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CP&DR News Briefs, May 4, 2015: Brown Sets 2030 Greenhouse Gas Targets; OPR Releases Draft VMT Guidelines; Caltrans Management Plan, and More

Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order to establish a California greenhouse gas reduction target of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 – the most aggressive benchmark enacted by any government in North America to reduce dangerous carbon emissions over the next decade and a half. It also orders the state to prepare for adaptation to climate change. California is on track to meet or exceed the current target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, as established in the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32). California’s new emission reduction target of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 will make it possible to reach the ultimate goal of reducing emissions 80 percent under 1990 levels by 2050. This is in line with the scientifically established levels needed in the U.S. to limit global warming below 2 degrees Celsius – the warming threshold at which scientists say there will likely be major climate disruptions such as super droughts and rising sea levels.“With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations, but it’s one that must be reached – for this generation and generations to come,” said  Brown in a statement. (See CP&DR commentary by Josh Stephens and Bill Fulton on the order's potential impact on statewide Sustainable Communities Strategies.)

Complete Streets Movement Gains Momentum in California

Back in the early days of email, before Facebook and Buzzfeed, people used to send jokes around as chain messages. “Forwards” we sometimes called them. My favorite of these forwards was “Ways to Confuse Your Roommate” (here’s a version of it). My favorite way: “Go to the gym. Use the multipurpose room. For just one purpose."

I’ve often thought about streets the same way. We usually use them for just one purpose, especially in California. And yet, no one is ever baffled. 

The complete streets movement is changing this attitude. As most planners know, complete streets have been gaining popularity for the past few years, as the infrastructural equivalent of smart growth. Inspired by the Dutch woonerf and, before that, by the simple reality of multi-use, pre-automobile streets, complete streets seek to accommodate a diverse array of transportation modes all in the same space. The movement contends that feet and cars can peacefully coexist, and that streets can be places that people inhabit rather than pass through. 

Will Brown’s 40% Executive Order Squeeze Regions Via SB 375?

This week, Gov. Jerry Brown announced an executive order to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030. It’s being hailed as the most aggressive climate change policy pursued by any government in North America – but will it put the squeeze on California’s metropolitan planning organizations and their sustainable communities strategies?

Brown’s order has drawn attention for its combination of ambition and immediacy. But it does not come out of thin air. Brown’s 2030 targets fit, substantively and chronologically, between those of Fran Pavley’s 2006 law Assembly Bill 32, which mandates lowering GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s goals of 80 percent reduction by 2050, also established by executive order. Meeting them means that, in relatively short order, California will look, drive, and power itself far differently than it does today — especially as its population continues to rise. 

The order requires all state agencies with jurisdiction over sources of greenhouse gas emissions to participate. Agencies must prepare implementation plans by September 2015, with guidance from a technical advisory group that will be set up by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. 

World's Business Leaders Converge on L.A., Give a Few Nods to Cities

BEVERLY HILLS —This week's Milken Institute Global Conference brought together more CEO’s, heads of state, hedge fund managers, and industrialists than, I reckon, any other annual gathering in the United States. It’s a strange event at which to be an urbanist – and not just because it takes place in one of our most unusual cities, Beverly Hills. 

Planners, developers, and sundry folk love and believe in our cities. Many of us love our cities, and we are inspired daily by their dynamism and, in some case, their enormity. Los Angeles has 4 million people. And it functions (sort of). Amazing, right?! I think so.

But then you pass the Splenda to a CEO in the coffee line and realize that the annual revenue of his or her company might exceed that of a city’s budget, or even its gross metropolitan product. That’s humbling. It’s more humbling when you consider that some of these companies, from Twitter to Google to all the finance companies, hardly exist in physical space. They might employ a handful of people and deliver all of their products online. 

Cities Seize Chances to Avoid CEQA Review through Voter Initiatives

After 20 years, Los Angeles is on the verge of obtaining a new National Football League team. And as it turns out, the winning play for the NFL in Los Angeles may have been drawn up in a courtroom in Sacramento. In the cities of Carson and Inglewood, competing sponsors of stadium proposals are employing, simultaneously, a newly legitimized tactic to exempt their projects from review under the California Environmental Quality Act. Carson used the tactic to approve its stadium last week in record time. 

Last year, the California Supreme Court decided Tuolomne Jobs & Small Business Alliance v. Superior Court of Tuolomne County  in favor of Walmart, which had proposed a ballot initiative to approve a superstore in the City of Sonora. Before the initiative went to voters, the city council adopted the language of the initiative, effectively approving the project and claiming the CEQA exception that would have been granted had voters actually approved the project.

L.A. County General Plan: First Update in 35 Years

In the continuous scrum of Los Angeles County planning, some kind of milestone was reached this spring when the Board of Supervisors formally approved the county's 2035 General Plan update.

The new document is the first comprehensive rewrite of county planning rules since 1980.

Among other things, it represents a new focus on the county’s urbanized unincorporated areas, as well as more traditional undeveloped areas on the fringe. It is the first L.A. County general plan to take advantage of digital mapping approaches in promoting more consistent groupings of land use policies across multiple properties and types of ownership. It's an approach that meshes well with current state and federal planning processes for alternative energy -- which matters especially because of pressures for solar and wind energy development in the Antelope Valley.

CP&DR News Briefs, April 27, 2015: Ruling Disrupts Water-Saving Plans; Cappio Leaves HCD; and More

Water agencies cannot charge water users incrementally more per gallon of use following a ruling by the Fourth District Court of Appeals that cited a 1996 law prohibiting government agencies from overcharging for services. The suit came about after San Juan Capistrano charged nearly four times as much per unit of water for users in the highest tier to provide an incentive to conserve, but failed to show that the water was that expensive to deliver. Governor Jerry Brown wanted to use the rates to save water and create strong disincentives for wealthier residents. Other water districts must now review the ruling to make sure that their rates are in step with the court, while still encouraging conservation during the drought. Two-thirds of water districts use some form of tiered water pricing, but now agencies will have to show that hikes are directly tied to the cost of water, according to the court.

CP&DR News Briefs, April 20, 2015: Marin Farmers Negotiate with Coastal Commission; Santa Monica Down-Zones General Plan; Guadelupe Considers Disincorporation, and More

Marin County officials and state Coastal Commissioners agreed to take more time to hash out the nuances of new regulatory proposals that county officials think could impose too many constraints on local farmers even as the Commission seeks to limit the impacts of agricultural activities in the coastal zone. Locals were worried that new regulations - detailed in hundreds of pages of complicated state analysis - would require farmers to get permits to switch agricultural uses, from ranching to grape-growing, for instance, and would tighten rules on building under the Coastal Act. At issue as well are requirements such as setbacks and the allowed ratio of buildings to acres of farmland that a farmer owns. Farmers expressed concerns that overly tight regulations could put them out of business. “Too many rules and regulations leads to outlaw behavior, so getting it right” is essential, Steve Kinsey, chairman of the Commission, told the Marin Independent Journal. The delay in implementing regulations comes as the county withdrew its coastal development plan, giving the sides more time to reach an agreement. The county is expected to resubmit the plan in the fall. 

The Man Who Changed the Way We Think About Parking

Back in 2010, when I was Mayor of Ventura, the city installed parking meters downtown for the first time in 40 years. Not for every parking space, of course. The meters covered only 300 or so prime spaces on Main Street and a few popular side streets. Thousands of other downtown spaces – both onstreet and off – remained free.

 The problem we were trying to solve was a pretty typical one: Demand was so high for the prime spaces that people were cruising up and down Main Street, causing a constant traffic jam, in search of a space. The spaces themselves were hogged by merchants and their employees. It was hard to enforce the existing two-hour time limit, and the parkers gamed the system with such familiar tricks as wiping the meter maids’ chalk of their tires. Meanwhile, a half-block away, parking lots and a parking garage sat empty.

CP&DR News Briefs, April 13, 2015: L.A. Sustainability Plan; S.D. Rescinds Embattled Climate Plan; Californians Win National APA Awards; and More

Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles announced his new "Sustainable City pLAn," a far-reaching decree that seeks to make Los Angeles sustainable in ways ranging from water to solar energy to waste. Among other things, the plan seeks to reduce daily Vehicle Miles Traveled by 5 percent by 2025, to implement the Vision Zero policy to reduce traffic fatalities, to have zero days in which air pollution reaches unhealthy levels by 2025, and to complete 32 miles of Los Angeles River public access by 2025. The plan defines sustainability broadly, to include not only ecological goals but also broad goals of social and economic sustainability.

The plan seeks to reduce driving and pollution, increase walkability within neighborhoods (using WalkScore), improve pedestrian safety, promote development of affordable housing and transit-oriented development, support the re:codeLA initiative to update the city’s zoning code, revitalize the L.A. River, and support environmental justice, among other goals. Garcetti also signed a mayoral directive that requires all city departments to incorporate pLAn goals into their programs, and establishes sustainability officers in applicable departments and bureaus. At a signing event, he pledged that this "is not a plan for the shelves."

Los Angeles’ Slow-Growthers Have Gotten What They Wanted

Los Angeles’ housing crisis has been building for long enough that just about anyone who rents an apartment here could have told you about it years ago. But it wasn’t until last summer that UCLA released a report confirming what many of us already know: as a function of average rents (high) and average incomes (low, especially compared to those in San Francisco and New York) Los Angeles is the least-affordable rental market in the country. 

Circulating around the blogosphere now is a single graph that illustrates why: 

California Cities and the Innovation Economy: Q&A With Enrico Moretti

It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that every business today wants to be innovative. Entrepreneurs are motivated by the likes of Apple, Google, Twitter and many others are based in California cities. This is no accident. In his recent book The New Geography of Jobs, Enrico Moretti, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, explains how cities promote innovation (defined not just as technology, but also as medicine, media, manufacturing and other sections that rely on constant improvement of products and services) and, importantly, how innovation affects cities’ economies. As it turns out, the cities of Moretti’s adopted home state have some of the biggest beneficiaries of the innovation economy—and some that have been left behind. 

Morretti spoke with CP&DR Contributing Editor Josh Stephens about how California became innovative and how it can stay that way.

A Forest of High Rises Grows in Los Angeles

Until the mid-2000s, the South Park neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles had exactly one high-rise tower: the looming, vaguely Stalinist Transamerica Building (now the AT&T Center). It most famously supplied the rooftop where Guns 'n Roses shot the video for "Don't Cry." The area—which occupies the southern portion of downtown Los Angeles, between the Financial District and Interstate 10—otherwise consisted of dilapidated retail, low-rent residential buildings and acres of surface parking lots. 

The area was avoided by businesses, developers, and rock stars alike. 

Today, the AT&T Center is but the tallest tree in a rapidly growing forest. No fewer than 20 high-rise and medium-rise projects are under construction or in development in the roughly 40 square-block area. At least that many projects are in earlier stages of development. 

It is, say planners, the next phase in the resurgence of downtown Los Angeles. 

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A Vivid Warning for Coastal Cities

Currently on display at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, Sink or Swim: Designing for a Sea Change is an arresting exhibition depicting consequences of, and solutions to, rising sea levels. It includes photographs by artists and journalists of disasters, like Hurricane Katrina and the Japanese tsunami, and responses, like floating schools in Bangladesh, sculpted sea walls in the Netherlands, and the restoration of the Malibu Lagoon, just a few miles away. Sink or Swim celebrates, and issues a charge to engineers, designers, and public officials to acknowledge rising seas and start embracing ways to build resiliency.

Sink or Swim was curated by Frances Anderton, known locally for hosting KCRW public radio’s DnA: Design & Architecture show. She spoke with CP&DR’s Josh Stephens.

Pasadena Ushers in Era of VMT Metrics

Perhaps fittingly, one of the state’s oldest, stateliest cities will be the first to institute one of the most sophisticated advances in planning tools since the slide rule. Not long ago, the City of Pasadena implemented metrics that measure projects’ impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act in terms of vehicle miles traveled rather than level of service. 

Pasadena is not only the first city in the state to adopt VMT metrics but may also be the first in the nation. 

Pasadena’s switch both responds to and precedes the adoption of Senate Bill 743. Passed in 2013 as an amendment to the California Environmental Quality Act, SB 743 will require cities to evaluate traffic impacts according to vehicle miles traveled, not to traditional level-of-service thresholds.

CP&DR News Briefs, April 6, 2015: MPO's Question Grant Program; L.A. Adopts Ambitious Health Element; O.C. Told to Build More Housing, and more

Following the announcement two weeks ago of the finalists for $120 million worth of grants through the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities grant program, two metropolitan planning organizations in southern California are calling foul. The five-county region covered by the Southern California Association of Governments, by far the largest metropolitan planning organization in the state, had only 12 of 54 finalists. By contrast, Alameda County alone had eight finalists.