Every resident of Planet Earth has a stake in making sure that greenhouse gas emissions go down. In the Bay Area, cars and light-duty trucks are the biggest generators of climate-warming emissions. That’s why it’s so critical that the local planning processes tasked with reducing car and truck miles are doing their job. Unfortunately, the plans for Alameda and Contra Costa are going in exactly the wrong direction.
The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) are preparing a Regional Transportation Plan for adoption next year. The Plan will have a Sustainable Communities Strategy as required by SB 375, the California Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008. The purpose of the Sustainable Communities Strategy is to reduce the driving of cars and light-duty trucks to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The California Air Resources Board has set a standard for the Bay Area to meet in terms of reduced GHGs from driving—a 15 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2035.
While ABAG and MTC are working on the new 2017 Regional Transportation Plan, both the Alameda and Contra County transportation planning agencies are preparing long-term transportation plans that will be significant components of the regional plan. An important issue is whether the county plans help cut GHGs to the 2035 required level. Unfortunately, a review of materials released to the public indicates that neither plan will cut driving to the extent required and, therefore, will not cut GHGs to the extent required.
Alameda County has a $9-billion long-range plan adopted in 2012, plus a $7-billion transportation sales tax expenditure plan approved by voters in 2014. Based on information the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) has provided to the Sierra Club, these two plans, when combined, may result in a 19 percent increase of GHGs per capita from cars and light trucks between 2005 and 2035. That is a long way from a reduction of 15 percent.
A draft of Alameda County’s 2016 long-range transportation plan was recently released. ACTC is not following CEQA and will not prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Also, ACTC reports in the draft plan that while GHGs from transportation will go down due to cleaner vehicle and fuel technologies, there will be a gain in GHGs between 2010 and 2040 due to growth in driving. Unlike the 2012 plan, the 2016 draft does not provide figures showing either changes to vehicle miles traveled per capita or GHGs per capita—another reason an EIR would help both the public and the ACTC governing board better understand what to expect from the plan.
Contra Costa County has a $9-billion long-range plan adopted in 2009. When the plan was adopted, vehicle miles traveled per capita were expected to increase by about 22 percent through 2030. The plan notes that “Vehicle miles traveled are closely correlated with increased levels of GHGs.”
With the 2009 long-range plan as a base, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) is now developing a $2-billion sales tax expenditure plan headed for the November ballot. A “Performance and Equity Evaluation” of the draft tax expenditure plan, released in March, has a section on air-quality impacts and climate protection, which states that “passenger vehicle daily CO2 emissions per capita are not expected to change substantially between 2013 and 2040….” Like ACTC, CCTA is not preparing an EIR for review by the public and CCTA governing board as it develops its 2016 tax expenditure plan.
CCTA also reports on reduced GHGs due to better car technology and fuel formulas, but, as is the case with ACTC, county agencies are not supposed to be taking credit for advances the California Air Resources Board is making in those areas. What they should be doing is reducing vehicle miles traveled per capita. Both regional agencies — ABAG and MTC — have indicated they understand that their mission is to reduce driving to cut GHGs per capita and not to take credit for the State’s work. Planbayarea.org (the web site for the 2013 and 2017 Regional Transportation Plans) states this clearly, calling the practice “double counting.”
The general public doesn’t closely follow county transportation plans. But as climate-change impacts become more evident, more people are paying attention to the dangers of GHG emissions. If people can be made aware of the connection between routine government-agency planning processes and the emissions that cause global warming, perhaps there will be more public outcry when these plans fall short.
We all have a responsibility to hold our governments accountable when they act against the public interest. We should all be asking why these two county agencies have not met their obligations to reduce GHG emissions.