What are Sustainable Communities Strategies?
Sustainable Communities Strategies help California meet its climate and air quality goals, as well as advance community goals for public health, accessibility, equity, conservation, the economy, and much more.
To support achievement of the State’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals, initially set out in California Assembly Bill 32, and followed by Senate Bill 32, California established the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act. SB 375 (Chapter 728, Stats. 2008) focuses on incentivizing regional and local planning and building in ways that bring people and destinations closer together, with low‑carbon, alternative and convenient ways to get around. It requires regional metropolitan planning organizations in California to develop Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS), or long-range plans, which align transportation, housing, and land use decisions toward achieving GHG emissions reduction targets set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). SCS planning by California’s 18 regions is a cyclical process, with all regions having completed their first SCSs, most have completed their second SCSs, and subsequent rounds of SCS updates are underway.
Key Aspects of SCSs
To date, SCS plans have outlined alternative futures in which local and regional agencies work together to:
- Focus housing and job growth within existing urbanized areas giving people greater accessibility to job opportunities, high quality transit and active transportation options, and amenities.
- Utilize infill opportunities to conserve natural resources and farmlands.
- Invest in expanded transit networks and service frequency.
- Invest in biking and walking infrastructure to improve active transportation options.
- Invest in transportation demand management programs such as carpool/vanpool, carshare, and parking supply management.
- Plan for homes at a range of densities and affordability levels near job centers.
The Role of SCSs in Meeting Climate Goals
CARB is responsible for developing a plan to detail how the State will achieve its GHG emissions reduction targets mandated by law. CARB’s updated 2017 Scoping Plan reflects the new statewide GHG emissions reduction goals called for in SB 32 of 40 percent below 1990 emissions levels by 2030. In the transportation sector, GHG emissions reducing measures include low carbon fuels, cleaner vehicles, and strategies to promote sustainable communities and improved transportation choices that result in curbing the growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Under SB 375, the development and implementation of SCSs, which link transportation, land use, housing, and climate policy at the regional level, are designed to reduce per capita GHG emissions. This is partially accomplished through reductions in per capita VMT.
In 2018, CARB adopted more aggressive SB 375 targets as one measure to support progress toward the 2017 Scoping Plan goals, which aim to get SCSs that plan to achieve, in aggregate, a 19 percent reduction in statewide per capita GHG emissions reductions relative to 2005 by 2035 from passenger vehicles. However, additional state and local actions are needed to achieve the transportation system reductions necessary to meet our climate goals, which is approximately 25 percent reduction in statewide per capita GHG emissions by 2035 relative to 2005.
The 2017 Scoping Plan Update includes a discussion of the relationship between local government actions and achievement of the State’s long-term GHG emissions reduction goals, and non-binding recommendations to support local governments in their efforts to reduce GHG emissions. The 2017 Scoping Plan Update also identifies that slower growth in VMT from more efficient land use development patterns would promote achievement of the State’s climate goals.
The following document includes technical information on what level of statewide VMT reduction would promote achievement of statewide GHG emissions reduction targets and the 2017 Scoping Plan goals. The document describes the relationship between those GHG emissions reductions goals and the level of per capita VMT and GHG emissions reduction anticipated in existing SCSs. The analysis in this document may serve multiple uses, including providing non-binding technical information that acts as an optional aide to local governments and lead agencies when evaluating an individual project’s transportation-related GHG impacts and whether they are consistent with statewide 2030 and 2050 GHG emissions reduction goals in response to Senate Bill (SB) 743 (Chapter 386, Stats. 2013).
Important Community Benefits
Regions across the State have developed a number of quantitative and qualitative tools to characterize the many benefits SCS implementation would bring to their regions, including:
- Improved Public Health
- More Mobility and Housing Choices
- Lower Housing and Transportation Costs
- Increased Accessibility to Daily Destinations
- Natural Resource and Farmland Conservation
- Social Equity
- Lower Building Energy and Water Use
- Economic Opportunities
SCS Development and Implementation
Plan development requires cooperation between cities, counties, and local transportation agencies within a region on important land use decisions, infrastructure investments, transportation and environmental programs. An SCS balances these elements to achieve the climate and community benefits mentioned above. While encouraged, development and implementation of SCS policies that meet the targets are not required. Participation is driven by changing demographics that want their communities developed more sustainably, as well as current incentives available to regions and local jurisdictions that demonstrate consistency with the targets.
- CEQA streamlining for residential/mixed use projects and transportation priority projects
- Priority for select regional transportation program funding
- Priority for select California Climate Investments program funding
- Eligibility for SB 1 Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 funding