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Friday, October 1, 2010
SBCAG Board Does the Right Thing
By Robin Hayhurst

Our Santa Barbara County Association of Government’s Board recently voted 7 to 6 along north/south county lines to do the right thing in the face of persistent environmental advocates who continue to dominate any regional community planning conversation.
 
The vote in question involved the proposed emission reduction targets identified in the California Air Resource Board’s August 9th staff report: Regional Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Targets for Automobiles and Light Trucks Pursuant to Senate Bill 375.  Not reflected in this report or SBCAG’s staff report is the economic impact of their recommendations, as each incremental percentage of reduction for emissions is exponential,  requiring huge behavior changes and skyrocketing costs.  Ironically, the centerpiece of these behaviors is the commuter culture of Santa Barbara’s workforce, which becomes more polluting due to lack of affordable housing (in a county which fought the state to lower its RHNA housing numbers) and 101 freeway improvement obstructionists.
 
SB 375 was passed in 2008 to address regional planning for transportation, housing and greenhouse gasses. The California Air Resources Board set forth on a collaborative process that engaged officials at the local level to identify emission reduction targets associated with land use and transportation that are both ambitious and achievable.  However, CARB staff disregarded the input and analysis provided during the statewide stakeholder process, and instead proposed completely unrealistic reduction targets that were not even discussed or modeled. This has been especially impactful in the Bay area and in Southern California, where the numbers set by CARB were clearly unachievable and counter to their negotiations with local agencies. While we all appreciate the challenge of reaching our climate change goals, the targets recommended by CARB staff fail to balance the goals with California’s need to provide jobs and housing for our residents.

CARB did a brilliant job of cleaning up the air in LA but has also amassed a sizeable and powerful bureaucracy that literally answers to no one.  Those of us who have dealt with them for the past few years regarding their draconian dictates when it comes to on and off road diesel engines are quite familiar with the capricious methods CARB employs. Specifically, CARB has regulations pending that would render today's trucking and heavy construction fleets inoperable in California.

The affected industries made it known to CARB that their numbers simply were not right, and currently by CARB’s own admission they overestimated the affects of emissions of diesel particulate matter and its actual quantity by 200 to 300%. Yet CARB still pushes unrealistic diesel restrictions based on a staff report written by an individual who lied about his qualifications.  A lot of your local businesses have already been forced to purchase or retrofit their equipment at great cost ultimately passed on to the consumer when they deliver food to your markets or graders to your permitted projects.
 
Miraculously, when suggesting Santa Barbara county’s SB 375 auto and light truck emission requirements, CARB found us the least emission emitting area in the state outside of Lake Tahoe and deemed that we did not have to impose further restrictions on our local citizens.
 
This was not good enough for the environmental commenter’s on SBCAG’s deliberative process, who insisted that those levels be set higher to match San Luis Obispo County’s hubris in overshooting their CARB dictated mark and show off their commitment to strangling the economy further without sufficient reason.  The cost to consumers and the convoluted selective thinking that has hamstrung affordable housing and revenue development should be the true concern.  Local governments simply do not have the funding to support infrastructure needs nor the planning activities that would be required under enhanced targets.
 
The process that started as a collaborative effort has turned into a massive new state regulatory program that will create major uncertainty for employers and increase job losses. In order to preserve the spirit of SB 375 and promote a program that will move forward successfully, CARB should go back to the statewide input and analysis that was provided by experts during the stakeholder process, and adopt lower range targets in the Bay area and Southern California that have been modeled and shown to be reasonable and achievable.  These extraordinarily high target levels were not modeled for economic impacts, and are based on entirely impractical assumptions about transportation improvements.  For example, CARB’s targets assume the development of expensive mass transit projects such as high speed rail, that are not likely to be completed anytime soon. 
 
The local environmental community prefers to expose our businesses and families to unnecessary fines and expensive mitigation fees in a bravado stance that becomes tiresome in the face of the real struggles in our economy.  The Board majority of SBCAG is to be commended for saying enough is enough, and voting in support of reason and pragmatic reality.  Not standing up to monolithic state agencies like CARB would be truly counterproductive given the reality of our current regulatory environment and its ignorance of the real on-the-ground impact of policies not supported by anything but south county style political correctness.  Until these policies are vetted and analyzed for economic impacts, and the public is informed about the ramifications, SBCAG’s Board was right to reject increased target levels.
 
Robin Hayhurst is a Director on the Boards of COLAB, SBCTA, and Committee INC, and a member of the Bond Oversight Committees for Measure A and C-2004.  She isExecutive Director of the Santa Maria Valley Contractors Association.
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