Biological mapping to better plan for development was temporarily blocked by the building industry, but an important mitigation program for infrastructure was initiated.

In 2020, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) – comprised of jurisdictions is Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, and Ventura Counties – initiated a program to synthesize existing data on natural resources and make it available to local governments, developers, conservationists, and infrastructure providers. The goal of this “data tool” is to avoid conflicts and risks to development and infrastructure and guide protection of key lands to benefit the public and wildlife. The “Greenprint” was for informational purposes only, so that elected officials and agencies could make better planning decisions.

However, during 2021, in a show of political force, the building industry and its business allies launched an assault on the Greenprint, stating that the information assembled could be used in the CEQA process to oppose housing production. But what this really means is a rejection of good planning, which takes natural resources into account, and finds the best locations for new housing. The industry would prefer the status quo of controlling the information available to elected officials through environmental reports prepared by hired consultants rather than give them access to objective facts.

Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks organized a compelling defense of Greenprint. EHL and others groups testified at repeated hearings. But the response by the elected officials who govern SCAG was overwhelmingly to assent to the business interests and assign the program to the red tape of a new committee. While the future of the program is uncertain, we are hopeful that further technical analysis will help advance it, particularly as an environmental representative will be added to the committee as a result of our recommendation.

Faring much better, though, is a related effort – the Regional Advance Mitigation Program, or RAMP. Already used already by transportation agencies in San Diego, Orange, and Riverside Counties, RAMP looks at infrastructure needs comprehensively rather than on an inefficient and time-consuming project-by-project basis. It then identifies meaningful conservation opportunities up-front, achieving ecosystem-based mitigation. For example, the Orange County Transportation Authority has assembled many important conservation parcels using a RAMP for projects like freeway widening.

This time around, with support from both the business and conservation sectors – including EHL – SCAG’s Energy & Environment Committee endorsed developing a RAMP for the region. It was then adopted and put in motion by the Regional Council. If properly structured and implemented, the RAMP will provide strategic mitigation benefitting wildlife when impacts cannot be avoided.

EHL will continue to press for Greenprint and will help develop the RAMP.