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


Executive Summary

California’s landmark climate change law, Senate Bill 375 (SB 375), directs Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) 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.1

This Health Impact Assessment (HIA) focuses on potential impacts of SB 375 implementation in four Kern County communities – Arvin, Lamont, Weedpatch and Greenfield. Arvin, Lamont and Weedpatch are considered disadvantaged unincorporated communities while Greenfield is considered as low income urban neighborhood as it is within the boundaries of the City of Bakersfield. The project team developed the scope of the HIA analysis in partnership with community residents and partners. 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 Kern’s SCS increase the availability of community resources to residents of disadvantaged unincorporated communities and low income urban neighborhoods?

Major 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 Kern County typically enjoy far less accessibility than residents positioned closer to the urban core communities of Bakersfield. This is especially problematic for residents of DUCs – as well as underserved neighborhoods in cities – that don’t have access to automobiles.

This HIA examines jobs and services located within each study community to assess bicycle and pedestrian access. We found that Kern COG’s 2040 alternative scenarios have similar outcomes with respect to jobs and services in the study communities, with almost all scenarios showing a worsening in jobs housing balance, exacerbating the current lack of jobs (relative to housing) in three of four study communities (and not one scenarios effectively addressing the severe jobs / housing imbalance in all of the communities). Relative to growth in dwelling units, our assessment showed that two study communities showed very little housing growth, while two show moderate growth.

The HIA also examines the location of transit stops in 2013 and in the 2040 Scenarios, finding that transit increases in 2040 Scenarios over the present, but the Plan, Intensified, 33% Housing Mix, and 100% Infill Scenarios provide less density of transit stops but serve locations over a larger geographic area.

Finally, the HIA analysis quantifies transit access and access to services from DUCs and low- income urban communities by measuring access to jobs by both automobile and public transit. We found that transit access and transit and auto access to services is greatest in Bakersfield and its immediate surroundings, often including Greenfield. Transit access to jobs and services is greater for much of the region (and the four study communities) in the Preferred, Intensified, 33% Housing, and 100% Infill Scenarios, although variation in transit access to jobs and services between those scenarios is limited. Auto access to services is centered on Bakersfield in the 2040 Scenarios, and access to government services decreases across the region in 2040.

Variation in auto access to services between 2040 Scenarios is limited.

This HIA represents an improvement over existing research practices that, for the most part, only consider changes in accessibility at large levels of geography. Drilling down our analysis to individual DUCs and low-income urban 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. Kern COG should seek and apply for funding from sources beyond Kern COGs regional planning programs to invest in low income rural communities
  2. Our analysis and public input provided to the COG indicate that DUCs and low income urban neighborhoods have particularly elevated needs. Because none of the scenarios include significant transit investments in the study communities that result in substantially improved transit outcomes, our analysis did not show substantial differences between scenarios. This limits the ability of regional partners and community members to understand the impacts of varying the transportation plans that might be adopted, and it limits differences between scenario outcomes in those areas. We recommend that future SCS/RTP efforts include transit, including active transportation, projects that target communities that have particularly elevated transit needs.
  3. Kern COG should improve the jobs housing balance to ensure adequate growth and investments that will allow these communities to thrive. A balance of housing and employment and services in each community can lead to improved access to jobs and services while simultaneously reducing vehicle travel. Efforts aimed at achieving a greater degree of jobs housing balance in the region (and in particular in areas with a substantial imbalance), have the potential to greatly increase residents’ health.
  4. Finally, we recommend that Kern COG adopt the following set of policies in their 2014 RTP that will address historic need and improve land use and transit integration for years to
    1. Create a new classification of transit ready areas to prioritize and target investments in communities with demonstrated need – such as those studied in this analysis. Kern County residents have requested more housing options, improved public transit and opportunities for active transportation and more mixed use and compact development. Transit ready areas would be eligible to receive planning and financial assistance which will improve communities by designing more compact, less car dependent
    2. Delay or eliminate the allocation of discretionary funding sources that promote and/or support new town development. Kern COG must fund needs in existing communities first, particularly in low income neighborhoods and
    3. The RTP should front load pedestrian, biking, and transit projects to provide real transportation options to Kern County.

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