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Car talk

and policies are put into effect, the move to reduce GHGs is being felt by developers and

Will California’s greenhouse gas rules drive the rest of the country?

builders. A council member in one Orange County city recently stated she opposed a new development because it “wasn’t SB 375

LAER PEARCE

compliant”—even though there’s nothing to comply with yet. A new community in West Sacramento recently had mitigations imposed on it requiring that all nonresidential buildings

For the last year, I’ve been working on a little

Under SB 375, the state’s 18 planning

be LEED certified and employ “cool-roof”

project I call “Crazifornia,” which involves

regions must meet new passenger vehicle

technology, and developers throughout the

attempting to prove just about everything

GHG emission reduction targets starting

state must now include sustainability plans in

that’s going wrong in America started in

in 2020. Setting these goals has been an

their Environmental Impact Reports, detailing

California. When it comes to the heavy-

expensive and complex process, and as the

how their new community will reduce GHG

handed regulation of development in the

regulatory wheels turn, the target seems

emissions, conserve water and otherwise be

name of greenhouse-gas reductions, it’s an

to be moving … in the wrong direction.

more green.

easy proposition to prove.

When regulators first started talking about

You may have heard of California’s

Critics of SB 375 and its companion

Southern California’s target level for GHG

legislation say that even if it all works and

ban of big-screen plasma TVs and its earlier

reductions from passenger vehicles, they hit

California’s GHGs are reduced to the new

attempted prohibition on the sale of

on eliminating 5 million metric tons (MMT) a

target levels, it will make no discernable

black cars, both in the name of reducing

year; the latest iteration is between 20.6 and

difference to the global climate, because as

greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, but those

23.9 MMTs annually.

big and influential as California is, it just isn’t

measures don’t hold an energy-efficient

New neighborhoods that don’t

big enough to influence climate at a global

candle to the state’s efforts to use GHGs to

contribute to achieving the target reduction

scale. But as has been proved again and

fundamentally alter the housing industry. As

levels will not be eligible for public funding for

again, the state is big enough and influential

with primal-scream therapy (created in Santa

transportation infrastructure. Many California

enough to drive policy in other states, and

Monica) to, like, Valley-speak (whatever!),

developers who are now busy buying up

you can be sure some of your legislators and

things spawned in California tend to spread

cheap lots and land on the urban fringe may

regulators are watching California’s GHG

throughout America, so here’s a summary of

question these purchases if their profits

initiatives closely.

what may be coming your way soon.

vaporize because they’ve had to build new

The state’s most impactful GHG regulations are growing out of a bill passed

roads without public funding. As to whether and how SB 375 will

in 2008, SB 375, that targeted suburban

work, “the devil is in the details,” said Judi

development as a major contributor to GHGs.

Schweitzer, who helps developers grapple

Gov. Schwarzenegger, a global-warming

with sustainability issues. “Can we reduce

true believer, put it succinctly when the

our impacts and also stimulate a healthy

bill was first introduced, stating, “Senate

economy and job base? That should be the

Bill 375 … would be the nation’s first law to

goal, but it is still not clear how SB 375 will

control greenhouse-gas emissions by curbing

ultimately impact California’s economy and

sprawl.” Sprawl—which once was simply

environment.” Schweitzer notes that midsize

a manifestation of the way most people

communities and future “new cities” built

wanted to live—is targeted because it

from scratch in exurban areas may have

generates commuters, and commuters’ cars

unique problems complying with SB 375.

generate GHGs.

Even before the guidelines are produced

LAER PEARCE is the president of Laer Pearce & Associates, a public affairs firm specializing in campaigns supporting land development and regulatory issues management. 949-599-1212 :: LAER@LAER.COM :: WWW.LAER.COM @LPALAND

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Builder News Column August 2010