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4. Exploring New Horizons:

California’s Sustainable Communities & Climate Protection Act (SB 375)


In Part Three we laid important ground work for a learning / action agenda pursuing social justice in the coming era of global warming.  We observed that many organizations have begun to mobilize their communities within this framework. We presented information suggesting why a focus on land use and transportation in the context of climate change could result in social justice and health equity benefits for currently marginalized communities in our state. We suggested an equitable pattern of human centered transportation and land use development, protecting our natural resources, while safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable populations, sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change in ways that overcome racial, economic and health disparities caused by unfair social and economic policies

The first section of Part Four introduces California’s Sustainable Communities & Climate Protection Act  (SB 375), and describes how social justice activists are exploring new horizons, beginning to engage with the SB 375 process.  Because the issues are complex, rapidly changing, and variable in different parts of the state, the goal of this section is to present an over view of the main ideas that are being debated throughout the state.  Greater detail will be presented in the context of the Workshops.

For many social justice activists and health professionals, regional planning, land use and transportation planning is unfamiliar territory.  Discovering new roles to be effective in this context requires both imagination and creativity.  Part Four is intended to highlight aspects of this process that are important for achieving social and health equity.  This offers some preliminary suggestions about how the SB 375 process might more effectively engage and produce better outcomes for marginalized constituencies through out the state.  Finally, Part Four presents an overview of the potential of the new California Executive Order,  Health in All Policies


What is SB375?

There are many good websites describing SB 375, so we’ll mention a few key provisions of and include a few links to websites in the resources section of this tool kit.

SB 375 Changes California Planning and Transportation Law in Four Basic Ways:

1.       It adds a sustainable communities strategy that links climate policy with transportation and land use planning to the regional transportation plan (RTP)

2.   It aligns the program for the regional distribution of housing to be consistent with the sustainable communities strategy

3.       It adds new provisions to the California Environmental Quality Act to encourage land use decisions that implement the sustainable communities strategy.

4.   It adds new modeling provisions to accurately account for the transportation impacts of land use decisions

The goal of SB375 is to reduce GHG emissions caused by autos and light trucks in each of 18 regions.   Metropolitan Planning Organizations, with billions of dollars to invest in each region are empowered to incorporate Sustainable Community Strategies in Regional Transportation Plans To Reduce Auto Dependence.

SB 375 strengthens regional planning in California, by aligning transportation goals to achieve GHG reduction. The MPOs also have authority to set targets for housing allocation for each municipal jurisdiction throughout each region.  However, each jurisdiction retains control over when and where the housing actually get built.

Communities of color and their social justice allies in California are engaging in these new processes established by the Metropolitan Planning Organizations to implement this landmark legislation.  They are gaining access seats at the table, learning about the approaches being advanced by professional planners, city and city and suburban governments.   This section of the Workshop and Toolkit offers an assessment of the statewide process, where it is going and what you can do to insure that the process is fair, that it meets the goals of Green House Gas reduction, and delivers on the promise of social equity.

Participating in transportation and land use planning represents a new horizon for many NGOs.  First these disciplines are a new method for social justice organizing.  Second. Organizing at the metropolitan level is a new scale for many groups.  Third, thinking and acting within a 25-year time horizon presents significant challenges for most groups, who must secure short term wins over the short run to keep their constituencies engaged.

Fourth, as automobile companies and other vested interests become less influential in developing regional transportation planning, democratic participation will become more important.  We will need new civic institutions cutting across traditional community organizing silos to develop goals and strategies, and forms of knowledge that support civic engagement

Social Justice advocates have been involved in SB 375 campaigns in the five most populated regions throughout the state of California} Central Valley. Los Angeles. San Diego, Sacramento, Central Valley, and San Francisco Bay Area.

The purpose of Part Four is to give users of Toolkit and participants in Workshop a sense of the whole SB375 process including the range outcomes for social equity, health and health equity that might be possible in development and implementation of Sustainable Community Strategies.


Community Planning and Design Outcomes

California’s Sustainable Communities & Climate Protection Act (SB 375) is intended to implement a new vision of urban, suburban and rural development throughout the state.  The goal of this effort is to reduce private automobile use and greenhouse gas emissions.  Ostensibly organized around a vision of sustainability than includes the three

“E’s” – the environment, economy, in practice the social equity outcomes are poorly developed, and may represent significant opportunities for low-income and other marginalized communities.  Some of the community planning innovations are listed below.


  • Complete Streets.  Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and public transportation users of all ages and abilities are able to safely move along and across a complete street. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations.

  • Design for Active Living.  A comprehensive public health program should include community design, public policies, and communication strategies to increase physical activity in daily life.  Pioneered by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, the program promotes urban design to support walking, bicycling, and exercise.

  • Priority Conservation Areas.  Priority conservation areas are places of regional significance that have broad community support and an urgent need for protection. These areas provide important agricultural, natural resource, historical, scenic, cultural, recreational, and/or ecological values and ecosystem functions

  • Priority or Focused Development Areas.   Priority Development Areas (PDA’s) are locally-identified, infill development opportunity areas within existing communities. They are generally areas of at least 100 acres where there is local commitment to developing more housing along with amenities and services to meet the day-to-day needs of residents in a pedestrian-friendly environment served by transit. To be eligible to become a PDA, an area had to be within an existing community, near existing or planned fixed transit or served by comparable bus service, and planned for more housing.

  • Transit Oriented Development.  A transit-oriented development (TOD) is a mixed use residential or commercial area designed to maximize access to public transport, with features to encourage transit ridership. A TOD neighborhood typically has a center with a transit station or stop (train station, metro station, tram stop, or bus stop), surrounded by relatively high-density development with progressively lower-density development spreading outward from the center. TOD’s generally are located within a radius of one-quarter to one-half mile (400 to 800 m) from a transit stop, as this is considered to be an appropriate scale for pedestrians.

  • Urban Planning Corridor.  A linear urban beltway within or connecting one or more jurisdictions focused on public transit, walking, bicycling, compact infill housing to improve access to jobs, services, entertainment recreation, and regional sustainability now and in the future. Such corridors seek to provide an alternative to ugly and ecologically unsustainable strip malls and commercial corridors that favor automobiles.

  • Walkable Communities. Walkable Communities are places in which most trips are made without a car, places that give their residents safe transportation choices and improved quality of life. Increased walkability also helps improve resource responsibility, safety, physical fitness and social interaction.



Tracking Equity in the Statewide SB 375 Process

As a requirement of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, agencies that receive federal funding for transpiration projects, including state, regional and local governments must insure that they meet federal guidelines for non-discrimination, on the ground of race, color or national origin.   If an agency is found in violation of Title VI, that agency can lose its federal funding.


The Health in All Policies Task Force

California’s Health in all Policies Task Force was established by Executive Order S-04- 10 of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on February 23, 2010, under the auspices of the California Strategic Growth Council SGC.. The Task Force was charged with identifying priority actions and strategies for state agencies to improve community health while also advancing the other goals of the SGC. Between April and November of 2010, representatives from 19 California agencies, departments, and offices came together in multiple individual and Task Force meetings, participated in public workshops, and received written comments from a diverse array of stakeholders. These State leaders have developed a broad-ranging set of recommendations on feasible strategies and actions to promote health while also meeting other objectives of the SGC.

The Task Force defined a healthy community as one that meets the basic needs of all residents, ensures quality and sustainability of the environment, provides for adequate levels of economic and social development, achieves health and social equity, and assures social relationships that are supportive and respectful. The Task Force also identified the following aspirational goals, which provide a structure for the recommendations contained in this report:

  • Every California resident has the option to safely walk, bicycle, or take public transit  to school, work, and essential destinations.
  • All California residents live in safe, healthy, affordable housing.
  • Every California resident has access to places to be active, including parks, green space, and healthy tree canopy.
  • Every California resident is able to live and be active in their communities without fear of violence or crime.
  • Every California resident has access to healthy, affordable foods at school, at work, and in their neighborhoods.
  • California’s decision makers are informed about the health consequences of various policy options during the policy development process.


By the summer of 2011, the Strategic Growth Council was considering or had adopted a number of recommendations of its Health in All Policies task Force including promotion of active transportation, Housing, air quality and the siting of transit-oriented development, Parks, Urban Greening, and Places to be Active,  Community Safety through Violence Prevention,  Encouragement expansion of the availability of affordable and locally grown produce through “farm-to-fork” policies and programs, Incorporation health and health equity criteria into state grant programs. Social justice advocates  throughout the state  have been tracking  policies and proposals for healthy communities, social and health equity outcomes.  Many of these organizations are listed in the Resource Section of the Toolkit.



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