Planning and policies for sustainable development in California and the San Diego region

Planning and policies for sustainable development in California and the San Diego region

Robert A. Leiter

1.1 Introduction

Continued rapid urban development in California has placed ever greater strains on the natural environment. In response, conventional methods of urban planning, development regulation and environmental review are being supplemented by new approaches that focus on large-scale natural systems rather than local jurisdictional boundaries or individual projects. These approaches are being applied in the areas of habitat conservation, water resources, air quality, and now climate change. More recently, regional and local governments have begun to use comprehensive plans to address environmental systems’ needs in the overall context of sustainable development.1

This chapter provides an overview of the evolving legal and policy framework in which environmental systems planning and comprehensive planning is being conducted in California, with a focus on planning and policy approaches being taken in the San Diego region. First, the legal framework for considering the natural environment in urban planning, at both the federal and state levels, is reviewed. Next, the evolution in California of approaches to urban planning that led to a greater emphasis on sustainable development is discussed. Finally, a case study of the San Diego region is presented in order to illustrate how this evolution toward sustainability in urban planning and development is taking place in a major metropolitan region in California.

1.2 Background

Scholars who have traced the evolution of environmental planning and regulation in the United States have identified the early 1970s as a major turning point. According to one author, “the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, brought national attention to the poor environmental quality: 60 percent of America’s waterways were not fit for swimming or drinking and many city dwellers choked in smog. The problems were simply too big for cities, metropolitan regions, or even states to handle. Moreover, the private sector had to be included in environmental planning and regulation. Beginning in 1970, Congress and President Nixon responded with the most sweeping environmental regulation in the history of the United States” (Daniels, 2009: 185). In many instances, environmental actions were taking place at both the federal level and state level nearly at the same time. However, California would often take action that went beyond federal legislation.

1.2.1 Laws protecting environmental resources

The Clean Air Act Extension of 1970,2 the Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (better known as the Clean Water Act),3 and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 19744 created the legal framework under which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) – created by President Nixon in 1970 – began to implement an aggressive regulatory approach to clean up air and water pollution. At around the same time, the federal Endangered Species Act5 (ESA) was enacted in 1973 giving authority to federal agencies to regulate activities that could lead to plant and animal species becoming extinct. In California, laws and regulations were enacted during this same period which supplemented federal laws and provided the regulatory framework in which federal policy protecting natural resources could be implemented effectively at the state level.

(A) Air quality

Under the federal Clean Air Act, U.S. EPA was given the authority to set limits on certain air pollutants, including setting limits on how much pollution can be in the air anywhere in the United States. EPA must approve state, tribal, and local agency plans for reducing air pollution. In California, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) was given responsibility for preparing the State Implementation Plan (SIP), which outlines how the state will control air pollution under the Clean Air Act. At the same time, regional air pollution control agencies were directed to prepare and implement regional components of the SIP, and to regulate “stationary” sources of air pollution within their jurisdictional boundaries, such as factories and other businesses that emit large amounts of pollution from one source.

(B) Water quality

In 1972, the federal Clean Water Act established the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program to regulate the discharge of pollutants from “point sources.”6 In California, attention to water quality through legislation began three years earlier. The Porter-Cologne Water Quality Act7 first established a regulatory programme to protect water quality and the beneficial uses of state waters. Enacted in 1969, it created and designated the California Water Resources Control Board (CWRCB) and nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCBs) as the principal state agencies responsible for water quality control. Each RWQCB was responsible for preparing and implementing a regional Basin Plan that designated beneficial uses for surface and ground waters; sets narrative and numerical objectives that must be attained or maintained to protect the designated beneficial uses and conform to the state’s antidegradation policy; describes implementation programmes to protect the beneficial uses of all waters in the region; and describes surveillance and monitoring activities to evaluate the effectiveness of the Basin Plan.

(C) Wildlife habitat protection

The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 prohibits any willful taking of threatened or endangered species on all lands within the United States, both public and private. “Taking” is defined as killing, hunting, harming, capturing, or collecting a threatened or endangered species, or destroying its habitats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (U.S. FWS) was given the primary responsibility for administering the ESA. In 1984, the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) was enacted, giving authority to the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) to protect animal and plant species within the state. Since that time, the state and federal agencies have worked in collaboration to enforce the provisions of both laws throughout the state.

1.2.2 Laws requiring local general plans

At the same time that the federal government and state governments were enacting legislation protecting environmental resources, many states began to require that local governments adopt comprehensive plans that incorporated environmental goals and policies. In California, the legislature had first authorized local governments to adopt “master plans” for their communities in 1927. This paralleled efforts across most of the United States to enable planning and zoning. In 1971, the state took a significant step forward by passing a law requiring counties and most cities to bring their zoning ordinances and subdivision procedures into conformance with their “general plans, and requiring that all new development projects and capital improvement projects be consistent with these plans” (Fulton and Shigley, 2005: 105). In addition, the content requirements for local general plans were more clearly defined in the law. Every local general plan was required to contain seven mandatory elements (land use, circulation, housing, conservation, open space, noise, and safety). The legal requirement for general plans to address conservation and open space placed greater attention on environmental resource issues in local government land use planning and regulation.

1.2.3 Laws requiring environmental assessment of plans and projects

Also at this time, federal and state laws were enacted that required that an environmental assessment be conducted on all major development projects and plans, and that mitigation measures for significant environmental impacts be identified and implemented to the extent feasible. At the federal level, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),8 which was enacted in 1969, required that all federal projects, funding, permits, policies, and actions be screened for environmental effects.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA),9 enacted in 1970, requires local governments and state agencies to consider the potential environmental effects of a project before making a decision on it. The purposes of CEQA were to disclose the potential impacts of a project, suggest methods to minimize those impacts, and discuss project alternatives, so that decision-makers would have full information upon which to base their decisions.

1.3 The evolution of environmental planning and urban planning in California

The overall approaches to environmental planning and regulation, urban planning and development regulation, and environmental assessment in California have undergone a significant evolution since 1970. This evolution is closely aligned with the evolution of the modern environmental movement at the national level over this 40-year period, which has been documented by a number of planning scholars (Daniels, 2009). In both cases, three distinct “evolutionary periods” can be identified:

•  The first period, from 1970 to around 1985, was dominated by federal and state laws and regulations that were implemented directly by regulatory agencies, primarily on a project-by-project basis.

•  During the second period, from 1985 to around 2003, the implementation of federal and state environmental laws moved toward regional-scale environmental systems plans, such as habitat conservation plans, watershed management plans, and regional air quality plans, which were implemented through a combination of federal, state, regional, and local agencies.

•  During the third period, from 2003 to the present, while regional-scale environmental systems planning and regulation has continued, there has also been a movement toward integrated regional and local planning that coordinates transportation and land use planning strategies with environmental protection strategies, and also looks at how other local and regional systems interact. These integrated plans in many cases are being directed toward long-term sustainability goals.

1.3.1 First evolutionary period (1970 to 1985)

(A) Planning and regulation for environmental resource protection

In this first period in California, environmental protection laws were implemented primarily by federal and state agencies along with regional agencies that were charged with enforcing these laws at the regional level:

•  Air quality – The U.S. EPA worked with CARB and regional air pollution control agencies to implement the federal and state Clean Air Acts, focusing on regulation of mobile sources at the federal and state level, and regulation of stationary sources on a project-by-project basis at the regional level. In 1978, the California Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential and Nonresidential Buildings10 were established in response to a legislative mandate to reduce California’s energy consumption while recognizing that these standards would also lead to reductions in air pollution. The energy standards are implemented through local government building codes, and are updated periodically to allow inclusion of new energy efficiency technologies and methods.

•  Water quality – The U.S. EPA worked with CWRCB and its nine regional boards to implement the federal Clean Water Act and the state’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Act, with a focus on regulating “point sources” such as sewer plant and industrial discharges on a project-byproject basis.

•  Wildlife habitat protection – U.S. FWS and CDFG worked together to enforce the federal and state Endangered Species Acts, primarily on a project-by-project basis. One author has observed that during this period, most disputes over impacts of development projects on endangered species involved activities on federally owned land rather than privately owned land; for example, disputes over the spotted owl in Northern California dealt almost exclusively with logging practices on federal land (Fulton and Shigley, 2005: 377).

(B) Local general plans and development regulations

At this time, while local governments in California were required to address the protection of natural resources in their general plans, their general plan policies regarding environmental resource protection were typically not connected directly to implementation of federal or state environmental protection laws. As a result, environmental planning efforts at the community and project level often led to piecemeal actions that were not effective in protecting resources from a systems perspective. In addition, there was little effort to monitor the success of these actions over time.

(C) Environmental assessment

During this period, public agencies were required to assess the environmental impacts of development projects pursuant to NEPA and CEQA, but these project-level analyses were focused on site-specific impacts, and normally did not lead to mitigation requirements that addressed system-wide functionality or long-term viability.

(D) Outcomes

By the mid-1980s, there was growing discontent with the negative impacts of rapid development on natural resources in urbanizing areas of California and elsewhere. Combined with the perceived ineffectiveness of local general plan policies and project-by-project environmental assessment in addressing these concerns, this situation led to calls for more direct intervention by federal and state agencies into local land use and environmental regulation. However, by this time, federal and state funding for implementing environmental regulations was not keeping pace with demands for governmental intervention and oversight. As a result, environmental stakeholder groups began to mount legal challenges against local general plans and land use regulatory decisions for not adequately addressing the cumulative impacts of local development projects on natural systems that went beyond project or community boundaries.

1.3.2 Second evolutionary period (1985 to 2002)

(A) Planning and regulation for environmental resource protection

In response to the problems outlined above, public agencies and private stakeholders began to place a greater emphasis on regional-scale environmental systems planning in the areas of air quality, water quality, and wildlife habitat protection.

(A) Air Quality

Although significant progress was being made in California in improving air quality through the combined efforts of U.S. EPA, CARB, and regional air pollution control agencies, air quality standards were still not being met. One of the legislative responses to this problem at the federal level was contained in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 199111 (ISTEA), which authorized expanded funding of $150 billion over a six-year period for federal transportation programs. Among the stated purposes of this legislation were:

Under ISTEA, every metropolitan area with a population of more than 50,000 was required to work through a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in order to qualify for federal transportation funding, and each MPO was required to produce a 20-year Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and to update it periodically. As a result, MPOs and regional air pollution control agencies were now required to work together to develop regional strategies to reduce air pollution resulting from auto travel, such as greater investment in public transit and transportation demand management measures.

Similarly, at the state level, in 1997 the California Legislature enacted a law (SB 4513) that gave MPOs the authority to programme all long-range state and federal capital investment funds allocated for metropolitan regions in the state—75 percent of all such funds statewide (Barbour and Teitz, 2009: 181). Investments in public transit in California increased significantly after SB 45; in the first four years after the bill’s passage, California alone accounted for more than half of all federal funds spent on transit.

(B) Water Quality

In response to continued water quality problems in urban areas, in California CWRCB and its nine regional boards began to place greater attention on “non-point source” water pollution, through the requirement for regional or subregional watershed plans and regulations to manage stormwater runoff caused by urban development. Pursuant to federal and state laws, cities and counties were required to obtain NPDES permits that set general standards for the quality of stormwater runoff. Under these permits, the cities and counties were then responsible for issuing permits to developers for most construction projects. This regulatory structure led to the creation of model regulations that would promote the use of “low impact development” design and construction practices that could be applied consistently by all local governments within a region.

(C) Wildlife Habitat Protection

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