New Report Asks Whether Southern California is On Track To Meet Climate Goals—and Who’s Counting

This blog post is cross-posted from ClimatePlan, our partners in putting together this report.

On-Track-Report-Cover-232x300As hundreds of local leaders assemble just after adopting a new regional plan, advocacy groups tally up progress on the last plan and call for better data and more accountability.

Los Angeles—Today, as elected leaders from the 191 cities and six counties of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) came together after adopting a second regional plan last month, advocates released a report on progress on the region’s last plan.

The new report, unveiled at SCAG’s General Assembly, is called “Toward A Sustainable Future: Is Southern California On Track?” Presented by a dozen organizations (listed below), it can be downloaded at ClimatePlan.org/OnTrack.

Ambitious plans

The region’s last plan was called “Toward A Sustainable Future: the 2012-2035 Regional Transportation Plan / Sustainable Communities Strategy.” Hailed by many as visionary, it set goals to reduce carbon pollution by reducing the need to drive, while improving health and sustainability throughout the region—home to half the state’s population.

The new 2016 plan, just released, builds on the last by seeking to balance mobility and housing needs with economic, environmental and public health goals. Specifically, it aims to reduce the six-county region’s carbon pollution by eight percent in four years, and 21% by 2040. It addresses public health more explicitly and doubles investment in safe walking and biking—for health and transportation—from the 2012 plan.

But as the region sets these new goals, advocates asked, how much progress has the region made on implementing the 2012 plan?

“The quality of life for millions of people depends on these plans. These are long-range plans, but they’re ambitious, and the region needs to get on track now to meet its goals,” said Chanell Fletcher, associate director of ClimatePlan, a statewide network of groups advocating for better land use and transportation. “Are cities and counties taking needed steps toward more sustainable growth? If we don’t know, how will we get there?”

Top recommendations

The “On Track” report finds that the region has started to move in the right direction in implementing the 2012 plan, but much more is needed. The report makes four top recommendations:

1.     Connect transportation decisions to their impacts on the climate and communities;

2.     Invest more and sooner in public transit, biking, and walking;

3.     Convene leaders and get better data to support action;

4.     Step up: Regional planning is “bottom up,” and this means that every county, city, and town must do its part for the region to succeed.

Transportation is key, advocates and leaders agree

To measure greenhouse gas reductions—the top goal of the plans—the report looks at vehicle miles traveled, or how much driving people do on average. The good news is that as of 2013, this had dropped 3% since 2005, the base year for the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. But more current data is needed, and as the economy has improved, driving may increase and so may climate-changing pollution.

“We as a region must accommodate the needs of 4 million additional people over the next 25 years,” said Pam O’Connor, past President of SCAG and Santa Monica City Councilmember. “If our patterns of development don’t change, our quality of life will suffer. We need to grow in more sustainable ways, with more walkable neighborhoods, and more options for both housing and transportation.”

“Our region is an excellent place to walk and bike, but not if we don’t have sidewalks and safe bike paths. That’s a priority for me, to help everyone—especially kids—get around safely and reach public transit easily,” said Michele Martinez, incoming President of SCAG and Santa Ana City Councilmember.

“As we’ve emphasized throughout the RTP/SCS process, investing in transportation is about more than mobility alone,” said Cheryl Viegas-Walker, President of SCAG. “Reducing congestion, providing greater transit options and rethinking the way we develop neighborhoods and communities will help us reach our air-quality goals, and improve our overall health and quality of life. This is a long-term commitment, and the Regional Transportation Plan process is a pivotal element of that.”

Advocates called for more investment to improve transportation options.

“Though people walk or bike for 20% of their trips in Southern California, less than 2% of transportation funding goes to bike lanes and sidewalks. Closing that gap would help save lives,” said Bill Sadler, senior policy manager with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.

Progress in many areas

The report calls out good steps: for example, Los Angeles is making one of the nation’s biggest investments in public transit with five new Metrolink lines. Imperial County is spending 10% of its transportation funds—a far greater percentage than any other county—on public transit.

The report applauds SCAG’s environmental justice analysis of development impacts on low-income communities, and says the next step is to help cities address gentrification and displacement.

Gaps remain

The most glaring gap in the region’s progress is that between 2008 and 2012 (the most recent data available), of the thousands of affordable homes people needed, only 13% were actually built.

The report includes recommendations for action on each metric; one was to get better data.

“One of our biggest findings was that the data is outdated or incomplete,” said Fletcher. “That’s troubling. If we can’t measure progress, we can’t meet the goals.”

ClimatePlan used readily available public data to compile the report. The idea was to provide a model for the ongoing tracking that is needed.

SCAG can help, said advocates, by helping jurisdictions track and report their progress. Currently, the agency surveys local jurisdictions about what they’ve done. Advocates asked for more comprehensive reporting on the region’s progress, as the agency can do research and analysis that many cities and counties cannot do themselves.

“This report helps show the progress we’ve made, and what’s still needed,” said Hasan Ikhrata, SCAG Executive Director. “We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, and we look forward to working with our partners and stakeholders in all six counties and 191 cities and towns to move our region forward through a multi-modal approach that promotes a healthier, sustainable, and more prosperous future.”

###

“Toward a Sustainable Future: Is Southern California On Track?” can be downloaded atClimatePlan.org/OnTrack. It is presented by ClimatePlan; The Safe Routes to School National Partnership; American Lung Association in California; California Walks; Climate Resolve; Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks; Investing in Place; Move LA; Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Prevention Institute; TransForm

ClimatePlan is a network of dozens of California organizations committed to improving land-use and transportation planning in California to protect our health, our communities, our climate, and our environment. ClimatePlan.org

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership provides expertise and a national support network to help make communities and schools safer, healthier, and more active. SafeRoutesPartnership.org

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