SB 9 needs amendments to help – not harm – California’s low-income communities

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 Brandon MatthewsUPDATE 7/1/2015: SB 9 was amended to remove the provision limiting TIRCP funds to projects of over $100 million.  We would still like to see the provision prioritizing projects with additional non-state funding removed.  Please email state leaders now and urge them to support SB 9 if amended to make that change.

Last week, the Senate passed a set of bills – mostly good ones – under the banner of fighting climate change.  Now headed to the California Assembly, these bills include extended greenhouse gas reduction targets (SB 32), as well as targets for improving energy efficiency, increasing renewable resources, and reducing our use of fossil fuels (SB 350). 

Unfortunately, one bill in particular stands out with two restrictions that would drastically discourage and further harm our poor and working-class neighborhoods.  This bill is SB 9, by Senator Jim Beall of San José.

SB 9 needs two big changes

The bill is designed to modify a pot of money for transit projects funded by cap–and-trade dollars. This pot of money (called the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program, or TIRCP) automatically receives 10% of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund each year, and it is managed as a competitive fund. Agencies throughout the state can apply and compete for this money based on a number of criteria, including greenhouse gas reduction potential. Additionally, at least 25% of TIRCP funds must benefit disadvantaged communities.

Most of SB 9’s proposed changes to this pot are fine, such as adding a couple of additional eligible projects and allowing for multi-year investments. However, two proposed changes would have terrible outcomes for most regions of the state, in particular disadvantaged and poor, working-class communities. 

Specifically, these proposals would:

  • require that 70% of TIRCP go only to projects over $100 million, and
  • give priority to projects receiving significant non-state funding.

These two provisions have absolutely nothing to do with greenhouse gas reductions, but they would have a depressing effect on the ability for most communities to compete for the funds, particularly disadvantaged communities who need smaller bus, bike, and pedestrian access, safety, and service improvements to their transit systems. 

Also, since the term, “benefits” to disadvantaged communities is still fairly vague, we are concerned that these restrictions would also lead to applicants trying to shoehorn in their projects as “benefiting” disadvantaged communities, so as to be eligible for what little money remains after the big projects have taken their over-sized portion.

When it comes to greenhouse gas reductions, size doesn't matter

It is well-documented that a project’s size does not correlate to its ability to provide real benefits, including greenhouse gas reductions.  In fact, there appears to be a closer correlation with smaller projects’ net benefits to neighborhoods, communities, safety, and the environment. 

For example, in the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Project Performance Analysis, two of the top five most beneficial projects MTC identified came in under $100 million, and two more “projects” were composites of multiple projects, many of them also under $100 million.  In contrast, of the fifteen least beneficial projects, all but one cost over $100 million.

By applying an arbitrary size limit to projects, SB 9 would render ineligible those many smaller projects that we know reap far greater GHG reductions per dollar invested.

A size limit would also severely disadvantage those communities that don’t need major, region-wide projects to dramatically increase their levels of transit ridership.  In most of the state, including the Central Valley and Southern California, modest improvements in service, accessibility, and safety can  incentivize public transportation as a real alternative for many working Californians, especially for those earning less than a living wage.

No other funding for your project? Get to the back of the line

The other proposal in SB 9 that would severely limit disadvantaged and other poor communities from competing for TIRCP dollars is the stipulation to  “prioritize projects that receive significant funding from ‘nonstate sources.’”

This requirement would effectively push many disadvantaged communities to the bottom of the list for funding, simply because they lack enough funding from sources other than the State of California.  It would turn the good policy to require 25% funding to disadvantaged communities on its head.  For the remaining 75% of funds, other disadvantaged communities who lack non-state sources of funding will find their projects given less priority, even if they would be willing to move other state sources of funding into these good projects.

What’s next?

Over the next few weeks, SB 9 will be heard in the Assembly Transportation and Appropriations committees. TransForm continues to work to get the proper amendments into SB 9 to eliminate its negative impacts.

But we need your help!

Please, let your Assemblymember know that you oppose SB 9 in its current form.

California’s leaders have made great strides in ensuring that we effectively reduce greenhouse gases in ways that benefit all Californians.  We can keep up this momentum by removing these two proposals from SB 9.


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