all of these different pieces of the global warming puzzle are being addressed, we also need to look at the system as a whole," said Pfannenstiel, who is heading a group of state officials looking at land-use issues and global warming for Schwarzenegger.

According to projections compiled by the Bay Area's Transportation and Land Use Coalition, statewide emissions from automobiles will continue to rise during the next two decades even with cleaner-burning gasoline and more efficient cars, because of population growth and continuing sprawl.

"You can have more efficient cars and houses, but until we get to a point where people don't have to drive to do anything, from buying a loaf of bread to going to work, we won't be truly addressing climate change," Pfannenstiel said.

Speaking at a climate change conference in Santa Barbara in March, Pfannenstiel declared that the state needed a cultural revolution when it came to land-use planning.

In Sacramento, reforming land-use planning is likely to be one of the most contentious issues of the year.

Legislation by state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would require state regulators to set emissions reduction targets in each region of the state, and would restrict some transportation funds from going to regions that don't develop growth plans that discourage sprawl and encourage development centered around public transportation and job centers. The idea behind SB375, Steinberg said, was to reward regions that meet their new housing needs in a way that doesn't lead to dramatic increases in the amount people drive.

"We need to get people out of cars, and if they're in cars, it needs to be for a shorter period of time," he said.

Steinberg's bill has advanced through two committees in the Senate and faces another hearing in the Senate Appropriations committee this week. With the backing of Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, it seems likely to eventually pass out of the Senate.

But whether the bill will clear the state Assembly and win support from Schwarzenegger remains unclear. The governor has not taken a position on the bill, which is opposed by developers groups and faces skepticism from local government officials. Those groups have significant influence in the Legislature and with Schwarzenegger.

Bill Huggins, a lobbyist with the League of California Cities, noted that cities support the idea of reducing sprawl but are concerned with more restrictions from the state. He noted past emphasis on things like providing more affordable housing may conflict with new efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"Local governments often end up dealing with how to reconcile all of the different demands," he said.

Bay Area's emissions
The source of greenhouse gas emissions produced in the Bay Area:

-- Transportation -- 50 percent

-- Industrial and commercial activities -- 26 percent

-- Residential activities -- 11 percent

-- Electricity generation -- 7 percent

-- Oil refining -- 6 percent

Source: Bay Area Transportation and Land Use Coalition

Green Building Resources
Buildin Design & Construction
Common Sense Design, resource page
Environmental Building News
Frank Lloyd Wright
Get into Green, at the National Building Musem
Green Affordable Housing
Green Building Community.Com
Green Sage
International Initiative for sustainable built environment
LEED for Homes, energy certification from the USGBC
List of recycled building products from the Ca.Integratd waste management board
Marin County Green Building Program
Marin Max Reuse
National Renewable Energy Labratory Homepage
Oikos Green Building Source

(C) 2022
Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU/GPL License.