Forecasts of high fuel costs and potential for lawsuits; others see them as needed

SACRAMENTO -- State air-quality regulators late last week adopted 10- and 25-year targets for reductions in greenhouse gases in the major metropolitan areas in the state over the objections of some business groups and certain policy planners that the targets for the Los Angeles and greater San Francisco Bay areas will result in high fuel and transportation costs and more environmental-impact lawsuits for real estate developers.

The California Air Resources Board, under a deadline this month to adopt regionally set greenhouse gas targets under Senate Bill 375, on Sept. 23 approved targets approved by regional governments.

Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols pointed out to dozens of environmental, business, real estate, construction and labor groups that lined up to testify that the targets under consideration were a starting point for a process set to take several years at a number of state, regional and local planning levels.

"I want to make it clear that they are in no effect a mandate or punishment if they do not meet those targets, but there is a target for getting those plans in place," she said at the beginning of the 6.5-hour hearing. "There is a long way to go for local governments to get transportation plans in place, and local plans will take years to effectuate."

A coalition of 50 to 70 construction, real estate and business groups were calling on members to urge the air board to take more time to explore the targets, some of which had been revised dramatically only a few months ago.

Most alarming to that coalition was the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's adoption in July of targets for 7 percent reduction in per-capita Bay Area greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2020 and 15 percent by 2035.

In May, the commission was considering targets of 5 percent reductions in both timeframes.

The group highlighted projections from the commission's Transportation 2035 Plan environmental impact report that the most aggressive approach to reductions via land-use planning plus pricing mechanisms to promote less single-occupant driving would result in $9.07-a-gallon gasoline by 2035 plus per-mile and per-hour parking pricing.

"If you get too far in front with these targets, then the transportation plans may have to work with elements that are not feasible," Richard Lyon, vice president for government affairs of the 4,000-member California Building Industry Association, told the air board.

Doug Kimsey, MTC planning director, before the hearing said the shift from discussions in May of a 12 percent reduction by 2035 being difficult to attain were based on 2009 population-growth assumptions and inclusion of the impact of the recession, rather than growth figures from 2007.

The new projection, based on 2007 and 2008 job information projects the Bay Area will have 200,000 fewer jobs in 2035 than previously forecasted.

Proposed fuel taxes and driving-related fees have caught the public’s attention, but most of the reductions will be achieved through land-use planning that groups future population growth in urban areas near transit and expands transit options.

In addition to hopes for more state and federal dollars are demand-related funding means for the infrastructure such as "express lanes," which are converted carpool lanes that require single-occupant drivers to pay tolls to use them to bypass traffic.

North Bay high-occupancy-vehicle lanes won't be converted until the tail end of the 25-year planning period, according to Mr. Kimsey.

A number of environmental groups, most of the local elected officials, health care organizations and representatives of the California Infill Builders Association spoke in favor of the targets.

"People don't want to be tied to their cars," said Kirstie Moore, sustainability project manager for Rohnert Park-based Codding Enterprises. "These goals are realistic goals. I urge you to resist the appeals of the builders to weaken the targets, and think to the future."

One of the tricky tasks the air board members encountered in the resolution to adopt the greenhouse gas targets last week was how to call for the targets without must-do language that can attract project-level litigation under the California Environmental Quality Act.