The Sustainable Development Code sounds like a great project that can really make a difference if communities are looking to be more sensitive in their sustainability planning. Over the past several years, though, it seems like many states are stepping in and passing laws to preempt local regulation on environmental issues like limits on single use plastics or requirements for green energy sources for new commercial construction. Do you anticipate that there will be more laws like those passed if local governments become more aggressive in imposing sustainability limits on development? Has this been an impediment in the past? If not, what are other impediments? What percentage of local governments would you say are focusing more heavily on including sustainability considerations in planning and development ordinances? (just a ballpark guess, if you can. Not looking for precision).
Post by Jonathan Rosenbloom on Apr 6, 2021 12:05:35 GMT
Good morning Lauren,
Thanks so much for your questions and interest in the Sustainable Development Code! Preemption is and has been a major concern for local governments across the country. As you know, however, there has been a trend in the last 5 to 10 years of what we might call “red states“ preempting “blue cities“ from taking a variety of actions that seem aggressive on the environment or social issues. While these steps toward preemption have been happening for a long time (see for example farming states' preemption of local actions on fertilizers and pesticides), it has undoubtably increased in recent years. I'll also note that it is a rare state action that expressly withdraws a prior state express preemption action.
As state politics become more and more politically polarized (much like the federal government, where traditionally they were not in many states), I suspect we will see this more and more. One last comment on this, when it comes to zoning (at the SDC we focus exclusively on zoning and not planning, primarily because in most jurisdictions planning while it may be required is not binding, whereas zoning is), the one saving grace is that states find it difficult to pass state regulations pertaining to zoning because of the various interests across the state and the connection people have to land/place. California has attempted to zone at the state level especially in the past 10-15 years, and it’s been really hard road for them to pass anything. Three additional impediments to passing measures relevant to sustainability and zoning at the local level include education, cost, and political preferences.
As to your last question, on some level I think the answer is all local governments. No doubt there’s room to advance the ball forward. But all local governments are constantly looking to improve and many of those areas incorporate issues relevant to sustainability, especially once they realize the long term financial benefits. And, while a local government or community might not be interested in talking about “climate change," they are more than glad to talk about wildfires or droughts or floods. At the SDC, we try to make it as easy as possible for local governments to adopt these measures by accessing the information they need to integrate sustainability.
Post by Bailey Surapine on Apr 6, 2021 12:06:42 GMT
Thank you so much for an eye opening lecture. I was shocked to learn that "50-75 million more people will live in the U.S. by 2040" and the effect that will have on residential and commercial properties. I enjoyed how you used extremely current examples to highlight the importance of the Sustainable Development Codes. I know the SDC's are focused towards local governments, but as a law student, what can we do on a smaller scale to help advance the SDC's in our communities?
Post by Jonathan Rosenbloom on Apr 7, 2021 13:30:17 GMT
Good morning Bailey,
In many ways your question is the most important. We can put out all the information in the world we want, but really the next step is implementation and if we don't implement, progress will be very difficult. So, how do we make it happen?
A lot of folks have written a lot about this. Let me add a couple of things that we've seen at the SDC. First, in terms of the SDC, we have a strategic plan that integrates implementation in a way in which we are working with local governments and communities over the course of the next three years. It’s going to be a huge amount of work and Covid has set us back in terms of timing and funding. But at the end of the day we also recognize this to be a key issue.
Second, stay informed and vote in local elections and get involved in not only community groups (see below) but also local government committees, such as the planning commission or a committee on climate change or sustainability.
Third, many local governments simply do not have the resources to take on the implementation component. If that is an issue where you live or in the community you’re working with, many times it requires you to build a relationship with city staff and inform them that you or the group that you were working with will draft up an ordinance. Inform them that the ordinance will essentially be a “plug and play“ in which you provide them with the fully drafted ordinance. This doesn’t mean that they will accept it, but it will be more likely that they will entertain it and hopefully forward it to council or boards for adoption.
Fourth, right op-ed pieces. Make the case for a particular line of action and explain why it’s important for the local government and community to take the step.
Fifth and possibly most importantly, reach out not only to city staff, but also to key stakeholders and community groups. Attempt to build a coalition around a particular action. This will often bolster support and the likelihood of success.
As I said, a lot of folks have written about how to implement and it’s not on the SDC's front burner right now, but the SDC will be working towards hands on implementation in the next couple years.
The code sounds like a great resource for local governments. Do you include any links to research that focuses on the implementation and success or failure of various options in the briefs for each recommendation? I would imagine that the governments would like to learn more about how successfully each recommendation had been implemented (or unsuccessfully) before deciding whether to adopt it. BTW, I enjoyed the talk.
I really enjoyed your talk and project. You mentioned that you provide a lot of examples for local governments to look at when they are trying to create their own ordinances. Do you ever look at ordinances or laws that have been used in other countries? Obviously, they might not work if the underlying legal systems are really different, but it seems like there might be some good ideas used in other countries that could be models for our cities and towns as well.
Post by Jonathan Rosenbloom on Apr 9, 2021 13:21:30 GMT
Hi Marcus, Thanks for your note! Yes, we are very much concerned about this topic. When we started this sustainable development code about five years ago, we went through an iterative process with local government staff from around the country. One of the concerns that percolator to the surface was exactly your point. This is a question that concerns many local governments. What can they expect if they take this action. We decided to address this issue through the “Effects“ section. Each brief has an "Effects" section. In that section we scour the research to see who has done any reports on a specific topic. More recently, we have talked about reaching out to each individual cities that we cite in our examples and additional examples sections. Through these conversations we hope to provide even more information to local governments. That said, it’s going to take a significant amount of funds to do that legwork. Thanks again for your interest!
Post by Jonathan Rosenbloom on Apr 9, 2021 13:27:46 GMT
Hi Alisha, Thanks for your question! This is an issue we’ve struggled with quite a bit. As you probably know, countries grant local governments different spheres of authority. Thus far, we have opened up our examples to Canadian local government laws. Not only can we find some great examples in Canadian cities, such as Vancouver, but also the legal structure in which local governments operate in Canada is somewhat similar to the United States.
More complicated are local government examples from other countries. Thus far, we have been willing to use examples from international cities when those examples are outstanding. In addition, we have been putting those examples in the “Additional Examples“ section as opposed to the primary “Examples“ section. One concern is whether it will persuade a local government to take an action. That said, we might not be as concerned with that if it is a great example of what should be accomplished. As the code continues to grow I suspect we will continue to grow the countries in which we are being exposed to and willing to put on the site. Thanks again and please let me know if you see any great examples out there!
Great talk. I know that local governments should have ample incentives to plan for sustainable development and the code will be really helpful for them. However, do you think that there is any need for federal or state government action as well - to either require local governments to engage in sustainable development planning or to provide financial support for local governments who implement various sustainable development ordinances? Or is this really such a local government issue that the feds (or States) should not be getting involved?