California planning low-carbon oasis where cars aren't king

Dec 14 2012, 12:55 IST
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low carbon oasis (AP) low carbon oasis (AP)
SummaryThe marshes could be turned over to birds, satisfying environmentalists, or paved over with single family homes.

president for environment and renewables at the Electric Power Research Institute.

How California lives and how it builds is a big part of the solution. While industry, from factories to refineries, get the most attention from climate change foes, cars and buildings are top polluters, California has found.

Transportation accounts for about 40 percent of the state's carbon output, while commercial and residential buildings account for a quarter - more if construction is included.

So developments like the one in Newark tackle carbon emissions by creating smaller, better built houses with conveniences so close no one will need to get in a car.

"We're trying to be a post-suburban community," said Terrence Grindall, Newark's community development director.

The cornerstone of California's pursuit of a low-carbon economy is a 2006 law, known as AB32, which set the 2020 target.

After years of cajoling local authorities to build more homes near public transit - including a lawsuit to enforce one city to do so - the state in 2008 passed SB375, which requires its 18 metropolitan planning organizations to show how they will meet greenhouse gas reduction targets through integrated land use, housing and transportation.

"Going forward, state and federal transportation dollars can only be dedicated to projects that are consistent with the sustainable communities plan," said California Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, author of SB375.

"I call it a hard carrot. It's a carrot, but if it hits you, it might sting," he said, adding that California is now the leader in sustainable development in the country.

'PACKED LIKE SARDINES'

The profile of the typical new home in California is being flipped on its head. Between 1985 and 2010, 61 percent of all houses built in the state were single-family homes and 39 percent were multi-family ones, such as condominiums and apartment buildings.

Between 2010 and 2035, Southern California planners project, 68 percent will be multi-family and 32 percent single family.

There is ample room for skepticism. California's exurbs mushroomed during the last economic boom, turning now-bankrupt Stockton into a Bay Area suburb with an hour and a half commute in each direction.

Building high-density communities will only alienate buyers, said Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban development at Chapman University in Orange, California. "You'll end up in a situation where we have housing that people don't want," he said.

Tea Party activists nationally have campaigned against sustainable development, seeing it as a threat to property rights.

And then there are the environmentalists and homeowners

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