Valley smart growth called for by American Lung Association in California

Way back when (in this case “when” being Nov. 8, 2012), in “Conferees fail to reach consensus at San Joaquin Valley clean air workshop,” I contended: “Due to meteorological and topographical conditions, pollution that’s created in the San Joaquin Valley – or that which blows in from other areas – frequently gets trapped. Mountain barriers to the west, south and east can effectively corral pollution and this is often what happens. Since much pollution entering the air can be attributable to transportation, industrial, residential and agricultural-related activities, there are effective ways to mitigate this pollution. Efficient use of land such as in limiting development to locations within existing SOI [sphere-of-influence] boundaries can have a huge impact. …”

“Meanwhile, changing land use patterns from one of horizontal, expansive growth (read: “sprawl”) to more urban core-centered vertical, condensed, mixed-use building, enables the redirection of development away from precious agricultural lands to, say, downtowns, where there is strong potential to breed new life into such places making them highly appealing to Generation Y’ers or Millenials and empty nesters, as such neighborhoods are often a draw due to their more pedestrian-oriented – “walkable,” “bikable,” and “public-transit-friendly” – qualities. And that these neighborhoods typically are this way, the demand to drive is typically lower, vehicle travel miles are thus less and consequently fewer pollutants are pumped into the air.”

Well, it would appear in this regard that the American Lung Association in California and I are both on the same page.

On Mar. 18th, the American Lung Association in California in “American Lung Association in California Releases New Report on Sustainable Growth for Healthier Neighborhoods in the San Joaquin Valley,” writes: “The Public Health Crossroads reports offer fresh data on public health benefits that smarter, more compact and walkable development would bring to the San Joaquin Valley, whose residents live with some of the worst air pollution problems in the country. The reports quantify the benefits that residents in San Joaquin, Fresno and Kern could experience if leaders plan for communities that are more walkable and interconnected with existing neighborhoods and commercial centers. Potential savings in health costs adds up to $139 million in Kern County, $83 million in Fresno County and $47 million in San Joaquin County.”

The association offered several recommended specifics, such as: 1) adopting practices centered on sustainable development as opposed to furthering the “status-quo” planning and building model in communities; 2) prioritizing investments in growth and transportation concentrating on city cores and downtowns instead of outside cities’ existing spheres of influence that tend to encroach on precious farm and ranchland and crucial natural resources; 3) promoting city-centered development and redevelopment with a transit tie-in – also known as transit-oriented development or TOD – with living and public transit options available for persons of every income level; 4) investing with a “fix-it-first” or maintenance focus compared to new road building, for example; etc.

The American Lung Association in California has it correct in my view. Implementation in the Valley of some or all of those recommendations, on the other hand, remains to be seen. As it relates the importance of keeping an open mind is paramount.

Smart Growth, Emeryville, Calif.
Smart Growth, Emeryville, Calif.

And as pointed out in the association release, “The American Lung Association in California calls on local leaders to make health improvement a key priority in this process by moving away from business-as-usual planning and toward a healthier vision that will save money and lives.”

Turning a guiding tenet such as this into action, like changing potential into kinetic energy, there is every reason to believe much in the Valley will be gained. On the other hand, in perpetuating the status quo or even less meaning doing nothing at all, all I can say is: expect little change, if that.

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