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Local News

County Proceeds with Caution in Finalizing Targets for Transit, Land Use Strategy

The Board of Supervisors wants more information before determining whether SBCAG is in line with the goals of SB 375

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors decided Thursday that it needs more facts before determining whether its planning agency’s proposed targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are satisfactory.

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments has proposed a 6 percent increase in per capita greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, which ranks 17th out of 18 regions in its projected ability to reduce emissions. San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties are calling for 8 percent decreases to meet the obligations of Senate Bill 375.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider asked staff why there’s a 6 percent increase despite the city’s current jobs-housing imbalance, and she questioned what she described as “status-quo planning.”

Staff responded by saying they don’t have the tools to address the imbalance or to set a more aggressive target because the board hasn’t given them direction. SBCAG Deputy Director Michael Powers said the board has not allowed staff to pursue a more ambitious target because it has been reluctant to surrender local autonomy. He said a different target could be reached if regional bureaucracies were given control of the city’s land use planning and transportation issues.

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said Santa Barbara is the only county in California that doesn’t have a blueprint, also known as a Sustainable Community Strategy, which lays out a forecast for the regional development pattern.

“Does Santa Barbara want to accept the target set by the state or want the board retain the ability to establish its own goals?” SBCAG Executive Director Jim Kemp asked.

Schneider proposed net zero emissions by 2020. But Michael Chiacos, a transportation specialist for the Community Environmental Council, said he would like to take it a step further, to at least match the targets set by Ventura and San Luis Obispo.

“We need to act regionally to get anything done; things are just going to get worse (otherwise),” Chiacos said. For instance, he added, 30,000 people commute to Santa Barbara, jamming roads and increasing vehicle miles traveled.

The CEC noted several miscalculations in SBCAG’s emission reduction strategies in a letter to the Air Resources Board that outlined the errors and emphasized a lack of transparency through the target-drafting process.

First, according to the letter, ridesharing has increased 40 percent in the past five years, which indicates that alternative transportation would result in more than SBCAG’s proposed 1.1 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled by 2035. Secondly, the staff’s analysis of land use and expanded transit studies severely underestimates the potential decrease of vehicle miles traveled and single-occupant driving. Thirdly, SBCAG did not accurately factor in increased fuel costs or increased parking pricing.

But staff asserted in its report that it would rather take a less ambitious target than fail to reach a loftier goal. SBCAG said the Air Resource Board’s initial focus lies on larger regions that have a higher population, more emissions, worse climate conditions and advanced tools to address the problems.

Chiacos said he doesn’t think an 8 percent decrease in admissions by 2020 is overly ambitious, adding that there are other motives for the proposed target.

“Organizations don’t want state agencies telling them what to do, or regional bodies telling cities what to do,” Chiacos said.

Santa Maria Mayor Larry Lavagnino said his city wouldn’t want any oversight.

“I can’t imagine allowing a regional body to dictate decisions to the City of Santa Maria regarding land use,” he said. “We believe that’s our duty.”

Joe Armendariz, a Carpinteria city councilman and executive director of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, said that aside from the negative consequences of a dictating body, Santa Barbara already has clean air and has consistently been an environmental leader, making a more ambitious target unnecessary.

“The city’s biggest problem isn’t air quality, it’s unemployment and lack of jobs that we’re creating,” he said. Regional oversight would “unilaterally disarm the county, all because the CEC is disappointed we aren’t symbolically out in front of other counties (regarding reduction targets).”

Chiacos said that while air pollutants and particulates such as led and nitrous dioxide have been reduced significantly since 1960, greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide have skyrocketed.

“In regards to climate change, every region has to do its part,” he said. “We all have to work on these problems together.”

SBCAG has yet to approve a sustainable community strategy that intends to meet the regional greenhouse gas reduction target through reduced travel by changes in growth and land use policy as well as alternative transportation modes. Staff has until 2013 to finalize the strategy.

The board asked staff to return with baseline numbers for greenhouse gas emissions in local regions, climate change environmental reports and methodology that explains how SBCAG reached its targets in order to make a more informed decision.

The SBCAG board will reconvene to determine emission reduction targets at 8:30 a.m. Monday, Sept. 20 in the Board of Supervisors Hearing Room on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.

Noozhawk intern Alex Kacik is a graduate of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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