San Jose's Traffic-Intense General Plan Held Unlawful

The California Clean Energy Committee has successfully over-turned the City of San Jose General Plan due to the failure to adequately analyze impacts resulting from a lack of housing for people employed in the city.  The City's recent update of its general plan would require 109,000 additional housing units to be built elsewhere in the region for employees working in San Jose.

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) described the effect of that kind of planning in its 2007-2014 Regional Housing Needs Plan—

In the Bay Area, as in many metropolitan areas, cities with employment centers have historically planned for insufficient housing to match job growth.  This lack of housing has escalated Bay Area housing costs.  Unmet housing demand has also pushed housing production to the edges of our region and to outlying areas.  San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and San Benito counties have produced much of the housing needed for Bay Area workers.  People moving to these outlying areas has led to longer commutes on increasingly congested freeways and inefficient use of public transportation infrastructure and land.  Negative impacts on health, equity, air quality, the environment and overall quality of life in the Bay Area also result.

The City conceded that it is “very apparent” in the Bay Area that “it is the physical relationship between the location of housing and jobs . . . that significantly contributes to several of the primary impacts of concern in the region, particularly air pollution and the excessive consumption of energy and land resulting from an inefficient sprawling land-use pattern.”

In short, the proposed general plan update means more sprawl, more traffic, more costly regional transportation projects, more noise, more land consumed by transportation structures, greater contributions to climate disruption, more maintenance obligations for stretched government budgets, more air pollution, more transportation expense for individuals, more time consumed sitting in traffic, and less time for family and leisure.

Moreover, the City has no plan in place to pay for the costs of dealing with the traffic its plan would produce.

The City exhausted an innovative set of planning tools just trying to keep pace with the impacts from new traffic generated by its general plan update. Despite those efforts, the City still fell considerably short of even holding off new adverse impacts. 

According to the City, ”Traffic and the environmental effects of traffic, such as air pollution, noise, and greenhouse gases resulting from induced population growth in other jurisdictions will result in significant environmental impacts.” 

The California Legislature has enacted legislation in an effort to  this kind of local planning and to ensure that communities are designed to reduce the amount of driving that people need to do to carry on their daily activities. (See Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008.) 

The California Air Resources Board has set a target, calling for a 4 percent reduction in per capita vehicle miles traveled (VMT), to be achieved through improved local planning.  The City of San José now proposes to head dramatically in the opposite direction.  Its proposed general plan would increase daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT) from 19.8 million to 34.8 million by 2035. (See Final Program EIR at 882.)

Even if the effect of population growth is factored out, the City’s general plan update still represents a dramatic 32% increase in per capita VMT.

The City, relying on faulty advice from the Bay Area AQMD, failed to disclose the impact on GHG emissions resulting from lack of adequate housing and increased traffic.

The California Supreme Court has made it quite clear that ignoring such impacts “results in an ‘illusory’ comparison that ‘can only mislead the public as to the reality of the impacts and subvert full consideration of the actual environmental impacts,’ a result at direct odds with CEQA’s intent.” (Communities for a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management District (2010) 48 Cal.4th 310.)

Order Re Petition for Writ of Mandate

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