California Energy Commission: Smart Growth & Land Use Planning

photo collage of hard hat, maps, clip board, calculator, pencil - image from iStockPhoto iStock_000004018921XSmall

Decisions affecting land use directly affect energy use and the consequent production of greenhouse gases, primarily because of the strong relationship between where we live and work and our transportation needs. Significant efforts are necessary to reduce vehicle miles traveled to meet the state's emission reduction goals. California must begin reversing the current 2 percent annual growth rate of vehicle miles traveled. Research shows that increasing a community's density and its accessibility to job centers are the two most significant factors for reducing vehicle miles traveled.

Housing, transportation planning, and local greenhouse gas reductions require local and regional approaches. California's metropolitan planning organizations are involved in long-range planning efforts to develop transportation plans that incorporate improved land use decisions. These plans are expected to reduce energy and climate impacts in metropolitan regions. The state-sponsored Blueprint Planning Program has engaged nearly all of the state's metropolitan planning organizations in a long-range planning effort that will result in plans to coordinate land use and transportation development. The plans accommodate housing needs, reduce the rate of growth of vehicle miles traveled, and identify priority-planning areas. They are in early stages of implementation and may require technical, financial, and regulatory assistance to achieve their goals.

While the state has limited land use authority, it does have some key leverage points (California Environmental Quality Act, housing elements, bond funding, and others) that it can use to assist local governments in reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions that result from land use planning choices. In addition, the state can provide local governments with tools and technical assistance to help meet greenhouse gas emission goals.

The Governor's Strategic Growth Infrastructure Bond package represents an opportunity to influence the energy efficiency and environmental friendliness of communities through project funding criteria. Utilities are playing a small but growing role in collaborative planning efforts with local governments. The potential for mutual benefit from planning efforts between these groups is great, but may require regulatory support to achieve.

The body of research on the impact of land use on energy and climate is receiving significantly more attention with the growing interest in climate change. The Energy Commission is dedicating additional resources to studying opportunities and barriers to integrated energy and land use planning.

The Energy Commission supports the adoption of efficient and effective land use planning and recommends that the state:

  • Adopt a unified statewide growth management plan, based on local and regional plans, aligning state planning, financing, infrastructure, and regulatory land use policies and programs.
  • Require regional transportation planning and air quality agencies to adopt 25-year and 50-year regional growth plans that provide housing, transportation, and community services for projected population increases while reducing greenhouse gas emissions to state-determined climate change targets.
  • Expand efforts to provide technical and financial assistance to regional agencies and local governments to facilitate climate-friendly and energy-efficient planning and development.
  • Model climate-friendly and energy-efficient development patterns.
  • Determine the extent to which state and local tax policies affect and guide land use practices and revise policies that encourage growth that is inconsistent with the state's growth management plan.
  • Direct California's utilities to play an active role with regional and local governments to encourage climate-friendly and energy-efficient development in their service areas.
  • Work with California's Congressional delegation to ensure that future federal highway and other transportation and land use-related legislation and programs include energy reduction and climate stabilization considerations.

Energy Commission Documents

Links, Papers, and Other Materials