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Start small on climate change

In "Of greenhouse gases and greenbacks," The Times writes about the U.S. Senate debate on a proposal to impose pollution regulations, which has now stalled. This debate took place as California's attempt to set tougher emission standards for cars and trucks sold in the state remains blocked by the Environmental Protection Agency. It is important to know that in the interim, local governments can pursue other alternatives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The state's ongoing legal struggle with the EPA represents efforts to reach a statewide goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. This ambitious goal was established in late 2006 when the California legislature adopted the Global Warming Solutions Act, or Assembly Bill 32.

Even if California could apply tighter standards, additional tools for reducing emissions are needed to achieve the goals of AB 32. Success will require an integrated effort -- from state, regional and local governments -- that considers how community and land-use planning policy decisions can affect climate change.

To help, the American Planning Association's California Chapter has published its recommended policy principles (PDF) for climate change response to serve as a guide for city and county government agencies to help meet California's goals.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the automobile-centric culture in Los Angeles, there are several examples within Los Angeles County of local government agencies moving in this direction. The City of Los Angeles is poised to adopt one of the strongest green building laws in the country. The law will require that all major new developments, commercial and residential, must incorporate green building practices, such as using recycled materials, installing solar panels, and making more efficient use of natural light.

According to studies, green buildings on average can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40%. Because buildings account for more than 70% of electricity consumption nationwide, mandating more efficient buildings can help significantly reduce emissions.

Several other cities in L.A. County have already adopted mandatory green building standards, including Pasadena, Long Beach, Santa Monica and West Hollywood, but Los Angeles would be the largest city in the nation to do so.

The pending adoption follows a decision by the city to change its zoning rules to encourage higher density residential development. By building higher density housing for multiple income levels near jobs in downtown Los Angeles and other parts of the city, more people can choose to live closer to their work, reduce their commutes and lessen emissions from their automobiles.

The continuing evolution of downtown Los Angeles into a community where residents live, work and play represents an example of how higher density housing combined with office space, restaurants, and entertainment can attract people to a lifestyle that is less reliant on automobiles. In the last decade, the population of downtown Los Angeles has doubled to 34,000 people.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has made a priority of encouraging development near its rail and bus stations. These transit-oriented communities are designed to include buildings for work, housing and entertainment. In North Hollywood at the intersection of the Red Line subway and Orange line busway, planning is underway for the largest transit-oriented development in Los Angeles County history. The project, called the NoHo Art Wave, will include housing for a variety of income levels, office space, restaurants, shopping, and substantial community and public spaces. Metro is also encouraging several smaller developments at other Red Line subway stations along Wilshire Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard.

With this in mind, and as a professional planner who follows these issues, I believe it is not a stretch to say that Los Angeles County has made progress in addressing climate change by adopting progressive land planning policies. While local land planning policy decisions cannot stop climate change alone, it is reassuring to know that we are beginning to do our part.

Kurt Christiansen is president-elect of the American Planning Association California Chapter, the Director of Economic and Community Development for the City of Azusa, and a resident of Glendale.

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