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Local News

Anti-Sprawl Bill Clears Legislature

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gets landmark measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The state Senate on Saturday passed landmark legislation intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while improving land use and transportation planning to accommodate California’s population growth. An unlikely coalition of environmental organizations, homebuilder associations, local governments and affordable housing advocates had joined forces behind the anti-sprawl measure.

The legislation — SB 375 by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento — is a follow-up measure to AB 32, which had mandated that California cut its greenhouse gas levels 30 percent by 2020. SB 375 cleared the Senate on a 25-14 vote, with Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, voting against it. The bill passed the Assembly on a 49-22 vote Monday, with Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, voting for it.

SB 375 offers local governments regulatory and other incentives to encourage more compact new development and transportation alternatives while discouraging the type of suburban sprawl that is common across California. Under the legislation:

» The state Air Resources Board will set regional greenhouse gas reduction targets after consultation with local governments. That target must be incorporated within that region’s Regional Transportation Plan, or RTP, the long-term blueprint of a region’s transportation system. The resulting model will be called the Sustainable Communities Strategy.

» Each region’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment, or RHNA — the state-mandated process for local jurisdictions to address their fair share of regional housing needs — will be adjusted to align with the land-use plan in that region’s Sustainable Communities Strategy in its RTP.

» The California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, the state’s principal environmental protection statute, would be amended so the review process rewards development projects that improve air quality and energy conservation, especially transit priority projects. In return, environmentalists would have a greater say in how and where projects are located to best reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the bill, although he champions reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promotes building more homes within urban cores.

Environmental groups were quick to hail the measure’s passage Saturday.

“We need to get Californians beyond being stuck in our cars, sitting in traffic,” said Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the leading sponsors. “SB 375 will help get us moving again and cut global warming pollution at the same time. We look forward to working with the broad coalition that came together to support this bill to make sure it is implemented effectively.”

Tom Adams, board president of the California League of Conservation Voters, sounded a similar theme.

“SB 375 is not just another example of California’s national environmental leadership,” he said. “That the cradle of car culture is the first to tackle the global warming problem of long commutes is a watershed moment.”

McClintock, whose district includes Santa Barbara and Goleta, dissented. Describing the bill as “bureaucratic central planning over individual freedom of choice,” he said it would discourage developers from building traditional suburban neighborhoods that provide more space.

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at [email protected]

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