In approving the Cordova Hills mega development project, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors dropped a whole new city into a rural part of the region that was intended to be protected from the bulldozers of sprawl. And it challenged the resolve of our region to get everyone to live up to our civic compact so that we don't trample on our shared economic prosperity and environmental sustainability.
Dirty air, gridlocked freeways and starved transit systems don't respect city or county borders. That's why, for 15 years, the Sacramento region has been pulling together in the interest of a better planned place for us all to live, work and play. Our 50-year land use strategy, called the Blueprint, won more than a dozen awards and established a national model. It put Sacramento on the map in planning circles. Our strategy, which reduces time in traffic, cuts air pollution, and creates more vibrant neighborhoods and downtowns, was copied by the Legislature and governor in a major overhaul of the state's planning laws.
The upshot of the new law, authored by the region's own Sen. Darrell Steinberg, is that regions in California write comprehensive plans for housing, jobs, transportation and air quality, supported by maps of where development can and cannot occur. This Sustainable Communities Strategy, or SCS, was adopted unanimously by representatives of all 22 cities and six counties just last year.
When Steinberg wrote Senate Bill 375, he responded to those of us in local government who asked for "carrots" (motivators), not "sticks" (penalties). So, all projects in our region that follow the Sustainable Communities Strategy can hitchhike on the environmental impact report developed for the SCS and thus save substantial cost in the environmental review for individual projects that comply. That makes it easier to build housing and create jobs in established communities, but harder to build on pristine farm or ranchland or sensitive habitat.
Every jurisdiction is free to ignore the Sustainable Communities Strategy and can issue permits for development projects that are not part of this regional compact. However, the region as a whole can suffer dire consequences. The most direct is the possible loss of federal transportation funds, which happened in Atlanta and almost destroyed that region's economy.
When we violate our regional covenant, we also invite the direct intervention of the state and federal governments in ways that would dramatically intensify the job-killing regulations that could suffocate businesses throughout our region.
This collateral damage throughout the region is one reason why Sacramento County's approval of the Cordova Hills subdivision sent shock waves reverberating around the region. We are not talking about a couple hundred houses outside the plan or even a couple thousand, but as many as 8,000 housing units with an expected capacity of 25,000 residents. This is more population than 10 of the 22 cities in our region and about half the current population of either Woodland or West Sacramento. The cost of building roads and freeway onramps, and the impact on congestion and air quality, could be enormous and felt far beyond the borders of the subdivision.
We strongly support streamlining the state's environmental review procedures for projects built in existing cities and the work by the governor to bring common sense and balance to a process that has been corrupted beyond recognition. But the foundation of California Environmental Quality Act reform is effective planning at the local and regional level. Running roughshod over those plans would likely put meaningful CEQA reform out of reach.
Fortunately, the rest of our communities in the Sacramento region are not defenseless. The construction of major new roads and onramps for places like Cordova Hills requires collective concurrence by the region's cities and counties if federal funds are involved and they almost always are. Just as a county is free to make its own land-use choices, so are the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and the cities and counties it represents free to make an independent choice about whether to add Cordova Hills to the regional plan and transportation budget. Given the scale and location of this project, a rigorous review by the rest of us should be expected.
We are all friends and neighbors here. We all breathe the same air; we share the same transportation infrastructure. Nearly everyone in our region sleeps, works, eats, worships and plays in more than one local government jurisdiction.
If we are to truly make progress as a region which is in the interests of all our citizens, then we have to commit to not only thinking regionally, but to have the courage, fortitude and discipline to act regionally.