Updated March 2021
Regional agencies serve as a forum for cities and counties to develop regional solutions for area wide needs, develop plans and strategies for a broad range issues, to strengthen and assist local governments, and advocate for locals at the state and federal levels. CALCOG represents the collective interest of California’s regional agencies at the state and federal level as directed by its Board of Directors. The following policy principles serve as the foundation for CALCOG’s policy advocacy and communications in order to best represent our diverse membership.
1. Regional Governance
Effective regional governance is an essential element to effective local control. Many local problems and issues transcend local boundaries. State and federal policy should support and encourage effective regional solutions that are more effective than a one-size-fits-all, statewide approach.
- Support a “bottoms-up” approach to regional governance that respects local authority and assures flexibility to address regionally specific conditions.
- Support measures that authorize local agencies to act collaboratively to achieve regional goals.
- Support efforts to protect and increase direct funding to regions through federal and state programs, especially when laws mandate new duties and responsibilities.
- Oppose cost shifts and unfunded mandates in the responsibility areas of regional governments.
- Encourage state laws that require different state agencies to coordinate policies and reconcile differences before they are implemented and applied to regional entities.
- Support appropriate performance measures developed and implemented cooperatively between federal, state, regional, and local agencies.
- Support appropriate funding to regional agencies to match new state and federal requirements for enhanced planning, project delivery, and performance review.
- Support changes to open meeting laws that incorporate virtual participation while maintaining important transparency and access requirements of the Brown Act.
2. Encourage State-Regional Partnerships, Pilots, and Innovation
Regions are natural geographies for innovation. They provide a scale that can adhere to statewide principles while affording more local flexibility and ownership. Regional pilots can test new methodologies to address anticipated disruptions in transportation services, automations, power sourcing, GHG and VMT objectives, and advances in technology.
- Support and encourage regional pilot programs that test innovative policies, solutions, and technologies. Projects may include microtransit, VMT reduction strategies, roadway pricing mechanisms, education and transportation demand management strategies, infill incentives, testing and deployment of connected and autonomous vehicles, and partnering partnership with the private sector to find new and more efficient solutions to transportation issues.
- Support regional or mega-regional selection processes for state funding programs that relate to core regional planning functions (like the RTP/SCS) when it would allow better targeting of the investment of state resources.
- Examine the model of the Regional Early Action Planning (REAP) program for housing as a potential model for other state-regional partnerships.
3. Regional and Transportation Planning
Regional Transportation Plans include safety measures, system preservation, air quality improvement, GHG emission reductions, mode choice policies, housing location, congestion management, and other many other elements that are tailored to regional needs.
- Authorize and improve the capacity of regional agencies to deliver plans and program projects that meet the needs and safety of their member cities and counties.
- Ensure local and regional agencies (including rural agencies) receive sufficient funding to fulfill their planning and programming obligations. These activities include data gathering and analysis, environmental review, and public engagement. Support collaboration, data sharing, and funding to successfully implement federal and state performance-based planning and management requirements.
- Ensure that other state plans and programs remain consistent with the goals and structure of regional transportation plans.
- Support a robust transportation research program at the federal and state levels to investigate new technology, methods of data collection, innovative materials, and other improvements for regional plans and project delivery programs.
- Support strong data-sharing requirements that protect privacy to improve the quality and quantity of travel pattern data, including measures that provide for sharing of anonymized data from ridesharing services, connected and autonomous vehicles, shared mobility, and other sources to allow for informed planning and decision-making.
- Fund the development of modeling and measurement tools to improve performance measures to better evaluate and predict GHG reductions—the state should have accurate models that fairly account for conditions in all regions.
- Support state funding for regions and localities to invest resilience, including sea level rise, energy efficiency, flooding, and wildfire.”
- Work to assure that new climate adaptation legislation does not conflict with existing local and regional agency capacity and planning processes and uses existing regional geographies for new programs.
4. Transportation Finance
- Support dedicated, robust, and formula-based funding to improve certainty of project planning and programming.All revenues should adjust automatically for inflation.
- Ensure federal and state funding sources are stable, predictable, flexible, and adequate to operate, maintain, rehabilitate, and expand the transportation system. Prioritize investment to maintain the transportation system, and reduce backlogs in system maintenance where they exist. Seek greater flexibility from state and federal sources to support ongoing maintenance investments.
- Protect and build upon the structure of the State Transportation Improvement Program (SB 45) that provides programming discretion for regional projects.
- Ensure transportation funding meets the needs of all rural, medium-sized, and large urban regions; Pursue new and reformed funding methods and sources to develop and implement robust transportation plans that meet local, regional, and state objectives.
- Explore policies—such as the Road User Charge—that will address expected lost revenues from the transition to alternative fuels and zero emission vehicles; raise awareness of the need to address this issue among stakeholders; and support alternative funding mechanisms that are consistent with CALCOG policies.
- Protect and increase funding for the operation and expansion of transit and intercity and passenger rail service.
- Provide additional dedicated revenue source for regional and local governments to support the implementation of SB 375.
- Support lowering the voter threshold required to pass transportation infrastructure initiatives to 55 percent; and support legislation that allows a county to create a sales tax district within its boundary with a two-thirds vote.
5. Sustainable Community Development and Infrastructure
- Support measures that propose to fairly invest and rebuild infrastructure that result in the creation and retention of jobs, housing, and access to opportunity in areas identified for growth in a regional transportation plan. This includes new financing tools or the reinstatement of a redevelopment program that is supported by cities and counties.
- Support active transportation like walking and biking; monitor opportunities for additional support for active transportation, including enhanced access and safety improvements on existing roadways (like “complete streets” policies) and funding for regional trails.
- Support the deployment of new mobility technologies that improve safety, accessibility, mobility, environmental, equity, and economic and workforce benefits.
- Support proposals to accelerate the purchase of zero-emission passenger and light-duty vehicles.
- Support new funding and planning opportunities to support electric vehicle infrastructure and programs for both private vehicles and public transit fleets. Similarly support programs for electric bicycles and scooters.
- Support the use of innovative financing, such as Infrastructure Financing Districts to plan and develop infill areas and commercial corridors to attract housing and businesses in area.
- Support incentives for more housing, including affordable and transit-oriented developments (TODs), and encourage the siting of these developments in infill areas near transportation resources. Building on the success of SB 288 (Wiener), accelerate review of transportation and housing projects that are consistent with local and regional plans without diminishing environmental safeguards
- Support “complete street” policies that are designed to accommodate all users, including cars, trucks, transit, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
- Support additional resources and tools for local governments to preserve farmland and open space through public or private programs.
Previous Section on Cap and Trade has been eliminated; because debating the appropriate cap and trade framework is not as much of a focus; Several of the provisions that remain relevant have are included in other sections of these principles.
6. Project Programming, Delivery, and Operations
- Support efforts to improve safety and achieving no roadway- related deaths or serious injuries by improving safety for all road users, including non-motorists. Improve transportation system safety for all users
- Support efforts to increase passenger rail safety through increased funding for positive train control and other strategies to reduce risk.
- Increase and maintain direct funding and sub allocation of resources to regional agencies that is consistent and predictable to aid in the programming of projects.
- Empower and reward transportation agencies for operating, investing in, and managing the transportation system more efficiently to move people and goods safely with lower environmental, health and climate impacts.
- Streamline and improve transportation project delivery processes to eliminate unnecessary requirements; support concurrent state and federal environmental review, including developing a reciprocity program to allow state environmental reviews to count toward the federal process.
- Require early engagement for state agencies under CEQA to reduce permit processing time require reasonable deadlines for permit approvals.
- Support innovative financing and project delivery tools to facilitate creative solutions for financing and project delivery, including efforts to encourage intergovernmental cooperation and reduce existing regulatory barriers.
- Authorize Caltrans and its partners to use alternative procurement methods permanently and without limits.
- Expand innovative methods of project management and delivery, such as design-build, that can help complete projects in a timely and cost-efficient manner.
- Provide environmental review exemptions for specific repairs, safety projects, and transportation projects within existing public rights of way that directly further state policy priorities, regardless of the size of the lead agency.
- Encourage and support effective implementation of “advanced mitigation” environmental programs.
- Support enforcement for toll collections; authorize toll agencies’ ability to share information about toll transactions to collect tolls and toll penalties. Retains existing privacy protections for customers.
7. Pubic Transit
- In partnership with the California Transit Association, seek direct funding support for transit to address severe operating deficits and layoffs resulting to the COVID-19; Pursue relief from TDA audits during the current economic downturn.
- Ensure public transit is an affordable, reliable and convenient.
- Support funding for capital and operational investments to support effective, location efficient transit that will reduce a region’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.
- Support increased and more flexible funding and policies that support public transit, including passenger rail.
- Support additional funding to help transit operators convert their bus fleets to zero-emission in order to meet the state’s Innovative Clean Transit rule and accelerate the decarbonization of the transportation system.
- Continue to participate in the TDA Reform Task Force to explore updates to the Transportation Development Act’s eligibility requirements. Support alternative performance measures that are focused on incentivizing actions that improve transit service and increase ridership. Ensure discount fares aimed at boosting ridership and improving social equity do not result in reduced state funding.
Many COGs are responsible for the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). Moreover, regional transportation planning agencies work closely with their local agencies to forecast land use development, including housing needs, growth, and the relationship to the transportation network.
- Work with local government partners to amend housing element law (and related administrative procedures) to give jurisdictions flexibility to provide affordable housing and remove disincentives and regulatory obstacles to providing affordable housing.
- Seek ongoing funding to reimburse councils of governments for Regional Housing Needs Allocation compliance costs.
- To emphasize the connection between housing and transportation in the RTP-SCS, design state funding programs that afford more localized or regional input on state programs to encourage more location-efficient housing that support the objectives of SCS and are supported by local governments.
- Support new funding to help pay for affordable housing and support legislation that facilitates the construction of more housing in low-VMT locations and high opportunity areas. Support new investments that support job development in the jobs-poor, housing-rich areas.
- Monitor and support efforts to provide additional state resources for housing and housing-supportive infrastructure, planning and services to ensure housing investments can be made in conjunction with improvements to parks/open space, and other resources to improve quality of life.
- Support incentives for jurisdictions that provide opportunities for more housing, including affordable and transit-oriented developments (TODs) and encourage the siting of these developments near areas with transportation resources and future planned investments.
- Support continuing the REAP program throughout the Sixth Cycle of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation to support the ongoing production of well-located housing that can address the multiple, interconnected goals of housing, access to opportunity, and reduction of GHGs.
- Engage in the Governor’s process to review and “revamp” the RHNA process; work with member agencies to identify elements that worked well and things that need to be improved.
- Support efforts to remove discriminatory barriers and policies that impede fair access to housing.
- Support coordinated efforts to prioritize additional funding and resources to expand broadband access and infrastructure, particularly in low-income and rural communities.
- Encourage collaboration between the State, MPOs, local governments, regional consortia, and other stakeholders to establish broadband working groups
- Encourage leveraging high-quality bandwidth to implement VMT reduction strategies focused on teleworking and strong, rapid connectivity for AV cars and AV freight and generally support long- term teleworking of employees.
- Empower regional consortia to engage and work with local governments to adopt policies and enact permit streamlining, consistent permitting fees, emergency ordinances, and waivers for microprojects in order to accelerate broadband deployment
- Provide grant funding to governmental entities to develop programs, including those integrated into affordable housing, that provide steady funding for free or subsidized internet access for qualifying residents to bridge the economic-digital divide.
- Because regional agency boards are made up of local officals that serve as city council members and county supervisors, CALCOG generally does not take positions that are in conflict with the League of California Cities (Cal Cities) and California State Association of Counties (CSAC).
- CALCOG does not normally take position on member-sponsored legislation that address specific circumstances in a region unless the Board determines that one of the following conditions are met: the measure (1) offers an important pilot project that involves a change, innovation, or efficiency in state policy; (2) authorizes a special, localized funding condition sponsored by the member agency; or (3) sets a significant precedent that could be applied to all CALCOG members. When an exception is established, CALCOG’s advocacy should remain focused on the statewide effects of the measure.
- CALCOG will work with other state associations, like the League of California Cities, California State Association of Counties, California Special District Association, California Association of Joint Powers Agencies, California Transit Association, and the California Society of Association Executives on bills that affect the operation of state associations that represent public agencies. Our goal will be to assure that the association has the appropriate means to carry out its mission. Staff will propose positions on such bills for the board to consider on an as needed basis.
12. Policies specific to Proposed Ideas to Amend to SB 375
Anticipating interest in the Legislature and the Administration to pursue “SB 375 Reform,” CALCOG has developed the following principles as a framework for discussion
Passed in 2008, Senate Bill 375 (Steinberg) aimed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector by requiring MPOs to prioritize investments and adopt strategies to reduce GHGs in long-range plans known as Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS). The bill strengthened the connection between transportation and land use and was groundbreaking in its elevation of climate to a top priority issue. The result has been increased public engagement in the process of transportation planning, which in turn has produced better regional transportation plans that better reflect community and state needs. We address ways in which SB 375 could be improved.
a. Address needed state-initiated VMT reduction strategies
The California Air Resources Board’s (CARB’s) approach GHG reduction from cars and light trucks has been uneven. Prior to providing even more scrutiny and oversight over the approval of the SCS, CARB must first develop a comprehensive plan for the related but unaddressed State-Initiated VMT Reduction Strategies. CARB documents identify these as necessary to get to the Scoping Plan’s objective of achieving a 25 percent reduction in emissions from cars and light trucks. Yet as of early 2021, no state plan or analysis has been conducted since the SB 375 targets were reset in 2018. This omission impedes progress toward achieving state goals. (See graphic below). Once a state plan is in place, it should be held to the same standards of “implementation rigor” that applies to review of the RTP/SCS.
b. Prioritize Cooperation and Partnerships
CARB should partner with agencies and levels of government that have authority over VMT outcomes, state law should build more cooperative frameworks. There are a variety of opportunities for such collaboration. Here are two:
- A REAP-Like Program for VMT Reduction. One of the SB 375 tension points is between the (CARB-described) “top down” 15 percent by 2050 reduction goal and the evidence based “bottoms-up” target setting. The two metrics sometimes places CARB and MPOs at odds on appropriate emphasis, making cooperation more challenging. In contrast, the recent REAP program has created a cooperative environment that has strengthened the partnership between MPOs and HCD to work together on housing issues. A similar approach could be taken around VMT reduction. Potential strategies might include low VMT development incentives and preserving conservation areas. A REAP-like program—where the state agency approves implementation plans prior to distributing funding—would allow CARB to leverage its own policy and expertise, share lessons learned, and collaborate with MPOs more closely.
- Other Innovative Pricing Pilot Projects. Use pilot projects as a means to encourage and evaluate pricing mechanisms. Many MPOs around the state are beginning to explore regional pricing strategies (HOT lanes, tolling, cordon, parking, and more) as a means to reduce emissions. Others are exploring infill strategies that could change the way that regions develop and reduce emphasis on the use of automobiles.
c. Address Tension Points Between Interconnected Policy Goals
State law should be amended to help regional agencies to plan for multiple, interconnected goals of climate protection, air conformity, housing, social equity, and resilience. SB 375’s single focus on GHG reduction presents challenges to regional agencies seeking to make progress on other important policy goals, such as social equity, housing production, VMT reductions, and climate resilience. A strategy that achieves one or two of these goals may simultaneously make it more difficult to achieve a third. State law does not have a mechanism to address these policy trade-offs. For example, focusing all new housing growth in transit priority areas might reduce GHG emissions, but could also exacerbate displacement of low-income residents. State law should afford flexibility where such policy tensions are documented and mitigate the consequences of any policy tradeoff.
d. Focus Accountability on Results within MPO Control
Any effort to amend or “reform” SB 375 should rely on accountability measures that focus on outcomes that are within the control of MPOs in the following ways:
- Decrease reliance on emission models and place more emphasis on actions that will reduce GHGs in partnership, rather than in competition, with the state.
- Decouple the SCS performance from economic and environmental externalities. The target setting process is vulnerable to economic and environmental externalities. Thus, a SCS may appear “successful” in an economic downturn (like the recent pandemic); and “unsuccessful” when low vehicle operating costs cause an increase in VMT. The determination of whether a region is sufficiently implementing SB 375 must be decoupled from market and environmental externalities.
- Account for the effect of the anticipated increase in sales of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) in accordance with state goals; and the corresponding effects that the increased use ZEVs–and their lower operating costs—may have on VMT. Put another way, MPOs should not be held accountable for increased VMT that results from lower operating costs of zero emission vehicles.
- CARB should positively engage in finding funding alternatives to sustain the transportation system in light of an estimated $4 billion annual loss of gas tax revenues (estimated in 2040) expected if the state achieves its ZEV and VMT goals.
- An assessment of technology (e.g., autonomous vehicles) and market factors (e.g., market share of TNCs) that are either uncertain or likely to affect overall per capita GHG (either positively or negatively)
- Increase the availability of regional funding to implement the SCS; provide policy tools to reduce single-occupancy vehicle travel in a manner that ensures equitable policy outcomes. This includes increased availability of funding and financing tools for all infrastructure that supports infill development.
e. Maintain the Current Framework for SCS Review
- Maintain current balance in the review of the SCS. Oppose efforts to increase CARB authority to approve or disapprove a particular SCS beyond the threshold currently in statute.
- Reinforce the sixty-day limit CARB has to review an SCS; Require ARB to list the documentation that they need to review an SCS up front and set reasonable limits on follow-up requests.
- Authorize MPO with a CARB-approved APS to be eligible for Solutions for Congested Corridors and Trade Corridor Enhancement Program.
- Extend the application of SB 375 beyond 2035 in a manner that align with statutory extensions of SB 32
e. Additional Implementation Efficiencies
- Accelerate SCS implementation by providing innovative policy tools that can dramatically change the VMT trend; these may include regional policies and flexibility on tolling existing roadway capacity; authorizing cordon pricing; making it easier for transit systems to gain priority on local and state roadways; authorizing bus on shoulder in peak traffic periods; strengthening the streamlining provisions for infill development projects that are consistent with an SCS; and providing more predictable state funding to MPOs to implement their SCSs.
- Authorize regions to align their RTP/SCS planning periods to ensure maximum coordination on forecasting assumptions, strategies, and investments
- Under current law, development projects that are consistent with the SCS are supposed to be given acceleration under CEQA and yet this tool has been used on a very limited basis due to lack of clear definition in the law. To promote more infill development of the type known to reduce VMT, it would be helpful for the law to provide more a more robust approach to streamlining commercial and residential development in low-VMT areas.
- State policies need to encourage regions to accelerate electrification. Currently, CARB makes it challenging for MPOs to receive “credit” for policies and investments designed to speed up electrification of the passenger vehicle fleet even if such policies are likely to speed up achievement of the state’s goals.