California Moves on Bill to Curb Sprawl and Emissions

August 30, 2008

Published: August 28, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — California, known for its far-ranging suburbs and jam-packed traffic, is close to adopting a law intended to slow the increase in emissions of heat-trapping gases by encouraging housing close to job sites, rail lines and bus stops to shorten the time people spend in their cars.

The measure, which the State Assembly passed on Monday and awaits final approval by the Senate, would be the nation’s most comprehensive effort to reduce sprawl. It would loosely tie tens of billions of dollars in state and federal transportation subsidies to cities’ and counties’ compliance with efforts to slow the inexorable increase in driving. The goal is to encourage housing near current development and to reduce commutes to work.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has not said whether he will sign the bill.

The number of miles driven in California has increased at a rate 50 percent faster than the rate of population growth for the past two decades. Passenger vehicles, which produce about 30 percent of the state’s heat-trapping gases, are the single greatest source of such emissions.

The fragile coalition behind the measure includes some longtime antagonists, in particular homebuilders and leading environmental groups in California. Both called the measure historic.

“What California is doing for the first time,” said Ed Manning, a lobbyist who represents the state’s 25 largest homebuilding companies, “is planning for housing needs, transportation needs and climate-change needs all at the same time.”

Thomas Adams, the board president of California’s League of Conservation Voters, said the changes were “all going to support a development pattern that will help the state meet its climate goals.”

The bill yokes three regulatory and permit processes. One focuses on regional planning: how land use should be split among industry, agriculture, homes, open space and commercial centers. Another governs where roads and bridges are built. A third sets out housing needs and responsibilities — for instance, how much affordable housing a community must allow.

Under the pending measure, the three regulatory and permit processes must be synchronized to meet new goals, set by the state’s Air Resources Board, to reduce heat-trapping gases.

Seventeen regional planning groups from across the state will submit their land-use, transportation and housing plans to the board. If the board rules that a plan will fall short of its emissions targets, then an alternative blueprint for meeting the goals must be developed.

Once state approval is granted, or an alternative plan submitted, billions of dollars in state and federal transportation subsidies can be awarded. The law would allow the money to be distributed even if an alternative plan fails to pass muster.

State Senator Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, said in an interview that he expected the Senate to approve the bill soon.

Mr. Steinberg, who will be the Senate majority leader in the legislative session beginning next year, said Wednesday that he met with Governor Schwarzenegger this week and received “positive signals, no guarantees.”

Environmentalists have long blamed profit-driven land-use planning around the country for creating the expansive, sometimes redundant network of roads that have carved up farmland near urban areas.

They have also praised regional planners in Portland, Ore., for that city’s clustered growth and pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly communities.

The tools Portland planners have used are called urban growth boundaries, efforts to control sprawl by encouraging higher density development within an area and largely prohibiting it outside.

These boundaries have gained little traction in California, where developers have seen them as too restrictive and local governments have been jealous of their own planning powers.

Sacramento and San Diego have recently tried to build coalitions to support clustered development.

Most environmental groups strongly support the pending bill. Among them is the Natural Resources Defense Council, a major force in the development two years ago of the landmark state law to limit heat-trapping emissions from all sectors of the economy.

But some groups have expressed reservations, objecting to the relaxation of some existing environmental constraints on developers.

Jan Chatten-Brown, an environmental lawyer in Santa Monica, wrote in an e-mail message that the bill “gives up an important tool” by relaxing some requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act and making it harder for citizen groups to sue developers.

Communities that take part in the process will be able to revise their housing plans every eight years instead of five; developers working with a state-approved plan will have to do less extensive environmental reviews of their projects.

Ms. Chatten-Brown also said the legislation overlapped with some of the provisions of the 2006 law committing the state, by 2020, to a 30 percent reduction in the projected level of emissions of heat-trapping gases.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the League of Conservation Voters estimate that $15 billion to $20 billion in annual federal, state and local transportation grants support highways, bridges, bike paths and light-rail systems.

Because there is no assurance that regions would lose transportation dollars if their plans fail to win state approval, a few environmental groups stayed in a neutral corner.

But Mr. Adams, with the League of Conservation Voters, said that “a land-use bill of this magnitude had not been successful since the 1976 passage of the California Coastal Act.”

The New York Times

Tuscaloosa News on Ecocity

March 18, 2008


From Tuscaloosa News… 

Rethink development. “Start approving new housing without any parking and create and expand a car-free street into a car-free district,” said Richard Register, designer, builder and author in ecological city design and planning, who is organizing the Ecocity World Summit in April. “Go for higher density in the mode of very mixed-use with the sort of architectural features I talk about in my books: Rooftop and terraced gardens and cafes up there, bridges between clustered buildings.”

Register, president of Ecocity Builders in Oakland, Calif., pointed to other cities that work with their universities to create new spaces where there were previously none.

“The University of California at Berkeley has nine bridges linking 18 buildings, or in a couple of cases, the building is a bridge with a large open ground level passageway,” he said. “These features could be emphasized and buildings on campuses brought close enough together to create streetscapes in one part of town, and/or campus while opening up other areas for natural and agricultural activities.”

Move away from sprawl. Register’s group, Ecocity Builders, has a mapping system that helps identify “vitality centers” for more development where people can walk to conduct business.

[Read entire article]

A Convenient Truth: Urban Solutions from Curitiba, Brazil

February 9, 2008

Maria Terezinha Vaz, an Ecocity presenter and special guest, is the producer of A Convenient Truth: Urban Solutions from Curitiba, Brazil, an informative, inspirational documentary aimed at sharing ideas to provoke environment-friendly and cost-effective changes in cities worldwide.

The documentary focuses on innovations in transportation, recycling, social benefits including affordable housing, seasonal parks, and the processes that transformed Curitiba into one of the most livable cities in the world.

Through photography, Maria Terezinha Vaz integrates other passions, some of them lifelong. Trains, train tracks, the patterns and geometry of the rails and the machinery, have always held a fascination for her. She highly values historical and cultural preservation such as the Mayan land in Mexico, especially the sacred city of Chichen Itza. Preservation of the natural environment is also of great importance to her.


The film includes interviews from world renowned Curitiba’s mayors Jaime Lerner and Cassio Tanigushi, as well as other brilliant minds who made Curitiba a world class model.

If you are interested in learning more about the specifics of many of Curitiba’s programs, take a look at her web page on the project, organized into the following:






DVDs can be purchased at:…

Written and Directed by Giovanni Vaz Del Bello

Produced by Maria Terezinha Vaz

Sound Design and Mixing by Lars Hidde

Music by Levanta a Vela

Singer & Berimbau Player: Papiba Godinho

Band: Sambada

a little more on Dongtan…

February 8, 2008

In August 2005, Arup was contracted by the Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation (SIIC) to design and master plan an eco-city called Dongtan, near Shanghai. Dongtan will be a city of three villages that meet to form a city centre. The first demonstrator phase of the city aims to be completed by 2010, in time for the World Expo in Shanghai, and will accommodate a population of up to 10,000. Later phases of development will see the city grow to hold a population of around 80,000 by 2020 and up to 400,000 by 2050. The delicate nature of the Dongtan wetlands adjacent to the site has been one of the driving factors of the city’s design. We plan to protect and enhance the existing wetlands by returning agricultural land to a wetland state creating a ‘buffer-zone’ between the city and the mudflats – at its narrowest point, this ‘buffer-zone’ will be 3.5 kilometers wide. The project will increase bio-diversity on Chongming Island, and will create a city that runs entirely on renewable energy for its buildings, its infrastructure and its transport needs. Dongtan will recover, recycle and reuse 90% of all waste in the city, with the eventual aim of becoming a zero waste city. Dongtan eco-city incorporates many traditional Chinese design features and combines them with a sustainable approach to modern living, but not at the expense of creating a city that is recognizable as a ‘Chinese’ city. Dongtan demonstrates to the world China’s ability to work closely with the environment and has provided a methodology for sustainable communities across China and beyond.

How People Trying to Improve Things Can Make Them Worse

February 7, 2008

In the world of people attempting work to make human society more
sustainable there are two very large generally unexamined problems:

1. Making small counterproductive “improvements” without understanding the whole system – thus failing to understand the dynamics of longer range failure.

2. Failing to address the built infrastructure of city, town and village as the foundation for arrangement of many technologies, including such crucial ones as energy,transportation and food production – all severely impacted by sprawl cities.


New Orleans people helping put people back in dangers’ way by helping rebuild in car-dependent, low-density housing below sea level surrounded by 350 miles of levees.

Alternative: Build a pedestrian streetcar city of compact diversity on artificial mounds. Such development elevated above the floods is easily accomplished physically for neighborhoods or whole cities designed around pedestrians, bicycles and streetcars but impossible in the case of car-dependent sprawl because of the massive amount of land and fill that would be required. Such elevated development on artificial mounds is done in may parts of the world, including in New Orleans at New Orleans University.

Creek fans in Berkeley preventing the opening of creeks into the foreseeable future by refusing to consider land use shifting strategies fearing any kind of serious change, even through willing seller deals, that could remove some development along creeks.

Alt.: Ecocity mapping and transfer of development rights (TDR) strategies or simply spending City money for density shifting to help transit, housing needs and open space. Such strategies are pursued in South Lake Tahoe with a TDR strategy and at Portland’s Johnson Creek with a simple city funded willing seller deal purchase strategy.

Environmentalists driving Priuses so they can continue low density living and driving.

Alt.: Weaning from cars through using transit, bicycling, moving to centers, and supporting zoning and politics for shifting cities to centers oriented development. Happens all the time with people quitting or going lite on car dependence.

Solar on houses promoting low-density living and continued paving, car use and thus more energy use.

Alt.: Solar to apartments and condos from central generating plants and the grid. Solar on buildings not close to urban or rural centers should not be encouraged as the practice encourages NOT changing the disastrous urban structure that presently exists. Solar energy utilizing power plants or “solar electric farms” in sunny locations and “wind farms” exist and should be promoted.