Housing and conservation can coexist and a new tool makes it more possible

By on October 4, 2021 0

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Southern California’s future economic vitality requires building an adequate housing supply that can accommodate a growing population. This should not come at the expense of protecting natural lands and open spaces. A vibrant future also requires ensuring that residents have the parks and the clean air and water needed to support healthy communities.

Beachgoers enjoy walking, talking, and flying kites at Crystal Cove State Park near Laguna Beach and Newport Beach.
Credit: Melanie Schlotterbeck, Friends of Ports, Beaches and Parks

A project led by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is an important step in planning for the region’s future. Known as SoCal Greenprint, the web-based tool converts more than 100 publicly available data sources into useful interactive maps of the region’s natural and built environment. The project has regularly received contributions from more than 60 agencies and organizations in the six counties of SCAG, as well as developers and builders, over the past 18 months.

SCAG is committed to creating a comprehensive mapping tool in its 2016 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy. Through the 2020 Plan, this commitment to build a mapping tool has been formalized as a mitigation measure in environmental documents. SCAG staff began developing the SoCal Greenprint in January 2020 to deliver on this promise. This resource, scheduled to launch in fall 2021, was suspended on July 1 by the SCAG regional council to address recent concerns raised by the construction industry that the tool could create obstacles to future development. , although the development of free, optional, to-use Greenprint software does not create any new rules or regulations.

There is a misconception that building an adequate supply of housing and being good stewards of the environment are conflicting priorities, as opponents of SoCal Greenprint try to argue. Groups across the region are urging SCAG decision-makers to keep the project on track, meet the requirements set out in SCAG’s environmental plans and documents, and ensure this valuable tool is completed on time.

View of a hilltop park in South Orange County showing the integration of coastal parks, housing, golf courses and transportation corridors. Credit: Melanie Schlotterbeck, Friends of Ports, Beaches and Parks

According to a 2019 report from the Orange County Business Council, for every 2.1 new jobs planned for the county, a home will be built. At this rate, the county is expected to run out of 114,031 housing units by 2045, which is particularly problematic for low-income residents at a time when the economy is creating more low-wage service jobs than any other sector. other category.

At the same time, 64% of Orange County residents live in areas with less than the national standard of three acres of park space per 1,000 residents. Worse yet, 11% of residents live more than half a mile from a park, which means it’s harder for them to enjoy the benefits nature offers, especially during a pandemic.

The SoCal Greenprint takes existing data and synthesizes it to create a more complete picture of the possibilities of incorporating nature into the planning of an area. Using this tool, developers and city officials will be able to easily assess the conservation and development opportunities available to design a sustainable and resilient region, especially knowing the climate challenges ahead: hot days, drought. , coastal erosion and fires.

The houses in this neighborhood of Yorba Linda have experienced many forest fires as they were built in an area with a very high fire risk. Credit: Bob Kanne

The SoCal Greenprint supports better planning by displaying different layers of data simultaneously in an easy-to-use map format. For example, a landowner who wishes to consider the future of their property could access crucial information such as zoning and land use designations, proximity to water features, important plants and animals, and parks or trails nearby. The map also includes basic information such as the location of fault lines, flood plains, agricultural resources, areas prone to forest fires, potential sea level rise, the jurisdictions of river basin districts and the geographies of atmospheric basins. This meaningful information could help a landowner determine what is possible on their property, whether that is selling for conservation or proposing development. This decision is still protected by private property rights. The Greenprint does not limit the property rights of landowners.

Access to information and the transparency of the process enable decision-makers, developers and landowners to build healthy and sustainable communities that include the housing and parks that residents need. As advocates, we, along with SCAG, must work with home builders to ensure that the Greenprint is a tool that facilitates the development of much needed housing, while simultaneously enabling land conservation with willing sellers.

This multi-purpose project in Brea includes a medical facility, an apartment complex and two condominium complexes, one of which has 20 affordable units. Credit: Melanie Schlotterbeck, Friends of Ports, Beaches and Parks

There are a growing number of diverse voices urging our regional leaders to build more housing in our inner cities close to public transit and at appropriate densities needed to address the housing shortage without compromising the natural resources that make of our region one of the most beautiful and richest in biodiversity. in the world. I hope that SCAG’s leadership will give the stakeholders who are building our future the tools they need to help Southern California meet its housing and environmental needs and give residents a healthy future and dynamic they deserve.

Melanie Schlotterbeck is a consultant for Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks, a conservation organization based in Orange County.

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