Not many people realize that there is an agency in the county called the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) where all five county supervisors and members from each of the city councils meet almost every month to address transportation, housing, and other issues. These representatives also serve as the governing board of the San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority. The RTA operates the buses traveling between San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria to the south, San Miguel to the north, and up Highway 1 as far as Hearst Castle.
Some of the main functions of SLOCOG include: planning for future transportation needs (highways, streets, transit, rail, bikes, and pedestrians); programming state and federal transportation funds ($30-$40 million per year); assisting the public in ridesharing, vanpooling, and transportation options; and adopting a Regional Housing Needs Plan. We also serve as a regional forum for issues of area concern.
A new role for SLOCOG is taking shape following Governor Schwarzenegger's signing of a recent State Senate bill, SB 375, that calls for the creation of a Sustainable Communities Strategy or the SCS. This law was enacted to implement the goals of California's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32), which targets a significant reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) generation rates. Coincidentally, a similar effort to create a regional growth strategy has been underway for the past several years in SLO County under the name Community 2050, and the region is well positioned to take this work effort and develop the SCS as required by this new state law.
Community 2050 is intended to foster more efficient land use patterns and transportation systems that not only reduce the number of vehicle miles we drive, but also provide for an adequate and diverse supply of housing, reduce impacts on valuable habitats and farmland, reduce the use of resources, and promote a prosperous regional economy.
The Community 2050 vision is to ensure that growth is carefully planned and managed without sacrificing the natural beauty and health of the environment; open space is preserved and enhanced; the economy emphasizes clean industry, prosperous agriculture, and flourishing tourism, and provides a variety of employment opportunities with livable wages and affordable housing alternatives. The vision anticipates that the region, the county, and local governments will respond to identified needs and actively seek community input.
Community 2050 recommends rural residential development be minimized so that existing infrastructure and new investments are used more efficiently, and that within cities key corridors serve as concentrations of jobs, housing, and other activities. Providing a better balance of job locations and housing is a key strategy to address the rate of increase we have seen in vehicle miles traveled. The continued viability of agriculture is supported and resource lands would be permanently protected by the SCS. Transit services and other transportation connections and options are being analyzed in the current Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) to evaluate how to reduce GHG generation rates to achieve AB 32 reduction targets.
The key objectives and strategies for reducing congestion, greenhouse gas generation, and improving air quality are: balancing increased demands for an adequate supply of housing, jobs, and services with viable transportation options and available resources; reducing impacts on valuable habitat and productive farmland; supporting efficient use of energy and other resources; improving mobility; reducing dependence on single-occupant vehicle trips; and increasing public transportation, walking, and bicycling.
We are now developing scenarios to evaluate how reductions in GHG can be achieved as required by SB 375 and AB 32. Our challenges over the next six to nine months are many and complex. Next steps include: working with member agencies, stakeholders, and the public to assess alternative scenarios, clarify focus areas, and further develop the strategies that will form the SCS; and creating the 20-year transportation vision to support the SCS. We must above all consider whether the future will be auto dominated with separated lower-density land use, or whether we will see a more concentrated urban form with a higher level of land use and transportation choices. And we must determine how will we fund the vision.
Community 2050 and the RTP provide a context for the maintenance and development of healthier, safe, and vibrant neighborhoods with solutions that fit local needs and support shared regional values. It is in the vein of thinking globally, acting regionally, and making California a better place to live that the Community 2050 Blueprint endeavors to create a shared vision and an ongoing framework to address regional solutions to such problems as traffic congestion, affordable housing, and loss of open space.
Steve Devencenzi is Planning Director of SLOCOG. Contact him at email@example.com.