California planning low-carbon oasis where cars aren't king

Low carbon oasis

Vacant industrial land near salt marshes and a derelict rail bridge seem like an odd setting for the beginnings of a lifestyle revolution in scenic California, but planners in the San Francisco Bay suburb of Newark view it as just that.

With an eye on the state's new land-use laws to cut carbon output, Newark's city council just voted to convert 200 acres owned largely by chemical companies into a development that should set the trend for a state bent on decarbonizing its economy, the world's ninth largest.

The marshes could be turned over to birds, satisfying environmentalists, or paved over with single family homes, like most of the Bay Area.

Newark planners envision something different, which might satisfy both - or neither: 2,500 new homes, mostly townhouses and apartments, built within walking distance of stores and schools and connected by a new train to jobs across the Bay.

That trip would put commuters right in the heart of Silicon Valley, where 1950s suburbs with two-car-garage homes grew out of orchards to create a California dream that has endured decades.

California's success in reshaping that dream, leaving behind big convertibles cruising past strip malls, will determine its future. The state population has doubled in four decades to nearly 38 million and may hit 50 million by 2050.

The state that invented the freeway often looks like a parking lot at rush hour, and not just in the biggest cities.

"The way we developed in the last few decades is definitely not sustainable," said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, the largest metropolitan planning organization in the country.

"The future is going to be single-family homes in smaller lots, multi-family homes and a more urban style of living," he said. "We are going in a totally different direction now."

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