• Air District Releases Final Land-Use Planning Guidance Document

  • The Bay Area Air Quality Management District released the final version of its guidance document titled Planning Healthy Places. The District describes the document as a guidebook for addressing local sources of air pollutants in community planning (i.e., issues related to siting residential development near "sources" of existing air pollutants such as major roadways), with the purpose "to encourage local governments to address and minimize potential air quality issues in the land use planning process, and to provide technical tools to assist them in doing so."

    The District's activity in this area is related to the major controversy surrounding its prior effort to address these planning issues through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The District's use of CEQA in this manner led to building industry litigation against the District that ultimately resulted in a landmark California Supreme Court decision in 2015 holding that the impacts of the existing environment on proposed projects--such as existing air quality on future residents of a housing project--are as a general rule not required to be addressed in CEQA.

    Throughout that litigation, the building industry and others argued that issues relating to the siting of residential development are quintessential planning and zoning issues that should be addressed in that context--rather than in the litigation roulette wheel that is CEQA.

    The District summarizes the Planning Healthy Places approach as follows:
    Planning Healthy Places recommends three primary strategies: (1) reduce or prevent emissions from pollution source(s) when possible; (2) implement best practices where appropriate to reduce exposure to harmful pollutants; and (3) perform a more detailed study of an area when necessary. These recommendations are all described in detail in the following section. A flowchart (pg. 13) and an interactive map are available to assist in identifying where best practices and further study should be applied. The locations shown in purple on the Air District’s mapping tool represent where the Air District recommends implementing best practices. The locations shown in blue on the mapping tool represent where the Air District recommends conducting further study. See Figure 2 on pg. 10 for an example of the map, and visit www.baaqmd.gov/planninghealthyplaces for the complete map.

    BIA Bay Area met with the District to discuss the content of the document and share its recommendations and concerns. The final document addresses BIA Bay Area's top concerns: (1) it states that it is a guidance document that contains recommendations to local governments and does not purport have independent regulatory effect; (2) it focuses on the importance of the "feasibility" of the identified best practices; and (3) it recognizes that exposure to existing sources of emissions is one of many important and sometimes competing policy issues local governments must consider in making planning and zoning decisions relating to new housing. BIA is particularly pleased that the final document states that: "The Air District aknowledges that local land use decisions are complicated and many factors need to be considered and balanced. The Air District simply encourages local governments to consider air quality along with other public health elements when making land use decisions."

    Click here for a copy of the final guidance document.