Fight CO2 with smart growth, California asked

The draft plan for meeting greenhouse gas reductions falls short, according to urbanists, but support is growing for more aggressive measures.

Environmental, housing, development, and land use organizations have joined a chorus of groups calling for California to more aggressively use smart growth to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals. The state Air Resources Board (ARB) published a Climate Change Draft Scoping Plan in late June that called for the land use sector to provide 2 million metric tons (MMT) of cuts in growth of greenhouse gases — out of 169 MMT, or 1.2 percent of the total — by 2020.

The Congress for the New Urbanism and a coalition of environmental groups are calling for at least a five-fold increase — to 10 MMT — in the target for land-use-related greenhouse gas reductions. The Urban Land Institute’s four state chapters — representing developers — called for the Scoping Plan to give “greater emphasis” to land-use-related solutions, although the group did not offer a specific target. ULI called for the state to authorize tax-increment financing for transit-oriented development and to streamline environmental approval for infill development.

Even as ARB was criticized for being too timid in the land use component of the global warming goal, the legislature was tackling the issue, according to the August 21 Los Angeles Times. Senate Bill 375, given a good shot at enactment, would offer “incentives to steer public funds away from sprawled development,” the paper said. A previous version of the bill was blocked by the building industry and some local governments that feared a loss of control, “but momentum for the legislation has grown as the state seeks to implement” greenhouse gas targets, the paper said.

The momentum shift takes place as more studies support the idea that land use can strongly influence VMT (see story on page 1).

Low-VMT development

ARB’s website received scores of comments that the steady rise in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) should be slowed or reversed through compact land-use patterns. CNU used the term “low VMT development” and “high VMT development” to describe, respectively, New Urbanism and conventional suburban development.

The market for low VMT development is rising due to demographic changes and high gas prices, CNU said in a comment written by Northern California chapter members with a cover letter by John Norquist, president and CEO of the national organization. “Amid this favorable long-term outlook for walkable urbanism, local governments can exert far stronger leadership in their land-use and transportation decisions if provided with proper incentives and planning tools,” Norquist wrote.

The state can also cut CO2 emissions by investing in infrastructure that supports compact development, CNU said. California should provide technical assistance to municipalities to support a “crash program in zoning reform” that would implement form-based codes, the CNU chapter wrote.

To comment on the draft scoping plan, go to, click on “Climate Action Team,” and follow links to the scoping plan.