Who says we can drive less?


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California is about to adopt the nation’s first legislation to control planet-warming gases by curbing sprawl. The bill, SB 375, sponsored by incoming state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), is expected to go before the Assembly as early as Thursday, to the Senate on Friday and then on to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for his signature.

The controversial legislation had been blocked last year by the building industry and by organizations representing cities and counties. Developers feared their suburban projects would be delayed or halted. Local officials were wary of ceding zoning powers and transportation planning to the state.


But California’s landmark global warming law, passed in 2006, requires the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to be slashed to 1990 levels by 2020, amounting to a 30% cut over expected levels. To accomplish that, state officials say, fuel-efficient cars and factories won’t be enough. Subdivisions, commercial centers and highways must be planned so that Californians can live and work closer together, reducing the amount they drive. ‘Our communities must change the way they grow,’ Steinberg said.

A compromise version of the 17,000-word bill was hammered out this month and endorsed by builders, environmentalists and local officials. It will require the state’s 17 metropolitan planning organizations and its regional transportation plans to meet concrete targets to reduce their global-warming emissions. The targets will be enforced by the state Air Resources Board.

Scientists agree that the earth is heating up at a dangerous pace, in part because of carbon dioxide and other gases from gasoline engines, power plants and other man-made sources. Global warming has already begun melting glaciers and polar ice, which could raise sea levels along coasts in California and elsewhere. Water supplies could become scarcer and many species of plants and animals could become endangered in the state, according to researchers.

Ann Notthoff, a California lobbyist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the Steinberg bill ‘historic,’ adding: ‘It will slow the insidious growth in miles driven by California drivers, which threatens to overwhelm other efforts to reduce heat-trapping pollution. It will result in better-designed communities with less spread out development. And consumers will save money during this era of rising gas prices.’

-- Margot Roosevelt