California action for livable cities

California Governor and Legislature terminate support for transit in California’s February budget

In February, the California Legislature adopted a 16-month state budget which eliminated the State Transportation Assistance (STA) program. This program is the last major source of state funding for transit operations, and the STA cuts will mean reduced transit service and higher fares across the Bay Area.

The budget restored California’s Vehicle License Fee (VLF) to its historic levels. From 1948 to 2003, the VLF was assessed at 2% of an automobile’s assessed value, which raised over $6 billion for California’s city and county governments. Governor Schwarzenegger slashed the fee by 67% during his first year in office in a short-sighted publicity stunt. The VLF goes into the state’s General Fund, rather than being directed to transportation, but the nearly $6 billion a full VLF will raise annually will help protect transportation, health care, and education from further cuts.

An proposed oil severance tax, which would tax oil companies 9% on each barrel of oil they extract in the state, was proposed by the governor, but not included in the budget. California is the only major oil-producing state without an oil severance tax.

2008-9 state budget slashes public transit funding

The 2008 state budget, approved several months late by the legislature, was devastating for transit. The governor slashed an additional $100 million from the $406 million sent to him by the legislature, leaving only $303 million for transit. According to the California Transit Association (CTA), the final 2008-9 budget diverts $1.5 billion of funds that should have gone to public transit. CTA estimates that$4 billion has been diverted from transit since Governor Schwarzenegger took office. CTA is filing a lawsuit against the state to recover public transit funding.

November 4, 2008: a landmark election for livable cities

The 2008 election looks to be a turning point for progress towards more livable and sustainable cities. Our new president-elect, Barack Obama, hails from Chicago, which is busily transforming itself into one of America’s most livable cities.

Californians approved statewide and county measures that fund public transit and parks, despite a sharp economic downturn.


California High Speed rail approved by voters

Californians approved Proposition 1A, authorizing the California High Speed Rail Authority to issue $9.95 billion in general obligation bonds to construct a High Speed Rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles. This line will link San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal to San Jose, Central Valley cities, and Los Angeles’ Union Station. Further phases will extend the high speed network to Sacramento and San Diego.

High Speed Rail is the green infrastructure we need to create a more sustainable and livable California. Stations will be located in existing city centers, with plans for transit-oriented development and pedestrian, bicycle, and local transit links. The system will use zero-emissions, lightweight trains built to the safe and proven rail technology of Europe and Japan. The French and Japanese systems are the safest forms of transport ever invented, and are more energy-efficient than conventional US trains, despite operating at significantly higher speeds.

High Speed Rail will use the Caltrain right of way, and will transform Caltrain into a rapid, frequent regional metro service, with express and local trains serving communities between San Francisco and Morgan Hill. It can serve the fast-growing eastern neighborhoods of San Francisco in the same way that BART provides service to San Francisco’s Market and Mission corridors.

Further, the bond will allocate $950 million to connecting rail systems across the state, including BART and Muni. Funds for BART can pay for badly-needed capacity and access improvements, while the funding for Muni’s light rail, streetcars, and cable cars can implement the capacity, speed, and reliability improvements called for in Muni’s Transit Effectiveness Project.

Californians reject flawed energy measures

Californians also rejected two flawed propositions, 7 and 10, which claimed they would advance clean energy and California’s climate goals. These measures were opposed by environmental groups across the state, including The Sierra Club, California League of Conservation Voters, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Livable City.

North Bay, East Bay, and Los Angeles voters approve transit and parks funding

Marin and Sonoma Voters approved Measure Q, a local sales tax to build the Sonoma Marin Area Rapid Transit‘s proposed rail and bicycle corridor from the Larkspur Ferry Terminal in Marin County to Cloverdale in Sonoma County.

Residents of Alameda and Contra Costa counties approved Measure VV, a parcel tax that will support AC Transit service, and Berkeley voters rejected Measure KK, which would have required voter approval of future bus lanes in the city. Ease Bay Voters also approved Measure WW, which extends the East Bay Regional Parks District‘s bond program to acquire, preserve, and restore hillside, shoreline, and urban open spaces, and complete a network of walking and cycling trails.

Santa Clara County’s Measure B, an eighth-cent sales tax to cover operating costs of a planned BART extension, appears to be winning by a slender margin, but the result will not be known until the vote count is finalized, possibly as late as the first week in December.

Los Angeles County residents passed Measure R, a bus, rail, and roadway bond measure that will fund light rail, subway, and bus rapid transit improvements to several corridors, including extending the Purple Line Subway from Hollywood towards Santa Monica.

California’s 2007-2008 legislative session – the good, bad, and ugly of it

State budget slashes transit funding; governor signs landmark bills on climate change and complete streets, vetoes transit village bill.

The adopted state budget slashed support for public transit by $1.5 billion to $306 million, which will cause another round of budget cuts for transit agencies across the state, already struggling with high fuel prices, declining local tax revenues, and booming ridership.

The governor signed SB 375, a far-reaching reform of California planning and environmental review law that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, encourage compact, walkable, transit-oriented communities, and discourage sprawl. AB 1358, the California Complete Streets Act of 2008, was also signed into law. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed AB 1221, a bill which would have allowed tax-increment financing of transit villages and high-speed rail stations across the state.

Bills approved

AB 101: Vehicles: parking enforcement; videotaped evidence (Ma)

AB 101, authored by San Francisco Assembly Member Fiona Ma, would allow San Francisco to enforce parking violations in transit-only lanes and and during street-sweeping hours by using video cameras mounted to buses and street sweepers.

Camera enforcement will allow for better enforcement of street sweeping and bus-lane parking, and free parking control officers for other duties, including directing traffic and enforcing illegal parking.

This bill grew out of a research project by Livable City intern Aileen Carrigan. Aileen’s paper showed how camera enforcement has been used successfully in other places, and which changes in state law were necessary to use it in San Francisco.

Status: Signed into law in 2007.

* AB 101 text

SB 375: Transportation planning: improved travel demand models: preferred growth scenarios: environmental review (Steinberg)

SB 375, by State Senator Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, is an important complement to California’s landmark Global Warming Soutions Act of 2006, which created binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions generated within California. The 2006 bill requires a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and sets a goal of reducing emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.

SB 375 requires that the state’s larger metropolitan regions, including the Bay Area, create a “preferred growth scenario” of land use and transportation improvements that provides for anticipated growth in jobs and housing, while meeting state-mandated goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

SB 375 also requires that regions update their transportation models to take into account measures that reduce vehicle trips. Livable City has led the way in getting San Francisco to adopt many such measures, including lower parking requirements, unbundled parking, car-sharing and bicycle parking in new developments. However, San Francisco’s transportation models, especially those used for environmental review, are inadequate to distinguish the transporation impacts of projects which include good practices from those which maintain bad practices.

SB 375 further allows local governments to establish a proven set of good transportation practices which reduce congestion, and exempt residential projects which adopt all these practices, and which are located in transit-served infill zones, from routine transportation analysis. Projects would still need to analyze their specific project-level environmental impacts, including effects on wildlife, wind, shadow, and historic resources. This encourages developers to embrace good transportation practices, while also providing incentives for transit-oriented infill development.

Status: Signed into law September 2008

SB 375 text

AB 1358: The Complete Streets Act of 2008 (Leno)

This bill, authored by San Francisco Assembly Member Mark Leno, would require that complete streets policies be included in the circulation element of city and county general plans when they are updated. Complete streets are defined as highways and city streets that provide routine accomodation to all users of the transportation system, including motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, individuals with disabilities, seniors, and users of public transportation.

The bill tasks the state Office of Planning and Research with developing and adopting guidelines for routine accomodation, including how the accomodation should vary according to the land use and transportation context. These guidelines must be adopted by January 1, 2009, and all updates of city and county general plan circulation elements adopted after that date must include complete streets policies that provide for safe and convenient access for all modes.

Status: Signed into law September 2008.

AB1358 text [pdf document]

AB 57: Safe Routes to School (Soto)

Several years ago, California established a safe routes to school grant program, using federal highway funds. This program gives grants to local projects that improve pedestrian and bicycle safety or calm traffic. AB 57, sponsored by Assembly Member Nell Soto, will make this state program, which would otherwise sunset at the end of 2007, permanent.

Status: Signed into law October 2007

* AB 57 text [pdf document]

Legislation not passed

AB 1221: Transit village developments: tax increment financing (Ma)

This bill, by Assembly Member Ma, would have allowed tax-increment financing of transit village plans. Tax-increment financing is a powerful financing tool that allows local governments to borrow against future tax revenues to fund immediate improvements. AB 1221 would have allowed the creation of infrastructure finance districts to fund and implement transit village plans in San Francisco and across the state, including neighborhood plans around San Francisco’s Muni, BART, and Caltrain stations.

The Transit Village Development Planning Act was signed into law in 1994, defining transit villages and allowing cities and counties to create transit village plans within a quarter-mile of transit stations. To qualify as a transit village, the plan must provide for increased transit ridership, as well as five of 13 other public benefits, including improved air quality, reduced traffic congestion, enhanced access to jobs and housing, and local economic development. A 2006 amendment allows a city or county to declare a previously adopted specific plan or redevelopment plan to qualify as a transit village plan if it meets the requirements.

AB 1221 extended the definition out to a half-mile from transit stations, and would have ensured that 20% of housing be affordable to low and moderate income residents.

Status: approved by the legislature, but vetoed by the Governor in October 2008.

AB 1221 text [pdf document]

AB 1590: Voter-approved local assessments on vehicle licenses (Leno)

San Francisco, like the rest of California, faces a huge – and growing – infrastructure deficit on its streets and roads. Fees on autos cover only a small portion of the cost of maintaining the road system, and the Governor’s populist cuts to state vehicle license fees, together with his bond measure to borrow over $6 billion to expand existing roads and freeways, only worsened this structural deficit.

AB 1590, by Assembly Member Mark Leno, would have allowed the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to place a measure on the ballot authorizing a $10 assessment on vehicles licensed in San Francisco, which must then be approved by San Francisco voters.

Status: died in Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee

AB 1590 text [pdf document]

AB 1472: California Healthy Places Act of 2008 (Leno)

AB 1472, by Assembly Member Mark Leno, would form an inter-agency work group at the state level to identify, evaluate, and disseminate available evidence, information, programs, and best practices on environmental health, and how transportation and land use policies can further public health. It establishes a fund which allows cities and counties to perform health impact assessments.

AB 1472 would have strengthened the growing understanding of how planning affects public health, and how further public health through better land use and transportation planning. It would have funded programs like the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Healthy Development Measurement Tool.

Status: died in Senate Appropriations Committee

AB 1472 text [pdf document]