Santa Barbara County’s emission targets were the subject of a public workshop Tuesday, and whether a regional governing body should press for stricter emissions standards than the state has recommended. Earlier this summer, the California Air Resources Board issued draft targets to Santa Barbara County as a part of Senate Bill 375, which creates greenhouse gas reduction targets for regional agencies throughout the state.

CARB consults with metropolitan planning organizations and issues them draft targets, and Santa Barbara County was one of the only counties expected to increase emissions by 2030.  Although only about a dozen people showed up for public comment Tuesday, several said they’d like to see the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments take a stronger stance on emissions.

Based on SBCAG’s current growth forecast, which was updated in 2007, emissions are expected to increase to 6 percent by 2020 and 4 percent by 2035. SBCAG deputy director Michael Powers displayed a graph that showed SBCAG as second to last, followed only by the Lake Tahoe area, in its emissions projections. On a per capita basis, however, he added that the county’s emissions are still midrange.

Predictably, the San Joaquin Valley and clusters of major metropolitan areas account for the largest regional groups. Santa Barbara is included among six smaller areas: Butte, Monterey Bay area, San Luis Obispo, Shasta and Tahoe, all areas that have slower growth and lower densities, according to Powers.

Factoring entities like UCSB and Vandenberg Air Force Base, areas where SBCAG doesn’t have authority, is a challenge to growth and emissions, and Powers said SBCAG pointed that out to CARB. The Santa Barbara County agency issued its report to the state board and cited the recession and a recently updated forecast as factors in its struggle to control emissions.

“This submission was not SBCAG’s plan for reducing greenhouse gases, but a projection of emissions based on existing growth,” said Powers, adding that the group estimates Santa Barbara County’s emissions per capita amount to 16.8 pounds of carbon dioxide per day, an amount “squarely in the middle of the pack.”

Powers also addressed what neighboring regions were targeting. Southern California Association of Governments, which includes Ventura County, approved a 6 percent decrease by 2020 and 8 percent by 2030. The San Luis Obispo Council of Governments also approved an 8 percent decrease by 2030.

What are the consequences if the organization doesn’t make its targets? There aren’t many yet, but entities that can’t meet their targets will have to come up with alternatives. It could also have impacts on any projects that are given California Environmental Quality Act certification if the standards are changed. Powers said he suspects consequences for not meeting the targets will develop over time.

Several speakers asked the board to consider a zero net increase in per capita greenhouse gas emissions. Others pushed even further, asking that CARB set a target of 8 percent reduction in per capita emissions.

“A zero net increase is what we’ve been doing,” said Michael Chiacos, a transportation specialist at the Community Environmental Council. He implored the board to consider a more drastic decrease.

When asked why CARB didn’t give them a lower reduction, “we lacked sufficient tools to address some of these emissions,” Powers said. Some of those tools, like a need to consider land use regionally, were also pointed out.

“In the past our board has not wanted us to get involved in that,” said Powers, adding that “we’re going through a period of growth and some tension” about what’s local and regional. A grand jury report from last year took aim at the lack of regional land-use planning and a disproportionate emphasis on transportation.

One speaker brought up money that SBCAG declined to accept from the state for land-use issues. Although the state offered $250,000 to counties willing to solve regional problems, Santa Barbara County was the only one that refused to participate.

“The citizenry has suffered because of that,” Mike Hackett said during public comment. “We’ve gone our own way and it’s time for us to get over that.”

During comment, Lee Moldaver said that asking bigger, more populated areas to cut their emissions while smaller areas like Santa Barbara expect an increase “just isn’t going to sell.”  Moldaver also took a swing at the SBCAG board. “The voting majority is the only thing standing between us and no net increase (in emissions),” he said.

Jayne Brechwald, speaking for the Coalition for Community Wellness, said that quality of life and health would be sacrificed if car-centered lifestyles continued. She called the plan “unacceptable” and said “the health of the community depends (on a decrease in emissions).”

The SBCAG board will be reviewing the public comments at its meeting Monday, and will forward its decision to CARB, which is expected to make a decision on Sept. 24. In the meantime, another public workshop will be taking place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16 at the Santa Maria Public Library, 421 S. McClelland St. Those who can’t attend the workshops are encouraged to e-mail their thoughts to ghart@sbcag.org for forwarding to the SBCAG board.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.