Retail planning boards may affect California’s law to cut greenhouse emissions

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By Jesse McKnight,

Executive Vice President, The Saint Consulting Group

greenhouse-gasLocal retail planning decisions that determine the size and type of future shopping developments in California may also have a major impact on the Golden State’s attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The success of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, known as AB 32, depends largely on how subsequent law SB 375, adopted in 2008, will be implemented to reduce emissions and the targets now being discussed by the Regional Targets Advisory Committee (RTAC).

Otherwise the whole exercise could just be seen as weakening the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

A interview with Elizabeth Watson, a partner in the Greenburg Glusker law firm in Los Angeles looks at the promises and pitfalls of California’s goals.

If the regional targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are set at the low end of the scale (i.e., not significant reductions from current “business as usual”), then Vehicles Miles Traveled (VMT) may not be significantly reduced. Yet sprawl-inducing projects that are consistent with the targets and the regional plans that are designed to achieve the targets will enjoy CEQA exemptions.

On the other hand, if strong targets are set that require substantial GHG emission reductions, then many local jurisdictions’ current plans for future expansion may have to be substantially rethought to include more mixed use and projects that will not induce long vehicle trips between work, home and shopping. If this happens, it will make life more difficult for regional shopping developers, because the plans would discourage the model of large stores that draw shoppers from an entire region. Rather, more, small, retail stores with more even distribution throughout the community would likely be required to shorten VMT, and therefore GHG emitted.

At this point, the RTAC is going through a process of evaluating methodologies for establishing the targets. This process will go on through this year. Then the RTAC’s recommendations will be presented to the Air Resources Board (ARB), who will then decide whether to accept any of the recommendations, or formulate its own methodologies and targets.

From the first RTAC meeting, it is clear that business interests, developers and local cities and counties are working to weaken the RTAC and its recommendations, as they view the prospect of SB 375 regional land use plans as intruding on their current ability to pursue retail development.

For environmentalists and labor, it would be very beneficial if the ARB adopts very strong reduction targets. If it does so, then the business model that regional retailers use would be fundamentally antithetical to the regional land use plans developed under SB 375. In that scenario regional retail projects would not enjoy SB 375’s CEQA exemptions, and would also find it more difficult to access transportation improvement funding. As one might expect, another aspect of SB 375 directs that state/federal transportation funding should be directed to projects that are compliant with the regional SB 375 plans.

Jesse McKnight is executive vice president, The Saint Consulting Group, email, phone 510 770 1511

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