On Thursday, the board charged with setting priorities for San Joaquin County’s transportation system took a modest step toward a more sustainable future by adopting a regional transportation plan that includes the county’s first Sustainable Community Strategy.
The San Joaquin Council of Governments passed the RTP/SCS by a 7-2 vote, setting the county’s transportation plan through 2040. It envisions spending $11 billion on transportation projects within San Joaquin County through 2040, including $3.6 billion generated by Measure K, the half-cent sales tax passed by voters in 1990 and renewed for 30 years in 2006.
According to SJCOG staff, $3.2 billion will be spent on bus, rail and other transit systems, a 28 percent increase over the previous RTP. Meanwhile, $7 billion will be spent on roadway and highway improvement, and $282 will be invested in “active transportation,” which includes walking and biking. The RTP/SCS also increased the goal for overall housing density in the county, which will encourage tighter growth patterns and infill development while discouraging sprawl on the fringes of cities and in county land.
Individual projects were also identified as priorities, including widening Interstate 5 north of Hammer Lane and south of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., widening Interstate 205 between I-5 and Interstate 580, increased public transportation services and an expanded system of bike trails. A working group comprised of city planners, developers, housing advocates and transit experts will be put in place to help monitor the progress of the plan.
The plan is a response to legislation that requires reduced greenhouse gas emissions, notably Senate Bill 375, which mandates metropolitan areas shrink per capita emissions by 5 percent by 2020 and 10 percent by 2035.
In an effort to meet and surpass those goals, SJCOG staff met with members of the public during a two-year process that eventually led to a plan that departs from the status quo of the past, promoting a more dense land use pattern and increasing funding to public and active transportation while decreasing emphasis on roadways and highways.
It is a signal that local leaders are serious about tackling issues like suburban sprawl, environmental pollution and a car-centered culture— at least in restrained, measured ways.
Smart-growth activists present at many of the meetings leading up to SJCOG’s final vote encouraged even more aggressive measures to reign in suburban sprawl and vehicle miles traveled, a big contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in an area crisscrossed with highways and home to many commuters. In particular, they advocated for an even higher housing density that would encourage more infill development.
On the other side of the ideological aisle were groups like the Builders Industry Association, which pushed for a density goal that, while higher than the status quo, was lower than what was ultimately passed. The lower threshold would allow more expansive development of single-family houses.
SJCOG eventually settled on a plan between the two poles — a compromise senior planning analyst Kim Anderson called “ambitious and achievable,” and one that drew praise from American Lung Association, The Cort Group and Defenders of Wildlife representatives.
The most enthusiastic supporter of the plan Thursday was Stockton City Councilman Moses Zapian, who said the RTP/SJC was a step toward “a more livable, walkable, loveable community.” His motion to adopt the plan was seconded by Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva, who did not speak during discussion of the RTP/SCS.
But support was not unanimous. Tracy Mayor Brent Ives and Ripon Mayor Chuck Winn voted against the Sustainable Community Strategy. Though they lauded the goals of the plan, they questioned whether this particular set of strategies was the right way to do it.
In stating his dissent, Winn wagered that most of the people present in the SJCOG chambers lived in a three- or four-bedroom house with a three-car garage. “Individuals I’ve talked with don’t necessarily share the same views (as those expressed here today),” he said. “Most of the people I know drive cars, and they live in single-family homes.”