Central Valley cities ignored in new California infill development program

Last week, the state released draft guidelines for the much anticipated Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) program. With California now collecting revenue from the new Cap and Trade program, there is now dedicated funding for infill projects that demonstrate the ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create sustainable and equitable communities. Unfortunately, the first draft of the AHSC guidelines are misguided, ignoring where greenhouse gas emissions are the worst and sustainable community investment is needed the most: the Central Valley.

While I fully support the allocation of cap and trade funding to help create sustainable development, there is a strong disconnect between AHSC program goals and the realities of where the most polluted areas of California are. The AHSC draft guidelines are indicative of the state’s habit of directing money to already wealthy areas while giving short shrift to less politically connected regions. If we want real walkable communities in Stockton and other Central Valley cities, we have to make sure state program officials know we are not happy with the AHSC program guidelines in their current form.

A new state program is supposed to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but cities that suffer from the worst air quality– like Stockton– are at a disadvantage.

AHSC guidelines cite greenhouse gas reduction as a principal program objective. Given that, it stands to reason that the majority of funding should be awarded to the most polluted communities in order to promote compact development in existing urban areas. If this were the case, the Central Valley—home to the nation’s poorest air quality and most sprawling land use patterns—should be the focal point of such a program. Instead, current AHSC scoring criteria is clearly tilted toward big cities that already support dense development patterns where driving is an option, not a necessity. Moreover, the Central Valley is set to grow at a much faster rate than the already dense coastal regions, so one would think that funds should be earmarked in greater quantities to build communities in the Central Valley that can mitigate the environmental effects of a booming population. Without funding to kick start infill development, the Central Valley will continue to sprawl, exacerbating an already dangerous pollution problem stemming from too much driving.

The AHSC program puts certain communities at a disadvantage by assigning higher point values to projects that are in close proximity to subways and light rails—transportation options that are nonexistent in Central Valley cities. Case in point, despite having popular Bus Rapid Transit (SJRTD Metro Express) and commuter lines (ACE Rail) in close proximity, a Downtown Stockton project cannot score maximum points. The only projects that can receive maximum points are those that enjoy existing subway or light rail services (such as BART in the Bay Area or the Red Line in Los Angeles). As a result, Central Valley developers with projects promoting walkability are penalized– even if they have tie ins to transportation networks that make perfect sense for their community– simply because they do not have the luxury of a big-city rail transportation system.

AHSC projects also get scored higher for amenities you won’t find in any Central Valley downtown area. Bike share kiosks, car sharing programs, grocery stores and electric vehicle charging stations are all staples of more affluent city cores, but not in Central Valley downtown areas. The presence of these amenities brings higher scores for infill projects, making it even more difficult for cities like Modesto, Fresno, and Bakersfield to compete for AHSC funds. It would be nice to have these things in Downtown Stockton, and hopefully one day we can get there, but it seems counterproductive to the emission reduction goals of the AHSC to penalize a Central Valley city such as Stockton for not yet having these amenities.

While it’s easy to pick apart why this program appears to be inequitable, I do understand how this scoring criteria came to be. On the one hand, program administrators need to make sure they’re awarding funding to projects that will actually decrease driving and reduce emissions. But California is a big state and it’s difficult to develop a formula that can score every community evenly. Because of this reality, special steps should be taken to ensure that strict scoring criteria does not inadvertently exclude smaller cities with bigger pollution problems.

In order to have the greatest impact on greenhouse gas emissions, the AHSC must set aside a significant portion of funds for Central Valley communities where seemingly limitless amounts of land make it very difficult for infill projects to take hold. Similar programs in the past have included such set asides for the Central Valley, but they were too small to make a significant impact. For example, the state’s previous Transit Oriented Development and Infill Infrastructure Grant programs only set aside 10% of funding for the Central Valley. The AHSC cannot make this same mistake and must include a much higher set aside if state officials hope to actually make meaningful progress on reducing emissions and creating sustainable communities.

Fortunately, the AHSC guidelines released last week are in draft form, so there is time to make changes. The state is accepting feedback on these guidelines, specifically noting that it needs input on the geographic distribution of these funds. The comment period for the draft guidelines are open until October 31st, so if you care about making walkable, sustainable and equitable development in the Central Valley a reality, send in comments to ahsc@sgc.ca.gov. The state is also hosting feedback workshops this month, with one slated for Sacramento on October 28th.

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Categories: Community Commentary

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia founded SCL in March of 2012. He holds degrees from UCLA as well as Johns Hopkins University and currently works as the Chief Operating Officer at Ten Space in Downtown Stockton, and previously worked as a researcher/analyst for a congressional agency in Washington DC. The views expressed here are solely of the author.

4 Comments on “Central Valley cities ignored in new California infill development program”

  1. walt
    September 30, 2014 at 11:54 am #

    If I were AHSC, I would note Stockton’s two decades of irresponsible sprawl, aided by crony local government. Likewise an irresponsible master plan that was only recently modified, and the projects approved but not yet built.

    We already have too many houses based on long commutes to the Bay Area. Modesto and Tracy will be building more.

    I’d like to see more focus on bringing jobs to the infill areas. Do we have an incubator where start-ups can rent space and interact?

  2. Tim
    September 30, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    The Huddle and Cafe COOP.

  3. September 30, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

    I could not agree more. I think a little background on California’s greenhouse-gas-emissions profile is in order.

    It is important to note that between 2011 and 2012 the state backtracked (went in the wrong direction) on GHG reduction. Measured in million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) California produced 458.7 MMTCO2e in 2012. This was 1.7 percent above 2011’s totals. Meanwhile, in 2010, GHG was 453.1 MMTCO2e. The rise was attributed apparently to SONGS (San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station) going off-line and the drought causing a decrease in hydro-power generation substituted by increased natural gas generation. The 2020 target is 427 MMTCO2e. With essentially five years remaining to meet the 2020 target (equal to that generated in 1990), this will require a 6.9 percent GHG reduction.

    California’s highest GHG output ever was in 2004, where GHG emissions reached 492.9 MMTCO2e.

    Added to this, according to what I was able to find out through my research, state per-capita GHG emissions have been in decline.

    So, while I would conclude that it is not impossible to reach the target for 2020, the state will definitely have its work cut out.

    A few more relevant facts:

    For comparison purposes, the Federal Highway Administration, Office of Highway Policy Information determined that in 1990 Golden State population was 23.6679 million, and in 16.8731 million motor vehicles, 15.6687 million motorists logged a total of 156 billion vehicle travel miles. This compares to a state population of 37.3494 million people, and roughly 64 percent or 23.7534 million of the total drive. With an aggregate 31.0141 million registered motor vehicles in state, a grand total 322.849 billion vehicle travel miles were driven.

    As for what sector generates what percentage of state GHG, in 2012 transportation produced 37.3%, industry generated 21.9%, in-state electricity generation was responsible for 11,2 percent, imported electricity generation contributed 9.6%, agriculture created 8.3%, residential produced 6.9% while commerce emitted 4.8%.

    For more information, see: “California’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory: 2000-2012,” (2014 Edition) from the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB), May 2014; and “California Greenhouse Gas Emissions Level and 2020 Emissions Limit,” ARB, Nov. 16, 2007.

  4. Jon Seisa
    October 2, 2014 at 11:56 pm #

    This 2008 air distribution map seems to indicate equal severity of the Los Angeles/Orange County Basin with that of the California Central Valley. So I would assume the piece of the AHSC money pie would also be equal shares.

    “In 2008 the EPA classified the San Joaquin Valley’s air quality as ‘extreme’ on a 6 class scale that ranges from marginal to extreme.”

    Also, the Central Valley air quality severity is actually compounded due to particulates from pesticides from agribusiness that are causing an asthma epidemic in the region.

    ARTICLE: http://joelgcampos.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/california-air-quality-policies-and-their-affects-on-the-san-joaquin-valley/

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