April 30, 1991 - From the April, 1991 issue

AQMD Stakes Out Increased Role in Basin’s Land Use Regulation

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) is not winning popularity contests around Southern California. Its far-reaching Air Quality Management Plan is bringing AQMD’s regulatory powers into all aspects of Southern Califor­nia life, including planning and land use. Dissatisfaction with AQMD’s role also lies near the heart of the current drive in Sacramento for regional governance and consolidation of single-purpose regional bodies. 

Given the AQMD’s increasingly important role in local development and the upcoming revision of the Air Quality Management Plan, The Planning Report asked AQMD’s Vice-Chair, Henry Wedaa, for an update on AQMD’s role in land use policy, and a look at some of the new measures AQMD is contemplating.  

Each day residents of the South Coast Air Basin drive their 8.5 million registered vehicles a distance of 240 million miles, burning 15 million gal­lons of fuel. 

Clearly the auto is the single largest source of air pollution in the region, responsible for more than half of photochemical smog. Even though the California Air Resources Board has set auto emissions standards that will result in “ultra clean” cars before the end of the decade, growth in the number of cars, the miles driven and traffic congestion will largely cancel the air quality benefits. 

Consequently, one of the chief focuses of the region’s air quality programs must be to constrain auto use. Future smog-fighting efforts must include more measures that reduce auto trips to and from the re­gional office parks, shopping malls, and other land-use developments that are known as indirect sources of air pollution. 

State law charges the South Coast Air Quality Management District with developing and implementing programs to control these indirect sources. At the same time, the law clearly states that AQMD cannot infringe on the authority of local governments in land-use decision making.

AQMD’s Emphasis 

To satisfy this dual mandate, AQMD’s emphasis is not on the particular uses of land, but on miti­gating emissions from autos driven to and from development projects. We do not plan to get into zoning decisions or become a regional building permit counter. 

Rather, we hope to foster air quality mitigation by providing technical guidance that cities can use in considering development projects, parking management strategies and congestion relief. AQMD’s ultimate goal is to institutionalize air quality programs at the local level over the years ahead. Some $40 million in funding recently authorized by the Legislature for local indirect source control programs will help the region’s cities. 

While we intend to work with cities to foster air quality programs at the local level, if cities do not act AQMD may have to impose regional standards for mitigation and trip re­duction at regionally significant de­velopment projects. 

In the meantime, we will con­tinue to comment on environmental impact reports for significant projects. As an agency responsible for air quality, AQMD has been comment­ing on EIRs since its inception in 1977, although this effort has been stepped up recently. 

AQMD’s comment letter on the Los Angeles Porter Ranch project last year brought up several points that are illustrative of AQMD’s comments on other projects. 

Among the things AQMD sought were for the developer to establish a transportation management associa­tion that would help promote ridesharing for employees. AQMD also was concerned about how the size of the project would affect traffic congestion. 

Moreover, AQMD noted that the project’s housing as originally proposed would not be affordable to most of those who would work at Porter Ranch. This would foreclose any opportunity for these workers to live in the community, resulting in more trips on crowded San Fernando Valley freeways.

The city of Los Angeles shared many of these concerns and already had agreed to down-size the project before AQMD commented. So we were not necessarily at odds with the city, nor are we always at odds with the cities that have authority over the projects on which we comment. 

By commenting on EIRs, AQMD is simply doing its job under state law as the agency responsible for air quality. AQMD is also making sure that local governments faced with issuing the land-use permits have the benefit of our expertise on air quality impacts.

Ultimately, AQMD recognizes that clean air is just one of many public policy objectives. Therefore, we realize that our suggestions, while providing useful information, will not necessarily be accepted.

New AQMD Measures

Looking to the future, AQMD is in the process of updating its 1989 clean air plan and there are significant new indirect source control measures proposed. These include:

  • Lowering the threshold for the Regulation XV carpooling program from employers of 100 or more at a site to employers with 50 or more and to include students at high schools and colleges;

  • Preventing facilities housing sensitive populations, such as nursing homes or schools, from siting too near existing facilities that emit toxic pollutants;

  • Rescheduling truck shipments to reduce congestion at rush hour; and

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  • Registering data on trips to and from commercial and light industrial facilities with the District to build a database for modeling and moni­toring purposes. 

AQMD has also dropped some measures, including a proposed ban on construction of new drive throughs. Close analysis has shown that this measure would have negligible air quality benefit: while carbon monoxide emissions might go down, hydrocarbons might go up. 

Three New Proposals 

Among the new proposals most important to the development com­munity, however, are the proposed environmental review program, supplemental development standards and the non-work trip reduction program. These proposals remain con­ceptual in nature; their details have not yet been finalized. 

First, the environmental review proposal raises the question of whether to require that draft EIRs for regionally significant projects be submitted to AQMD for review. Right now there is no such requirement.

Under the proposed program, the District would analyze the EIRs to ensure that the emissions impacts have been adequately estimated and that mitigation is adequate. 

A fee may be charged by AQMD to recover review costs. AQMD would comment on the adequacy of the EIR to the developer and recommend mitigation measures as necessary. A copy of these comments would be shared with the local government.

We believe this program would ensure that local governments have the best available information on the air quality impacts of proposed projects and any needed mitigation measures. 

Second, the supplemental devel­opment standard proposal would involve identifying standards for projects in addition to those already in building codes that would mini­mize pollution, both during the con­struction and operation phases. 

Examples would be energy con­servation, preferential parking for carpools, minimizing vehicle idling through circulation patterns at park­ing structures and drive-throughs, building energy performance stan­dards, and provision of bike facilities and pedestrian accessibility.

AQMD would rely on local governments to incorporate these standards into their local zoning or­dinances and see that they are met through the local building plan check process. 

If local governments failed to adopt such ordinances, AQMD could work with the state Building Stan­dards Commission, other air districts, and the International Conference of Building Officials to incorporate these clean air measures statewide into the Uniform Building Code. 

Third, under the proposal to re­duce non-work related trips, AQMD would adopt a series of rules. AQMD could require plans, similar to those used for Regulation XV, from facil­ity operators, who would need to show how they would reduce non­work-related trips through specific measures. 

Among the options are requir­ing shuttle bus service to special events, preferential parking for carpoolers and so on. 

Initially, AQMD would adopt a model ordinance and cities would adopt and administer their own ordinances locally by some date certain. After that date, AQMD would implement its ordinance in cities that had not taken action. 

Future Directions 

Despite the increased focus on trip reduction, we still support efforts to achieve better jobs-housing bal­ance in the region. However, in its preliminary review of the 1989 clean air plan, the federal EPA indicated that the jobs-housing balance con­cept was vague and unenforceable. 

Ultimately, market forces will bring better jobs-housing balance to the region over the years ahead. Also, the region’s significant commitment to public transit construction will change future development patterns to limit use of the auto. 

In conclusion, AQMD hopes to minimize its own new regulatory programs in the arena of land-use. Because cities are best able to ac­commodate local needs and are in a position to work more closely with developers, the focus is on institu­tionalizing clean air programs at the local level.

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