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LGC Yosemite Conference - Livable Communities Meets the Global Warming Challenge

The reason I publish these reports of conferences on the E-FORUM is because California Government Code §53232.3(d), which was added by AB 1234, requires City Council members to “provide brief reports on meetings attended at the expense of the local agency at the next regular meeting of the legislative body.” I figure that if I have to make a report anyway, I might as well share it with the public. These are probably longer than they need to be, but maybe some people are interested in the level of continuing education that I and other City Council members participate in. There are some really good hyperlinks in here if you want to see what others are doing about greenhouse gases and climate change.


March 13, through March 16, 2008, I attended the annual Local Government Commission Conference at Yosemite. This year’s theme was “Building Livable Communities: Livable Communities Meet the Global Warming Challenge.” Major sponsors were the California Department of Transportation and the California Energy Commission.


Click here to see the entire program. Also attending from the City of Richmond were all four members of the Richmond Planning Commission and Council Member Jim Rogers.


The pre-conference session on the evening of March 13 featured Will Fleissig, President of Communitas Development, Inc. Will Fleissig is a developer who has devoted his career to creating vibrant, mixed-use communities. He has directed the planning and development of over a dozen catalytic projects in diverse American cities, among them Boulder, Denver, San Francisco, San Jose, and Boston. Mr. Fleissig is recognized nationally in the art of negotiating development strategies that translate broad community interests - residents, landowners, investors, advocacy groups, and elected officials - into profitable and memorable urban places. His presentation focused on how the private sector can act faster than the public sector in organizing and financing “Sustainable development corridors” that are ultimately public-private partnerships that can change land use patters to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT).


LGC’s executive director, Judy Corbett and her staff do an absolutely incredible job of pulling together the most knowledgeable people on topic of critical importance to cities. This conference, which occurred right in the middle of the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal project EIR and CUP process, could not have been timelier.


As chair of the Local Government Commission, I opened the conference of Friday evening, March 14. The keynote speaker was Rick Cole, city manager of Ventura, whose talk “Global Warming – Our Place in a Changing World” recalled his recent visits to China and Dubai, where the pace and scope of development is almost beyond belief. He put into perspective the challenge facing us and the role that the U.S. must play.


Saturday, March 15, opened with a panel moderated by Rick Cole, “The Critical Role of Local Government in Addressing Climate Change.” Participants were:



This was an in-depth discussion by top California officials about the role of local government in AB 32 implementation. Some are using CDBG funds to help fund planning; others are getting help from utilities (PG&E) and ICLEI. A logical way to approach such planning is through the Blueprint Areas. Cynthia Bryant discussed the governor’s Climate Action Team and the role of state agencies. The Office of Planning and Research will be providing CEQA guidelines for mitigation of greenhouse gases.


Pending development of the guidelines, there is a wide variation in the way local agencies are dealing with greenhouse gases through CEQA, and the subject is still evolving.


James Goldstene noted that the California Air Resources Board is charged with developing guidelines on reduction of greenhouse gases pursuant to AB 32. The state greenhouse gas emissions are currently 427,000,000 metric tons and must be reduced 28% by 153,000,000 by 2020. One essential component of the reduction is reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Cars and trucks contribute 36% to greenhouse gases in California, and 79% of that is from passenger vehicles. Low carbon fuel standards and better mileage will not do the job alone. Petroleum use must be reduced by 90% in 2050.


Local governments are the key to reducing VMT, largely through land use and transportation decisions. 75% of the state’s transportation dollars go to cities and counties. Effective land use planning is a long term strategy that must begin now through incentives and requirements.


Jackalyne Pfannenstiel noted that the average office building uses 72,000 btus per square foot per year while transportation to get to work uses 127,000 btus per square foot per year. There are three ways to reduce the transportation energy component (1) more efficient vehicles, (2) low carbon fuels, and (3) reducing VMT. Land use planning is the key to reducing VMT.


She talked about the economics of climate change, saying that it would cost only 1% of GDP to get there if we start now, but it will cost 5% to 20% if we wait until a crisis. Energy efficiency is good business. The California GDP has outstripped the national economy despite lower per capita electrical usage. Loans are available for the California Energy Commission for energy conservation.


The second panel, also moderated by Rick Cole, consisted of the following:


  • Mike McKeever, Executive Director, Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG)
  • Gregg Albright, Assistant Director, Caltrans
  • Assemblymember John Laird, Assembly Committee on the Budget


Mike McKeever talked about the SACOG Regional Transportation Plan. He said that recent studies showed 2/3 of buyers are looking for a smaller lot product and that new development is changing from20% to 80% smaller lots. The RTO calls for complete streets, streetcars and neighborhood shuttles. A goal is decreasing the need to travel long distances in the region because VMT is the closest corollary to carbon emissions.


Gregg Albright talked about a changing mission for Caltrans, where the new model is moving people instead of moving vehicles. The connection between transportation and Land use is the key to solving the greenhouse gas challenge.


Assemblyman John Laird is from Santa Cruz and is a former member of the LGC. He discussed “greening” of the bond package and the multitude of bills introduced. Some had passed and others had been vetoed. Some of the targets included urban infill housing, urban outdoor landscaping, green building and water. Recycling, reclamation and conservation should be exhausted before the state funds new supplies. GO-21 is a program to get 25% of freight off the highways and onto trains.


The final speakers before lunch were Ken Kay, a planner, and Will Fleissig, a developer. Ken Kay showed examples of projects that diminished the environmental footprint and protected “blue” and “green” infrastructure. Fleissig covered some of what he had covered in the pre-conference session on March 13, including what he calls “sustainable development corridors,” that promote “restorative growth” by cleaning up brownfields, stimulating economic development, reducing VMTs, generating energy and limiting greenhouse gases and addressing housing needs for multiple generation. He showed how the “development pyramid” should be turned upside down to make more happen in less time. Mixed use should be allowed “by right.”


He talked about the development process and catalytic projects where a small pool of qualified developers “self-select” because of the project objectives and the importance of a “high gravity” design team that involves non-profits, is based on historic character and regional design an is environmentally responsive.


The afternoon of March 15 was spent in the LGC Board meeting. A lot of time was spent going over the LUSCAT (Land Use Strategies of the Climate Action Team), which will be submitted to the ARB as the Land Use chapter for the AB-32 scoping plan. The CEC is working on adding strategies submitted by organizations (including LGC) for the completion of the next version of the strategies to go out March 14th. There is still opportunity for input- comments on the March 14th draft will be accepted until March 26th after which the chapter will be submitted to the CARB (on April 4th). The ARB will be holding a Sector Based Land Use/Transportation workshop on April 28th.


The late afternoon session on March 15 began with Garrett Fitzgerald, Director of programs for ICLEI. He announced that ICCLEI would soon offer an on-line library with 150 strategies called Climate Change and Air Pollution Planning Assistant.


After dinner of March 15 was Tony Brunello, Deputy Secretary for Climate Change and Energy for the California State Resources Agency. He asked if we knew our community’s GHG footprint and if we had a plan for dealing with it. He talked about the state planning process for climate polices including adaptation, assessment, analysis and action. He reviewed some resources:



He also recommended National Security and The Threat of Climate Change. (Global climate change presents a serious national security threat which could impact Americans at home, impact US military operations, and heighten global tensions, according to a new study released by a blue-ribbon panel of retired admirals and generals from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.)


The final session for March 15 was a panel moderated by Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson that included:


  • Mayor Jake Mackenzie of Rohnert park
  • Ann Hancock, Executive Director, Sonoma County Climate Protection Campaign
  • Dr. Bob Wilkinson, Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara


Ann Hancock described the Sonoma County Climate Protection Campaign that aimed to reduce GHG 15% below 1990 levels by 2015 and involves all cities and the County. All Sonoma County cities have signed on to the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement.


Mackenzie presented the Rohnert Park University District Specific Plan and the implementing development agreement and Sonoma Mountain Village, endorsed by One Planet Living. He advised (1) leadership matters, (2) utilize your city’s land use powers, and (3) set the bar high.


Bob Wilkinson was accompanied by two honor students from UCSB who collected comments on the draft Ahwahnee Principles for Climate Change and prepared a summary that was presented on March 16.


The final morning session on March 16 was also moderated by Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson and included:


  • Deputy Attorney General Susan Durbin
  • Larry Allen, Executive Director, San Luis Obispo Air Pollution Control District
  • Julie Rynerson Rock, Director Land Use Services, San Bernardino County
  • Alex Hinds, Planning Director, Marin County


Susan Durbin talked about the attorney general’s role in AB 32 and greenhouse gases. She said that general plans should provide an inventory of greenhouse gases and an estimate of 1990 levels and a plan to return to 1990 levels. She said the attorney general believes CEQA requires this and that CEQA advances automatically with advances in science and knowledge.


She described the attorney general’s lawsuit against San Bernardino County because greenhouse gases were not specifically discussed in the draft general plan and it’s EIR. The attorney general sued because there is a 30-day statute of limitations for CEQA, and there was no time to negotiate.


Although there are no CEQA guidelines yet, the goals in AB 32 can be used as guiding principles. The legislature made findings in AB 32, and there are a wide range of resources on the DOJ website. There have been two superior court actions on climate change elements in general plans, one was favorable and the other not, but the latest was the favorable one and came after AB 32.


She believes that all plans and major projects must incorporate GHG reduction measures. Mitigation measures must produce real offsets. In response to a question about “cap and trade,” she said whether or not that would be allowed under AB 32 is a legislative decision.


Larry Allen reviewed SB 97 and the IOPR direction to develop CEQA guidelines by July 2009 to be adopted by January 2010. CAPCOA is an Association of Air Pollution Control Officers representing all thirty-five local air quality agencies throughout California. CAPCOA has released a document “CEQA and Climate Change.


Julie Rock, representing an agency that was the target of a lawsuit by the attorney general over CEQA and greenhouse gases, explained how the County had settled the lawsuit and then made great strides towards gong green. See

San Bernardino County is Going Green (pdf) and San Bernardino County is Going Green (PowerPoint).


Alex Hinds reviewed Marin County’s new general plan, adopted November 2007, that includes an “Atmosphere and Climate Element.” Quoting someone that “Planning is best done in advance,” Hinds described some of the components of the Atmosphere and Climate Element. Transportation and land use determines greenhouse gases the most. They have set targets to reduce emissions, provided economic incentives for County employees to carpool, established a biodiesel pilot program, emphasized safe routes to school, integrated the Greenpoints checklist into the permitting process and set targets for green businesses. Marin plans to cut its carbon footprint in half. See http://www.co.marin.ca.us/depts/CD/main/comdev/advance/Sustainability.cfm and http://marin.visiblestrategies.com/.


Both Hinds and Bob Wilkinson urged that “green” be advocated because it makes economic sense and that it is framed in terms that are not “anti-prosperity.”


The final presentation was by Allison Quaid of Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Communities. She showed a three-minute video entitled “What We Like,” that emphasized the convergence of quality of life with smart growth and reversing climate change.