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SB 375 Advisory Committee Inches Toward Policy Issues

Jun 4, 2009
The committee charged with recommending how the Air Resources Board should establish greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets under AB 32 and SB 375 spent much of its first half dozen meetings talking in about the technical details of measuring emissions and modeling for future emissions. That changed on Wednesday, June 3, when Regional Targets Advisory Committee (RTAC) member Richard Katz said he'd had enough.

Can't we get on with the policy discussion, asked Katz, a former assemblyman who represents the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Commission on the RTAC.

Other RTAC members – including Los Angeles Planning Commissioner Mike Woo and San Diego Association of Governments Executive Director Gary Gallegos – agreed during something of an impromptu roundtable discussion. Woo said it was time to "reclaim the direction of the committee."

The Air Resources Board is in the midst of implementing AB 32, the three-year-old law that requires California to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The Air Resources Board has decided that a small portion of the GHG reduction will be attributable to land use changes, but the board has deferred the specifics to the SB 375 process. Passed last year, SB 375 requires the state to establish GHG emissions reduction targets for each of the state's 17 regions, and requires the metropolitan planning organization within each region to adopt land use planning and transportation strategies that will meet the target. To help figure out what the targets should be, the board appointed the 21-member advisory committee earlier this year to recommend factors and methodologies the board should consider.

Despite the call for diving into policy issues during the most recent RTAC meeting, questions of how to measure emissions and ways to predict how policies will affect future emissions remain. Barry Wallerstein, executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said a summary of regional scenario data (essentially a collection of models) that was provided for the June 3 meeting proved that the various models employed by different MPOs are too inconsistent to be of use.

"The existing models don't provide a common yardstick by which we can measure progress toward the targets," Wallerstein said. "I think that's a major problem."

Shari Libiki, a consultant and Stanford environmental engineering professor, insisted the panel could not recommend policy without better data.

"We don't understand our baseline very well," Libiki said. "I understand that people are frustrated with talking about models." But, she added, the models will affect the committee's recommendations.

The committee made no recommendations at the June 3 meeting, but several of the committee members' priorities started to shine through.

Great Valley Center founder Carol Whiteside encouraged the committee to be  "bolder" and not settle for "tinkering at the margins" of land use and transportation policy. A $1 per gallon gas tax would generate a great deal of new revenue and help move the state toward its GHG reduction goals, she said.

Affordable housing attorney Michael Rawson and University of Southern California professor Manuel Pastor Jr. pressed for the inclusion of social equity as part of a policy package. Any policy that results in displacement of low-income people or disruption of communities should not be considered "feasible," argued Rawson.

Amanda Eaken, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the committee should ensure that local governments have the tools to respond to changing demographics and new housing products – namely, housing other than single-family subdivisions.

Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission Executive Director Steve Heminger expressed what appeared to be a somewhat common observation, and a frustration.

"2020 is really soon," Heminger said in reference to the AB 32 deadline for reducing GHG emissions to 1990 levels. "But land use strategies are slow acting, and they are even slower in regions that are growing slowly. And they are slower yet in regions in recession."

"We are working on this subject at a time when our Legislature is on the verge of blowing the state up," Heminger continued, noting that all funding for transit is likely to be lost. "They are doing everything they can to encourage more driving."

So, how much should the current recession and state budget crisis factor into the committee's recommendations?

A lot, said Katz, who argued for GHG targets "grounded in real world achievability."

Not so much, said Stuart Cohen, of advocacy group TransForm. "We should not use the existing funding situation as the reason for low targets," he said.

The committee has only four meeting scheduled before it makes a recommendation to the Air Resources Board. Those should be lively – and very long – sessions.

– Paul Shigley
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