Wednesday, 8 September 2010

SB 375 - The Process Map

In a continuous effort to make SB 375 more accessible, I bring you the process map:

The earlier entry was inaccurate (based on a previous version of SB 375 that was not chaptered and enrolled).  I now refer you to the Governor's Office of Planning and Research SB 375 CEQA Flow Chart.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

New Manhattan Skyscraper - 15 Penn Plaza and parking requirements

A concern of planners and communities everywhere is: if you build it, where will they park?  The New York City City Council just approved a new skyscraper near the Empire State Building at 15 Penn Plaza.  The new building will be 67 or 68 stories high and 1,190 or 1,216 feet tall.  It is adjacent to Penn Station, and the developer will invest $100 million in the transit hub.  For this, the developer (office REIT Vornado) gets a 20% density bonus, boosting the FAR from 15 to 18.

But where will the people park?  Simply put, they won't.  Looking into the environmental impact documents, I found that there are two potential configurations for the building.  As a single-tenant building, it would have 2.04 million square feet of office space, 11,126 square feet of retail space, and up to 100 parking spots.  As a multi-tenant building, it would have 1.756 million square feet of office, 296,390 square feet of retail, and no parking at all!

I wondered what this building would be like in the Nations second-biggest city, Los Angeles.  How many parking spaces would be required?  Well, according to code the building would need a minimum of:
In single-tenant configuration: 4,125 spaces
In multi-tenant configuration: 4,698 spaces

If the retail included restaurants, even more spaces would be required.

15 Penn Plaza is on a 60,000 square foot lot.  Given this limited footprint, I wondered how many floors of the hypothetical Los Angeles building would need to be devoted to parking.  The single-tenant configuration would require 23 floors, while the multi-tenant building would require 26 floors, or roughly twice as tall as the garage at 1100 Wilshire (pictured below):

Yes, this is an actual building in downtown Los Angeles.  And yes, there is a sign for a surface parking lot in the foreground.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Draft SB 375 Targets Highlights Need for Additional Transit Funding to Achieve Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions

On Monday, the California Air Resources Board released its SB 375 staff report with more precise draft targets.  I had blogged earlier about the original draft target ranges released at the end of June.

The Southern California Association of Governments has the most aggressive per capita greenhouse gas reduction target, at 8%. The other three large MPOs (Bay Area, San Diego, and Sacramento) all have reduction targets of 7%.

What are the main differences between these regions that could explain the slight difference in target?  One major difference is that the central SCAG region (Los Angeles County) will significantly expand its rail transit system in the next thirty years, and as few as ten years.  As a goal of SB 375 is to concentrate new development near transit stations to increase the proportion of trip origins and destinations which are accessible using transit, this aggressive transit-building program will bring rail transit to existing density, shifting some existing trips to transit and allowing for new trips to be made via transit.

However, this increase in transit ridership comes at a cost.  No large transit system in the United States achieves a farebox recovery ratio of 100% or higher, all receive some operating subsidies.  This means that a system is losing money with each additional passenger.  No U.S. system has been able to completely close this gap with increased ridership .  While small systems with low vehicle occupancy ratios raise less of their operating expenses from fare revenues, even large, well-traveled systems in New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C., raise only 3/5ths of their operating expenses from fares.

Los Angeles Metro has a farebox recovery ratio of approximately 30%.  In order for the system to increase ridership without increasing its required operating subsidy, it must increase fare revenue to match increases in operating expenses. If it cannot do this, it must seek additional operating subsidies to provide the transit service needed to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions and make transit a preferred alternative travel mode.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Draft SB 375 Targets: Ambitious? Achievable? You be the judge.

Yesterday, the California Air Resources Board released draft regional transportation GHG emissions reduction targets. This may sound very boring, but these targets are the performance target upon which California's anti-sprawl and GHG reduction will be based. Weak targets will mean that regional and local transportation policymakers can relax and not worry to much about infill development or transit. Overly strong targets could mean that regions must introduce a level of transportation pricing that goes beyond creating system efficiencies and hurts Gross Regional Product. Finding a reduction target that is just right will help the state ease the transition to a low carbon economy and mitigate the effects of sudden fuel price spikes, like the state experienced in 2007-2008:

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Ford Foundation announces $200 million sustainable development investment

Helping America’s Metropolitan Regions Build Prosperity and Expand Opportunity

A $200 Million Ford Foundation Investment Will Support Growth Through Innovative Regional Approaches to Housing, Transportation and Land Use
Metropolitan Opportunity
WASHINGTON, D.C., 18 May 2010 — The Ford Foundation today announced a five-year, $200 million effort to help transform the way cities, suburbs and surrounding communities grow and plan for the future, promoting a new metropolitan approach that interweaves housing, transportation and land-use policy to foster greater economic growth. The new funds will allow Ford to develop and significantly expand successful collaborations and policy innovations that it has supported in communities throughout the country, providing models that can be adopted and adapted in other metropolitan regions.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Opinion: SB 375 suspension on funding concerns is unnecessary and will hurt good public policy

Recently the League of California Cities Task Force on AB 32 and SB 375 recommended the state suspend or delay SB 375 implementation until proper funding is available.  I argue that SB 375 implementation can and should proceed, even amidst funding uncertainty. 

It is true that ideal SB 375 implementation will require additional investments in models and data, and variety of funds are available from multiple sources, including Prop 84 (though held up by state’s inability to sell bonds at a decent price).  Part of the League’s concern appears to be the belief that SB 375 requires a new planning process for greenhouse gas emissions.  This is simply not the case.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Explaining California's SB 375 without Acronyms

California’s Senate Bill 375 (passed in 2008, sponsored by Senate President Pro tempore Darrell Steinberg) is often discussed and frequently misunderstood, even by urban planners.  In this entry, I attempt to explain the Act to an audience with no background in urban and regional planning, using fewer than 1000 words.  To be up front, I think the goals of SB 375 are good goals, although I could think of many ways to improve upon the language of the bill.

For several decades, metropolitan areas in California have engaged in separate processes to plan for housing growth and new transportation infrastructure.  A side effect of these separate processes, which have not always been coordinated, is that the transportation system has not always been able to accommodate new growth.

Upcoming Climate and Energy Webcasts for State and Local Governments

From the US EPA:

April 2010-Upcoming Climate and Energy Webcasts for State and Local Governments
This message provides details about ten upcoming webcasts being offered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). All webcasts are offered free of charge, but space may be limited.

Local Climate and Energy Program Webcasts
  • Smart Grid for Local Governments, April 29
  • Green Roofs, late May
ENERGY STAR Webcast Opportunities
  • Purchasing and Procuring Efficient Equipment, April 21
  • Portfolio Manager for EECBG Grantees and State and Local Governments, April 21
  • Benchmarking Water/Wastewater Plants in Portfolio Manager, April 28
  • ENERGY STAR and Green Building Rating Programs, April 29
  • Financing Energy Efficient Upgrades with ENERGY STAR, May 11
  • K-12 Benchmarking 101, May 13
Additional Webcast Opportunities 
  • DOE: Midsize Wind Turbines for the U.S. Community Wind Market, April 28
  • CHP Partnership: District Heating, May 20 

Monday, 29 March 2010

The Fed's guide to Mixed, Use, Mixed Income, Mixed Modes (Transit Oriented Developments)

This site may be useful for cities looking for resources on transit-oriented development.  Mixed income TOD's are a good way to increase the transit utilization from new TOD projects as 1) new product is often more expensive than existing product in a neighborhood (just the way the market functions) and 2) lower income groups have a higher propensity to use transit (but can't afford to buy or rent in new TOD projects).

From the U.S. EPA:
HUD and FTA Sponsor Transit Oriented Development Guide; Upcoming Smart Growth Opportunities
The Mixed Income Transit-Oriented Development Action Guide is an online tool designed to help local jurisdictions and planners develop strategies to create mixed income transit oriented development (MITOD) around planned transit stations. This interactive site was developed by the Center for Transit Oriented Development in cooperation with the Federal Transit Administration and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Action Guide walks users through three critical data gathering and analysis components of plan development: Existing Conditions Analysis, MITOD Strategies Analysis, and MITOD Opportunities Analysis. These three areas of analysis are composed of questions—to be answered by the planner—that span several subjects: demographics, housing, real estate markets, land capacity, and neighborhood stability. Each question highlights key information that will be used to help local jurisdictions select and direct policy tools to achieve their MITOD goals.
The Action Guide is available at:

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Congratulations to Los Angeles, which once again has the most ENERGY STAR buidings

from the U.S. EPA:
EPA has released its second annual ranking of U.S. metropolitan areas with the most energy-efficient buildings that earned the ENERGY STAR rating in 2009. The city with the most ENERGY STAR labeled buildings is Los Angeles, which also ranked #1 in 2008. Washington, DC, had the second-highest number of ENERGY STAR labeled buildings in 2008, followed by San Francisco, Denver, and Chicago. New York City entered the top 10 for the first time in 2009.
EPA awards the Energy Star to commercial buildings that perform in the top 25 percent of buildings nationwide compared to similar buildings. Thirteen types of buildings can earn the Energy Star, including schools, hospitals, office buildings, retail stores and supermarkets. During 2009 alone, 3,900 commercial buildings earned the ENERGY STAR, a 40 percent increase over the previous year. Annual utility savings have increased to almost $1.6 billion while avoiding greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of more than one million homes.
To see the list of the Top 25 Cities in 2009, visit:

AB 32 Scoping Plan Economic Analysis

The California Air Resources Board recently published a revised economic analysis of the AB 32 Scoping Plan implementation in order to focus the economic effects of reducing the state’s GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. This updated analysis accounts for recent changes in the global and state economy, as well as new federal policies which have been adopted to reduce GHG emissions. The conclusions are that AB 32 would have a virtually indistinguishable impact on the California economy versus a business as usual scenario. This entry summarizes the report.

The modeled reference case is that California Economy would grow at an annual average rate of 2.4% between 2006 and 2020 and fuel expenditures grow at 1.7% per year. This reference case does not capture any of the consequences of inaction (adaptation costs or fuel price volatility). With the Scoping Plan, economic growth is still 2.4% per year, but fuel expenditures are reduced 4.9% (by 2020) and GHG emissions are reduced 15% relative to the reference case. Emissions reductions programs help limit cap and trade allowance price to $21/MTCO2e. In the worst case sensitivity analysis scenario, where all major emissions-reductions programs fail to provide forecast reductions, there is only a small decrease in California’s economy relative to the reference case.

ARB used the Energy 2020 model to simulate fuel demand for 40 industry category, 3 residential categories, and 3 transportation types. It also predicts supply, and hence price, for 30 different fuel products. For each category, the model simulates investment in energy efficiency, fuel choice changes, and end-use demand. It does this using information on costs (of energy and of energy efficiency capital investments), and other attributes, such as the convenience or acceptance of an energy efficiency investment.

Here’s a visual of how Energy 2020 works:

With the information on energy prices produced by the Energy 2020 model, ARB used the Environmental Dynamic Revenue Assessment Model (E-DRAM) to calculate a future year reference case and alternatives analysis for various policy bundle scenarios. (See Section 5 of the report for details on these scenarios). The model is capable of assessing 120 industrial sectors, labor, capital, 8 household sectors, 9 consumption sectors, 1 investment sector, 45 government sectors, and the rest of the world (188 sectors in total).

Here’s a visual of how E-DRAM works:

And how the 2 models interact:

After calculating the effects on each sector, the ARB used the models to combine these results in a macroeconomic analysis. The table below summarizes this analysis:

Chapter 8 discusses the effects of AB 32 implementation on small business, which are found to be “insignificant” overall, although certain sectors (mining, unities) while others would gain. UCLA’s own Matthew Kahn played a role in this analysis.

Overall, the report is quite robust in its analysis and key result: that shifting California to a lower carbon economy will have a negligible aggregate economic impact by 2020. The report should withstand academic criticism quite well. Certain findings, such as how AB 32 could cause small businesses which operate coin-operated laundry services to raise rates, could be misconstrued and used as an argument against Scoping Plan implementation. However, the report makes it clear that Scoping Plan implementation can give rise to new business opportunities which will enjoy revenue and employment growth as California, and the rest of the world, move to a low carbon economy.