The Regional Targets Advisory Committee returns to work next week for what promises to be a very technical meeting regarding greenhouse gas reduction forecasts.

The meeting and discussion are the next step in trying to answer this question: How is California going to grow in a way that reduces the amount that people drive?  

As you probably recall, the committee (known as the RTAC or "Are-Tack") was charged with making recommendations to the Air Resources Board for regional greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions from passenger vehicles, based on transportation systems and land use planning. The committee report issued last September was one of the first steps in implementing SB 375, the 2008 legislation that ties land use planning and transportation so as to reduce GHG emissions.

The committee found that a great deal more work needed to be done before the Air Resources Board could set GHG targets for the state's 18 metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to use in regional transportation planning and new "sustainable communities strategies." The committee urged a collaborative approach involving the Air Resources Board, the California Transportation Commission and the MPOs.

Since the committee finalized its report, the MPOs have gone to work analyzing existing regional transportation plans, preparing and analyzing alternative scenarios, and, importantly, testing data. Representatives of the four big MPOs – Southern California Association of Governments, San Diego Association of Governments, Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Sacramento Area Council of Governments – and representatives from the more fragmented San Joaquin Valley have been meeting to develop common parameters. They are scheduled to present their findings during the RTAC meeting set for Tuesday, May 25, in Sacramento.

"They each are engaged in very intensive and complicated plans for implementation," California Councils of Government Executive Director Rusty Selix said of the MPOs. "It's really uncharted territory."

Uncharted and complex – as the number of variables to consider appears to be almost infinite. But a May 17 report from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission provides a nice summary for us laymen: "Most of the GHG reductions that can be realized will result from how successful the region can be in moving toward more dense/mixed use and transit oriented development, and implementing more creative ways to price the transportation system to adequately reflect the true costs of a limited resource."

That statement may seem obvious but it's worth keeping in mind, lest we get lost in engineering details and formulas for chemical reactions. What we're talking about here is building urban – not suburban – communities and phasing out the notion of everybody commuting to work on the freeway. I don't deny the importance of quantifying things, but I think we already have some good answers to the basic question.

Ten MPOs, plus a collection of small MPOs, are scheduled to make scenario presentations to the RTAC on Tuesday. They'll tell the RTAC what they think they can achieve for GHG reductions, which appears to range from a little to a lot. However, it appears not everyone is speaking the same language, which is understandable. Some of MPOs' materials are already available at the Air Resources Board website.

The Air Resources Board is scheduled to give the MPOs draft GHG reduction targets next month, and to finalize the targets in September.

– Paul Shigley