Cities must stick to smart growth

Developer Ron Alvarado looks over the Cordova Hills property, a mixed-use development approved by Sacramento County supervisors in 2013.
Developer Ron Alvarado looks over the Cordova Hills property, a mixed-use development approved by Sacramento County supervisors in 2013. Sacramento Bee file

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments is scheduled to adopt its 2016 Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy update on Thursday.

The Environmental Council of Sacramento applauds this regional plan. While we believe it could be even stronger, our greatest concern is that the region is not on a path to implement the strategy effectively.

Successful implementation of Senate Bill 375 is a crucially important challenge of our time. That 2008 measure created a framework for bringing jobs, housing and services closer together to reduce driving and greenhouse gas emissions. The regional plan is supposed to improve coordination of land use and transportation toward more equitable, healthy, economically thriving and environmentally sustainable communities.

SACOG’s plan does this. It is an ambitious yet viable strategy that provides choices for housing and transportation, improved air quality and better protection of biodiversity and agricultural resources, while meeting the greenhouse gas reduction targets of SB 375.

However, ECOS fears that the region’s local governments are not showing commitment to implement this strategy because of the tremendous disparities between it and their adopted growth plans. The total build-out of these growth plans anticipates 661,211 housing units more than in 2012 – more than twice as much as estimated in the SACOG plan.

More than half of these new housing units would be in undeveloped “greenfields.” Moreover, 123,650 planned units are completely outside the SACOG footprint, a figure that does not include major potential growth areas, including Cordova Hills and proposals to expand Natomas and Elk Grove. These expansions alone would be a severe blow to any possibility of successfully implementing the SACOG plan.

ECOS anticipates that regional population and housing numbers in 20 years will likely be closer to SACOG’s projections than those of the local jurisdictions. The question is, where will the growth be?

While market studies show a growing demand for infill and transit-oriented development, with more small lots and attached housing, the adopted and proposed developments in the region remain strongly focused on low-density, car-oriented expansion.

SACOG’s 2036 transportation plan relies on significantly higher residential densities to provide the ridership to sustain the transit system and achieve public health and conservation benefits. Local jurisdictions will need to drastically change their growth patterns to realize these benefits.

When the SACOG board votes on Thursday, ECOS hopes that a vote for the plan is also a true commitment from the region’s 28 jurisdictions to implement it.

Matthew Baker is land use and conservation policy director of the Environmental Council of Sacramento. He can be contacted at