SB743 VMT instead of LOS

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SB 743 - Replace "Level of Service" (LOS), the measure of automobile delay, with “Vehicle Miles Traveled” (VMT).

VMT is a simpler less accurate and more general measure of Traffic Congestion. Projects can no longer be challenged on the basis of the LOS Traffic Congestion the project would generate. Touted as an anti-sprawl policy, this change is really an aggressive pro-development maneuver that sacrifices quality of life to the dystopian fantasies of Smart Growth"

Unfortunately, for now, the defenders of neighborhood livability have lost this battle. The switch is mandated by SB 743, which was passed by the California legislature in September 2013. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, has said that the new rules won’t be finalized until they’re certified by the California Natural Resources Agency by the end of 2016. 

The smart growthers’ larger argument against LOS is that speeding up car traffic is likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast, they contend, limiting the distances people drive—and judging proposed developments by the amount of driving they’re likely to induce—addresses air quality and climate change

Moreover, the traffic congestion standard puts infill projects at a disadvantage. By its very nature, infill is a latecomer to a place. In an already congested area, the traffic generated by a new infill project can easily tip the LOS into E or F territory, rendering the development vulnerable to a challenge from opponents on CEQA grounds. VMT, by contrast, is hospitable to infill, because infill increases density and mixes uses (housing, shops, offices), making it easier for people to do what they need to do without a car. 

  In a new 300-unit development in SF it is stated that a relatively small number of cars would be added as a result of this project, they would be in an area with highly congested intersections. Under previous guidelines, this could lead to a conclusion that the project might add to traffic congestion and require several years and millions of dollars spent [by the developer] to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR).

If the same development were assessed on the basis of the amount and distance of automobile it would generate, VMT, no EIR would be required. 

What leads them to assume that people living in a new 300-unit development would add only “a relatively small number of cars” to the neighborhood stock. The reply was vague:  

"Data shows that a much higher proportion of trips in San Francisco occur by means other than the single occupant vehicle. In a location such as SoMa, where there is already a high volume of traffic (much of it going through the area, not originating or ending there), a single building will not substantially add to overall traffic levels."

But surely the size and type of a single building makes a big difference in how much traffic the building generates? The city has no prediction of the auto use generated by the project.

Transit priority area: “an area within one-half mile of a major transit stop.” Almost all of San Francisco is covered by transit priority areas: 

If even a “relatively small number of additional cars” makes a highly congested area even more congested, shouldn’t that count as an environmental impact? 

It should not, say planners and the state. According to them, traffic congestion is a social impact, not an environmental one.  

Governor's Office of Planning and Research (OPR): " [the California Environmental Quality Act] analysis. (CEQA Guidelines §15131.)
….As a measurement of delay, LOS measures motorist convenience, but not a physical impact to the environment. "

Urban locales will be degraded by the replacement of LOS by VMTPlacemaking” is the name of the community newsletter that the SF Planning Department.

During OPR’s  webinar on the implementation of SB 743, staffer Chris Ganson said, “LOS just addresses localized congestion,” but “worsens regional congestion.” VMT, Ganson opined, “attacks regional congestion more effectively,” but—he did not add—worsens local congestion

Local congestion is something that everyone will experience more intensely as a result of SB 743.  Making local traffic congestion worse by disregarding the local traffic impacts of infill development. 

Nowhere in SB743 is there any mention of Fuel Efficiency increase, Electric Cars and the capacity for electric cars to power the grid.

Concerns about the maximum population a place can support—do not arise in the smart growth world. 

Land use forecasts are prepared by ABAG (and adjusted by SF Planning). The land use scenario we currently use is the Sustainable Communities Strategy: Jobs-Housing Connections from Plan Bay Area.

SF Planning Commission Staff said that "it would be the rare project that exceeded the VMT thresholds of significance".

  Even more distressing, the abandonment of traffic congestion as an environmental impact is only one of the ways in which actual places are written off by the changes to the California Environmental Quality Act that are mandated by SB 743. Unmentioned by the staff report, the law also stipulates that 

"aesthetic and parking impacts of a residential, mixed-use residential, or employment center project on an infill site within a transit priority area
shall not be considered significant impacts on the environment. Public Resources Code 21099(d)(1)"

state legislation (AB 1886)  will expand CEQA exemptions to include projects where 50% of the project area is
farther than a half-mile from a high quality transit corridor or major transit stop. Currently only 25% of a project area can be over a half-mile away. 

Plan Bay Area, the regional land use and transportation “blueprint” mandated by SB 743’s antecedent, SB 375, also authored by Steinberg, foresees a 34% increase (190,780) in jobs in San Francisco, from 568,720 in 2010 to 759,500 in 2040. It also foresees a 35% jump (284,490) in the city’s population, from 805,240 to 1,089,730. 

These numbers should be subject to public vetting. The people of San Francisco have never been asked if it would be a good thing if 190,780 more people worked in the city, or if 284,490 more people lived here. 


Who’s responsible for this debacle?

The legislators who voted for it

Senate: Beall, Berryhill, Block, Calderon, Cannella, Corbett, Correa, De León, DeSaulnier, Emmerson, Fuller, Gaines, Galgiani, Hernandez, Hill, Huff, Jackson, Knight, Lara, Liu, Monning, Nielsen, Padilla, Roth, Steinberg, Torres, Vidak, Walters, Wolk, Wright, Wyland, Yee. ABSTAINING: Hueso, Pavley

Assembly: Achadjian, Alejo, Allen, Atkins, Bigelow, Bocanegra, Bonilla, Bonta, Bradford, Brown, Buchanan, Ian Calderon, Campos, Chau, Conway, Cooley, Dahle, Daly, Dickinson, Eggman, Fong, Fox, Frazier, Beth Gaines, Gatto, Gordon, Gorell, Gray, Hagman, Hall, Roger Hernández, Holden, Jones, Jones-Sawyer, Linder, Logue, Lowenthal, Maienschein, Medina, Mitchell, Mullin, Muratsuchi, Olsen, Pan, Perea, V. Manuel Pérez, Quirk, Quirk-Silva, Rendon, Salas, Ting, Wagner, Weber, Wieckowski, Wilk, John A. Pérez.
 ABSTAINING:- Bloom, Chesbro, Garcia, Gomez, Nazarian, Skinner, Yamada

and   Thankyou to the NO VOTERS: Senate:-  Anderson, Evans, Hancock, Leno, Lieu.   Assembly:- Ammiano, Chávez, Donnelly, Gonzalez, Grove, Harkey, Levine, Mansoor, Melendez, Morrell, Nestande, Patterson, Stone, Waldron, Williams

source Berkeley Daily Planet