This story by Will Kane appeared June 24, 2010 in the San Francisco Chronicle
New development in California needs to be designed from the start to conserve electricity and water, decrease driving time, improve air quality and promote a sustainable lifestyle, according to a landmark study of the state’s future growth.
Vision California, the state’s first major planning document in almost 30 years, was released June 23.
Growth should focus not on increasing suburban sprawl but instead on creating compact development in already established cities, the report says. Bringing commuters closer to their jobs, its authors argue, can help Californians drive 3.7 trillion fewer miles and save 140 billion gallons of gasoline by 2050.
“The days when people could afford to drive until they find an affordable quality home maybe are gone,” said Peter Calthorpe, head of Calthorpe Associates, the Berkeley firm that wrote the plan.
There are few surprises in the document, which focuses on a theme Californians have heard for decades: We need to conserve increasingly scarce resources.
The $2.5 million effort was overseen by the Strategic Growth Committee, a Cabinet-level group that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told to develop a state blueprint for growth.
“California is leading the nation in tackling smart and comprehensive land-use planning,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “By working together at all levels of government, we can help create a brighter, more sustainable future for generations of Californians to enjoy.”
Even though the report is only a recommendation with no teeth, the plan takes direct aim at today’s development politics in California, where cities and regions have for decades insisted on having the autonomy to develop their own growth initiatives.
The difference now is that a variety of statewide rules and projects, including requirements to cut green-house gas emissions and the effort to design and build a high-speed rail system, requires that planning agencies throughout the state look at development from a broader perspective.
“It is always dangerous to isolate one issue, no matter how important that issue may be,” Calthorpe said.
The political realties of California could dilute the full impact of the report.
A 2008 law gives the state authority to override regional plans that do not do enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but that authority has rarely been used.
Additionally, GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has said that if elected she would suspend a 2006 law that requires greenhouse gas emissions be reduced by roughly 25 percent. Whitman and other conservatives complain that the plan – strongly backed by Schwarzenegger – will increase energy costs and stifle much-needed economic growth.
A measure to suspend the emission rules qualified this week for the November ballot.
But Calthorpe said sustainable growth is necessary and will survive any short-term political delays.
“Quite frankly, I think market forces are just pushing us in this direction,” he said. “I think a lot of this has its own momentum.”