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Health Impact Assessment: California’s SB 375 and Its Impact on Fresno County’s Disadvantaged Unincorporated Communities and Low Income Urban Neighborhoods

Executive Summary

California’s landmark climate change law, SB 375, directs Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to develop and incorporate a Sustainable Community Strategy (SCS) in their Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). The SCS must set forth a forecasted development (housing and employment growth) pattern that, when integrated with the region’s transportation networks and other transportation measures and polices, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated by automobiles and light trucks to achieve the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets approved by the California Air Resources Board.

This Health Impact Assessment (HIA) focuses on potential impacts of SB 375 implementation in four Fresno County communities – Lanare, Riverdale, Laton and West Fresno. Lanare, Riverdale, and Laton are considered disadvantaged unincorporated communities while West Fresno, a neighborhood within the City of Fresno, is considered to be a low income urban neighborhood. The scope of the HIA was developed in partnership with community residents and stakeholders through the Community Equity Coalition. Through this process, we sought to identify potential impacts based on the following two questions:

  1. How does the SCS change the quality and accessibility of public transit and access to destinations in disadvantaged unincorporated communities and low income urban neighborhoods?
  2. Will Fresno’s SCS increase the availability of community resources to residents of disadvantaged unincorporated communities and low income urban neighborhoods?

Findings

A person’s health and economic wellbeing is influenced by accessibility – the ease with which desired destinations can be reached within a particular land use-transportation system. The ease with which they can get from home to job, the time it takes to get from home to a health clinic, or the reliability of transportation from home to school, to suggest a few examples. Our prior work has shown that residents of disadvantaged unincorporated communities (DUCs) in Fresno County typically enjoy far less accessibility than residents positioned closer to the urban core communities of Fresno. Additionally, even those DUCs located closer to the urban core communities lack of access to public transit options. This is especially problematic because residents of DUCs generally have lower rates of automobile ownership than the counties in which they reside.

Our analysis found that transit access in the DUCs and other rural areas in all proposed SCS scenarios is much lower than in the City of Fresno, and also lower than several outlying cities located at similar distances from the City of Fresno. Notably, the differences in transit access (and transit access to services) in all SCS scenarios for DUCs are slight; this reflects the modest differences among land use patterns set forth in each scenario as well as the lack of variation in transit infrastructure projects among and between scenarios.

We also looked at how rates of non-motorized (walking/biking) travel outcomes correlate with neighborhood demographics and land uses: wealthier areas will tend to have higher automobile ownership and lower non-motorized travel, areas with mixed land uses and high accessibility will have higher non-motorized travel. The results show very little difference in rates of non-motorized transportation within communities. In general, Lanare and West Fresno have the highest rates of non- motorized travel amongst all four study areas. West Fresno is relatively urban, with higher accessibility than the more isolated DUCs, and Lanare is relatively poor, which likely contributes to its high rates. On the other hand, Laton’s relative wealth likely contributes to its low rates of walking and biking.

This accessibility analysis represents a substantial advancement over existing practice that typically only considers accessibility at a highly aggregate level of geography. Drilling down to individual communities allows the data to show how conditions are expected to change on the ground for small communities, given expected changes in demographics, transportation infrastructure, and land uses.

Major Recommendations

  1. The Fresno Council of Governments should Conduct a Need Assessment and Develop a Grants Program

The Fresno Council of Governments (Fresno County’s MPO) should establish a needs assessment program and a sustainable planning and infrastructure grant program. The needs assessment program would evaluate existing needs in Fresno’s disadvantaged communities. The sustainable planning and infrastructure grant program would support implementation of the SCS by pooling transportation funds and distributing funds to projects based on their potential performance outcomes (e.g., health, equity, air quality, and sustainability). Policies and implementation programs supporting these actions should be incorporated in the 2014 RTP.

  1. Support Investments in Low Income Communities

FCOG should allocate flexible spending dollars to support planning and capital investment projects in the study communities and similar neighborhoods. In addition to regional funding sources, emerging state funding programs, such as the Active Transportation Program and funding through the cap-and-trade program, also provide opportunities for increased investment in low income, rural communities, which may help close infrastructure and housing gaps in low-income areas.

  1. Invest in Existing Communities First

FCOG should incorporate a policy in its RTP that investments must first serve the needs of existing neighborhoods and communities before any discretionary funding is used to support and/or serve new town development. Funding should first be spent in neighborhoods and communities with the highest demonstrated needs as identified by the needs assessment.

  1. FCOG Should Explore the Impact of Different Transportation

The SCS/RTP process provides a unique opportunity to coordinate land use and transportation plans across the region and the RTP continues to provide a powerful opportunity to thoughtfully plan regional transportation investments. A crucial component of the RTP process is to evaluate the outcomes of various transportation planning strategies in order to inform the selection of a preferred land use and transportation scenario and the list of transportation projects that will be funded. Thus, the COG should evaluate various transportation schemes to assess how best to invest our funds in a sustainable and equitable transportation system.

  1. Explore Visionary Scenarios

In order to address the environmental and health impacts of land use and transportation plans in Fresno County, it is important to explore a full range of land use and transportation scenarios. In the analysis of the health impacts of accessibility and walkability under each FCOG SCS scenario, we found little variation in outcomes among scenarios. This is due in large part to a lack of variation in transportation investments, and also to the moderate level of variation in land use plans under each scenario.

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