As residents and businesses find themselves dealing with the impacts of a historic public health and economic crisis, the Southern California Association of Governments is preparing to move forward with a new long-range transportation and housing plan, which will have a substantial impact on Southern California communities over the next 25 years.
Governed by an 86-member board made up of city and county elected officials, the region covered by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is massive, encompassing all of Southern California, minus San Diego. In its role as a regional planning organization, SCAG is responsible for approving a long-range plan known as Connect SoCal, which outlines transportation and land-use strategies for the Southern California region through the year 2045.
If adopted, the final Connect SoCal plan will have a far-reaching effect on local cities and counties. This includes the ability of local governments to receive federal funding for thousands of local transportation projects, ranging from highway improvements to new bus and rail corridors. Connect SoCal also identifies a myriad of local land-use strategies, including where and what types of new housing should be built.
The final version of the Connect SoCal plan was released in late March of this year and is scheduled to be approved by the SCAG governing board on May 7. To ensure that transparency and accountability are part of the Connect SoCal approval process, the public and business community must be allowed enough time to thoroughly review and provide feedback on the final plan.
Unfortunately, the release of the Connect SoCal plan could not have come at a worse time. The unprecedented economic and societal upheaval caused by the Coronavirus pandemic has significantly limited the ability of stakeholders to fully assess the impacts of such an important document. Taking into account the timing of the plan’s release, and that it is over 10,000 pages long, we have asked SCAG to issue a 90-day delay on the final approval of the plan. Regrettably, SCAG’s leadership has refused to agree to any sort of postponement.
In our limited time to review the final Connect SoCal plan, we have found some considerable flaws, including the failure to recognize thousands of housing units and jobs scheduled to be created through already approved land-use entitlements. If not identified in the plan, a significant amount of housing projects would be put in serious legal jeopardy. It’s hard to conceive that in the middle of a housing and economic crisis, our elected leaders would approve a long-range plan that would jeopardize the ability to build new homes and create thousands of sorely needed jobs.
In addition, as part of the effort to meet increasingly aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals, Connect SoCal places a heavy emphasis on the building of high-density housing located near public transit and job centers. Emphasizing housing density over the need to also develop new master-planned communities comprised of single-family homes is not a viable long-term solution to our state’s housing crisis. Not only does this approach ignore market realities, but building denser neighborhoods is fraught with risk when we consider the critical role that social distancing has played in slowing the spread of the Coronavirus.
It’s imperative that SCAG approve a final plan that is flexible and able to adapt to the changing circumstances that we will continue to face in the years and decades to come. As government at all levels has moved or delayed reporting and regulatory deadlines of all types, it’s well within reason to grant a 90-day delay on the vote to approve the final Connect SoCal plan. We hope SCAG will agree.
Jeff Montejano is chief executive officer of the Building Industry Association of Southern California. Tracy Hernandez is founding chief executive officer of the Los Angeles County Business Federation.