SACOG Honors Blueprint Legacy in the 2024 Long-Range Transportation Plan
How the Blueprint transformed transportation and land-use planning for good
February 23, 2022: The creation of the Sacramento Region Blueprint was a revolutionary undertaking and compelled a critical assessment of the relationship between transportation and land use in the region. The strategy, completed almost 20 years ago, set the precedent for how metropolitan planning organizations engage in regional design. SACOG has chosen to carry on the innovative strategy’s legacy through the Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (MTP/SCS).
This is the story of how the Sacramento Region Blueprint changed the relationship between transportation and land use and left a legacy for the future of planning that still guides SACOG’s work today.
Transportation planning 30 years ago
Turning back the clock for a moment to the mid-1990s, planning for the region happened differently than it does today. Simply put, cities and counties shared their transportation and project priorities with SACOG, then staff would review, package up, and submit the finalized MTP to federal and state authorities for approval. It was an okay process, but it wasn’t a comprehensive forecast of the future that was needed to sustainably prioritize the region’s resources.
In the early 2000s there was a grassroots movement to change the long-range planning process. Local environmental groups filed a lawsuit and demanded more from SACOG and its members. Residents were growing frustrated with increasing congestion and a slow decline of quality of life. This was a wake-up call for leaders. It forced an examination of the relationship between transportation and land use, and SACOG’s role in shaping these resources.
At the same time in places like Portland, Oregon, and Salt Lake City, Utah, work around regional growth and forecasting sparked new ideas for how municipalities thought holistically about land use and transportation. “Seems like old hat now, but this was brand new 30 years ago. People weren’t having these conversations yet,” says Mike McKeever, former SACOG executive director, who was in Portland working on similar projects at the time. McKeever was one of just a few people in the country who had the working technical knowledge to make this type of bold new venture successful. He joined SACOG to manage the Blueprint project.
“The Blueprint was the right thing at the right time in the region. Growth became a hot button issue. What SACOG brought to the table, with hands-on citizen planning, was all brand new. People were talking about it in the region,” recalls McKeever.
Modern-day public engagement is born
Before the Blueprint, it was not a typical practice to include members of the general public in planning conversations about the future of a region. One or two members of a community would make up a stakeholder group, and they represented the interests of that community. Residents would then comment and share feedback after a plan was largely created. The Blueprint sought to challenge this approach. If these new ideas were going to be successful, they were going to need community member and local leader buy-in to work toward change.
Valley Vision was brought on to manage community outreach for the project. Susan Frazier, who was CEO of the then two-person organization, created the plan for how to get more people to participate and make the engagement robust.
“We did pre-meetings,” Frazier recalls. She and her team went directly to communities to present land use and transportation terms and concepts to help them understand how these impacted their lives. “We took the terms they were going to hear and said, ‘You’re going to hear this and here is what it’s going to mean.’” The prework opened the path for robust engagement sessions that surpassed conventional public workshops.
“Everyone had the opportunity; it was like a graduate seminar in planning. It wasn’t lecturing; it was actually working and hands on,” recalls SACOG Board Member and Woodland Mayor Tom Stallard, who was serving on the board at the time of the project. “What was good about this process is that it dignified the citizen perspective.”
Imagine walking into a community hall, tables loaded with paper, people working in groups where each person represents a distinct perspective in planning, transportation, or the community. The members of each group were master planners of their own fictional community. As they made decisions on development, transportation, job centers, or suburban communities, they received live updates on a laptop at their table that showed how their decisions affected jobs, air quality, traffic, or the environment.
“The evenings were amazing events, uplifting and exhilarating,” said Stallard, who proudly shared that this project was a highlight in his public service career. He was impressed with how many people, regardless of politics, were able to come together in consensus for how communities should be built. He would stand at the door to say good-bye to participants after the workshops and described an energizing chatter and enthusiasm as people left.
“We spent lots and lots of nights in various communities all over the region,” recalls Frazier, and because of its success, “it became the new way to do community workshops.”
Smart growth principles ignite vibrant communities
The results from the workshops were seven smart growth principles that participants and surveyed members of the public said were important to them when it came to how the region grows. Twenty years later, the principles continue to serve as a guide for how to create more vibrant communities. The seven smart growth principles are:
- Provide a variety of transportation choices.
- Offer housing choices and opportunities.
- Use space more efficiently through compact development.
- Use existing assets.
- Mix land uses.
- Preserve open space, farmland, and natural beauty through natural resources conservation.
- Encourage distinctive, attractive communities that facilitate walking and biking with quality design.
By prioritizing these principles, municipalities are working to create better spaces for the future. These principles provide a tangible opportunity to help make the Sacramento region as attractive tomorrow as it is today.
“The reason Blueprint worked is because it was a better way of doing democracy than they were used to,” said McKeever, who explained that the approach to the project was different—it wasn’t elected officials in a room, it was out in public all over the region. “We didn’t just ask them about their opinion; we educated them about what we know.”
A legacy continued
Today the principles of integrated regional land use and transportation live on in the Sacramento region through much of SACOG’s work. That is why SACOG has chosen to rename the 2024 MTP/SCS the 2024 Blueprint.
SACOG Board Member and Elk Grove Vice Mayor Darren Suen was a participant in one of the Blueprint workshops as a member of the public. Suen shared, “I remember the new concept of land use planning in a regional way back in the early 2000s. I look forward to the development of the 2024 Blueprint for the MTP/SCS, focusing on transportation issues for the region and considering the planning and local government evolutions over the years.”
“The Blueprint is the connecting vision for the region,” explained James Corless, SACOG’s executive director, who added that there has been tremendous momentum in applying the smart growth principles to regional projects. “There is still progress to be made, but even after two decades the fundamental principles of the Blueprint are more relevant than ever.”
The project gave rise to a collective understanding of how the once separate components of land use and transportation must be prepared together. Through a concerted effort by regional leaders and community members, the Blueprint has shaped a shared vision for the future of the region that drives SACOG’s work today.