As the second highest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, the U.S. has a special responsibility to go green, a responsibility the nation has not yet committed to meeting. But doing so could also help address one of its biggest challenges: rampant chronic disease, with the attendant health care costs, lost productivity and decreased years and quality of life. While the nation as a whole drags its heels, places within it are working to lead the way. In 2006, California passed groundbreaking legislation to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The Global Warming Solutions Act, Assembly Bill 32, set targets for reducing GHGs, and was followed in 2008 by the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, Senate Bill 375, that mapped out how regional land use and transportation planning agencies must work together to reach a portion of the goals.
With good reason, California advocates for public health and equity saw this as a major opportunity, and have worked closely with environmental, green jobs, bike/walk, affordable housing, farmland preservation and other groups to push for full implementation of these bills, and implementation in ways that maximize health co-benefits.
At the heart of SB 375 is the requirement that the most populous or emissions-heavy regions in the state develop “sustainable communities strategies” that integrate regional transportation planning with planning for population growth and housing, to create walkable, transit based communities. Benefits to health: increased physical activity, decreased commute times, cleaner air, better social connectedness, improved mental health, preservation of productive farmland, and, long term, mitigation of climate change.
The rubber is now meeting the road, so to speak. Last week the California Air Resources Board, public health advocates, and other stakeholders across the state got a look at the first regional sustainable communities strategy, for San Diego County, due to be finalized by the end of October. While elements of the plan seem strong (such as goals for new multi-family housing units), other aspects, such as backsliding targets for greenhouse gas reductions and delayed investments in important transit and biking and walking facilities, are raising questions and drawing criticism.
As the region producing the first plan, San Diego, too, has a special responsibility, and in this case, a unique opportunity. Its sustainable community strategy sets the precendent for those that follow, in a state that is attempting to show a reluctant nation what addressing climate change could look like. A strong plan would not only reduce climate change but also make our communities healthier. We all have a stake in pushing San Diego to address the weaknesses in its plan.
Read what some groups are saying about the strengths and limitations of San Diego’s sustainable communities strategy (SCS) plan: