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What looked like a breath of fresh air in California environmental lawmaking has been gutted of its most important provision in the 11th hour, by our State Legislature. As reported here, SB350 in its original form, sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by going right to the source.
The original plan was to (1) reduce energy dependence on fossil fuels by increasing utilities' capacity to produce from alternative sources, (2) to reduce energy usage by assisting in the retrofitting of existing buildings, and (3) to reduce our reliance on gasoline by promoting ownership of alternative fuel vehicles.
But as the Bill reaches its final stages of approval, only two of the three ideas remain intact.
In a recent article, the Los Angeles Times reports that the first two programs remain in the Bill but the third proposal has been removed in favor of business as usual.
Moving utilities away from energy production from fossil fuels to alternative sources is certainly a good thing. But the truth is that utility companies are already on track to meet the Bill's targets even without the legislation. And retrofitting existing buildings to be more energy efficient is equally worthwhile. But with solar installations in California skyrocketing and the cost of solar panels falling rapidly, again, the goals of the Bill would probably be reached anyway just from market forces and the incentives currently in place.
However, the most important change contained in the original bill was the move away from the nonsensical thesis that high density housing is good for the environment, toward a more tangible goal to reduce greenhouse gases, dramatically, by providing greater incentives to help more people to be able to afford alternative fuel vehicles.
Of course, the auto companies hated this provision and have lobbied heavily to have it removed. But this being California, where our only major auto company is Tesla, one would think that wouldn't win the day. And it probably didn't.
However, in an obvious bow to pressure from big construction unions, big banking, big developers, and well-funded housing advocates (and no doubt MTC) the "build baby build" juggernaut won the day. The "more alternative fuel vehicles" proposal has been replaced.
The LA times describes the new "solution" as "ramping up existing programs... Officials are touting the benefits of more efficient vehicles, mass transit and better urban planning that would reduce the need for driving."
The remaining reference to "more efficient vehicles" is a hollowed out version of what it was supposed to be. Now the profits-driven Plan Bay Area approach remains dominant, in spite of the fact that the nexus created by SB375, which states that Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is good for the environment, was proven to be false even by Plan Bay Area's own Environmental Impact Report. This also in the face of increasing opposition to PDAs and TOD by the very people it was supposed to help; low income residents.
Everywhere in the San Francisco Bay Area, from SOMA in San Francisco to Marin City in Marin, low income residents have seen the handwriting on the wall. They know that TOD equals gentrification, lots of multi million dollar condos, with a pittance of "affordable" units thrown in, resulting in the wholesale displacement of existing residents.
With big money and ivory tower ideologue planners running the show, it seems the only place left where alternative solutions might be able to emerge continues to be at the local level.