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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Pritzker Briefs

The Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment is the leading law school center focused on climate change and other critical environmental issues. Founded in 2008 with a generous gift from Dan A. Emmett and his family, the Institute works across disciplines to develop and promote research and policy tools useful to decision makers locally, statewide, nationally and beyond. Our Institute serves as a premier source of environmental legal scholarship, nonpartisan expertise, policy analysis, and training.

Cover page of Los Angeles’s Transit-Oriented Communites Program: Challenges and Opportunities

Los Angeles’s Transit-Oriented Communites Program: Challenges and Opportunities


In recent years, municipalities throughout California have struggled to meet housing needs, and construction of new housing units in the state has not kept apace of demand, resulting in increased housing costs that rank among the highest in the nation. At the same time, California faces pressure to achieve ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals in the relatively near term. Meeting those goals will require significant decreases in transportation sector emissions, which represent about 40 percent of the state’s GHG emissions. Particularly impacted by both the affordability and climate change crises are low-income Californians, whose communities suffer disproportionate impacts from lack of housing availability and vulnerability to climate change—and who also are California’s most reliable transit riders.

Lawmakers seeking to tackle both housing and greenhouse gas reduction goals have turned to transit-oriented development programs—zoning programs that promote increased housing density close to mass transit options like bus and rail—as one way to address both issues. This paper focuses on one such transit-oriented development program, the City of Los Angeles’ Transit Oriented Communities Affordable Housing Incentive Program (TOC Program). The TOC Program offers density and other development incentives to projects within a half-mile radius of major transit stops, in exchange for developer commitments to provide a set percentage of deed-restricted affordable housing units within those projects.

The TOC Program has been a major driver of affordable housing production in the City of Los Angeles since its adoption in late 2017, but certain structural and legal constraints may be impeding its full capacity to augment affordable housing supply. This paper explores those potential constraints and offers recommendations to increase the program’s efficacy. It also explores how the program can provide data and lessons learned to lawmakers considering similar inclusionary transit-oriented development programs within their jurisdictions, or even at the state level.

Cover page of The California Coastal Commission: Increasing Transparency, Accountability, and Opportunities for Effective Public Participation

The California Coastal Commission: Increasing Transparency, Accountability, and Opportunities for Effective Public Participation


The California Coastal Commission is a state agency whose mission is to preserve and manage the state's coast. Its decisions regarding planning and development implement core state policies and determine individual legal rights. Both the perception and the reality of a fair, just, and accessible process is crucial to maintaining public confidence in the Commission's decision-making.

This Pritzker Brief analyzes the processes and procedures that the Commission utilizes in making certain types of important decisions, called "quasi-judicial decisions." The Commission makes these types of decisions often, for example in reviewing coastal development permit applications, certifying local coastal programs, and reviewing the activities of the federal government to assess whether those activities are consistent with California law. The article identifies opportunities and recommends strategies to improve the transparency and fairness of the Commission's processes and procedures.

Cover page of Ensuring Safe Drinking Water In Los Angeles County’s Small Water Systems

Ensuring Safe Drinking Water In Los Angeles County’s Small Water Systems


California has set laudable goals for ensuring that all residents have access to clean, affordable drinking water. Though the state has taken steps toward achieving these goals, they remain largely aspirational for many communities, particularly those that depend on small water systems in Los Angeles County and throughout California.

This paper addresses challenges faced by small water systems in L.A. County in providing safe and affordable drinking water to customers. These include limited financial and personnel resources as well as reduced access to alternative water sources. Small water systems are particularly vulnerable to groundwater contamination and often struggle with regulatory compliance. As a result, they have a higher percentage of water quality problems and higher rates of noncompliance than larger systems.

Small water systems’ lack of economies of scale often means that consumers pay more for water from small systems than from larger systems. Despite state efforts to provide funding and management assistance for small systems, small water systems often struggle with acquiring grants and loans, especially for operations and maintenance.

This paper provides recommendations for helping small water systems become more resilient. California should pursue: (1) improved data collection and dissemination essential to tracking small water systems; (2) greater use of the Water Board’s current authority to pursue water system consolidations, along with an increase in the scope of that authority and more funding to support consolidation; and (3) greater funding for small water system operations and maintenance, infrastructural improvements, and disaster planning.

Cover page of Controlling Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Transport Fuels: The Performance and Prospect of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard

Controlling Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Transport Fuels: The Performance and Prospect of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard


California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) is an ambitious, innovative, and controversial policy that controls greenhouse-gas emissions associated with transport fuels – a large emissions source mostly neglected by prior climate policies, with unique technical challenges of uncertainty, long time-horizons, and network effects, that hinder its response to economy-wide emissions-pricing policies. The LCFS was introduced in 2011 as one measure to pursue the goal of California's landmark 2006 climate law, returning emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. LCFS regulations were revised in 2015 and further changes are now proposed for 2019, under a new statutory target for state emissions 40 percent below 1990 by 2030.

Now in effect for seven years, the LCFS is a major element of California's climate policy. It has survived early legal challenges suffering only some implementation delays, and has generated large expansions of alternative fuel supply and significant reductions in overall carbon intensity in California's fuel markets. Yet the policy remains controversial and faces continuing legal challenges and policy critiques of its effectiveness, cost, and legality.

This paper provides a critical review of the LCFS, particularly regarding challenges likely to arise in pursuing deeper cuts after 2020. It is based in part on discussions at a 2015 workshop held at the Emmett Institute at UCLA School of Law, which sought to bring the LCFS to broader attention among environmental law scholars and identify key legal and policy design challenges moving forward. The paper draws on the workshop's background paper and discussions, but is substantially extended based on more recent developments and further research.

Cover page of Overcoming Organizational Barriers to Carbon Neutrality: Lessons from the UC Experience

Overcoming Organizational Barriers to Carbon Neutrality: Lessons from the UC Experience


In 2013, University of California President Janet Napolitano announced one of the most ambitious environmental programs in the country, the Carbon Neutrality Initiative. The CNI sets a goal to reach net zero carbon emissions from the system’s 10 campuses by 2025.

Though we often think of the need for scientific and technological breakthroughs to achieve carbon neutrality, UC is finding that at least as important are insights into organizational behavior, communications strategy, and operations management.Our focus in this Pritzker brief is on lessons the UC system is learning as it implements its carbon neutrality goal. We believe that these lessons will be invaluable for other organizations as they work to reduce or eliminate their emissions.

Organizations seeking to become carbon neutral need to evaluate and overcome financial and management challenges, not just technical barriers. They will need to understand their organizations intimately, and institute multiple organizational changes and new policies and practices to ensure that carbon neutrality becomes a reality.

Cover page of Legal Risks and Timeline Associated with Increasing Surface Water Storage in California

Legal Risks and Timeline Associated with Increasing Surface Water Storage in California


In California, surface water storage has become a hot topic. California's recent drought has fueled the discussion, with a number of agricultural interests forcefully arguing that the state needs to store more water. Their efforts have been successful, and California's water bond, Proposition 1, has earmarked $2.7 billion for the public benefits of storage projects.

There are now dozens of proposals for Proposition 1 funding, including twenty projects that incorporate surface storage, varying in size and location from large CALFED projects supported by federal and state funding to smaller, local projects. On average, the eligible large CALFED projects seek ten times the amount of funding as the small local/regional projects.

While there has been a great deal of research and debate over the environmental impacts and cost effectiveness of surface water storage projects, there has been little consideration of the more fundamental question of their practical feasibility—in particular, the time required from project initiation to completion. This is critically important, for it will determine when and if these projects actually make a difference to water users. This report fills that gap, detailing the time commitment associated with designing, analyzing, and implementing recent major surface water storage projects.

Our key finding is that most major surface water storage projects seriously considered since 2000 have not been completed and may never be. Among the eight projects evaluated in California since 2000, only two have been completed. Both of those expanded already existing storage facilities and still required about twelve years for permitting, approvals, and planning, followed by about two years for project construction. Including the other CALFED projects still under consideration, recent major surface storage projects have required almost fifteen years (and counting) for the permitting and analysis phase. No new major surface storage facility has been constructed in the state during this timeframe, despite millions spent on feasibility studies and environmental documentation.

These long project timelines reflect the multiple assessments and permitting requirements necessary to ensure the feasibility, safety, and financial viability of the storage facilities. Many different laws and political/financial concerns contribute to the long timelines, meaning that there is no silver bullet for shortening schedules. And it would be inadvisable for other reasons to remove any of these requirements.

Long timelines for recent large surface storage projects suggest that future major projects will likely follow similarly lengthy schedules. The California Water Commission should explicitly account for the practical timelines and requirements for a project to move from proposal to completion as it decides how to allocate Proposition 1 funding among storage projects.

Cover page of Tracking Coastal Adaptation: Implementing California's Innovative Sea Level Rise Planning Database

Tracking Coastal Adaptation: Implementing California's Innovative Sea Level Rise Planning Database


This policy brief offers recommendations regarding implementation of A.B. 2516, which directs the California Natural Resources Agency and Ocean Protection Council to develop an online database of actions taken across the state to plan for sea level rise. The authors and contributors to these recommendations collectively bring expertise in coastal law, climate change adaptation, program evaluation, and survey research.These recommendations may be useful to other states, policymakers, researchers, and private entities seeking to enhance the compilation, publication, and analysis of information about climate change adaptation.

Cover page of Back in the Fast Lane: How to Speed Public Transit Planning & Construction in California

Back in the Fast Lane: How to Speed Public Transit Planning & Construction in California


Inefficient regulatory policies and poor construction management have caused the overall expenses and the duration of major public transit projects in California to climb at an alarming rate. This paper, the sixth in the Emmett Institute's Pritzker Brief series, examines some of the causes of planning and construction delays, identifies flaws in current construction policy and offers steps to be taken in order to prioritize public health and safety. To ensure that public funds are put to appropriate use and negligent planning is avoided, the report provides a set of recommendations to promote proper development and implementation of public transit in heavily populated metropolitan areas.

Cover page of Stemming the Tide of Plastic Marine Litter: A Global Action Agenda

Stemming the Tide of Plastic Marine Litter: A Global Action Agenda


An estimated 20 million tons of plastic litter enters the ocean each year. This litter has a wide range of adverse environmental and economic impacts, from wildlife deaths and degraded coral reefs to billions of dollars in cleanup costs, damage to sea vessels, and lost tourism and fisheries revenues. Despite increased attention to the problem and general agreement about the need for reduction and cleanup of marine plastic litter, there is presently no overarching action plan that would effectively address the problem.This paper, fifth in the Emmett Center's Pritzker Brief series, reviews the universe of studies, policies and international agreements relevant to the problem and provides a suite of recommendations to achieve meaningful reductions in plastic marine litter by the year 2025.

Cover page of Allocating Under Water: Reforming California's Groundwater Adjudications

Allocating Under Water: Reforming California's Groundwater Adjudications


California gets about 30 percent of its total water supply from groundwater.  Overdraft threatens California’s continued access to this scarce resource, and the state does not presently have an effective way of allocating and managing groundwater.  In this paper, the fourth in the Emmett Center's Pritzker Brief Series, Rhead Enion evaluates the adjudicatory process used to resolve groundwater use disputes in California, and recommends a number of reforms that could be implemented by the legislature or courts to address problems in the adjudication and post-adjudication management of groundwater resources.