Restarting a greener Sacramento-area economy by smartly using existing state funds

By Richard Pan, Special to CalMatters

Across the six county greater Sacramento area, we are flattening the curve on COVID-19 while planning for our future. Recognizing an impacted state budget, local and state officials have a plan to stimulate the regional economy by using existing state funds more smartly.

As we reemerge from the pandemic, California still faces the same issues of housing shortages, transportation and climate resiliency we had before the COVID-19. The stay-at-home orders showed us the impacts of fewer cars on the road – shorter commutes, less congestion, better air quality. We want to continue this experience as we restart our economy with jobs, housing and overall growth.

There are existing state funds related to housing and transportation that if properly targeted could benefit our region and spur new infrastructure investment. 

The Sacramento area legislative delegation is supporting an effort championed by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments called “Green Means Go.” All of our counties and cities as well as the labor and business communities are also behind this program.

The Sacramento region is projected to grow by about 25% by 2040 and that means each community, from big to small, has a role to play in infill development and transportation projects. Together we can continue to make our communities resilient and successful by taking advantage of opportunities in our downtowns, our commercial corridors and our cherished main streets. 

Green Means Go is a four-year pilot program to accelerate these new types of housing opportunities and cleaner transportation options. This multi-pronged approach will help us meet the ambitious reduction in greenhouse gas emissions the state has set for our region while meeting the needs of existing and future residents. 

This program is not focused on making urban cores denser; it’s about looking at communities where there are available sites on commercial corridors that could be used better to promote economic activity. Rural towns, mid-sized cities and suburban corridors all have potential sites to convert to housing and create vibrate places with quality transportation, but the costs of such projects are daunting.  

These infrastructure investments will play a role in the near-term economic recovery by investing in projects needed throughout our region to facilitate growth of our vibrant communities. Infrastructure projects provide an immediate economic stimulus and smart planning will help grow economic prosperity by increasing access to opportunity, improving connectivity between jobs and workers, fostering broader mobility, while supporting overall quality of life.  

Green Means Go will make a clear difference in our communities while re-opening our economy and helping the state identify how to best make the transportation and housing investments needed to meet the state’s urgent housing and climate challenges. 

Allocating a regional-based share of existing state funding programs to Green Means Go would effectively transform project-based funding into regionally targeted stimulus funding for ready-to-go infill construction and infrastructure projects. 

These project-based competitive funds could be reallocated to regional-based incentives that reinforce regional transportation, housing and greenhouse gas reducing priorities. This will also align our financial incentives with our planning priorities.

We can do more with the limited resources the state has. Green Means Go is a ready win for our region and will demonstrate for the entire state how smarter use of existing funding can lead the way out of our current crisis to a brighter future.

_____

Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician, is a Democrat from Sacramento who represents the 6th Senate District, [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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