Stockton Agrees to Halt Sprawl, Cut Greenhouse Gases

STOCKTON, California, September 17, 2008 (ENS) - The central California city of Stockton has agreed to identify and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging downtown growth instead of allowing development to sprawl. The city will cut down on emissions by constructing thousands of new residential units within its current city limits, putting a rapid transit bus system in place and requiring all new buildings to be energy efficient.

On September 9, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced the terms of the landmark agreement that will settle a lawsuit brought against the central California city by the Sierra Club.

"We cannot reach our statewide greenhouse gas reduction targets without the cooperation of our largest and fastest growing cities," said Brown. "Stockton has shown leadership on this issue, enabling us to work together to meet our targets for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This agreement is a critical part of California's effort to address climate change."

This agreement comes after the city issued a Draft Environmental Impact Report for its General Plan that outlined how the city would manage its growth through 2035.

The report, issued in December 2007, estimated that by 2035, Stockton's population would reach 580,000, an increase of almost 50 percent.

In January 2008, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit to block Stockton's General Plan, claiming that it failed to address the amount of greenhouse gases the city would emit into an already heavily polluted San Joaquin Valley.

The Attorney General's Office entered into negotiations with Stockton earlier this year, citing concerns about the General Plan and the need to evaluate greenhouse gas reduction impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act.

"We are grateful that the attorney general came to Stockton and became involved in the city's growth plan. The settlement represents a huge step forward for good planning that should slow down sprawl at the fringe of the city and reduce the increase in greenhouse gases due to new growth," said Dale Stocking, an executive committee member of the Sierra Club's Mother Lode Chapter.

"The city's commitment to adopt comprehensive green building standards and provide developer funding for a transit system should reduce vehicle trips and make Stockton a leader in the Central Valley and the state," he said.

Under a California law passed in 2006, the state is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

In 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order requiring an additional reduction of emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Currently, California generates approximately 500 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, a number that is above 1990 levels. To achieve the 2020 target, California must reduce current emissions by at least 10 percent, said Brown.

"We appreciate the collaboration with the Attorney General's Office; this is a win-win situation in which we can address environmentally sensitive issues," said Stockton Mayor Edward Chavez.

"Certainly, the attorney general and his staff have been tremendous in getting this agreement put together," the mayor said. "It will be a model that can be replicated in other communities."

Located about 90 miles inland of San Francisco in the agricultural Central Valley, Stockton has experienced a population boom over the past decade as thousands of people have settled here to escape the relatively high cost of living in the Bay Area.

To reduce sprawl under the agreement, the city will construct nearly 18,000 new home units within the current city limits, including 4,400 units to be built in downtown Stockton. The city will adopt green building regulations to ensure that new buildings are energy-efficient, conserve water and are built with eco-friendly materials.

Any new development in the city will have to be transit-friendly, and new commercial and residential development will be located near mass-transit stops.

Though new development will continue at city outskirts, the city agreed to phase it in gradually. Before approving new developments, the city will demonstrate that the projects will not undermine downtown Stockton and will complement existing commercial and residential zones.

Stockton is not the first California government to attract the attention of the attorney general over environmental concerns. San Bernardino County, Solano County, Tulare County, the city of San Diego, as well as regional transportation plans, refineries, cement plants, dairy expansions, and other large projects have also been challenged..

On their own, many California communities have begun to initiate measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including Fresno, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sonoma County, Santa Monica, Berkeley, Marin County, Palo Alto, Chula Vista and Modesto.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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