SOLANA BEACH — Calling it “one of the most important bills to our city since the density bonus law,” Councilwoman Lesa Heebner shared questions and concerns at the Sept. 23 meeting about a Senate bill that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by limiting urban sprawl.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed SB 375 into law Sept. 30, called the legislation the “sequel” to The Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels — a total of 25 percent — by 2020.
“And let me tell you, when you come from the movie business, you love sequels,” the actor-turned-governor said.
It’s not that Heebner or her colleagues are opposed to environmental laws. “Solana Beach supports environmental protection, quite vigorously I would say, and considers itself a leader in the area,” City Manager David Ott said. “There are a number of concerns that need to be addressed in regard to SB 375, especially in regard to smaller cities.”
Under the law, the California Air Resources Board, the state’s clean air agency, will determine within the next two years the greenhouse gas reduction levels that must be achieved. That information will be passed on to the state’s metropolitan planning organizations, which will be tasked with creating transportation and land-use plans to meet the reduction goals mandated for their areas. North County falls under the jurisdiction of the San Diego Association of Governments.
“We have concerns that SB 375 puts cities of all sizes into the same category, whether they have large employers, whether they have factories, whether they’ve got fleets of cars, or not,” Heebner said.
Among Heebner’s other concerns is whether the Air Resources Board can control land use. “The answer in the bill is no,” she said. “But are there going to be pressures put on us? We’re going to get the target as a region. We’re very different than National City. Are we going to be given the exact same reduction goals to meet? This should not be.”
The law also relaxes California Environmental Quality Act requirements for housing projects that meet reduction goals. For example, projects smaller that 8 acres would be exempt from CEQA mandates. “Well, every project that’s coming up in our city is going to be smaller than 8 acres,” Heebner said. “I personally like CEQA because it gives us a review of the impacts a project would cause to a city and its residents.”
Transportation funding priority would be given to projects that meet reduction goals. In a letter to state mayors and council members, John Beauman, president of the Orange County division of the League of California Cities, states that while the law doesn’t require cities to change their general plans, “it carries a stick.”
“You may not be ‘required’ to change your general plan, don’t count on getting money to meet your transportation needs if you don’t,” the letter stated.
Heebner said the law is “something we need to pursue smartly and vigorously” by possibly “crafting amending legislation to clarify and correct many of these problems.”
“I think a lot of those things are very dangerous for probably the whole state, but especially for our small community,” she said.
Mayor Dave Roberts agreed, calling the legislation “scary.”
“One size does not fit all,” he said.
Councilman Mike Nichols suggested adding a system of credits unrelated to transportation that would help offset greenhouse gas emissions. “(Cities) could install greenbelts or walkable areas that encourage people not to drive their cars,” he said. “Bike lanes would help people not get in their cars. Those are things we can do as a city because we don’t have a lot of industry. I would encourage that kind of dialogue. That would help other small cities, not just Solana Beach.”