LOS ANGELES—For as long as I can remember, civic leaders in Southern California have been touting "regionalism." They insist that an area as interconnected as Los Angeles and its satellites really ought to coordinate how it grows and what it invests in. This sort of rhetoric usually goes no further than sparsely attended final panel discussions at a conferences about leadership or land use or some such. It's hard to "be regional" when everything from county boundaries to uncooperative public officials keep everything in its respective silos.
Last week, however, Southern California finally got something to be regional about.
At its regional council meeting Dec. 1, the leadership of the Southern California Association of Governments unveiled its draft Sustainable Communities Strategy and Regional Transportation Plan. The SCS was crafted by SCAG planners to respond to the demands of Senate Bill 375, the 2008 law that requires urban regions in California to coordinate their land use and transportation planning in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the two-month comment period to come, SCAG members and other stakeholders will no doubt grouse emphatically about this or that detail in the RTP. But if last week's event is any indication, the advent of the SCS may mark a new day in regional governance. (Bear in mind that this "region" has a larger population, and has more political subunits, than most nation-states do.)
As if all that pent up desire for regional cooperation has finally found a worthy project, city representatives and other stakeholders who offered their comments overwhelmingly supported the spirit of the RTP and exhorted their colleagues and counterparts to cooperate for the good of SCAG and of the plan itself. More than one speaker compared SCAG favorably to the California Legislature and to the U.S. Congress. They said that SCAG and its constituents can prove that regional governance can get things done when others have failed.
For a few moments, it almost felt as if the SCAG region was not part of a bankrupt state and an indebted, politically fractured country. But, of course, it is. So all the optimism and accord may not be able to obviate the fact that implementing the RTP and re-organizing land use for a region of 12 million people may cost a ducat or two. Where they will come from is open to debate.
But SCAG may be off to a good start. It, like its fellow "Big Four" MPOs, clearly has a renewed sense of purpose and a common goal. And now that SB 375 is on the books, there was no sign of the bitter debates over per capita emissions goals—largely between suburban and urban representatives—that complicated the target-setting process that the California Air Resources Board underwent this time last year.
Now if only Congress could follow SCAG's lead.