Summary of Interviews with California Metropolitan Planning Organizations About Senate Bill 375 and the Sustainable Communities Strategies

Research Team: Jazmin Amini, Clay Kerchof, Laurel Mathews, and Matthew Thompson

UC Campus(es): UC Berkeley

Problem Statement: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 375 (SB 375) into law in 2008 with the intent of supporting the State of California’s (State) climate goals by focusing on reductions in per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, primarily through reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as a result of more coordinated land use and transportation planning. This law introduced a new planning requirement and process for metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to achieve these VMT and GHG reduction targets. Under SB 375, each MPO produces a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS), which is incorporated into federally mandated regional transportation plans (RTPs) every four years. Now that 12 years have passed since the initial adoption of SB 375 and MPOs have successfully gone through multiple RTP/SCS planning cycles, there is an opportunity to assess how the law’s implementation could be improved in order to achieve State climate and land use goals.

Project Description: In July and August of 2020, a research team of four graduate students from UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning conducted interviews with directors and other high-level staff representing several of California’s metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to gather information on the achievements and challenges associated with the implementation of SB 375. Key takeaways from this effort include: 1) MPOs are not requesting additional authorities or oversight of local land use decisions; 2) MPOs use funding as “carrots” to incentivize local plans to align with regional goals, and many MPOs desire more discretionary funding and priority-specific funding; 3) some MPOs want to focus on greenhouse gas (GHG) strategies, such as telecommuting, active transportation, and technological advancement, in order to meet their GHG emission targets; 4) MPOs want the State to develop policies in ways that acknowledge distinct planning nuances and economic and geographic contexts across regions; 5) the process of developing and submitting regional plans to the State for review is staff-intensive and technically complex for MPOs, which takes away from the agencies’ capacity to focus on implementation and other work; 6) Senate Bill 375 has empowered MPOs to consider more deeply the relationship between land use and transportation; and 7) as a result of Senate Bill 375, there is now increased communication and engagement between the MPO and a broader set of stakeholders.

Status: Completed