Can State and Regional Efforts Change Local Land Use Planning and Reduce Sprawl?

California’s SB 375 creates new expectations for the performance of land use. The law tasks regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) with developing land use strategies that, when paired with supportive transportation investments, will reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A fundamental challenge with this approach is that in California (as with many other states) land use authority is held by local governments, not MPOs. Individual cities and counties make the final decision when it comes to how land development occurs and whether it might reduce or intensify automobile reliance.

SB 375 highlights the complex relationship between upstream land use policy and downstream impacts. It raises salient questions regarding the ability of state or regionally crafted policies to influence local land use plans, policies, and outcomes; and how to observe policy impact and land use change over time.

This policy brief summarizes findings and recommendations from a study on these challenges.