Southern California's regional planning agency unveiled a new "conceptual land use plan" on Friday, May 8 – but the plan does not meet the presumed greenhouse gas emissions target for the region under SB 375, and SCAG has not revealed yet how growth would be split up under the most transit-oriented interpretation of the plan.

The plan – unveiled during the Southern California Association of Governments' annual meeting in La Quinta – concentrates development on a half-million acres of land near rail, bus rapid transit, and local bus lines in the six-county SCAG region. Initial numbers suggest that this plan would only get SCAG 60% of the way toward the region's likely SB 375 emissions reduction target. Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata emphasized that the new map is simply "the starting point of a conversation" and that SCAG would not force local governments to take an allocation number for emissions reduction purposes because SB 375 does not require it.

"We are not here to tell people what to do," Ikhrata said. "We do not have the power or the inclination to do that. We are here to help cities implement SB 375 in a way that is beneficial to everybody."

Councilmember Larry McCallon of Highland, who chaired the meeting of SCAG's Committee on Economic and Human Development, added: "We're not going to ask SCAG dictate to you what needs to be done. We're going to put these out there for discussion. Whatever we put out there as a region reflects your input. This is a law we are trying to implement good or bad and you are not obligated to use anything, it's not mandatory. You are welcome to come out with your own ideas on how to make this whole thing work and get involved in process."

Reaction from local elected officials on the SCAG Regional Council was predictably unenthusiastic. Several local officials said they thought emissions reduction targets should be balanced on other sectors of the economy, such as cleaner fuels for both cars and trucks and energy efficiency. But heavy trucks and energy efficiency are being dealt with outside the SB 375 process. Others feared that if they were already built out and did not densify they would lose transportation dollars. Ikhrata assured them that they would not, though SB 375 directs SCAG to dole out transportation dollars so as to maximize emissions reduction.

SCAG is assuming that when the California Air Resources Board issues regional targets for emissions reduction sometime next year, the six-county Southern California region will be required to take about half the reduction in the state – or about 2.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Alone among regional planning agencies in the state, SCAG is permitted under SB 375 to downshift implementation of these emissions reduction targets to some or all of its 14 subregions. But unlike with the regional housing assessment, SCAG is not required by law to give the subregions – or individual cities and counties – a hard target for emissions reduction.

Ikhrata's presentation Friday had two components. First, he showed the conceptual land use plan and its potential for emissions reduction. Second, he revealed several possible methodologies for distributing emissions reductions among the subregions – but did not reveal the results of the most interesting one. (You may find all of Ikhrata's PowerPoint slides and the underlying data on the SCAG website.)

The conceptual land use plan would reduce emissions by 1.5 million metric tons from a "baseline" analysis by 2020. This is far better than the adopted Regional Transportation Plan, which would have virtually no reductions. But it's not nearly as good as the ill-fated "Envision" plan created by SCAG last year, which almost hit the 2.5-million-metric-ton target but was so extreme that SCAG's Regional Council (made up of local elected officials) wouldn't adopt it.

SCAG originally tried to create the conceptual land use plan by concentrating development around rail and bus rapid transit lines. But this approach – which loaded most development onto about 120,000 acres, largely in Los Angeles County – couldn't accommodate enough growth at current general plan densities. So SCAG then added another 400,000 acre around local bus transit lines.

Ikhrata also unveiled six possible methods for divvying up the emissions reduction target among SCAG's 14 subregions – but he did not reveal modeling results for the most important one.

Four of the methods are straightforward and actually somewhat similar, based on a subregion's (1) total growth, (2) incremental growth, (3) total emissions, and (4) per capita or per household emissions.

Not surprisingly, all four of these methods require 60-70% of the regional reduction to come from four subregions: Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and Western Riverside counties. The methods based on overall totals (whether growth or emissions) load more burden onto Los Angeles and Orange counties, which are more populous whereas the methods based on incremental increases load more burden onto San Bernardino and Riverside, which are growing faster.

A fifth method weights the others equally and, not surprisingly, spread the burden more or less evenly among the four big subregions.

The final method, however, would place a greater emissions reduction burden in areas with significant transit investment, especially rail and BRT, and infill potential – the method most similar to the ideas in the conceptual land use plan. But Ikhrata did not reveal the modeling results from this method, nor did he explain why the results were not available. Such a model would almost certainly require concentration of most new growth in Los Angeles and, to a lesser extent, northern Orange County, where the transit system is strong and infill sites are plentiful.

It may be that this method requires densities far in excess of what current local general plans call for – which would cause a political problem for SCAG. Or it may be that there are internal debates within SCAG over how this methodology should work, because it is more complicated and less straightforward than the other five. Ikhrata did not say when the results of this methodology might be made public.

The Air Resources Board is scheduled to receive an overall statewide methodology proposal this fall from the Regional Targets Advisory Committee, a group created by SB 375 to provide advice on how to divvy up the targets among regions.