By Cori Badgley

Traditionally, land use planning generally has been left to counties and cities. On a selected basis, the legislature has intervened and added an overlapping layer of state regulation, such as the Coastal Commission, Cal TRPA and BCDC. With state mandated housing elements, cities in particular have had to take a more regional perspective in addressing housing needs. SB 375 in 2008 added to the subtle shift in the local-state planning paradigm. Now, the state is embarking on an unprecedented process to create a preferred land use scenario for all of California. This process is called Vision California, and it has a 2050 planning horizon.

The process is being funded and overseen by the Strategic Growth Council and the California High Speed Rail Authority. The Strategic Growth Council is a cabinet-level committee created by legislation in 2008 and is composed of agency secretaries from Business Transportation and Housing, California Health and Human Services, California Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Natural Resources Agency; the director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research; and public member Robert Fisher who was appointed by the Governor. The legislature established the High Speed Rail Authority in 1996 under the High Speed Rail Act, and its board is composed of five members appointed by the Governor, two members appointed by the Senate Rules Committee and two members appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly.

According to the High Speed Rail Authority, Vision California will:

  • Frame California’s growth issues in a comprehensive manner, clearly expressing the role of land use in meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets through integrated defensible analysis.
  • Clearly link land use and infrastructure priorities to mandated targets as set forth by AB 32, SB 375, and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).
  • Produce tools that accurately and easily measure the impacts of land use and transportation investments for use by state agencies, regions, local governments, and the non-profit community.
  • Produce state-wide scenarios that assess the combined impact of MPO Regional Plans and Blueprints.
  • Educate stakeholders, interest groups, and citizens on the value of integrated land use and transportation strategies in reducing carbon emissions.
  • Illustrate the critical linkages between land use and other major challenges, such as affordability, farmland preservation, infrastructure provision, energy and water consumption, and economic development.
  • Inform the ongoing development of state and regional greenhouse gas reduction targets for automobile-related emissions.

In order to achieve these lofty goals, Vision California has been divided into three phases. The first phase “focuses on the development of scenario building and modeling methodologies that form the technical back bone” and will take approximately nine to twelve months to complete. The second phase will “create land use scenarios using” the models developed in the first phase. This phase will also take approximately nine to twelve months. The third and final phase “includes a broad multi-media and interactive outreach process that brings the scenarios and their consequences to citizens and decision-makers.”

Will Vision California take California’s land use planning process as we know it and turn it on its head, becoming a top down process? Cities and counties have consistently fiercely opposed loss of local control. With the state budget turmoil, the opportunity exists for the legislature to restack the planning deck. As Rahm Emanuel notably observed early in the Obama administration, never let a serious crisis go to waste.

For more information on Vision California, see the California High Speed Rail Authority’s informational brochure.

Cori M. Badgley is an associate at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP.  For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.