Suit Alleges Air Resources Board Plan Limits Housing, Victimizes Poor

ScopingPlanCover

In the most recent California Planning & Development Report, Josh Stephens draws attention to a “quixotic” and “aggressively worded” lawsuit filed in April against the Air Resources Board (ARB) and its 2017 Scoping Plan. The plan was the result of a years-long public discussion and analysis of potential ways to reach California’s climate change goals for 2030. In its final form, it included a range of policy strategies, including among them cap-and-trade, incentives and programs to increase the electrification of transportation, and strategies to reduce driving.

Stephens writes that the lawsuit contends that the plan—and specifically its encouragement of reductions in driving— “will unduly restrict development of new housing and victimize poor and minority residents of California.”

The suit was filed on the part of an advocacy group called The Two Hundred, which focuses on increasing homeownership among people of color. On the leadership council for the group—and the lawyer handling the lawsuit—is Jennifer Hernandez, who positions herself as a staunch advocate for CEQA reform, but spends time fighting policy changes that encourage less driving.

The lawsuit argues that strategies such as congestion pricing, urban growth boundaries, and urban infill will “unfairly and disproportionately burden low-income communities, including historically disadvantaged minority communities throughout the state.”

“The suit implicitly favors single-family suburban-style housing,” writes Stephens.

It cites a UC Berkeley study contending that multifamily housing is typically more expensive to develop than single-family housing. Therefore, the type of infill development that the Scoping Plan promotes would favor higher-income residents — possibly at the expense of demolition of existing single-family homes in low-income neighborhoods. At the same time, the suit laments long commutes and congestion pricing on the grounds the low-income residents would bear those costs in attempts to find affordable housing (and often work in industries that do not favor telecommuting).

There is no dispute that it’s becoming more difficult for people to afford to live and work in California’s densest cities, and that low-income workers are commuting longer distances to reach jobs that don’t pay enough for them to live nearby. And there are valid, urgent concerns about displacement in California, with so far little success in finding ways to prevent it.

But contending that the ARB’s encouragement of building more housing where it is most needed—and where where new housing has been neglected for years—misses the mark.

As does the suit’s claim that encouraging infill would result in the destruction of existing single-family housing.

Stephens writes that the suit also dismisses ARB’s contention that reducing driving is necessary in order to reduce greenhouse gases “in light of the advent of electric and other low-emissions vehicles.” This viewpoint keeps cropping up, and keeps being rebutted by ARB, whose research shows that even the most aggressive adoption of electric vehicles will not lower emissions enough to reach state goals.

The lawsuit makes clear its windshield perspective when it calls the ARB plan a “scheme” to reduce driving. It further charges that ARB’s driving reduction efforts are aimed “to intentionally increase congestion,” and calls switching to active transportation—walking and biking—a “laughable solution” for many Californians, “particularly those in the partially rural Central Valley.”

Well, yes, in our car-centric communities—in the Central Valley and elsewhere—walking and biking can be very uncomfortable. But decent infrastructure would solve that problem better than insisting that those people who are already biking and walking don’t exist.

The complaint itself calls several of the suggested strategies in the scoping plan that refer to housing and miles driven “staggering, unlawful, and racist,” claiming that they would “increase the cost and litigation risks of building housing, intentionally worsen congestion… and further increase the cost of transportation fuels and electricity.”

Stephens spoke to ARB spokesperson Dave Clegern, who says that the suit vastly overstates the power and legal standing of the Scoping Plan.

“The lawsuit treats the 2017 Scoping Plan as regulatory, but the plan does not contain any regulations,” said Clegern. “It is a guidance document for California’s greenhouse gas programs and their intersection with the state’s air pollution rules.”

Whether the suit turns out to be quixotic remains to be seen. Some of the issues it raises are important and need further discussion—but the same goes for its underlying, unspoken assertion that the only reasonable way to get anywhere in California is via private car.

The California Planning & Development Report puts some of its articles, including this one, behind a paywall.

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  • Kevin Withers

    The state doesn’t mandate anything. These are targets. There’s no penalty.

  • @jdbig
  • Except the war is against multifamily units, not SFHs. Almost all communities will allow the latter a lot easier than the former.

  • Class 3 bikes are only banned from Class I bikeways aka bike paths. They can be used in Class II facilities aka bike lanes.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    They’ve also arranged it such that you actually *can’t* take an e-bike in a bike lane, if that bike is capable of going 28 MPH (i.e. it is a “class 3” bike). So really you have to choose between getting anywhere, and being able to use bike lanes an paths.

  • Kevin Withers

    There is a middle ground between dense-urban and the desert. It’s where most Americans live. Suburbs. While they too are becoming denser, the yimby war against single-family-homes is… way, way out there.

  • p_chazz

    Laws can always be amended or repealed. I would not be surprised if that the 2020 deadline gets kicked down the road to 2030 or beyond.

  • There is plenty of non-urban living available all over California, so it’s hardly forcing a lifestyle on people. Those who would rather live elsewhere are welcome to not be part of urban areas. At the same time, we need to stop pretending that putting up thousands of homes in the desert is remotely sustainable even in the present term, much less into the future.

  • > Bike lanes can be used by e-bikes and a $1000 quality new e-bike is going to last much longer than a beater car costing three or four times as much.

    Not really. It’s possible to find a usable vehicle in the vicinity of $2k, though the ongoing costs will certainly be much higher than owning an e-bike. But relatively speaking, the car will offer much more mobility than the e-bike, especially in the areas where decent bike infrastructure isn’t in existence yet.

  • calwatch

    E-bikes and electric scooters would not be a laughable solution for the Central Valley given the dry climate and shorter commute distances compared to, say, Los Angeles or the Bay Area. Bike lanes can be used by e-bikes and a $1000 quality new e-bike is going to last much longer than a beater car costing three or four times as much. There are concerns with e-bike parking, since stealing an e-bike is much easier than stealing a car, but that’s basically it. There are legitimate concerns with transit for low income individuals that generally work very time-sensitive jobs compared to professionals who are measured on the amount of work completed, and the unreliability and unavailability of bus transit in many areas.

    But Hernandez’s concerns on gentrification are echoed by many minority communities in the Bay Area and Central Los Angeles. As many single family homes are owned by investors and REITs in the inner city, a mass upzoning could encourage displacing those residents in favor of apartment buildings constructed there, and whatever demographic is around two years later after construction. Also due to the state’s warranty laws on new construction, most apartment type projects are going to be rentals rather than condos, which restricts ownership opportunities when that has been proven to be the largest source of net worth for Americans. Without reading the suit, it’s hard to say whether the claims made are disingenuous or it’s just Stephens’ interpretation.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    AB32 is a law and it requires the ARB to develop, execute, and enforce a plan to reduce emissions below 1990 levels. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=200520060AB32

  • Kevin Withers

    These state climate “goals” are just that. Aspirational goals. They’re not a law, not a requirement and not an excuse or mandate to force lifestyles to conform to some appointed regulatory commissions interpretation.

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