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California Governor Signs Anti-Sprawl Bill to Limit Emissions: 30 Years Too Late?

In an unprecedented attempt to use land use measures to promote air quality, the Association of Bay Area Governments’ draft Environmental Management Plan in 1978 called for local governments to adopt local land use measures that would create a more compact development pattern for the San Francisco Bay Area.  Pressure by local labor unions, developers and local governments forced the regional task force to abandon the proposed land use measures and substitute other technological controls in the plan, which was then adopted for the Bay Area in June 1978.  At the time, we heard opponents of the land use controls suggest the misguided notion that the environmental plan would require federal Environmental Protection Agency regulatory review before local governments could approve the location of Seven-Eleven stores on Bay Area street corners. Some might even remember a headline for the substitute technological measures from the Contra Costa Times: ABAG Bans Lawn Mowers.

Today, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, facing a midnight deadline to deal with 300 bills, signed legislation aimed at helping the state fight global warming by better coordinating local planning efforts to curb suburban sprawl.

SB375, by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, addresses a key piece of California’s ambitious goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020 under landmark legislation the governor signed two years ago.

In a written statement, Schwarzenegger said the measure “takes California’s fight against global warming to a whole new level and it creates a model that the rest of the country and world will use.”

The measure directs the California Air Resources Board, which must implement AB32, to develop goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in regions of the state. The air board would work with 18 metropolitan planning agencies to reduce the distances residents drive in part by limiting sprawl.

In addition, the legislation provides financial incentives for local government agencies that embrace smart growth and develop transportation plans that help take automobiles off roadways.

Imagine that…measures that local governments found objectionable under then Governor  Edmund G. Brown Jr. in 1978 are embraced by a Republican governor 30 years later.  And the agency responsible for enforcing the new law is headed by the same Mary Nichols who lobbied ABAG regional leaders in 1978 to adopt similar growth measures (her letters in support of land use control measures were perceived as threatening local control).

One of California’s best known politicians–Jesse Unruh–used to say that successful politicians have to be standing on the right street corner when the bus goes by.  I guess the same might be said for good planning ideas.

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