Implement plan for sustainable communities

Congratulations to the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments for adopting the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan & Sustainable Communities Strategy.

Now, cities and county, we hope you'll follow its principles.

SBCAG recognized how important land-use decisions are, not only to the efficient operation of the transportation system, but also to the environment, public health, safety, social equity and a thriving economy.

The plan and strategy were developed by the regional planning agency in partnership with all eight incorporated cities and the county, with substantial input from the public.

The Sustainable Communities Strategy has been added to the plan for the first time as a result of recent state law. It integrates an analysis of population growth, land use and housing into the long-range transportation planning process. It calls for more housing in the south and more jobs in the north.

If implemented by the nine local governments, our communities would grow in healthier, more desirable ways than the business-as-usual growth of the past.

The plan calls for higher densities along transit corridors, a diversity of housing stock, a variety of transportation modes, and a recognition of constraints to growth, including farmland, habitat and open space.

This approach enhances mobility by shortening commutes and travel distances, while reducing congestion and air pollution. It makes it easier to walk, bike or use transit, because services and resources are located closer together. It improves the design of our communities, making them more desirable and safer places to live and work. It recognizes the critical links between transportation and other social goals.

SBCAG is required by state law to go through this planning process every four years. Last October, the board unanimously approved the Sustainable Communities Strategy as the underlying land-use basis for the transportation plan. Two weeks ago, they adopted the plan and strategy, however, two board members who had not been on the board in October voted against it. In spite of many assurances to the contrary, they feared the plan would usurp their local control and ability to make land use decisions in the future.

The document specifically states that local general plans do not have to be consistent with this transportation plan and land-use decisions are made by local governments, not by SBCAG.

We hope local government leaders will see how this plan is good for their communities and will choose to embrace its principles. They can improve the quality of life in their communities with enhancements like wider sidewalks, more bike lanes, pedestrian and bicycle bridges, and improved transit stops and passenger shelters. Also helpful are pedestrian-scale street lighting, raised medians that provide a refuge for pedestrians crossing the street, clearly marked crosswalks with flashing lights where needed, and landscaping.

In the next update of its plan, SBCAG should develop a program of financial incentives to encourage local governments to implement these policies using a portion of the millions of federal and state dollars they control.

Santa Barbara County Action Network has been encouraging the planning agency to create community design or housing-incentive programs to encourage local governments to make more sustainable development decisions. They can look at many other regions in the state to see the effectiveness of these kinds of incentives, such as Sacramento, the Bay Area and San Diego.

We hope SBCAG, the cities and the county will follow the principles adopted in the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan & Sustainable Communities Strategy. It's up to voters to tell our elected officials they should follow the plan.

Published August 30, 2013 in the Santa Maria Times. Ken Hough is executive director of Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN). He can be reached at [email protected]. Looking Forward runs every Friday in the Santa Maria Times, providing a progressive viewpoint on local issues.