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Solimar Research

The Balancing Act: Reducing Greenhouse Gases While Still Growing

Nov 23, 2009
The Regional Targets Advisory Committee reached agreement on basic principles that the California Air Resources Board should adopt in implementing SB 375 and setting land use/transportation targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. But if a panel discussion at an SB 375 event in Ontario last week is any indication, the individual RTAC members are still having a big of a hard time getting past their own agendas.

The discussion by RTAC members was put together by the Southern California Association of Governments at a conference attended by several hundred local officials from around the Los Angeles region. Many RTAC representatives including environmentalists, local government officials, engineers, and scientists seemed to fall back on their standard positions, especially in their opening comments. Yet the discussion was best summed up in a remark by Ontario City Manager Greg Devereaux, who said: "The question isn't simply, how do we reduce GHGs? The question is, how do we create the housing and jobs needed for a growing population while reducing GHGs?"

A good deal of the discussion revolved around the RTAC's recommendation that CARB adopt a statewide per-capita emissions reduction target.

Representing cities on the RTAC, Devereaux unsurprisingly highlighted the idea that different locales have different markets a reflection of the fact that California has almost 400 cities of all shapes and sizes.

"Some of the discussion early on tended to be big-city centric and Northern California-centric, not understanding the challenges in other markets," Devereaux said. "Densities that work in some markets don't work in others. It's great to talk about TOD but in some markets the reality is that we have to do transit-ready development because the transit won't be there for a decade or two."

But fellow RTAC member Mike Woo, dean of the Cal Poly Pomona's College of Environmental Design and a member of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission, warned against placing too much emphasis on differing situations and differing contexts.

"Sometimes I think that in California geography is used as a diversionary tactic the same way race is used elsewhere," Woo said. "It's an excuse to not think about or confront the underlying issues. We need to think about how local governments and regional entities can do their fair share to respond to a statewide problem. It's appropriate to think about this on a per-capita level. Ultimately individuals have to take some responsibility for an individual per-capita contribution."

Perhaps most interesting from the local government point of view was the discussion of RTAC's recommendation that a set of "Best Management Practices" be created for local governments to use in reducing greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Barry Wallerstein, head of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, noted that the RTAC spent more time on BMPs than any other topic, yet seemed to acknowledge that no good list exists.

But Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, who represents Thousand Oaks on the RTAC, seemed to reflect the prevailing view in the room when she said: "I think the benefit of a BMP is to have it be understandable. We can talk about targets and those kind of things, but that quickly becomes over the head of policy makers and normal citizens. Just give me a menu of what I can do, how much GHG will be reduced, and I know what I can do."

Bill Fulton
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