Southern California Transportation and Land Use – Our Common Future

Southern California is composed of forward-looking people. (Hey, we’ve always been this way.)

It is curious, then, to see how Southern California will respond to climate change – and its profound challenge to our way of life.

Yet, taken in the right way, the climate challenge paradoxically provides an opportunity to create a healthier and more livable Southland.

To put a fine point on it: we have the opportunity to enact policies that not only address climate disruption but also improve civic life in our cities and in the region at large.

We can enact climate policies that also clean our air, improve public health, expand public transit, fix our streets, generate good paying jobs, create new parks, and protect the natural resources on which we all depend.

Southern California Association of Governments can advocate for these multi-beneficial policies that enhance our quality of life, and further help cities prepare for climate impacts and reduce their carbon emissions.

Scientists agree that climate change is happening now and that human activity is the cause. In California we’re already experiencing the effects of a changing climate.

Scientists predict that within 30 years temperatures will increase locally by 3-5°F in and that our shoreline will rise by a foot. Wildfires are predicted to consume more of our hills and forests. Droughts will become dryer and floods more severe.

Yet, in the face of these threats, we can remain forward-looking and optimistic.

Why? Because California is leading the world on the path to a positive future. Our achievements are impressive. California emits much less carbon than it did 25 years ago. A quarter of our electricity currently comes from renewable sources. And we’re on track to deliver 50% of our electrical power from renewable sources within the next 15 years.

Although the energy sector has made great strides, the transportation sector is another story.

Gas and diesel powered cars and trucks are the largest source of climate pollution in California. Attempts to enact laws that reduce transportation emissions has come under attack by powerful interests. These laws have been thwarted.

In the face of fierce opposition, how can we move ahead to reduce emissions from the transportation sector?

Here are a few ideas:

  • First, expand public transportation. People will leave their cars at home if they have viable options.
  • Second, develop affordable housing near transit hubs. We further need to ensure that low-income families, who use transit, can afford to live in new transit-oriented housing.
  • Third, dramatically expand bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Blessed by magnificent weather, we can ride our bikes most days of the year. The popular CicLAvia events further demonstrate that people are willing to ride if the routes are safe and protected.

Thankfully, the State of California is currently providing funding for cities to pursue these greenhouse gas reduction strategies. And, thankfully, SCAG staffers are well versed in these state-run programs and can help municipalities apply.

Although climate change will affect us all, it’s important to keep in mind that climate change will disproportionately harm low-income communities and communities of color. The California Energy Commission commissioned a study from the Pacific institute that revealed that millions of Southern California residents are currently at “high-risk” to climate impacts. Therefore, climate solutions must be designed to help those who will experience the greatest negative impacts.

To become more resilient to climate change, Pasadena and Los Angeles recently updated their building codes to promote cool roofs.

Cool roofs reduce a home’s temperature anywhere from 3-23°F, making living rooms more comfortable and utility bills lower at the same time. Cool roofs also reduce the conditions that form smog. Go figure.

Cool roofs are just one of hundreds of strategies that accomplish multiple goals simultaneously.

It’s a paradox. Although climate change poses the greatest challenge of our era, if we make the right choices today, this terrible crisis allows us to create a prosperous future.

Author: Jonathan Parfrey 

Before founding Climate Resolve, Jonathan Parfrey served as a commissioner at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (2008-2013). Jonathan is a founder and Vice Chair of CicLAvia, as well as the founder of the Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability, and the statewide Alliance of Regional Collaboratives for Climate Adaptation. He served as director of the GREEN LA Coalition (2007-2011), and as the Los Angeles director of Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Physicians for Social Responsibility (1994 to 2007). Jonathan was awarded a Durfee Foundation Fellowship (2002), a Stanton Fellowship (2010), and was appointed a Senior Fellow at the USC Marshall School of Business (2011). He is currently a fellow at the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities.