California Won’t Meet Its Climate Change Goals without a Lot More Housing Density in Its Cities
by Liam Dillon (Los Angeles Times) … The state has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. To do so, Southern Californians will have to drive nearly 12% less by that date than they did five years ago, cutting their miles on the road every day from 22.8 to 20.2, according a Los Angeles Times estimate based on data from state and regional climate and planning officials.
These driving reductions mean that Californians will have to walk, bike and use mass transit much more frequently than they do now. By 2030, residents will have to travel by foot four times more frequently than they did in 2012, alongside a nine-fold increase in bicycling over the same time, and a substantial boost in bus and rail ridership, climate officials say.
Getting people out of their cars in favor of walking, cycling or riding mass transit will require the development of new, closely packed housing near jobs and commercial centers at a rate not seen in the United States since at least before World War II, according to a recent study by permit and contractor data analysis website BuildZoom.
Local governments, not the state, largely govern the approval of new housing.
Even now, the effort to shift development from suburban to urban areas is facing strong head winds. Across California, local resistance and an existing state environmental law that prioritizes car travel over mass transit have frustrated attempts to plan and build housing that will help the state meet its climate goals.
The city plan calls for greater density and transit improvements in existing urban neighborhoods with the hope that half of residents in those areas don’t drive to work. But city officials recently signed off on three new development blueprints in neighborhoods adjacent to San Diego’s downtown, none of which meet the target.
If San Diego neighborhoods most primed for heavy development don’t achieve the goals, it’s unlikely the rest of the city will pick up the slack, said Nicole Capretz, who wrote much of the climate plan while working for the city.
“We are setting ourselves up for failure,” said Capretz, who now runs an environmental nonprofit. She said she’s already considering a lawsuit challenging the city’s efforts to meet the climate targets.
Nearly 15 years ago, Sacramento-area planners developed a blueprint for the region’s growth that aimed to direct development toward existing urban neighborhoods or near transit stations. But a 2015 study in the Journal of the American Planning Assn. found that builders continued to construct more new homes in the Sacramento suburbs. The study concluded that economic conditions, demand and neighborhood resistance to tightly packed housing were far more important factors in deciding where homes were built than the regional plan. READ MORE