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Asking Hard Questions About SB 375

Jan 19, 2009
Senate Bill 375 needs to be fixed, and it needs to be fixed this year. So says Rick Bishop, executive director of the Western Riverside Council of Governments.

Bishop is not an advocate of sprawl-and-pavement über alles, which is the way many SB 375 opponents have been painted. In fact, Bishop has no gripe with the intent of SB 375, which is to reign in low-density, segregated use sprawl and to encourage public transportation spending that best serves higher-density, mixed-use areas (that's my description, not his).

Rather, Bishop is concerned about the details of the new law. He wonders how the law will ensure a reduction in vehicle miles traveled, who will pay for preparation of the mandatory sustainable communities strategy or an alternative plan, and how emissions targets will be assigned to subregions such as Western Riverside County (which is part of the 6-county Southern California Association of Governments region). Bishop wrote about what he calls SB 375's "unfinished business" in the January edition of WRCOG's newsletter.

I called Bishop and said I sensed a high level of frustration.

"The idea is great. It has been floating around for a long time," he told me. But cleanup legislation is needed, and it's needed this year he insisted. "If that doesn't occur, SB 375 sort of sits out there as a very well-intentioned piece of legislation, but no one knows what it means."

As Bishop tries to explain SB 375 to city councilmembers, city managers and planning directors in his region, he has trouble answering some their questions. How will the California Air Resources Board's regional emissions targets influence a subregional sustainability communities strategy? How exactly will CARB recognize a subregional strategy? What are the consequences of a city or COG not complying with SB 375? And, naturally, who is going to pay for all of this?

Rick Bishop is not the only one asking such questions, but he is willing to ask them in a more straightforward fashion than other people.

No SB 375 cleanup legislation has been introduced yet in Sacramento, where the state budget crisis remains priority numbers one, two and three. I would not, however, be surprised to see at least a few SB 375 tweaks considered this year.

A side note: The Air Resources Board is scheduled this Friday morning to appoint a Regional Targets Advisory Committee, a potentially very influential panel in the evolution of SB 375.

– Paul Shigley