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Sustainability and Regionalism in the Los Angeles Region: Insights from the 2012 Regional Plan and Collaborative Process

  • Author(s): Tsai, Oscar Wenhau
  • Advisor(s): Garde, Ajay
  • et al.

The main purpose of this research is to examine the regional planning process and product that will influence future development in Southern California. In 2012, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) unanimously adopted the Los Angeles region's first long-term regional plan that intends to reduce carbon emissions by integrating land use and transportation planning. Known as the 2012-2035 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy (2012 RTP/SCS), the plan calls itself “a shared vision for the region’s sustainable future.” The 2012 RTP/SCS represents the first major step towards a regional approach to sustainable planning in Southern California, where regional planning has historically been challenged by factors such as political fragmentation and strong local autonomy. To develop the plan, SCAG was required by California's Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, also known as Senate Bill 375 (SB 375), to implement an extensive cooperative planning process intended to include a variety of stakeholders. This process allowed stakeholders to effectively advocate for mutually beneficial policy objectives by forming a coalition, which according to the literature can become an urban regime if it establishes long-term dominance. Using a qualitative approach, this research examines: 1) the extent to which the 2012 RTP/SCS promotes principles of sustainable development; 2) how urban regimes might have influenced the development of the regional plan; and 3) the barriers and channels to a regional approach to planning for sustainability. Through an analysis of interviews, observations, and regional planning documents, the findings reveal that the 2012 RTP/SCS generally offers benefits for nearly all stakeholders through stronger sustainable development policies, economic and employment growth, and the preservation of local control. SB 375 gave SCAG more responsibilities and strengthened its role in regional planning and gave stakeholders the opportunity for unified engagement in the planning process. A coalition of stakeholders focused on principles of sustainable development shifted the regional planning discourse away from traditional transportation and economic improvement issues. This research suggests that a form of “regime regionalism” can effectively address complex challenges of sustainability if partners remain committed to the vision towards a sustainable Los Angeles region.

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