Sustainable Cities efforts may get a boost from bill

A federal bill that would provide additional financial clout to an effort to promote sustainable development, cut greenhouse gas emissions and revitalize downtown districts across the country has passed a major hurdle in the U.S. Senate.

The Senate Banking Committee passed the Livable Communities Act, or S. 1619, on Tuesday by a vote of 12 to 10 along party lines. The measure, which was sponsored by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. and chairman of the committee, has been recommended for consideration by the Senate as a whole.

“The needs of our citizens are evolving, and the way we plan for the future must evolve as well. This legislation is a significant step in that evolution,” Dodd said at a hearing Tuesday.

“This legislation provides for planning and capital grants so that regions can coordinate transportation, housing, and community development policies to reduce traffic congestion, generate economic growth, create and preserve affordable housing, and meet environmental and energy goals."

The bill is meant promote sustainable development and enable communities to cut traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption, protect farmland and green spaces, revitalize existing Main Streets and urban centers, spur economic development and create more affordable housing. Proponents say it would improve coordination between housing, community development, transportation, energy and environmental policies to help create better places to live, work and raise families.

Rollie Smith, field office director of U.S. Housing & Urban Development in Fresno, said the measure is the authorization bill for the Sustainable Communities Initiative, which is a cooperative effort between his agency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Smith, who also is a board member of the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, said grant money has been appropriated in the HUD budget for this year and next year. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of this year provided $150 million for cities to "improve regional planning efforts."

Smith said Smart Valley Places, a 15-city compact under the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, and individual cities, such as Firebaugh, are applying for the grants, due by Aug. 23. Small Valley Places also will be working through member cities' councils of government with smaller cities.

Dodd said workers across the nation are living farther away from their jobs and commuting longer distances and ever more crowded roadways strains infrastructure. He said farmland and open spaces are disappearing, and the impact on the environment from the large numbers of cars on the road is adding significantly to the problems of oil dependence and climate change.

“With our population expected to grow by over 150 million people between 2000 and 2050, it is clear that our current path is unsustainable," Dodd said. "The Livable Communities Act before us represents a comprehensive and flexible approach to the diverse issues facing communities."

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