Cities’ plan for sustainability will influence growth for decades

October 1, 2013

 

Over the past year, the San Joaquin Council of Governments (SJCOG) has been working on a plan that will greatly affect growth and development in our portion of the Central Valley. In August, we got our first glimpse of this plan and how it could change our day-to-day lives. As the region’s population skyrockets over the coming years, SJCOG will play a big role in comfortably accommodating more people without increasing traffic, air pollution and sprawl.

SJCOG’s work is all part of Senate Bill 375, California’s landmark emission reduction bill, which passed in 2008. In a nutshell, the law requires 18 regions across California to develop a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) to curb greenhouse gas emissions by reprioritizing transportation patterns. These plans are supposed to influence each region’s growth. Here, SJCOG is responsible for putting together the Stockton metro area’s SCS with the ultimate goal of reducing emissions by 5 percent by 2020 and 10 percent by 2035 (using 2005 emissions as a baseline).

SJOG has worked on the region’s SCS since last November, but it wasn’t until recently that the public got to see how the plan could affect the Stockton area. In August, SJCOG released four different maps—Scenarios A, B, C, and D — depicting how the Stockton region could grow under different variations of the SCS.

Scenario A reflects traditional growth patterns occurring mostly on farmland. Here, single family homes comprise 91 percent of new construction. On the other end of the spectrum, Scenario D reflects condensed growth occurring mostly within existing cities. In that scenario, SJCOG estimates that 51 percent of new construction would be a mixture of townhomes, apartments and condominiums, with the rest being single-family homes. Scenarios B and C fall somewhere in between.

The maps are a nice visualization of where new growth may occur, but more importantly, they also represent various health, transportation and environmental outcomes for our region depending on how we decide to grow. SJCOG’s estimates indicate that Scenario D will waste less gas, pave over less farmland, and consume less energy than all other scenarios. In addition, Scenario D also includes the highest amount of public transit ridership.

Of these four scenarios, groups representing a broad spectrum of Central Valley interests are gravitating towards the positive elements presented in Scenario D. Environmental groups like the reduction in driving and preservation of land while health groups like the idea of fewer traffic collisions and cleaner air. Public input gathered from listening sessions and online surveys indicates strong support for growth within existing cities as well as farmland preservation. With regard to transportation, public sentiment is leaning towards more bike lanes, trails and public transportation options over new roads.

SJCOG officials stress that the final product won’t be any one of the four scenarios presented thus far. Instead, SJCOG will develop a hybrid of the scenarios customized to address the needs and concerns of each city. For example, Stocktonians may indicate their preference for more infill development while Manteca may prefer a more traditional, single-family subdivision approach.

While SJCOG’s work will undoubtedly influence Stockton metro growth, the SCS should not be considered a land use plan. Regional bodies such as SJCOG cannot force cities or private property owners to do anything. However, SB 375 does give SJCOG the authority to set eligibility standards for federal and state transportation funds. According to the law, if a transportation project is not aligned with the region’s SCS, then it is not eligible for funding.

For example, SJCOG’s plan won’t stop a subdivision from going up on farmland, but the extra streets and highways needed to sustain that subdivision won’t be eligible for federal funds if it’s not part of the SCS. Cities and developers are welcome to finance the needed transportation infrastructure themselves, but they can’t use tax dollars to do so. In this respect, the final SCS will place a greater emphasis on infill development in downtown areas with easy access to various transportation options.

If all goes as planned, SJCOG will unveil its proposed plan this November, which will be followed by a 55-day public comment period. After another round of outreach, SJCOG will finalize the plan in March 2014. If you care about how your city and region will grow over the next 25 years, make sure to get involved in the outreach process to make the needs of your community heard.

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