An AB 32 Scoping Plan that places a great deal of emphasis on the SB 375 process was approved on December 11 by the California Air Resources Board.

The plan tentatively calls for land use actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5 million metric tons (MMT) of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. Environmentalists and some smart growth advocates argued for a higher land use target, while building industry representatives and some local government officials said 5 MMT should be the maximum.

Rather than adjusting the target one way or the other, CARB assigned the SB 375 Regional Targets Advisory Committee – or RTAC, which has yet to be appointed – the task of refining the land use target.

"RTAC should recommend a method to evaluate the full potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in each major region of the state, and statewide, using improved land use patterns, indirect source rules, enhanced bike, walk and transit infrastructure, and pricing policies where applicable (including congestion, toll and parking pricing)," the CARB resolution approved on Thursday says. "It is the board's intent that the greenhouse gas emissions reductions associated with the SB 375 regional targets represent the most ambitious achievable targets."

Signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger in September, SB 375 attempts to tie together greenhouse gas emissions reductions from transportation, regional planning, transportation funding and planning for affordable housing.   One key element of SB 375 implementation is establishment of regional targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions tied to land use. The principle behind SB 375 is a desire to encourage compact, dense, mixed-use development that allows people to take many trips by foot, bicycle or public transit.

Board Member Daniel Sperling, who is director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at University of California, Davis, said he understands why land use received heavy attention, even though it accounts for a very small part of the AB 32 emissions reductions.

"There is so much frustration that's been growing over the years about sprawl and [there is a] desire to create better communities," Sperling said. "Many people are looking to what we are doing here because we have an institutional structure and a legal process."

"What we are doing here is breathing life into a movement," Sperling added.

"We walk a line here," said CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols, emphasizing that the board is not a land use planning agency. "My sense is we have to find a way … to be clear and to be forthright about what we think is needed."

But Board Member Ron Roberts, a San Diego County supervisor, said that while he could accept the 5MMT target, it will require "drastic measures" to achieve. Plus, he pointed out, the state is handing the emissions reductions mandate to regional and local governments at the same time the state has eliminated all funding for transit. Greatly improved transit service is essential to meeting the goal, he said.

Richard Lyon, senior legislative advocate for the California Building Industry Association, applauded CARB's decision.

"It certainly is an ambitious plan. As it relates to land use, it tracks pretty close to Senate Bill 375, and we firmly believe that is the appropriate process to determine emissions reductions in each region," Lyon said.

The coalition of builders, labor, environmentalists, local government officials and planners who endorsed SB 375 is broad, but tenuous, Lyon added. "Holding that coalition together is important," he said. "Being true to SB 375 is important. That process is where we decided the limits should be set."

Meanwhile, Matt Vander Sluis, global warming program manager for the Planning and Conservation League, said he was disappointed that CARB did not establish a high target for emissions reductions due to land use changes. In November, the board appeared headed toward a target of 10 MMT to 15 MMT, he noted. Still, he said, the RTAC has the opportunity to set an ambitious, science-based goal.

"The SB 375 target-setting process is a great opportunity. We'll continue to make the case about reducing sprawl as part of our global warming solution," Vander Sluis said." It's good that we are going to continue to have that dialogue."

The air board staff in January will propose an RTAC membership composed largely of metropolitan planning organization members, according to CARB Executive Officer James Goldstene. The committee should have recommendations for the board by late 2009, and will finalize regional emissions numbers during the later part of 2010, said Lynn Terry, CARB deputy executive officer. She insisted that 5 MMT "is not the maximum achievable target."

Both Roberts and Board Member Ron Loveridge, the mayor of Riverside, said collaboration between the state and local and regional government is essential for success. "This is not the end, but really the start," Loveridge said of the scoping plan.

Aside from land use, the Scoping Plan includes a "cap and trade" program under which some emissions will be sold and others given away. The program, however, remains very much a work in progress that will not be finalized for another two years.

Assembly Bill 32 requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, which amounts to a 25% to 30% reduction from business as usual. Cap-and-trade transactions would be responsible for about 20% of the greenhouse gas reductions under the Scoping Plan. Other major reductions would come from cleaner automobiles, lower-carbon fuels, more efficient buildings and appliances, dramatic increases in renewable energy production, and different refrigerant gases.

– Paul Shigley