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Regional Planning in the San Joaquin Valley:
Sustainable Communities Strategies

Overlooking San Joaquin Valley

In 2008, the passage of SB 375 introduced a new planning regime for California’s metropolitan planning organizations (including COGs), requiring that housing and transportation plans be integrated into Sustainable Communities Strategies to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The targets must be met by building more compact communities served by public transit, thus reducing vehicle travel—and, if done well, could save farmland. In November 2010, CARB established preliminary targets for the Valley: a five percent reduction by 2020 and a 10 percent reduction by 2035. These targets will be revisited as better modeling is developed for the Valley. No formal plan or strategy for addressing these targets has yet been formulated by the COGs.

Also in 2010, the Strategic Growth Council (SGC) made Sustainable Communities Grant awards—also known as Prop 84 grants—to several jurisdictions in the Valley. Altogether, the Valley received eight grants, totaling more than $5.6 million to fund planning efforts for sustainable growth. These grants vary among projects, including climate action plans, general plan updates, corridor improvement, and Blueprint and SB 375 implementation. The grants also included $1 million for a San Joaquin Valley Blueprint Roadmap intended to help Valley cities and counties integrate general plan updates with the Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS).

Lending support to the many regional planning efforts are several tools and technical assistance centers. Assisting with the CARB target-setting process is a planning tool called Rapid Fire developed by Calthorpe Associates as part of the Vision California project. This work-in-progress begun in 2009 and will eventually include a spatial GIS model. Funded by the HSRA and the state Strategic Growth Council, Rapid Fire is a model that calculates a wide variety of regional impacts of hypothetical urban growth scenarios based on real-life place types found in California. Among the impacts it can model are the consumption of farmland and other types of land, GHG and other air emissions, water and energy usage, and the cost of constructing and maintaining infrastructure. As part of the CARB process, Rapid Fire was used to evaluate the GHG impacts of growth scenarios proposed by metropolitan planning organizationss throughout California, including the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint. Blueprint leaders have expressed interest in having Calthorpe develop the capacity of Rapid Fire to analyze fiscal impacts of development scenarios to assist Valley jurisdictions with implementation of the Blueprint and refinement of local general plans.

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