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Infill Development is Key to Meeting California's Emission Reduction Law

If California is going to meet the new, steep emissions reductions required by a law passed last September, one of the most effective strategies will be to promote infill housing, according to a new report from University of California at Berkeley.
April 8, 2017, 9am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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On March 28, "a new UC Berkeley study pointed out that building the right kind of new housing — denser housing in urbanized areas near transit — would be one of the best ways for California to meet our 2030 climate goals without sacrificing economic growth," noted a San Francisco Chronicle editorial on the state's notorious housing crisis.

"The report ['Right Type, Right Place: Assessing the Environmental and Economic Impacts of Infill Residential Development through 2030',] is the first comprehensive academic evaluation of the potential economic and environmental impacts of infill housing development on California’s 2030 climate goals under [SB 32], a 2016 law that requires the state to slash greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030," writes Jennifer Goodman for BUILDER.

“When deciding where to build new homes, infill housing is the smart choice, economically and environmentally,” says F. Noel Perry, businessman and founder of the nonprofit, nonpartisan group Next 10, which commissioned the study.

Next 10 commissioned the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) at UC Berkeley School of Law and the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, to conduct the analysis and write the report.

What makes the infill strategy key to meeting SB 32 goals is the reduction in driving that results from infill housing, particularly when sited by transit.

"A shift toward infill housing, to be built within three miles of rail stations, would help avert at least 1.79 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, according to the report," writes Richard Scheinin, residential real estate reporter for the Bay Area News Group. "That’s the equivalent of eliminating emissions from 378,108 passenger vehicles, or not burning more than 201 million gallons of gasoline annually, the report says."

However, as posted here upon the passage of SB 32 last September, "Anyone can put lofty climate goals on paper," wrote Brad Plumer for Vox. "The real question is whether California can undertake the specific actions needed to actually cut emissions."

Anyone who's ever advocated for denser housing knows it's no easy task, especially in coastal California, where the housing crisis is intensified.

On that note, Scheinin adds, "Of course, for the infill shift to happen, there would first need to be a significant shift in public policy — and overcoming the objections of homeowners who value traditional neighborhoods filled with single-family homes."

One such approach to overcoming those objections may present itself in the form of new "streamlining" legislation, SB 35, by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-S.F.), which was last amended on April 4.

The aforementioned Chronicle editorial ended with an endorsement of Wiener's bill and a quote from its author:

The Legislature is considering some 130 bills related to the housing crisis this session. What distinguishes SB35 is that it’s based on the same principle as Gov. Jerry Brown’s “by-right” proposal from last year: Since local governments have too often said no to new housing development, the state has to help them find ways to say yes.

“Adding more infill housing is absolutely essential to combatting climate change and keeping our middle class housed,” Wiener said.

"He's right," quipped the editorial board.

Related in Planetizen

Report: California Should Treat Housing Crisis like Climate ChangeJanuary 1, 2017: The California Apartment Association released a report on what it will take to solve the state's chronic housing shortage. Cities that are loath to permit new residential developments, both affordable and market rate, will not be pleased.

Hat tip to Darrell Clarke.

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 in Builder
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