Phil Serna is a Sacramento County supervisor who represents District 1.

Viewpoints: Should county approve Cordova Hills? Only if it wants to risk loss of transit funding

Published: Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 - 8:34 pm

Since mid-December, when the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors last considered the proposed Cordova Hills development, The Bee has published a number of editorials, guest editorials and letters to the editor both critical and supportive of the project.

The opinions expressed have for the most part focused on the merits of the proposal's centerpiece, a university campus that to date has yet to be anything other than a respectable yet uncertain aspiration by project backers.

While I wholeheartedly agree that we should be asking the tough questions relative to when a university operator might commit to locate within the project and how that should or should not affect project approvals ("Serna unmasks folly of Cordova Hills 'U' "; Editorials, Dec. 14), it is not the only concern I have, nor should it be the sole concern of our region as a whole.

As I communicated to Sacramento Area Council of Governments Executive Director Mike McKeever last November, I have a number of questions that should be addressed before the Board of Supervisors considers approving the Cordova Hills project. My inquiries come from the fact that the Cordova Hills project is not included in the current Metropolitan Transportation Plan, nor is it included in what's called the Sustainable Communities Strategy.

Known as the MTP/SCS, the Metropolitan Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy is a long-range regional transportation plan that guides state and federal transportation investments and that also sets reduction targets for passenger vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.

The foundations of the transportation plan and communities strategy are meticulous growth projections that SACOG calculates based on planned land-use patterns within our six-county region and associated future increases in population and employment. The current transportation plan and communities strategy considers a 2035 planning horizon so it accounts for expected urban development, population and job growth that is estimated to occur during the next 22 years.

The modeling SACOG employs also accounts for market forces as well as regulatory influences in determining where, how and to what extent our communities are expected to grow during those two-plus decades. Because the transportation plan and communities strategy is intended to help implement Senate Bill 375, state Sen. Darrell Steinberg's landmark greenhouse gas reduction legislation, the plan also sets emission reduction targets as a percentage compared to 2005 baseline conditions.

The idea of a jointly crafted transportation plan and communities strategy is to set and meet greenhouse gas reduction targets in order to position the region as best we can to compete for coveted state and federal transportation funds for roadway improvements and public transit. The target set by the current transportation plan and communities strategy is a 16 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2035.

This means that that by 2035 as our region continues to grow, each person on average is expected to reduce their greenhouse gas emission contribution by 3.6 pounds per day. In large part, the way we will achieve that is by driving less and driving shorter distances; what is referred to in urban planning parlance as reducing "vehicle miles traveled."

Since the Cordova Hills proposal was not included in the current transportation plan and communities strategy growth projections, if approved by the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors it means a reshuffling of the deck midway through the poker hand. In other words, as the transportation plan and communities strategy is routinely updated approximately every four years or so, the growth that may or may not happen in Cordova Hills will have to be accounted for out of a finite regional growth allocation.

That means other projects throughout the region, in other counties besides Sacramento, that are included in the current transportation plan and communities strategy, and that are expected to be partially or entirely built out by 2035 – including well-conceived urban infill projects – may be sacrificed and excluded in our regional transportation planning efforts.

How is that even remotely reflective of good planning? The simple answer is: It isn't. It would demonstrate, however, a regrettable fact: that recent efforts to better link transportation, air quality and land use planning in our region amount to academic lip service.

The Board of Supervisors will consider the Cordova Hills project again on Tuesday. The public and the Board of Supervisors need to know the implications of approving the project – both with and without an operable university – as it relates to per-capita vehicle miles traveled, and whether or not by approving the Cordova Hills proposal we as a county and as a region may forfeit a competitive advantage for scarce state and federal transportation funding only to advance the next far-flung suburban development.

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