Heathly, Liveable and Just Communities

Updated: September 7, 2011

California’s Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Actionotherwise known as SB 375 (Steinberg) is the first legislation of its kind to coordinate regional land use and transportation planning, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

SB 375 is one of the strategies to address climate change under AB 32 California’s Global Solutions Act by decreasing carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) from single passenger vehicles. Carbon Dioxide emissions from transportation sector account for approximately 33% of total carbon dioxide emissions in the United States-nearly 60% of the emissions resulted from gasoline consumption for personal vehicle use (see http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/usinventoryreport.html).

Our automobile dependence for daily travel to school, work, child care centers, grocery stores and other daily needs is influenced by the design of our communities. Traditional community designs spread out housing infrastructures and concentrate work centers. As the population of California grows, more and more housing is needed and hence housing development occurs at the edge of many communities and away from work opportunities. This “urban sprawl” design further increases our automobile use. SB 375 legislation provides us with the opportunity to revisit and change the “urban sprawl” design to a more compact and infill development community design by connecting land use and transportation. A more compact community design will decrease our dependence on automobiles and GHG emissions and improve our health.

Research has shown that land use policy decisions can improve obesity and other health disparities in communities with high obesity rates by improving the overall physical design of the environment, the built environment. The built environment can influence physical activity and affect social connectivity, if done correctly. Completing sidewalks, adding streetlights, reducing traffic speeds in suburban environments and investing in jobs and housing in inner cities, can increase physical activity and decrease obesity- not to mention, create social capital. Coordinating land use and transportation uses, increases a community’s access to a healthier lifestyle and greenhouse gas reduction, and therefore a healthier community in general (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1586006/?tool=pubmed.)

Sustainable Communities Strategies
SB 375 will add a new element to the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) called a “Sustainable Communities Strategy” (SCS). The SCS is intended to achieve the regions greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. A SCS:

  • Forecasts a development pattern for the all the region’s economic segments of the population, including housing areas for all of a region’s population growth and employment generated growth
  • Identifies a transportation network to meet the region’s transportation needs
    Achieves greenhouse gas reductions set by CARB
  • Considers the region’s farmland

For the Southern California region, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) set the reduction standards at 8% by 2020 and 13% by 2035. The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Los Angeles County responsible for developing the SCS for the region. To find out more information on the different components of the SCAG go to: http://www.scag.ca.gov/factsheets/index.htm.

Needless to say, the opportunity for healthier communities should benefit everyone and not just those communities with investment opportunities in the horizon. As SB 375 gets implemented and California begins to develop the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), transportation-rich neighborhoods (TRN) are becoming more desirable and needed if California is to meet its GHG reduction goal. However, a debate has ensued about who has access to TRN and Transit Oriented Developments (TOD) communities. A study by the Northeastern University Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Equity (see http://www.dukakiscenter.org/report-summary/) has found that “transit investment frequently changes the surrounding neighborhood. While patterns of neighborhood change vary, the most predominant pattern is one in which housing becomes more expensive, neighborhood residents become wealthier and vehicle ownership becomes more common.” If California is to meet its GHG reduction targets and the public health of individuals is to be improved, the implication of the bill at a local and regional level must be considered. To ensure that California’s SB 375 legislation does not have unintended consequences where core transit users and low-income households are displaced or priced-out of higher-income neighborhoods, PSR-LA has been working with social equity, social justice and environmental justice groups to ensure that the health and quality of life for low-income communities and communities of color are addressed as the next Regional Transportation Plan gets developed by ensuring that access and affordability are included in the conversation for a healthy, livable and just community.

As public health advocates, PSR-LA has partnered with other public health and equity advocates in California to ensure that the SCS include a social justice, equity and health component. This includes:

  • Community Power: Greater low income and minority community power in local and regional decision-making.
  • Healthy and Safe Communities: Communities have good quality air with safe streets that are walk-able and bicycle accessible.
  • Economic Opportunity: Communities have healthy job opportunities for all population sectors, leading to more economic opportunities.
  • Robust and Affordable local Transit: Communities have affordable access to variable transit modes and service that includes more frequent and reliable transportation that connects housing to jobs.
  • Environmental Justice: Investment in zero emission transportation technologies along the port, ensuring healthier communities.
  • Investment without Displacement: Communities have adequate affordable housing for all income levels in transit-rich and suburban communities.

In the upcoming months, PSR-LA will work to ensure that as SCAG develops their SCS strategies, all of the above indicators are included.

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