Measure 2022: Southeast Connector exceptionalism

A group calling themselves A Committee for a Better Sacramento is sponsoring a citizen-initiated ballot measure for the November election, titled “Sacramento County Transportation Maintenance, Safety, and Congestion Relief Act of 2022—Retail Transactions and Use Tax”. (Note: Some people are referring to this as Measure A, but measure letters are assigned by county elections, not by the sponsors. I’ll continue to refer to it as Measure 2022, for now.)

One of the major projects in the measure is the Capital Southeast Connector, a new freeway from Folsom to Elk Grove. Future posts will talk about what a bad transportation idea this is, but for now, what a bad part of the measure it is.

The measure essentially makes the Capital Southeast Connector JPA the judge of whether the project meets air quality requirements – the fox watching the henhouse. It is somewhat obscure what the language means, and takes a close reading, but the gist is that if the project fails to meet air quality requirements and therefore is not included on the project list in the MTP (SACOG Metropolitan Transportation Plan), the JPA can go its own way and decide for itself that the project meets requirements.

K. Metropolitan Transportation Plan & GHG Reduction Targets. The Sacramento region Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (MTP) currently requires that the region meet a 19% per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target. Expenditure Plan projects that are planned or programmed for construction in an MTP, as may be amended from time to time, shall be eligible for Measure funds. Expenditure Plan projects not planned or programmed for construction in an MTP shall be eligible for Measure funds if the construction phase of the project is exempt from project-level and regional level air quality conformity.

For any non-exempt projects that are not planned or programmed for construction in an MTP, as may be amended from time to time, the following requirements will apply:

For any non-exempt projects that are not planned or programmed for construction in an MTP, as may be amended from time to time, the following requirements will apply:

1. In order to meet the then applicable regional GHG reduction target for the MTP, project sponsors (parties) shall develop mitigation measures for any project(s) that increases GHG emissions.

2. If the parties can mitigate any such project impacts to maintain adherence to the then applicable regional GHG reduction target, the project(s) shall be eligible for Measure funds.

3. If the GHG impacts are not mitigated to meet the region’s then applicable GHG reduction target, and as a result the region cannot meet its applicable GHG target, the funds planned for the non-exempt project(s) may be used by the corresponding Implementing Agency at their discretion, for other than the originally intended project(s), provided any alternative project(s) are consistent with the Expenditure Plan and included in an MTP, as may be amended from time to time, that meets the then applicable target. Per above, alternative project(s) not planned or programmed for construction in an MTP shall be eligible for Measure funds if the construction phase of the project(s) is exempt from project-level and regional-level air quality conformity.

Measure 2022, Exhibit A, Chapter 1, Section K

This treatment of the JPA might very likely be found to be unconstitutional, but the measure proponents have thought of that too:

If any portion of this Measure is held by a court of competent jurisdiction to be invalid, we the People of the Sacramento Transportation Authority indicate our strong desire that: (i) the Authority use its best efforts to sustain and re-enact that portion, and (ii) the Authority implement this Measure by taking all steps possible to cure any inadequacies or deficiencies identified by the court in a manner consistent with the express and implied intent of this Measure, including, to the extent permitted by law, adopting or reenacting any such portion in a manner consistent with this Measure.

Section XII, Paragraph B, of the potential measure

In other words, if we, the sponsors included something illegal or unconstitutional in this measure, we expect the Sacramento Transportation Authority to defend the measure and make sure it all gets implemented.

To mitigate the immense GHG/VMT (greenhouse gas emissions / vehicle miles traveled) generated by the Connector, the measure proposes Transit and Rail Congestion Improvement Projects. With somewhat less money allocated to this than the Connector, these expenditures might make up for the harm of the Connector, but would not address any other needs in the county. It also proposes BRT features for the Connector, which is ridiculous as this is the last place in the county that a transit agency would propose BRT.

If the Connector, as a whole or in the piecemeal projects by which is has already been partially constructed, causes the region to not meet its legally required greenhouse gas reduction target of 19%, the entire region would therefore be under non-compliance, and therefore ineligible for federal grants.

The proponents see the value of the Connector as enabling greenfield development in the southeast area of the county. Though touted as a solution to congestion on Hwy 50 and Hwy 99, it will not be. What it will do is encourage long distance commuting between El Dorado County and Elk Grove, and generate VMT trips due to the greenfield developments along the corridor. The Connector will not turn out to be a boon to Folsom, Rancho Cordova, and Elk Grove, but yet another congested highway, sucking value away from the cities and citizens.

Search for category Measure 2022 to see posts as they are added.

Rangeland conversion threatens GHG goals

rangeland to exurbs, USGS photo
rangeland to exurbs, USGS photo

A research paper posted on PLOS entitled Whither the Rangeland?: Protection and Conversion in California’s Rangeland Ecosystems highlights the problem that exists everywhere but is a particular concern in the Sacramento area. Though the paper is pretty science-y, and does not emphasize the carbon impact of rangeland conversion, it is worth a read for all the other impacts and loss of public resources and ecosystem services entailed when rangelands are converted. It say this about Sacramento:

“The vast majority of the development in the Sacramento Metro region occurred in the grasslands and woodlands leading to the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento, with large conversions directly adjacent to the existing urbanized area (Figure 5).”

The SacBee article “Lost California rangeland is said to pose greenhouse gas risk” puts this rangeland loss in the context of greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals required by A.B. 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. From the SacBee article:

A study by UC Davis plant scientist Louise Jackson found that conversion from rangeland to irrigated cropland correlated to a threefold increase in greenhouse gas emissions per unit of land. When rangelands were converted to development, that number increased exponentially. Urban areas account for 217 times more greenhouse gas emissions.

I’ve asked Louise Jackson for more information on this statistics quoted, but so far no response.

My take on all of this is that we cannot possibly meet our climate change goals if we continue to convert rangelands to exurbs. This development form, which Sacramento so dearly loves, and the surrounding counties like as well, is simply not tenable if we are to have a future free of traumatic climate instability and warming. Every greenfield development, which in this area is almost always a conversion of rangelands, must be stopped. Now.

Cordova Hills on Tuesday

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will consider the Cordova Hills sprawl development again on this coming Tuesday, January 29. The issue is agenda item #44, which will not be considered before 2:00PM, but may be considered later if the meeting is behind schedule. I don’t know whether this will again be a marathon meeting going on for hours, but if you wish to comment or observe, it is better to be there on time.

On the request of Phil Serna, SACOG considered the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) implications of the development, with and without a university. You can read the full letter SACOG_MikeMcKeever-on-CordovaHills (1.6MB), but the summary statement on page one is enough:

Cordova Hills will face challenges being included in the next MTP/SCS (to be adopted spring, 2016) largely based on market feasibility considerations, with or without a University. Those challenges are greatest if it is not clear when the University is likely to be built.

On a per capita basis (the relevant performance metric for SB375) Cordova Hills will create higher transportation greenhouse gas emissions relative to other development opportunities in the region, with or without a University. Per capita emissions will be significantly greater without a University than with a University.

An updated Air Quality Mitigation Plan has been provided, with approval from the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, which reflects their midnight conversion to accept the project. The primary added mitigation is the reduction of natural gas combustion through the use of tankless water heaters. As I’ve said before, if it was so easy to achieve these reductions, why were they not included in the project to begin with? [If you want to look at this and other documents (there are now about 72), go to the agenda page and download them. Some are huge.]

There have been several letters and comments in the Sacramento area media since the last hearing, urging that the development be approved because we can trust that the developer will obtain a university. There is no evidence for this, but I guess if you have enough friends in high places, you can make such claims.

I remain absolutely opposed to this project. If we can stop this one, there is hope that there won’t be any more of these sprawl-inducing, urban-services-boundary-busting proposals, but if this one goes through, the floodgates are open and quality of life in Sacramento County for all of us is down the tubes.