Bringing the Heat
Attorney General says local growth plans must work to counter global warming.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
The County will soon have to address how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming in its General Plan Update. Otherwise, it might face another lawsuit.
California Attorney General Jerry Brown filed suit against San Bernardino County in April because its 25-year growth plan didn’t include policies to reduce global warming. San Bernardino County plans to grow from just under 2 million residents to just over 2.5 million by 2030. Brown argues that sprawling new subdivisions will put more cars on the road, which will vastly increase greenhouse gas emissions. In court documents, Brown sites AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.
The San Bernardino General Plan’s Environmental Impact Report, according to the lawsuit, “contains no inventory of the current, baseline greenhouse gas emissions in the county, no estimate of the increase in greenhouse gas emissions that will result from the General Plan update, and no analysis of the effects of these increases on the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions mandated by AB 32.”
The Sierra Club, the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and the Center for Biological Diversity filed similar suits against San Bernardino County.
The Attorney General’s office is currently working to negotiate a settlement agreement with the county. And while Brown won’t discuss negotiation details, says spokesman Gareth Lacy, it sounds unlikely that the state will budge unless county officials pledge to reduce global warming.
“Under the California Environmental Quality Act, when a public agency is reviewing a project that might have a significant environmental impact, and if they find it to have a significant environmental impact, if they can mitigate, they must,” Lacy says. “If it’s possible to do an analysis of the amount of carbon, then that analysis must be done.
“The bottom line, in order to meet mandated greenhouse gas reductions statewide: It is necessary for agencies, local, statewide and national, to set policies that set emissions. It has to be an across-the-board effort.”
Lacy says the Attorney General has not provided comments on Monterey County’s General Plan. But he says these growth blueprints “have decade-long timelines, and this process must consider the effects of climate change.
“We all know the Global Warming Solutions Act requires reduction targets in emissions. It’s imminent; we know the problem of climate change is here now. It makes sense to incorporate that into a plan that lasts for decades.”
• • •
“Sprawl and global warming are directly related,” says Gary Patton, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League. Good urban planning, he says, can help counter the effects of global warming.
“Forty percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the state of California come from transportation-slash-land use,” Patton explains. “So, the transportation-slash-land use sector is one, if not the single biggest, cause of CO2 emissions that lead to the greenhouse effect. If we’re going to be successful in meeting the AB 32 requirements and actually roll back emissions – and certainly if we’re going to stop making the problem worse – we need to change that emissions pattern from land use and transportation. The measurable or quantifiable way is to reduce VMT, vehicle miles traveled.”
To this end, the Planning and Conservation League is currently pushing SB 375, “a so-called VMT bill,” Patton says. SB 375 aims to reduce greenhouse gasses by rewarding local governments with state and federal transportation money if they reduce the amount of vehicle miles traveled in their communities.
“It’s a very common sense thing,” Patton says. “The kind of land use patterns that have people driving long distances are exactly the patterns that are not only causing sprawl and farmland loss, habitat loss, time lost in your life, but also greenhouse gas emissions. The kind of land use patterns that are compact, that mix uses together so you don’t have to drive everywhere – to your job, to your recreation, to your church, to shopping – these things can vastly improve our greenhouse gas situation and that is what our general plans should be thinking about as we plan ahead on a 20-year horizon.”
• • •
Environmentalists have long drawn a link between sprawling development and climate change. More recently, urban planners and elected officials are also working to reduce greenhouse gases through smart-growth measures – promoting compact development, mass transit, less driving, green building, solar power and alternative fuels. The cities of Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Berkeley have each created a new staff position that will be tasked with reducing greenhouse gases. In Sacramento, Central Coast Assemblyman John Laird is moving several climate-change-related bills through the legislature. In addition to AB 1058, which would set statewide green building standards by 2013, three water conservation bills have been approved by the state Assembly and are now in the Senate.
Moving, pumping and treating water constitutes California’s biggest use of electricity. And most of the sources of electricity pollute the air. Laird’s AB 1066 would requires local coastal governments to consider the impacts of sea level rise in their general plans. AB 715 would conserve water by increasing toilet efficiency. (If signed into law, by its 10th year this bill would save the state more than 8 billion gallons of water – more than the total amount of bottled water consumed by Americans in 2005.) And AB 1420, the Urban Water Conservation Bill, would increase water-use efficiency through landscaping, retrofit toilet programs and water system audits.
Laird cites a recent statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute that found 82 percent of Californians feel global warming is a very serious or somewhat serious threat to our economy and quality of life. Additionally, 78 percent support AB 32 and its efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.
“The California public overwhelmingly supports the reduction in greenhouse gases,” Laird says. “I think local government officials are hearing the public on this. We’re trying to take leadership on some issues at the state level – such as greener buildings, water conservation and planning for sea level rise. But individual cities and counties can take their own steps to be more efficient about urban infill and trying to protect forests and ag lands, which turn out to be a big help in the process.”
Last year, Laird was one of several co-authors on AB 32. He says the local responsibility under the new law is “not explicit but implicit, meaning that there are no specific duties assigned by the law to cities and counties, but obviously, if we’re going to return to the 1990 level of emissions by 2020, cities and counties are going to have to play a role.
“And I think any air quality impact should be addressed [in an EIR] under CEQA – regardless of AB 32.”
In other words: Finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in cities and counties future growth plans is already the law.
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Last week, Monterey County Planning Commissioners began revising the 20-year blueprint for growth. During the next several weeks, commissioners will try to produce a “compromise” plan – reconciling GPU 4 with the Community General Plan Initiative – in a new document, which many are calling GPU 5.
GPU 4 did not include a policy discussion about how the county would address global warming counter-measures. Similarly, its EIR did not include baseline greenhouse gas emissions in the county, nor an estimate of the increase in emissions that will result from the General Plan update – the very things cited by Brown in his lawsuit.
Sierra Club’s Gillian Taylor says she expects county officials to look at global warming in GPU 5.
“The state is doing the right thing by dealing with emissions. The Attorney General is taking the correct stance by making sure that big development plans deal with global warming issues,” Taylor says. “This seems to be a prudent thing to do. It really would be remiss not to consider it.”
For its part, Monterey County Counsel Charles McKee says the County will consider global warming as it plans for its future. “We’re going to address what is required by state law on global warming in General Plans and Environmental Impact Reports. I don’t know whether I would be recommending to the Board of Supervisors anything that might be addressed by that lawsuit. I am recommending that the board address, through the General Plan and the EIR itself, the requirements of meeting the global warming initiative.”
McKee says it’s difficult – if not impossible – to force people not to drive single-occupancy cars to and from work, or to force cities, where most of Monterey County’s residents live, to use solar energy or build compact developments. “The best we can do is put policies in place that encourage the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” he says. Considering that 85 percent of county land is unincorporated, discouraging sprawl in GPU 5 seems like a good place to start.
|THE WEEKLY TALLY||16.5||
The average amount of fish and shellfish, in pounds, that Americans ate in 2006, up 2 percent from 2005. America, which imports around 83 percent of its seafood, is the third largest consumer in the world, behind only Japan and China. Legislation currently pending in Congress would increase aquaculture and reduce American dependency on imports. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.