California is known as a leader in the national and international stages. People love to say, “As California goes, so goes the nation.” Taking this to heart, state leaders have adopted ambitious, aggressive goals for many policy goals including cleaner air, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, criminal justice reform, and public health initiatives. It is critical that these state leaders remember, however, no matter how noble our cause, this is a democratic republic with multiple layers of governmental involvement in each of these policy areas. Without effective cooperation between these various levels, accomplishing our lofty goals becomes less likely.
One instance of where interagency cooperation is critical is in the state’s efforts to reduce statewide per-capita vehicle miles traveled (VMT). The California Air Resources Board (ARB) has stated that the reduction of VMT is a critical part of reaching the state’s GHG emissions targets. There are many ways to accomplish VMT reduction, of course, but none of the potential solutions to this problem are possible without coordinating with and enabling the state’s regions, counties, and cities. Unfortunately, in its recent Draft 2020 Mobile Source Strategy, ARB staff seem more interested in blaming the state’s inability to reduce VMT on regional agencies than on identifying ways to assist regions and local governments in their efforts to reach the state’s goals.
Recognizing the critical role of integrated transportation, land use, and housing decisions to meet state climate goals, the Legislature passed the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, Senate Bill (SB) 375. Under SB 375, regional agencies have spent more than a decade engaged in planning and developing sustainable communities strategies tailored to each region that outline multiple benefits for public health, the environment, social justice, and access to opportunities. Each of these agencies have developed plans that meet or succeed targets given to them by ARB for emission reductions. These regions and their local counterparts are actively engaged in assisting the state reach its goals.
The Draft Mobile Source Strategy argues that the regional and local partners aren’t doing enough. Not only does this not foster good will, and in the end may hurt relationships between the state and the other governments, it is simply disingenuous. There are both legal and political limits to what local and regional entities can do to reduce VMT, just as there are limits to state authority. Cooperation among all levels of government is critical to the state’s ability to accomplish its goals. In fact, ARB states in its 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan, “More discussion among a broad suite of stakeholders from transportation, the building community, financial institutions, housing advocates, environmental organizations, and community groups are needed to develop the needed set of strategies to achieve VMT reductions necessary to reach the state’s emission targets.” This perspective must be included in any ARB plans related to reducing statewide VMT, and it would serve us all better for these plans to focus on solutions instead of assigning blame for past failures. We can only hope that ARB staff will heed the Board’s direction and do a better job of incorporating this point into the next draft of the 2020 Mobile Source Strategy.