Laboratories of environmentalism
Think globally. Act locally.
I think the old slogan still works for Californians across the political spectrum. As previously noted, California is too big and diverse to have a "one size fits all" approach - especially one dictated from Sacramento.
Here in Ventura, our community's vision of sustainability embraces smart growth. We oppose sprawling out onto our hillside open spaces and habitats and paving over prime farmland. We're promoting infill development in the older parts of our community and encouraging more housing along our city's key transit corridors. We provide incentives to green building to reduce energy consumption, and design new neighborhoods to promote safe biking and convenient walking.
That doesn't mean that we want to impose that approach on every other town in California - any more than we'd want Sacramento to dictate rigid mandates on us.
Varying climates, demographics and community values all shape solutions that will work better in some places than in others. In our community, we find there are big differences between how we approach projects in our historic downtown from those on undeveloped land near the city's suburban edge. That's even more important in huge cities like Los Angeles.
The best way to get us all working together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to set reasonable targets and give localities a toolbox of alternatives and incentives for achieving them. In the last two decades, Sacramento has been more bent on passing rules and imposing solutions than offering assistance and rewarding results.
For example, the slammed-together $42-billion bond package passed by voters last year. It included a hodgepodge of specific earmarks and vague categories that emerged out of Sacramento deal-making. Why not require cities and counties to work together on regional water, transportation and flood control plans and projects, instead of giving the governor and Legislature control over billions of dollars in pork? What if there was also a clear scoring system to ensure that regions that successfully focus on results would get bonus funding?
Requiring localities to cooperate with their neighbors to be eligible for statewide funding would be a great way to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. Today cities typically compete for sales tax revenue by subsidizing new retail development. That comes not only at the expense of their neighbors (and local taxpayers), it produces longer shopping trips and more congestion. If sales tax dollars were instead apportioned regionally and cities were given incentives for reducing vehicle-miles traveled, wouldn't they be more likely to promote shopping and workplaces closer to home?
Although some think that our political and geographic differences make California "ungovernable," the problem is how we define the term. If successful governing depends on Sacramento's liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans reaching consensus on how to tackle a complex issue like global warming, gridlock is inevitable - even as the planet gets hotter and the 2020 deadline gets closer. If instead, we empower regions and communities to find their own ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - with accountability for actually delivering results - we can set the example for rest of the planet.
Rick Cole is the city manager of Ventura and a member of the Sustainability Advisory Committee of the International City/County Management Assn. In 2006, he was listed as one of Governing magazine's "Public Officials of the Year," the only Californian among the nine honorees. His views are his own.
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