Amanda Brown-Stevens

Amanda Brown-Stevens

How California Can Stop Sprawl Development for a More Sustainable Future

California is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but it is also one of the most climate-stressed. Recent years have brought catastrophic flooding and mudslides to the forefront of concern, along with the wildfire risk we now know is a regular part of our seasons. And while our state has many walkable, vibrant neighborhoods near transit and jobs—away from the greatest risks of extreme heat, flooding and wildfire—these urban regions have not grown at our needed rate, and low-income and communities of color are more vulnerable to the risks of climate disasters. Many of these residents must drive further to work and depend more on fossil fuels, a major contributor to climate change in California. 

For decades, Greenbelt Alliance has protected the Bay Area’s open spaces and natural areas while accelerating housing developments within our existing communities, which thereby increases access and affordability in our neighborhoods that are closest to jobs, amenities and transportation options. As we’ve long identified, promoting climate-smart development in the Bay Area is key to protect our precious natural lands from sprawl development and prepare our communities for climate change.

That is why we are so excited about AB 68, introduced by Assemblymember Chris Ward and co-sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and California YIMBY. This legislation helps accelerate the work that the Greenbelt Alliance community has been doing for decades: protecting critical open spaces from sprawl and accelerating housing development near transit and jobs throughout the whole State of California. We know we are on an unsustainable path right now, with housing increasingly unaffordable and natural areas being subsumed by development. This would be a huge step forward in putting our state on a more sustainable and equitable path for the future, and help leave a better state for future generations.

AB 68 will make it faster, cheaper, and easier to build housing near jobs, schools, parks, transit, and other resources, and in areas local governments have already identified as good locations for housing.

How does the bill do this?

AB 68 takes a comprehensive approach by eliminating discretionary requirements that have allowed cities to prevent much needed homes in the areas where new development will produce the lowest greenhouse gas emissions while also making it harder to build in areas outside of cities that are at high risk for wildfire and flooding, as well as other climate risks.

AB 68 would mutually benefit California’s communities and ecosystems. By building more homes in climate-smart locations we can house people across the income spectrum—including service workers, young people, immigrants and refugees—in urban places close to jobs and services; and by making it harder to build in nature we protect the the many benefits our open spaces provide, including recreation, agricultural lands, wildfire buffer areas and groundwater recharge areas.

For decades in California, endless sprawl development across our natural landscapes has been the only way we’ve known development. In recent years our state has taken some important steps to increase production of multifamily housing in cities, yet existing rules and procedures still make building in fire zones and floodplains sometimes the easiest and most cost effective way. 

As extreme climate events increase in California, the impact of our traditional housing development will become more severe for communities and our natural resources. For the sustainable, equitable and affordable future that we need, we have to recognize that climate-smart development is key to addressing California’s housing crisis while preparing our communities, open spaces, and natural resources for a changing climate. 

AB 68 starts us down that path.

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