CSAC Bulletin Article

Legislators Introduce Bills to Overhaul Regional Transportation and Land Use Planning

March 25, 2021

Legislators have introduced three significant regional transportation and land use planning bills that would update and change the requirements set forth by SB 375 (Chapter 28, Statutes of 2008). The bills include SB 261 by Senator Allen, SB 475 by Senator Cortese, and AB 1147 by Assemblymember Friedman. Each of these bills has significant implications for county land use authority and the investment of state and federal transportation funds via regional agencies in California’s 18 metropolitan planning agencies.

SB 375 required metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to adopt sustainable communities strategies to achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions targets established by CARB though regional transportation spending and land use planning. In a 2017 report that sought to analyze the performance of SB 375 sustainable communities strategies, the State Air Resource Board (CARB) wrote that “emissions from the transportation sector continuing to rise despite increases in fuel efficiency and decreases in the carbon content of fuel” and “California will not achieve the necessary greenhouse gas emissions reductions to meet mandates for 2030 and beyond without significant changes to how communities and transportation systems are planned, funded.”

The three new bills vary in their approaches, but all are aimed at addressing the issues highlighted in the 2017 CARB report. Provisions range from new longer-range targets for reductions in transportation and land-use related GHG emissions, new planning requirements related to the achievement of 2035 emissions goals, creation of explicit targets for reductions in driving (vehicle miles traveled, or VMT), strengthening CARB’s role in the review of regional plans and transportation expenditures, changing incentives and disincentives related to the adoption of a compliant regional plan, and imposing new requirements on local government land use planning and reporting.

SB 475 adds new roles for the California Transportation Commission (CTC) and the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to work with CARB and stakeholders, including counties, to establish near-term and longer-term emissions reductions targets that can be achieved with existing funding streams. AB 1147 creates a new role for the state’s Strategic Growth Council to convene state agencies, MPOs, and local governments to review metropolitan and state transportation plans and identify barriers to achieving GHG emissions reductions goals.

SB 261 was passed by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, which is chaired by Senator Allen, and referred to the Senate Transportation Committee. The bill is supported by environmental groups and advocates for active transportation, although many of these groups are seeking additional amendments, and opposed by business and housing developer groups. SB 475 is double-referred to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee and Senate Transportation Committee but has yet to have a hearing. AB 1147 has also not yet had a hearing. It is double referred to the Assembly Transportation Committee, which the author chairs, and the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.

The Senate and the Assembly will be adjourning for Spring Recess today and will reconvene on April 5. CSAC is currently reviewing these far-reaching measures, which are summarized below, and is seeking initial feedback from counties. Please send any comments or concerns on these bills to Marina Espinoza at mespinoza@counties.org.

SB 261 (Allen) - Regional Transportation Plans – Sustainable Communities Strategies

SB 261 would require that the sustainable communities strategy (SCS) be developed to additionally achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets for the automobile and light truck sector for 2045 and 2050 and authorize CARB to create new vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reduction targets for 2035, 2045, and 2050. It would make various conforming changes to integrate those additional targets into regional transportation plans.

SB 261 would require (rather than encourage) metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to work with CARB when developing technical methodology they intend to use to estimate the GHG emissions from the SCS.  This bill would also require that the SCS be submitted within 60 days of adoption and would require the state board to reject the MPO’s determination that the strategy submitted would achieve GHG emission vehicle miles traveled reduction targets if it meets the following criteria:

  • The technical methodology will not yield accurate estimates of GHG emissions and vehicle miles traveled;
  • The data or documentation provided to support the estimates of GHG emissions and vehicle miles traveled is insufficient for the state board’s review;
  • The calculations to estimate GHG emissions and vehicle miles traveled do not demonstrate the region achieving GHG emissions and vehicle miles traveled reduction targets for all target years; and,
  • The SCS does not include strategies that sufficiently demonstrate reductions in GHG emissions or vehicle miles traveled to achieve the region’s GHG emissions and vehicle miles traveled targets.

In areas served by high-quality transit or prioritized for new employment or housing growth under the regional plan, the bill would require a local government to biennially report to its MPO the number of housing units and jobs, as well as transit-supportive infrastructure, both existing and planned, which demonstrate implementation of strategies included in the applicable sustainable communities strategy.

SB 475 (Cortese) - Transportation Planning and Sustainable Communities Strategies

This bill would require the State Air Resources Board (state board), on or before June 30, 2023, and in coordination with the California Transportation Commission (CTC) and the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), to issue new guidelines on sustainable communities strategies (SCS) and require these guidelines to be updated thereafter at least every 4 years.

State-Regional Collaborative for Climate, Equity, and Resilience

SB 475 would delete the provisions under current law related to the Regional Targets Advisory Committee and instead require the state board to appoint, on or before January 31, 2022, the State-Regional Collaborative for Climate, Equity, and Resilience, consisting of representatives of various entities. The State-Regional Collaborative for Climate, Equity, and Resilience would be required to:

  • Develop a quantitative tool for MPOs to use to evaluate a transportation plan’s consistency with long-range greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets and recommend guidelines for MPOs to use when crafting long-range strategies that integrate state goals related to climate resilience and social equity;
  • Identify best practice implementation actions and generate point-based climate impact scores for each implementation action;
  • Issue, on or before December 31, 2022, its recommendations to the state board for incorporation into the new guidelines for SCS; and,
  • In consultation with CTC and HCD, to identify regional GHG emission reduction targets for long-range strategies through 2050 and near-term implementation actions through 2030 to reduce emissions from automobiles and light trucks.

Metropolitan Planning Organization Requirements

SB 475 would delete the provisions under existing law requiring the preparation of an alternative planning strategy and would also require an MPO to identify near-term implementation actions and calculate the climate points of each action before adopting an SCS. It would encourage an MPO unable to meet the near-term targets through identified implementation actions to work with the state board, as specified, to identify additional feasible implementation actions. If no additional feasible implementation actions are identified, SB 475 would allow the MPO to adopt an SCS but would make the MPO ineligible for state funds that require an adopted SCS that is compliant with state targets, until the time that an updated compliant plan is adopted.

After adopting an SCS, this bill would require an MPO to submit a progress report on its implementation actions every 4 years to the state board for review. SB 475 would allow the state board to make a determination that a sustainable communities strategy is noncompliant if there is sustained and demonstrated lack of implementation activity from prior sustainable communities strategies. SB 475 would make metropolitan regions ineligible for funds that require a compliant SCS during this period of noncompliance. The bill would allow the MPO to appeal this determination of noncompliance annually.

State Air Resources Board Requirements

SB 475 would also require the state board to:

  • Demonstrate, by March 30, 2023, how the targets could be achieved with existing revenues using tools developed by the State-Regional Collaborative for Climate, Equity, and Resilience, and would require an opportunity for public comment and a public hearing, before adoption of targets on or before June 30, 2023; and,
  • Update the regional GHG emission reduction targets for near-term implementation actions every 4 years consistent with each MPO’s timeframe for updating its regional transportation plan under federal law until 2050 and ensure that the targets are achievable within the context of each region’s approach to meeting specified housing goals and climate adaptation strategies.

Energy Commission Requirements

SB 475 would also require the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, on or before July 1, 2023, and in consultation with various state entities, to set regional building decarbonization targets for 2030 and 2045 consistent with the state’s targets for reducing emissions of GHGs in the state’s residential and commercial building stock for each geographic area represented by a metropolitan planning organization.

AB 1147 (Friedman) - Regional Transportation Plans and Active Transportation Program

AB 1147 would require the Strategic Growth Council (SGC) to convene key state agencies, metropolitan planning agencies, and local governments to assist the council in completing the report required under existing law, which is required to provide an overview of the California Transportation Plan and all sustainable communities strategies and alternative planning strategies, an assessment of how implementation of the California Transportation Plan, sustainable communities strategies, and alternative planning strategies will influence the configuration of the statewide integrated multimodal transportation system, and a review of the potential impacts and opportunities for coordination of specified funding programs. AB 1147 would require that the report be completed by January 1, 2023, and additionally assess barriers to the achievement of, and recommend actions at the state, regional, and local level to achieve, state and regional greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets related to the California Transportation Plan and all sustainable communities strategies and alternative planning strategies.

This bill would expressly authorize transportation planning agencies with populations greater than 200,000 to also use, as part of their policy elements, the percentage share of trips made by bicycling using an electric bicycle.

The bill would also impose additional requirements on metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), the State Air Resources Board, local governments, the California Transportation Commission (CTC), and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). It would also implement a Sustainable Communities Strategy Block Grant Program. The additional requirements set forth by the bill and the provisions related to the Sustainable Communities Strategy Block Grant Program are summarized below. 

Local Government Requirements

This bill would require local governments to make a good faith effort to take actions that support its region’s sustainable community strategy or, as applicable, alternative planning strategy, including, but not limited to, when amending or developing its general plan.

AB 1147 would require that the action element incorporate and be consistent with the 2035 target action plan. The bill would also require that a local agency consult with an MPO if the MPO concludes that the local agency’s land use decisions are interfering with the region’s achievement of those targets and requests the consultation.

Metropolitan Planning Organization and State Air Resources Board Requirements

AB 1147 would require each MPO to submit data to the state board that delineates how transportation funds have been spent in relation to the sustainable communities strategy, and would require the state board to require, by regulation, each MPO to provide any data the state board determines is necessary for specified purposes. The bill would require the state board, on or before July 1, 2023, to make specified determinations relative to each MPO and applicable regional greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets for 2035. The bill would require each MPO, on or before July 1, 2023, to submit a 2035 target action plan to the state board for review and approval.

Sustainable Communities Strategy Block Grant Program Provisions

AB 1147 would create the Sustainable Communities Strategy Block Grant Program, which would be administered by the SGC, to provide block grants, upon appropriation by the Legislature, to each MPO with an approved 2035 target action plan to support the MPO’s efforts to meet its regional GHG emission reduction targets. This bill would require the SGC to develop guidelines for the program and would require MPOs to consider whether a local government has made a good faith effort to take actions that support its region’s sustainable communities strategy or, as applicable, alternative planning strategy when allocating its block grant.

California Transportation Commission and Department of Transportation Requirements

AB 1147 would require the CTC, on or before July 1, 2023, in consultation with the Active Transportation Program Workgroup, to revise the adopted guidelines and project selection criteria to include provisions for pilot innovative and transformative active transportation projects and projects that facilitate the creation of 15-minute cities, as defined, through active transportation investments.

This bill would require the Department of Transportation (Caltrans), on or before January, 1 2023, to submit a proposal for the development, including the selection, of sites for a pilot program establishing branded networks of bicycle highways that are numbered and signed within 2 of California’s major metropolitan areas. It would also require Caltrans to present the proposal to the CTC for approval, and, if approved, would require that the proposal be eligible for funding through the Active Transportation Program. The bill would require Caltrans, on or before July 1, 2026, to report to the relevant policy committees of the Legislature on the status of the pilot program and recommendations for the development of additional networks of bicycle highways.

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