The members of this panel seem to be the usual experts:
Julianna Delgado, M.Arch, PhD, AICP: Assoc. Professor, Dept. of Urban and Regional Planning, Cal Poly Pomona.
Martin Wachs, PhD: RAND Corporation, Director of Transportation, Space and Technology
Michael K. Woo: Dean of College of Environmental Design, Cal Poly Pomona. Member of the Air Resources Board
Paul Zimmerman: Executive Director of Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing
Huasha Liu: Director of Land use and Environmental Planning for Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG)
Here is how the topic up for discussion is presented:
SB 375 (September 2008) has been referred to by a few as the "Anti-Sprawl Bill," or by others as the "Sustainable Communities Strategies Act." Either name an individual decides upon, the objective behind SB 375 is to encourage communities to develop land-use, housing and transportation strategies that work within their particular built environment objectives, while also reducing the amount of green house gas (GHG) emissions produced by cars and light trucks. A key component, within SB 375, for the public, community groups, architects, engineers, city planners, administrators, and local government officials to keep in mind, is that individual communities and sub-regions will be given specific GHG emission reduction targets - they will not be given directives on how to meet their specific target. In other words, individual communities or sub-regions have an opportunity to collaborate, and to participate in, the decision processes that relate to and ultimately determine their local or sub-regional land-use, housing, and transportation policies. Simply stated, under SB 375, and community has an opportunity to maintain its influence over its unique identity.
A question. While it is gracious of the panel to inform us that we have been granted the right to give our input on whatever it is they want to see happen here, this seems to me to be a rather miniscule sliver of freedom in what is in actuality an unfunded Sacramento dictated mandate for us to change our town into something we'd rather it not become. Our "unique identity" is what we love about this town, but will these people tell us that we'll be allowed to keep things as they are? Or merely that we will be able to choose the color of the paint on all the new development that we will be forced to accept as part of the overall SB 375 process? And isn't SB 375 just the Downtown Specific Plan in a bright new green bottle, only this time gone statewide?
So here's another question. After the California Air Resources Board (CARB - which panelist Woo belongs to) makes it recommendations to Southern California Area Governments (SCAG - which panelist Liu belongs to) on how much new housing we must accommodate, and that is then taken to the Community Economic & Human Development confab (CEHD - which Sierra Madre City Councilman Joe Mosca belongs to), and they cook up with our new (and, as most anticipate, very large) Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) numbers, will we then be free under this plan to simply ignore them? After all, given their choice most people in this town find our current layout rather nice and wouldn't see the need for very much change.
By my reading of SB 375, that answer would be no. It is in no way as benign as the blithe description provided to us would indicate. If we do not comply with these SB 375 driven RHNA numbers, per this state law we could be sued by any developer wishing to do so, lose because of this new state law, and be forced to pay the Court costs. Not to mention the loss of our right to protect our local environment through the CEQA process. Our options are very limited here, and only by forging a coalition of cities willing resist the draconian changes this fiat demands will we be able to regain the planning rights Sacramento has confiscated from us.
Another question. If we are forced to build a large swath of condo development in what is currently our downtown area (as an example, because there are other sites such as the neighborhood by Goldberg Park that could be targeted), will the people moving into them give up their cars and start taking the Gold Line to work? The magical thinking at the heart of the SB 375 experiment has it that once people are situated in housing located near public transportation, they will no longer feel the need to drive an automobile. Rather they will desire to take a CNG shuttle bus to the 210 Trolly, take that to some place approximate to where they want to go, get in another bus, and then get off at a station 2 or 3 blocks from their destination. All of which will somehow reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions and save the world from Global Warming. But again, for SB 375 to succeed, people will willingly have to give up their cars. And wouldn't it be a shame if after tearing up a good portion of Sierra Madre and replacing it with the kind of generica you can see in most other California small cities, people decide to drive their cars anyway? Which they will. Who wants to spend 2 hours on public transportation getting to some place that is a half hour drive?
There are other questions as well. Does high-density and mixed-use development give off more or less GHG emissions than the low density buildings we have now? Where will we find the additional water for all the new residents living in these so-called sustainable structures? Electricity production is an even larger producer of GHG than cars. Doesn't the building of high-density housing ramp up the need for more coal generated electricity production, theoretically heating up the atmosphere even more? And given the condo glut on the real estate market, wouldn't we just be creating yet another way for nitwit banks to go out of business, further burdening the taxpayers with more bailouts?
One other point: The timing of this event is rather choice, coming as it does just 2 days before the Candidate's Forum at Sierra Madre City Hall. Probably just a coincidence.