At an April 22 study session Planning Commissioners welcomed transportation consultant, Karen Mack who gave a presentation on proposed changes to the City’s Transportation Analysis Methodology. The impetus for the session is Senate Bill 743, which mandates cities to abandon using Level of Service in transportation analyses by July.
Instead, cities are to use Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as the metric for determining if development projects meet CEQA criteria. The move would bring Santa Clara in line with its Climate Action Plan and also help reach the state’s goal of keeping a project’s VMT below the existing baseline VMT. If a project can’t do that then the impact has to be mitigated or it’s deemed a significant impact under CEQA.
“This is a plan for the future,” said Mack. “This is intended to stop the way that we are growing today, when we’re running out of space to accommodate more vehicles, and yet, California as a state is still growing.”
Small infill projects, residential projects with affordable housing and small local serving retail projects would be exempt from keeping VMT under threshold levels. Projects may also have the possibility of being exempt if located within 0.5 miles of transit or within existing low-VMT areas. Mack showed a map indicating that for residential VMT overall the central and southern parts of the city are under the threshold, while northern Santa Clara and a small central section are above it. For employment VMT, only two small sections on the City’s southern end are below threshold.
Mack explained that the four components of the VMT reduction strategy are characteristics of individual projects, transportation infrastructure projects, parking strategies and Transportation Demand Management plans, and that building housing in the county is one method to reduce VMT.
“It is the project itself and where it’s located that will have the most impact on VMT levels,” she said. “Projects that provide employees the ability to walk, ride and take transit, that are located close enough to where driving may be less convenient, are all factors that will reduce VMT.
“In order for transit to be sustainable you have to have the density in order to have the ridership,” Mack continued. “One of the issues we have in the Bay Area is that we don’t have the density or massing to support successful transit.”
Commissioner Lance Saleme questioned whether looking at VMT on project by project basis versus comprehensively would be effective, saying that if density in a certain area gets too high that no amount of transit will be able to meet demand. Mack responded that other effective mitigation measures can help such as employers allowing telecommuting and alternative work schedules.
Two meetings are tentatively scheduled, one for May 27 and the other has yet to be determined. One of the meetings will likely be devoted to the second round of development planning for the project.