This grand idea is at the heart of SB 375. In an October 1, 2008 notice on his Office of the Governor website, Arnold Schwarzenegger (described there as "The People's Governor") supplied the following rationale for his signing this rather controversial piece of legislation into law:
Senate Bill 375 by incoming Senator Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg would be the nation's first law to control greenhouse gas emissions by curbing sprawl. SB 375 provides emissions-reducing goals for which regions can plan, integrates disjointed planning activities, and provides incentives for local governments and developers to follow new conscientiously-planned growth patterns. SB 375 enhances the Air Resources Board's (ARB) ability to reach AB 32 goals ... Just as the railroad transformed California, and decades later our freeway system did the same, SB 375 will be responsible for reshaping the face of California's communities into more sustainable, walkable communities, with alternative transportation options and increased quality of life.
The comfort level of many for massive social engineering schemes aside, what this single bill seeks to accomplish is a draconian reworking of how people in California live, get to work, and spend their leisure time. The purpose is to force the abandonment of what has been described for the last 60 or so years as the "California lifestyle." No longer will you be encouraged to pursue your private home in the sun, rather the state's insistence will be that you head back into the urban core and start walking. It's good for you.
Now what this would mean for Sierra Madre is state enforced mandates proclaiming that we accommodate a lot more housing development because we actually are a lot closer to the urban core than say, the sprawling Inland Empire. Plus our proximity to such futuristic and exciting transportation modes as the Gold Line means that our development denouement will be in the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) style, which is strikingly similar to what we voted down when we passed Measure V here back in 2007. Something that SB 375 could easily overrule should we not get our backs up and fight for it.
Arnold's explanations continue:
It will also mean a higher quality of life. SB 375 provides incentives for creating attractive, walkable, sustainable communities and revitalizing existing ones. It will also encourage the development of more attractive transportation options. By doing so, this law will promote healthy lifestyles and reduce traffic congestion so Californians can spend less time on the road.
Now I'm not sure that the fellow who ran for governor riding around in Hummers smoking cigars is quite the guy to be lecturing us on how we need to walk to work because it is healthy for us. But that was a couple of image changes ago for Arnold, and perhaps it would be churlish of us to bring that sort of thing back up?
The acceptance of this concept that high density "transportation corridor" development will somehow reduce greenhouse gases and save the world from Global Warming has attracted quite a few devotees in this state. Particularly amongst the developers, planners and construction outfits that will make mad money leveling existing low density communities such as ours and replacing them with condominium complexes as far as the eye can see. Which some of the more skeptical among us insist was really the point all along. But will this actually achieve its goal? After tearing down half of the western end of the San Gabriel Valley will we actually find ourselves walking on sunshine in the new green utopia? Or merely living in cramped quarters.
On the Green advocacy website Planetizen.com there is an interesting new piece entitled "Resisting Dickensian Gloom." This article cites several new Australian studies that refute the whole notion that we can build our way out of Global Warming. Australia, which bought into the high density dream early on and now has vast swaths of the stuff, apparently now has cause for a little bit of buyer's remorse. Here is a part of what this article has to say:
Greenhouse gas emissions: Advocates of high-density policies (often termed "Smart Growth" but also under other descriptions and euphemisms such as "urban consolidation," "compact development," "growth management," and "urban renewal") maintain these policies save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A comprehensive study of per capita emissions in Australia based on household consumption of all products and services appears in the Australian Conservation Foundation's Consumption Atlas. Unexpectedly, this analysis shows that greenhouse gas emissions of those living in high-density areas are greater than for those living in low-density areas. An analysis of the data shows that the average carbon dioxide equivalent emission of the high-density core areas of Australian cities is 27.9 tons per person whereas that for the low-density outer areas is 17.5 tons per person. As mentioned in the Demographia Survey introduction, food and goods purchase account for most of the emissions and this amounts to more for wealthier inner-city dwellers.
Surprisingly, transport emissions amount to very little (only 10.5%), household electricity and heating fuel being about twice as much at 20.0%. It should also be noted that the emissions from household dwelling construction and renovations at 11.8% are greater than emissions for transport. It is clear that transport, so heavily emphasized by Smart Growth advocates, is responsible for only a small fraction of household emissions.
The article goes on to cite a few more studies, all of which come to the conclusion that packing people into urban core development might not be as "green" a thing as advocates such as noted ecologist Arnold Schwarzenegger have claimed. Which means that low density communities such as Sierra Madre might very well be the greenest possible solution after all. And that Sacramento, along with SCAG and 40% of our current City Council here (they're the ones that talk a lot), should really go find some other way to save the world.
Hopefully one that might actually work.