Kaid Benfield Archive


ULI gives strong endorsement to California smart growth law

Kaid Benfield

Posted June 10, 2010 at 1:30PM

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  LEED-ND certified redevelopment in Napa County, CA (via County of Napa)

The Urban Land Institute, a preeminent, multidisciplinary real estate forum comprising local, national and international development industry leaders with nearly 30,000 members worldwide, has issued a new report that provides strong and explicit support for SB375, California’s innovative land use planning framework.

The two-year-old law requires that each of the state’s metropolitan regions develop a binding land use and transportation investment plan that accommodates anticipated growth while meeting carbon emissions reduction targets.  Transportation funding will be tied to the plans, and development projects consistent with the plans will receive expedited approvals.

In a press release, ULI Chief Executive Officer Patrick L. Phillips said, “Land use has an enormous impact on the long-term environmental viability of our urban areas. Climate change has elevated the need to rethink what and where we build.  sprawl-induced traffic (courtesy of ULI)Clearly, with SB 375, California is taking a leading role in addressing the detrimental impact of sprawling development, and is seeking to improve urban growth patterns.”

Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Selna reports that the group's support of the legislation contributes to the bill's legitimacy at a key time:  preliminary regional targets to cut carbon dioxide from cars and trucks are due at the end of the month, and some are calling for the delay of a broader state climate change bill (AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act) until the economy improves.

ULI and its local chapters in California convened an interdisciplinary panel of real estate leaders, including developers, land use attorneys, academics and public officials, to conduct an analysis of the law.  The panel’s findings formed the basis for the SB 375 Impact Analysis Report, which was released on June 4.  The report found that the law will “help California accommodate growth in ways that are economically sound, environmentally responsible, and socially beneficial.”  The report concluded that SB375 has the potential “to address a number of problems long associated with sprawl, including traffic congestion, the cost burden of housing, declining air quality, increases in greenhouse gas emissions, and the geographical imbalance between jobs and housing.”

Going further, ULI makes a number of recommendations to ensure that the law fulfill its promise, including that the relevant jurisdictions assure “transit certainty” with sufficient buses, trains, light rail, and shuttles to support the compact development the law will foster.  Perhaps even more important at this critical time, the organization responded to the law’s doubters.  From the release:

“Much of the debate surrounding SB 375 has been a result of misinterpretation of the legislation itself.Rivermark, smart growth development in Santa Clara, CA (by: HMH) SB 375 is not the first legislation from California that was initially seen as problematic but in the long run contributed to positive and progressive results. It is possible, the report says, for SB 375 to achieve similar benefits as Title 24, the state’s 30-plus year old law mandating improved building energy efficiency. That law is now viewed as helping to shift the state toward more sustainable land use decisions, and as contributing to significant energy cost savings for the state. ‘The better California does with SB 375 implementation, the greater the benefits will be,’ the report says.

“SB 375 is consistent with the overall mission of ULI and what it has long advocated – the development of sustainable, thriving communities that:  provide a social framework for connecting people to places; respect environmental realities locally and globally; and compete effectively for economic vitality.”

There is also a very helpful bibliography.

This strong vote of confidence from the private sector - indeed, from one of the country’s most respected and influential development institutions - is immensely reinforcing for those of us in the nonprofit world, including NRDC and our partner Climate Plan, among many others, who have worked hard to make the law both effective and fair.

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