SB 375 Has Much Potential to Help California’s Urban Areas Be More Environmentally and Economically Sustainable, Says Urban Land Institute’s Analysis of Law

Report from Land Use Experts Emphasizes Wise Implementation as Key to Success

For more information, contact Trish Riggs at 202-624-7086; priggs@uli.org

LOS ANGELES (June 4, 2010) — A California law that requires metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to create and implement land use plans that use compact, coordinated, and efficient development patterns to reduce auto dependency could, if implemented wisely, help the state’s urban regions become more economically and environmentally sustainable, according to an analysis of the law released today by the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

The SB 375 Impact Analysis Report examines the potential effects of California Senate Bill 375 on the economic future for the state and the quality of life for its residents. In particular, the report analyzes the law’s mandate for a new regional land use plan, Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS), which calls for more coordinated and efficient development patterns that can accommodate all types of land uses. The law requires regional transportation plans (RTPs) to include such strategies to encourage better alignment of land use, transportation, and housing planning.

Enacted in September 2008, SB 375 is part of a series of initiatives the state has underway to meet its greenhouse gas emissions target reduction goals (cutting emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and further cutting emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050). The impact of SB 375 will become more apparent this fall, as MPOs strive to meet a deadline for regional greenhouse gas emissions set by the California Air Resources Board.

ULI, a global research and education institute dedicated to responsible land use, has long supported land- and energy-efficient development practices to accommodate growth in urban areas. The Institute and its District Councils in California – ULI Los Angeles, ULI San Francisco, ULI Sacramento, ULI San Diego, and ULI Orange County/Inland Empire– recently convened an interdisciplinary panel of real estate leaders, including developers, land use attorneys, academics and public officials, to conduct an analysis of the law. The panel’s findings formed the basis for SB 375 Impact Analysis Report, which was released today in Los Angeles during the Transit-Oriented Development Summit 2010 sponsored by ULI Los Angeles. The panel was jointly sponsored by ULI and Smart Growth America.

SB 375 reflects the reality that “how we use land matters,” said ULI Chief Executive Officer Patrick L. Phillips. “Land use has an enormous impact on the long-term environmental viability of our urban areas. Climate change has elevated the need to rethink what and where we build,” Phillips said. “Clearly, with SB 375, California is taking a leading role in addressing the detrimental impact of sprawling development, and is seeking to improve urban growth patterns. It’s taking a meaningful step forward toward conserving land and energy, and preserving the environment.”

According to the report, the law has the potential to make a positive change in the growth patterns of California’s urban regions. “If implemented well, SB 375 would help California accommodate growth in ways that are economically sound, environmentally responsible, and socially beneficial,” the report says. “As such, SB 375 has the potential to improve the quality of life for Californians, and is one tool that can address a number of problems long associated with sprawl, including traffic congestion, the cost burden of housing, declining air quality, increases in greenhouse gas emissions, and the geographical imbalance between jobs and housing.”

The overarching anticipated benefit of SB 375 is its ability to provide more consistency, coordination, and clarity to the development process, which the land use industry needs to start recovering from the recession, the report says. It points to several benefits that SB 375 can bring through thoughtful implementation, including:

  • Rational alignment of regional planning, transportation, and environmental policy and funding;
  • Improved jobs-housing balance;
  • More certainty for developers on the desired direction for development;
  • Initiating reform for the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA);
  • Flexibility for regional and local solutions; and
  • Improved efficiency and effectiveness for transit systems.

“Economically, SB 375 will help the state, communities, and developers meet the shifting market demand for housing, diversify the housing offerings on the market, allocate public resources more efficiently, and ensure a better of quality of life,” the report says. Specifically, SB 375 can help the state:

  • Accommodate a growing share of housing demand for first-time buyers and renters, as well as empty nesters;
  • Strive to create a wider range of housing choices, and maintain a balance between infill and greenfield development;
  • Improve the allocation of transportation funds based on density and need;
  • Position both state and regional governments to be more competitive for federal resources, many of which are tied to more collaborative planning initiatives;
  • Promote healthier living environments that cut exposure to vehicle exhaust emissions and promote exercise through pedestrian-friendly design; and
  • Preserve and enhance a higher quality of life through more efficient municipal services and infrastructure.

The report offers several recommendations to maximize the effectiveness of SB 375 as a productive guide for development that benefits California’s communities. One major area considered critical to its success is transit certainty. The report notes that the coverage and efficiency of public transit – including buses, trains, light rail, and shuttles – must keep pace with the anticipated increase in urban and suburban density.

“Improving the service levels and ongoing investment in transit capital improvements and operations creates transit certainty, a critical factor for supporting the growth of compact development,” the report states. Another “must” for successful implementation: proper alignment of policy and funding. Among the factors to be considered are aligning public policy across all levels of government; aligning land use policies with demographic and market trends; and producing a transparent approvals process for public- and private-sector stakeholders.

Greater community engagement, communication, and dialogue could go far in building consensus around the positive impact that SB 375 can have in guiding growth, the report advises. “It is critical to ensure that residents and stakeholders understand the goals and anticipated benefits associated with the implementation of SB 375,” the report says.

Much of the debate surrounding SB 375 has been a result of misinterpretation of the legislation itself. SB 375 is not the first legislation from California that was initially seen as problematic but in the long run contributed to positive and progressive results. It is possible, the report says, for SB 375 to achieve similar benefits as Title 24, the state’s 30-plus year old law mandating improved building energy efficiency. That law is now viewed as helping to shift the state toward more sustainable land use decisions, and as contributing to significant energy cost savings for the state. “The better California does with SB 375 implementation, the greater the benefits will be,” the report says.

“SB 375 is consistent with the overall mission of ULI and what it has long advocated – the development of sustainable, thriving communities that: provide a social framework for connecting people to places; respect environmental realities locally and globally; and compete effectively for economic vitality.”

About the Urban Land Institute
The Urban Land Institute (uli.org) is a global nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the Institute has nearly 30,000 members representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.