Marin County recently announced its intent to move forward with an ambitious plan to address the growing challenge of global climate change.

The plan is described in the county's 255-page draft Climate Action Plan 2014 Update that is now out for public comment.

The plan promotes a variety of climate-related strategies, from encouraging energy efficiency to the adoption of greenhouse gas performance standards for new project development.

There is widespread agreement that climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face as a society. While policymakers have struggled to respond at the national level, California has taken a leading role through adoption of a statewide GHG cap and trade program, improved standards for vehicle emissions and transportation fuels, and similar measures.

Our ability to effect change at the county level, however, may be more limited.
Ironically, the 2014 update promotes the county's use of land-use and transportation planning strategies as a key climate-change mitigation tool.

Land-use management strategies are highlighted as an "essential part" of the new plan, with "far-reaching community co-benefits," according to the draft document.
These measures, the draft says, will "directly target land-use patterns to allow appropriate densities and improve the diversity of housing types," while promoting "an integrated, multi-modal transportation network."

Yet the projected benefits are relatively trivial — barely 3 percent of the total GHG reductions envisioned by the year 2020.

What is going on here?

It is far from clear how continued promotion of high-density, transit-oriented development will really enhance the fight against global warming in Marin County. At the same time, it raises legitimate questions as to whether climate change is just another way to provide cover for a higher level of urbanization in our traditionally rural and suburban communities. 
We have seen this before.

SB 375, the 2008 legislation underlying Plan Bay Area, explicitly encouraged transit-oriented development as a way to achieve the state's GHG-reduction goals.
At least some Marin residents don't seem to buy that connection, as evidenced by the widespread community rejection of proposed high-density development in the now-scuttled Larkspur Landing SMART Station Area Plan.

One of the more troubling aspects of SB 375 was its endorsement of exemptions for qualified projects from the environmental review requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.

This trend has been carried over into the county's update, which also would streamline CEQA review for future development projects deemed consistent with purported GHG-reduction measures identified in the plan.

One wonders whether this kind of shortcut around the requirements of state law — ostensibly in the name of attacking global climate change — is really something our community leaders should be advocating.

The county expects to hold public workshops and receive feedback on the update in the near future. Hopefully, that input will reflect a healthy skepticism over the plan's policy justifications for development proposals that could alter the character of our community for years to come.

Kevin Haroff is an environmental and land-use attorney with Marten Law PLLC. He is also a member of the Larkspur City Council and the city's representative on the Marin Clean Energy board.