Building Planner Commitment: Are Oregon’s SB 1059 & California’s SB 375 Models for Climate-Change Mitigation?

Keith Bartholomew, University of Utah



Oregon’s Sustainable Transportation Initiative (SB 1059) and California’s Sustainable Communities Act (SB 375) have made them the first states in the nation to try and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions using the transportation-planning process. Evaluating how these pioneering laws have changed local planning processes – as well as plans themselves – in each state provides insight into the laws’ effectiveness at changing development patterns in a way that reduces GHG emissions, without waiting decades to see the effects in the built environment. Both states’ laws require metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and the municipalities that comprise them to plan development scenarios that reduce per capita GHG emissions from private automobiles. The emissions-reductions targets for each metro are determined through negotiation with state agencies and are updated periodically. Planning researchers (Burby et al., 1997) categorize laws like these as state planning mandates because they require local-level governments to incorporate state-specified goals into their plans. A host of empirical studies (Berke & French, 1994; Bunnell & Jepson, 2011; Burby & Dalton, 1994; Burby & May, 1998; Burby, 2005; Burby et al., 1993; Dalton & Burby, 1994; Hoch, 2007; May, 1993) suggest that the structure of state planning mandates, particularly the way their “carrots” and “sticks” encourage full adoption of the mandate’s goals and objectives or allow for just minimal compliance – are key to their success in changing development patterns. This is because greater planner commitment tends to result in higher quality local plans and better plan implementation (Alterman & Hill, 1978; Berke & French, 1994; Berke & Godschalk, 2009; Berke, 1996; Brody & Highfield, 2005; Brody, 2003; Laurian et al., 2004; Talen, 1996), effectively acting as a multiplier that increases the plan’s influence on the built environment and other development outcomes. Therefore, we believe that evaluating the degree to which state planning mandates in California and Oregon have changed local planning documents and practices is the best available indicator of how the mandates will influence development patterns in the future. Furthermore, tracing how the mandates affect decisions made by local planners informs the suitability of California and Oregon’s planning mandates to serve as a model for policy in other states, or at the national or international scale. This study fits the NITC themes of taking long-term action on transportation emissions and climate change and integrating multimodal transportation and land use. 

We will employ content analysis to evaluate SB 375 and SB 1059’s influence on long-range transportation plans (LRTPs) produced by MPOs and on general plans produced by municipalities, then build case studies to elucidate how the mandates affected decisions at individual planning agencies. Conducting content analyses of LRTPs approved before and after the planning mandates took effect will produce scores that allow us to compare how much the plans have changed due to the laws. It will also allow us to group MPOs based on their performance and identify characteristics of the metro areas they represent that predict their scores. For instance, some LRTPs may shift from a weak focus on emissions reduction to a strong focus, while others may have a strong focus both before and after the planning mandates took effect. We will conduct similar content analyses assessing before-and-after changes in a sample of municipal general/comprehensive plans. The sample of cities will be selected to represent each category of MPOs we identify in the first step. Finally, we will conduct a series of semi-structured interviews with planners and public officials in a purposefully selected sample of planning agencies to determine how the mandates influenced their decisions. Building case studies in this way will allow us to ascertain which aspects of the laws are working as intended and which are not and answer whether the laws can serve as models for climate change-mitigation policy. 

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
End Date:
June 30,2017
UTC Grant Cycle:
Natl Round 2
UTC Funding:

Other Products

  • Can State-Planning Mandates Influence MPOs? Evidence from California and Oregon (PRESENTATION)