Planning Green Communities

Young Leaders Help Plan for Our Future
By Jill Ratner

What's your vision for a healthy community? If you're like our New Voices
students, here's what you're might be thinking about:

  • Parks, green spaces and trees throughout the neighborhood.
  • All-ages community centers and a local library.
  • Food markets that offer fresh food within walking distance.
  • Walkable retail shopping areas with cafes and restaurants.
  • A variety of affordable housing for current residents and families.
  • Reliable, well-timed public transit.
  • Bike lanes on main roads and safe pedestrian crossings.
  • Good schools that everyone can walk to.

You can help our students make this vision real by joining them in participating in the Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) Process.

Planning Green Communities
California's Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (SB 375)
aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from driving 7% by 2020 and 15% by 2035. Cutting car emissions is key to fighting global warming in California - where nearly half the excess CO2 in the air comes from cars and trucks. To reduce driving, SB 375 requires coordinated regional planning for transportation and housing development. This planning will make transit, walking, and biking real alternatives to driving. The law also sets another important goal - housing California's growing population - expected to grow 40% by 2035 - by planning for housing 100% of each region's projected population, without displacing current low-income residents.

Reshaping our Cities and Transit
The SB 375 planning process provides an opportunity to reshape city plans and zoning, and redirect transportation funding. New Voices Are Rising is part of the "Six Wins Coalition", a group of nonprofit organizations urging the Bay Area's regional planning agencies - the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to plan truly sustainable development for the Bay Area. The coalition seeks plans that create walkable, bikable communities with access to local and regional transit, revitalize core neighborhoods without displacing current residents, provide economic opportunity and affordable housing, and reverse land use and transportation patterns that have pushed many working families out to distant suburbs.

Our Students' Vision
For New Voices Are Rising students, one of the most exciting possibilities is redesigning neighborhoods to create a sense of community. Stephen Vance, a senior at McClymonds High School, offers a vivid description of the kind of neighborhood he hopes will result from this planning process:

"Everyone's coming outside. You see kids playing and adults relaxing in the park. You see block parties and events. Neighbors come down and greet each other. You see people walking their dogs and shopping. You just see a vibrant community that you want to be a part of."

Still, students worry that new development may bring gentrification and displacement to their communities. Testifying at a public workshop in Dublin, Tanika O'Guinn, a senior at Oakland Technical High School, expressed concern that even mixed-income housing might cause existing businesses to be replaced with new ones where current residents can't afford to shop.

Not Everyone's Cup of Tea
Community displacement and social equity do not concern the most vocal critics of the SB 375 planning process. Outside the public workshop where Tanika spoke, a group of demonstrators chanted: "Equal justice NOT social justice" and "You ride a bike. Don't make me ride a bike." Planning opponents have shouted down meeting participants, intimidating people who disagreed with them. These critics adamantly oppose any effort to halt suburban sprawl through denser development. They also oppose efforts to protect open space at the edge of urban growth boundaries and beyond - equating protecting open space with taking private property without compensation.

Next Steps
The Bay Area's planning process has not yet produced any scenarios that address the equity concerns raised by New Voices and the Six Wins Coalition. In fact, unlike draft plans for Southern California and the Sacramento area, current Bay Area scenarios do not meet SB 375 greenhouse gas reduction targets, and are even less successful in planning housing for residents at all income levels. So we still have a lot of work to do - and we need your help!

At the end of March, MTC and ABAG plan to release a draft "preferred planning scenario" for public comment. Environmental review of that scenario begins in May. With enough public comment and participation by those of us who believe that climate change must be addressed, who value public transit, and who share New Voices students' vision - there is still time to seize this opportunity to create a healthier, more sustainable region, and a healthier, more sustainable California.

How to Get Involved
Here are several resources that include ways for the public to engage in the SCS process: