For Immediate Release, November 17, 2016
||Nina Erlich-Williams, Public Good PR, (415) 577-1153
Rod Webster, Sierra Club, (209) 723-4747
Rachel Hooper, Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, Sierra Club, (415) 552-7272
Kevin Bundy, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7100 x313, firstname.lastname@example.org
California's Merced County to Trim Sprawl, Cut Carbon Pollution
Transportation Plan Legal Settlement
Agreement Addresses Climate, Public Health, Loss of Agricultural Land
MERCED, Calif.— The Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity today announced the settlement of a lawsuit challenging the Merced County Association of Government’s (MCAG) October 2014 approval of a “regional transportation plan and sustainable communities strategy” (RTP). Under the settlement agreement, Merced officials will take measurable steps to reduce regional greenhouse gas pollution from transportation and land use.
“The RTP that the MCAG Board adopted fell far short of the greenhouse gas reduction levels required by the Valley Air Board,” said Rod Webster, chair of the Merced Group of the Sierra Club. “In a county with 56,000 asthma sufferers, in a region where sprawl is eating up our irreplaceable farmland and natural spaces, and in a world where the dire impacts of climate change are beginning to become frighteningly real, we need Merced County to do its part. To tackle such formidable challenges we will need the input and cooperation of all residents in addition to committed, informed leadership."
Regional governments like MCAG are required to update their regional transportation plans every four years. Starting in 2011, SB 375 required these plans to take the risks of climate change into account by encouraging transit-friendly development and reducing sprawl-style development. The Sierra Club and the Center sued over the environmental impact report that underpinned MCAG’s 2014 plan because it prioritized investments in highways over transit and failed to address concerns about public health and state climate mandates.
“Merced County wisely agreed to cut climate pollution by moving toward more thoughtful land use and better transportation planning,” said Kevin Bundy, a senior attorney with the Center. “Sprawl development and poor public transportation are major threats to California's efforts to fight climate change and protect the air we breathe.”
MCAG’s board of directors recently adopted an amendment to its 2014 RTP that helped address some the concerns outlined in the lawsuit. Specifically, the amendment:
- Increases investments in public transit, ride-sharing programs, bicycle and pedestrian-friendly enhancements and incentives for alternative fuel and electric vehicle use;
- Encourages land-use planning that promotes higher density and protects agricultural land;
- Re-evaluates the selection criteria for RTP projects with attention to the reduction of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions; and
- Commits to updating procedures to ensure that a broad cross-section of Merced County residents, including disadvantaged communities, will be engaged in community planning efforts.
Under the settlement, MCAG also has agreed to meet specific deadlines in the transportation plan amendment, explore opportunities to reduce the number of miles people have to travel by car, evaluate the significance of greenhouse gas emissions in light of the state’s long-term emission reduction goals in the next RTP update, mitigate loss of farmland, and further improve transparency and community involvement.
“MCAG has shown a genuine commitment to getting its transportation planning process right and moving Merced County toward a more sustainable future,” said Rachel Hooper, attorney with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, LLP, who represents the Sierra Club.
The settlement agreement has been officially accepted by MCAG’s board of directors, the Center and the Sierra Club and will now be submitted to the Merced County Superior Court for final approval. To set up interviews or to receive a copy of the settlement agreement, contact Nina Erlich-Williams at email@example.com.
The Center for Biological Diversity (www.biologicaldiversity.org) is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest grassroots environmental organization. It has more than 700,000 members nationwide, including more than 150,000 members in California and more than 240 members in Merced County (www.tehipitesierraclub.org).
Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger LLP (www.smwlaw.com), whose attorneys are lead petitioners’ counsel in the case, specializes in government, land use, natural resource and environmental law. Since 1980, the firm has provided representation to public agencies and community groups throughout California.