Sustainable Land Use

Advance land use planning for transportation systems, renewable energy development, and even waste management play a key role in the long-term sustainability of our infrastructure and in minimizing ecological degradation. Our Land Use program examines how to best consider and account for the spectrum of costs and benefits that inform land use decision-making, promoting dialogue between broad groups of stakeholders.



Ethan Elkind delivers a lecture at UCLA, on the past and future of LA’s metro rail.

February 2018

Getting it Right: Examining the Local Land Use Entitlement Process in California to Inform Policy and Process

California’s housing affordability crisis has rightly received a great deal of attention by lawmakers, the press, and ordinary Californians alike. One important question in this discussion asks whether state environmental law (CEQA) or local land-use regulations, constrain housing development. To answer this question, we collected data on all residential development projects over a three-year period in five Bay Area cities, analyzed laws applicable to the development of these projects, and interviewed important actors in the residential development process. We found that these local governments are imposing discretionary review processes on all residential development projects of five or more units. That means even if these developments comply with the underlying zoning code, they require additional scrutiny from the local government before obtaining a building permit.

March 2017

Right Type, Right Place: Assessing the Environmental and Economic Impacts of Infill Residential Development through 2030

California isn’t building enough housing to meet population growth, while the new housing that does get built is happening too often in the wrong places — on open space away from jobs. This report, the first academic, comprehensive evaluation of the potential economic and environmental impacts of infill housing development, finds that encouraging infill would spur economic growth, reduce monthly housing costs, and cut greenhouse gas emissions. We examined three scenarios: business-as-usual housing development, a “target” infill scenario with more multifamily and attached housing in close-in neighborhoods near rail transit, and a mixed scenario in between the two.

October 2015

Grading California’s Rail Transit Station Areas

How well do California’s rail transit station neighborhoods create walkable, equitable, and thriving locales? A CLEE report, released by Next 10, graded 489 neighborhoods within 1/2-mile radius of stations in California’s six rail transit systems, covering the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Why grade these neighborhoods? The most effective rail systems with the highest ridership serve significant concentrations of jobs, retail, services, and housing around their stations and along the corridors they travel, particularly those within 1/2 mile of the station. The grades revealed that high-performing stations are often in the middle of transit systems in downtown-like environments, while the poorest-performing stations are often located at the outer edges of rail systems and urban areas.

February 2015

Moving Dollars: Aligning Transportation Spending With California’s Environmental Goals

California’s state, regional and local governments spend roughly $28 billion each year on transportation, with the majority of the funding for highways and other auto-oriented infrastructure. Yet state laws related to greenhouse gas reduction, more compact real estate development, and multimodal transportation options, such as walking and biking, necessitate reductions in vehicle miles traveled. Key policy recommendations from this report include state-developed project performance standards to ensure new transportation projects meet various sustainability metrics, a greater percentage of transportation dollars directed to maintenance of existing infrastructure (including “complete streets” options), and improved transparency and decision-making in allocating transportation funds.

This project is part of the Climate Change & Business Research Initiative.

August 2013

A High Speed Foundation: How to Build a Better California Around High Speed Rail


California will soon begin construction of a proposed high speed rail system in the San Joaquin Valley, which will ultimately connect to Los Angeles and San Francisco. If implemented poorly, however, the system could lead to unchecked development in the Valley that could increase traffic, exacerbate the loss of farmland, and generate more air pollution. Key policy recommendations from this report include a Valley-wide collaborative to create a plan for economic growth and environmental preservation around the high speed rail network, support for local planning and mitigation efforts to implement it, and new financing mechanisms to catalyze private investment in station-connected development. Also see our webcast presentation featuring Fresno mayor, Ashley Swearengin.

This project is part of the Climate Change & Business Research Initiative.

March 2012

Trees and Power Lines:Minimizing Conflicts between Electric Power Infrastructure and the Urban Forest

Conflicts between trees and power lines arise for a number of reasons, but most fundamentally trees continue to be planted under power lines that will grow into the wires overhead. This continues despite enormous efforts at public education. The problem may be that private property owners do not have an incentive to consider power lines when planting new trees. Recommendations from this report include reviewing municipal ordinances, further cooperation between local govenrments and utilities, tree and utility inventories, and tree replacement and preemptive planning by utilities and government.

This research is part of The City Steets Project.

July 2011

All Aboard: How California Can Increase Investments in Public Transportation

A well-funded and comprehensive public transit system in California could help the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with driving and save residents and businesses time and money. Key policy recommendations from this report include state policies that lower the threshold for voter approval of transit tax measures, authorization of tax increment financing for transit improvements, better land use surrounding transit stations, and more efficient use of existing transit resources and infrastructure development.

This project is part of the Climate Change & Business Research Initiative.


December 2010

Moving Beyond Prevailing Street Design Standards: Assessing Legal and Liability Barriers to More Efficient Street Design and Function

Over the past 30 years, annual vehicle miles travelled in California have increased by 106 percent due in large part to sprawling development patterns and a transportation system that favors automobiles. Designing streets that encourage people to travel by more sustainable transportation modes is a key strategy in reversing this trend. However, prevailing street design standards generally encourage wide streets and travel lanes designed to prioritize automobile traffic. This paper explores the why these standards are in place in spite of the policy shift toward encouraging more sustainable travel, as well as the challenges that local governments may face in attempting to move beyond prevailing standards.

This research is part of The City Steets Project.

July 2010

Plan for the Future: How Local Governments Can Help Implement California’s New Land Use and Climate Change Legislation

Many local governments need assistance developing the land use plans necessary to implement SB 375, the state’s landmark law that coordinates transportation and land use planning at the regional level. Key policy recommendations from this report include improved public outreach to encourage citizen participation in developing a vision for population growth and transportation in local communities, expanded financing for local government planning efforts, and streamlined local land use codes and sharing of best practices.

This project is part of the Climate Change & Business Research Initiative.

August 2009

Removing the Roadblocks: How to Make Sustainable Development Happen Now


California needs more sustainable real estate development, which includes compact housing, retail, and commercial projects that allow residents to walk and take transit for regular trips, in order to meet growing market demand and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with driving. Key policy recommendations from this report include tax-increment financing for transit-oriented development, differential impact fees on sprawl and sustainable development, and more funding for local government planning.

This project is part of the Climate Change & Business Research Initiative.