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'Smart Growth' crusade forges ahead amid critics calling science 'thin'

By Stephanie Hoops | May 26, 2008


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-Resolute amid criticism, California Attorney General Jerry Brown is continuing to promote dense urban living as way to combat global warming, and has added an extra community workshop purportedly to meet demand.

Five workshops have been presented to more than 700 attendees so far, in Oakland, Sacramento, Visalia, Los Angeles and Monterey.

A sixth Santa Barbara event was recently added to meet a need, according to Erin Connolly, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Local Government Commission (LGC), which is partnering with the AG's office to handle the events. She said just two people had signed up so far for that event, which takes place in August.

The addition comes amid questions about the science touted at the workshops. The alternative tabloid L.A. Weekly heavily criticized Brown and the LGC for using endorsing the "smart growth" philosophy -the idea that a walkable community with ready access to mass transit fights global warming.

"Nobody really knows whether Brown and his workshop leaders - all advocates of 'smart growth' - have an actual clue how to reduce emissions by tweaking housing-and-land-use plans," writes Greg Lucas. "Scientists studying global warming don't begin to agree on what kinds of housing and commercial development are worse - or better."

An accompanying story states that the science offered at the workshops is "thin" and quotes Andrea Sarzynski, a research analyst at the prestigious Washington D.C. think tank the Brookings Institute saying "there is no comprehensive study in existence" concerning the different types of land use.

Scientists, it goes on, are expressing "hope that an extensive, multidisciplinary study can be conducted before California and other areas make major land-use decisions that could waste billions, dramatically refashion people's lives and potentially fail even to dent global warming."

Deputy Attorney General Janill Richards, the coordinator for the global warming initiative, said she was familiar with the L.A. Weekly stories but cites two studies as proof that smart growth works.

They include "Growing Cooler: Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change" published by the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit education and research institute, and the California Air Pollution Control Officer's January 2008 white paper on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and climate change (CAPCOA paper).

When asked about Sarzynski's comment, Richards cites the "Growing Cooler" report.

"All I can say is that document went and did a survey of all the literature and I personally found that report, Growing Cooler, compelling because it tried to address all of the available literature," Richards said.

Another smart growth study she said the AG's office is relying on is the Environmental Protection Agency's "Measuring the Air Quality and Transportation Impacts of Infill Development."

"It certainly informs our opinion here in this office," she said.

Citing the same studies, LGC Project Manager Kate Wright, said they are the main resources being using to inform the workshops.

That said, she added when it comes to smart growth, "I wouldn't say the state sees it as the single answer."

Fuel efficiency and improved technology are also part of the discussion, she said.

The workshops are meant to help local governments avoid being sued under CEQA - like San Bernardino County was - for failing to remake their growth plans to account for greenhouse gases.

His staffers say they are impressed by the innovation they're seeing at the workshops. Richards said "for all of us it's been surprising how many local agencies are already dealing with this and have been dealing with it."

But she echoed an earlier warning from Brown's office that "we have the responsibility to litigate where it's appropriate."

If, however, "folks are making a good faith effort, there isn't a need to engage in litigation."

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