Executive Director’s Monthly Report, January 2024


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Connect SoCal 2024 Public Comment Update

As part of the public comment period for the draft Connect SoCal 2024 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy, SCAG hosted 15 briefings with elected officials in Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. In all, 229 local elected officials, city and county staff and stakeholders participated in the briefings, where SCAG leadership shared details of the draft Connect SoCal 2024 and discussed implementing the plan’s vision for a more resilient and equitable future. Following SCAG presentations, attendees asked questions about projects in their respective counties and provided critical feedback on the draft Connect SoCal 2024. The comment period closes Jan. 12, after which staff will review comments and revise the draft accordingly; the Regional Council is expected to consider the final Connect SoCal 2024 for adoption in April 2024. 

14th Annual Southern California Economic Summit Recap  

More than 500 attendees joined SCAG for the 14th Annual Southern California Economic Summit on Dec. 7, 2023, to discuss connections between regional planning and the long-term health of the Southern California economy.  

Highlights of the 14th Annual Southern California Economic Summit included the presentation and publication of the “Regional Briefing Book,” which details the current state of the region’s economy with benchmarks to track throughout the region in the coming year. Photos and resources from the 14th Annual Southern California Economic Summit are available in the news brief on the SCAG website. 

SCAG to Sponsor Two RHNA Reform Bills 

The Regional Council, in a vote at its January 2024 meeting, authorized staff to pursue two legislative bill concepts related to Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) reform. The first bill would establish procedures for the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to publicize data sources, analyses and methodology, and require HCD to convene a panel of experts to advise HCD on its assumptions, data and analyses, before making its final determination for a region. The second bill would reinstate a trade and transfer option of RHNA units between two jurisdictions, setting limitations so trades continue to advance state housing objectives.  

SCAG’s advocacy will include securing an author in the California State Legislature for these bills while calling on individual cities and councils of governments to support these legislative efforts. The concepts in this legislative platform grew out of SCAG’s stakeholder engagement and resulting official comment letter to HCD on the RHNA reform process, then prioritized by action of the Legislative/Communication and Membership Committee (LCMC). 

SCAG Regional Council Approves $35 Million to Support the Regional Utilities Supporting Housing Pilot Program 

On Jan. 4, SCAG’s Regional Council approved funding recommendations for the Regional Utilities Supporting Housing Pilot Program (RUSH), funding 12 projects for a total of $35 million. RUSH invests in utility infrastructure planning and capital improvements to support jurisdictions in meeting the housing production goals defined in the 6th Cycle of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, local housing elements and REAP 2.0 program objectives. Project awards include infrastructure planning projects and programs, such as green infrastructure plans and capital projects that address current and future utility restrictions in housing development by upgrading infrastructure for sewer, water, stormwater and dry utility systems to enable infill housing. 

Joint STBG/CMAQ/CRP Solicitation for Project Nominations 

On Jan. 4, SCAG will begin accepting project nominations for Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG), Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) and Carbon Reduction Program (CRP) funding. This solicitation has an estimated combined budget of $278 million across all three funding sources. County transportation commissions in the region will coordinate with eligible entities within their counties to submit prioritized project nominations and required documentation. Local agencies should confer with their county transportation commission for county-specific application deadlines. SCAG will review the county transportation commissions’ project submissions against program criteria and develop a list of prioritized projects for approval by the SCAG Regional Council in June. 

2024 Sustainability Awards Call for Nominations 

SCAG is now accepting nominations for the 2024 SCAG Sustainability Awards, SCAG’s annual recognition of plans and projects that exemplify core principles of sustainability. These plans and projects are integral to accomplishing the goals of the Connect SoCal Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy and promoting a cleaner, healthier and happier Southern California.  
The Sustainability Awards are open to governmental agencies, non-governmental agencies, community-based organizations, non-profits, universities and more. Projects that span multiple agencies, sectors and geographies, applicants are encouraged to submit a joint entry. Submittals include projects completed or adopted between Jan. 1, 2020, and Jan. 10, 2023. The winners of the SCAG Sustainability Awards will be presented at the 2024 Regional Conference and General Assembly at the JW Marriott Resort & Spa in Palm Desert on May 2. Nominations will be accepted through Jan. 12. 

SCAG Receives $12 Million for Traffic Safety Initiatives 

Last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a $12 million award for SCAG under the Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) Grant Program. This funding will support three comprehensive initiatives to prevent roadway deaths and serious injuries in Southern California.  

With the grant performance period anticipated to begin in late 2024, SCAG will pursue the following activities:   

  • Develop a Regional Safety Action Plan as the roadmap for new and ongoing safety strategies and support supplemental planning and demonstration activities led by local jurisdictions. 
  • Expand Go Human safety programs, including grants for community-based organizations, complete streets pop-up demonstrations and local safety campaigns. 
  • Pilot quick-build demonstrations through a competitive call for applications. 

Established by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, SS4A awards $5 billion over five years to regional, local and Tribal traffic safety initiatives. Learn more about all the selected projects on the SS4A website

SCAG Receives Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Grant 

SCAG received a $500,000 Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation (SALC) Program planning grant from the California Strategic Growth Council (SGC) to study the economic and fiscal benefits of natural and working lands, including environmental, tourism and recreation benefits. The study will also explore model policies and revenue opportunities to support local and regional efforts to maximize these benefits, and support regional economic, social and environmental resilience. The SALC Program supports agricultural land conservation, economic growth, and sustainable development by providing grants for three types of projects: land use planning grants, agricultural conservation acquisition grants, and capacity and project development grants. The SALC Program is a component of SGC’s Affordable ​​Housing and Sustainable Communities Program​, which invests with revenue from the California Climat​e ​Inv​estments Fund. To learn more about this round of SALC funding, read the press release published by the SGC in December 2023.  

Imperial County to Use REAP Funds to Create Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District 

On Dec. 19, 2023, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors adopted a Resolution of Intention to form the County of Imperial Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (EIFD) to finance affordable housing and the construction, repair, acquisition and maintenance of capital improvements, including the acquisition and remediation of land for such improvements. The draft EIFD’s boundaries, which include the Lithium Valley and Salton Sea area, target areas with high potential for economic development. The draft EIFD encompasses approximately 61,658 acres with an existing assessed property value of $617 million. The resolution proposes a Public Financing Authority, comprising members from the Board of Supervisors and public appointees. The first public hearings are scheduled for the first quarter of 2024. The development of the EIFD is funded by SCAG allocations from the Regional Early Action Planning grant program. 

SCAG Represented on CalSTA Transit Taskforce 

In December, the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) held the first meeting of the statewide Transit Transformation Task Force. This group was formed by a Senate Bill 125 requirement for a task force representing local agencies, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders to develop recommendations for improving transit and growing ridership. SCAG Executive Director Kome Ajise was one of 25 appointees to the task force, alongside representatives from the Riverside County Transportation Commission, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Move LA and UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies.  

Moving forward, the task force will meet on a bimonthly basis, developing policy recommendations to increase transit ridership, improve the transit experience and address long-term operational needs. The task force’s work will culminate in a report of findings and recommendations to the California State Legislature’s policy and fiscal committees on or before Oct. 31, 2025. Regular updates on the task force’s progress will be shared at Regional Council meetings and other relevant stakeholder meetings (e.g., SCAG’s Regional Transit Technical Advisory Committee).  

Big 4 Executive Directors Meet on Regional Planning Policies 

SCAG Executive Director Kome Ajise joined executive directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, San Diego Association of Governments, Sacramento Association of Governments and the California Association of Governments in Sacramento on Dec. 4, 2023, for a series of meetings with state agency leaders to strengthen relationships between state and regional agencies. Discussions with California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) Secretary Toks Omishakin, Office of Planning Research Director Sam Assefa and Caltrans Chief Deputy Director Mike Keever focused on better aligning state and regional policies and leveraging various funding opportunities to meet shared climate, housing, equity and mobility goals. The executive directors also shared successes of the Regional Early Action Planning programs (REAP 1.0 and REAP 2.0) and discussed the importance of identifying an ongoing revenue source to invest in regional housing planning and sustainable communities strategies implementation. 

Toolbox Tuesday Presents Youth-Driven Urban Planning Toolkit 

SCAG staff conducted a Toolbox Tuesday session on Dec. 12, 2023, as part of the ongoing Equity Series. The “Youth-Driven Urban Planning through Y-Plan (Youth – Plan, Learn, Act Now),” session focused on strategies for engaging younger individuals in urban planning and policymaking. The session featured speakers Deborah McKoy, Ph.D., executive director and founder of the Center for Cities + Schools (CC+S) at the University of California, Berkeley, and Shirl Buss, Ph.D., creative director of CC+S and head of Y-PLAN Elementary.  

Participants learned about youth engagement and advocacy through Y-PLAN, a strategy that engages youth within a community context to encourage learning and involvement in city planning and policy development. Speakers showcased their youth-driven model of city planning and social change through three examples of Y-PLAN in action and presented an overview of the Y-PLAN Toolkit, which local jurisdictions can use to expand and enhance their youth engagement strategies.   

SCAG Attends Brightline West Press Conference

SCAG Executive Director Kome Ajise attended a Dec. 11, 2024, press conference hosted by the City of Rancho Cucamonga to highlight the U.S. Department of Transportation’s recent $3 billion award for the Brightline West high-speed rail project. The event took place at the Rancho Cucamonga Metrolink Station, with California State Assembly Majority Leader Emerita Reyes, San Bernardino County Transportation Authority Executive Director Ray Wolfe and others in attendance.  

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