Back to top

Summary of Smart Growth California Webinar

Publication date: 
Friday, November 10, 2017

On October 31, 2017, Smart Growth California hosted a webinar about Senate Bill 1 (Beall) California’s New Housing Transportation Bill. The presentation centered on the role funders can play in coalition-building and advocacy toward transportation equity, a criteria hotly debated by community advocacy groups before SB 1 passed last year. Speakers included:

  • Chanell Fletcher, Director, Climate Plan
  • Erika Rincón Whitcomb, Senior Associate, Policy Link
  • Jared Sanchez, Policy Associate, California Bike Coalition

The presentation was moderated by Ron Milam, Interim Director of Smart Growth California. Smart Growth California is a network of funders working together to build healthy, equitable, and sustainable communities throughout California founded by the Funder’s Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities (TFN) and the San Francisco Foundation.

Senate Bill (SB) 1 (Beall) in 2015

In 2015, Governor Jerry Brown initiated a special legislative session linked to transportation funding with a focus on unfunded needs of California’s roads and highways. The motivation behind Senate Bill 1 (Beall) was a “fix-it first” approach expressing a policy built upon the premise largely of maintenance work and some form of highway expansion. Panelists expressed strong criticisms about this approach highlighting the stark difference between the policy approach and priorities of SB 1 (Beall) compared to California’s ambitious attitude towards addressing climate change and fulfilling its climate goals. The first draft of SB 1 (SB) did not include the needs of transit, active transportation such as walking and biking, social equity, land conservation, or public health. Fortuitously, the special session provided the opportunity for diverse voices to be brought to the table as well as coalition-building towards a more equitable transportation bill.

A New Coalition Set for Transportation Equity

The absence of a strong transportation equity platform in SB 1 sparked outrage amongst community advocates who specifically wanted to ensure that low-income and communities of color would not be harmed by the legislation and how the legislation can be transformed to benefit disadvantaged communities who are reliant on walking, biking and alternative forms of transportation. Moreover, the lack of interest to address equity concerns amongst the bill authors inspired community advocates to create a coalition for transportation equity.

The newly-formed coalition (more than 50 organizations) created the following goals for any transportation bill to be supported:

  • Provide direct and quantifiable benefits to low-income transportation disadvantaged communities;
  • Ensure significant and secure funding source for public transit operations;
  • Align the state and regional transportation dollars to statewide and regional climate and equity goals; and,
  • Restructure decision-making bodies to have expertise in environmental justice and sustainable transportation.
What does SB 1 Entail?

Senate Bill 1 also known as the “Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017” is a $5.4 billion transportation funding bill which initiated the first state gas tax hike since 1994  and came to effect on November 1, 2017. It has the largest proportion of multi-model investments in California. However, a majority of the funds are concentrated on road repairs with some programs going toward highway expansions. Panelist Jared Sanchez highlighted that some state legislators who opposed the measure are already organizing towards a repeal measure scheduled to be on the ballot on July 10, 2018 over the controversial gas tax.

The $5.4 billion that is being generated through SB 1 is broken down to various competitive grants. The Local Planning Grant Program offers over $25 million per year to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for competitive grants with the objective of expanding sustainable communities planning grant programs and assisting regional agencies in updating their sustainable communities strategies. Over $250 million per year are set aside for the California Transportation Commission competitive grants to initiate solutions for congested corridors program. This program incentivizes support for more transportation choices in highly-travelled corridors with a scoring criteria that includes safety, congestion, accessibility, economic development, air quality, and efficient land use. While another $300 million per year in competitive grants are granted to trade corridor enhancement programs with the objective of moving goods more quickly, relieving bottlenecks and reduce environmental, air quality and community impacts.

Benefits and Concerns to SB 1 in 2017

Over two years of organizing and advocacy, the following were considered “wins” for the coalition:

  • Tripling of investment in public transportation
  • Almost a doubling in funding for active transportation programs
  • Vehicle Improvement Fee seen as a “Progressive Tax”
  • Funds will be adjusted for inflation to retain its value
  • Protection for the California Environmental Quality Act
  • Funding for workforce development

However, significant criticisms of the final version of SB 1 included the lack of overnight and protection to ensure investments benefit and do not burden disadvantaged communities. The panelists indicated that the coalition was also particularly disappointed about the “dirty trucking” amendment, which allows diesel trucks to continue to pollute. Erika Whitcomb asserted that visible leadership from the California legislature on transportation justice was lacking and that targeted investments for vulnerable communities aside from some provisions for targeted investment in active transportation for low-income communities was needed. Jared Sanchez also added that agencies and commissioners need to feel pressure from broader communities of advocates and push to conduct an audit over the first round of SB 1 funding.

What Can Funders and Funder Networks Do?

The panelists recommended the following action steps for funders and funder networks moving forward and towards building transportation equity in the state of California:

  • Invest in capacity building for organizing grassroots and regional advocates to pressure their regional agencies;
  • Tie state funding to local funding sources of transportation funding;
  • Fund administrative and legislative advocacy to build pressure on key decision makers and cultivate legislative champions on transportation equity;
  • Develop a Joint Select Committee on Transportation Justice;
  • Help advance a broad policy agenda that intersects between land use, transportation, and equity; and,
  • Invest and build successful efforts such as the Miyako convening.


For additional comments or questions, please contact Sean Tan at [email protected].

Funding Issue Area & Geographic Regions
Type of resource