2025 Blueprint Land Use Assumptions Frequently Asked Questions
Last Updated 7/7/23
Why is the 2025 Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (MTP/SCS) called the Blueprint?
The “2025 Blueprint Update” is the 2025 MTP/SCS. The name is a nod to the now 20-year-old Sacramento Regional Blueprint Project, a historic undertaking and critical assessment of the relationship between transportation and land-use in the region.
What are the components of the Blueprint update?
As required by SB 375, SACOG must update its long-range transportation and land use plan every four years. For each update, SACOG prepares a forecast of regional growth in population, employment, and households. The Blueprint must make a set of assumptions around the amount, location, and nature of that growth through 2050. The land use and transportation assumptions, policies, and investment priorities that underpin the Blueprint, work together to maximize benefits and minimize negative impacts across the Triple Bottom Line goals for equity, economy, and environment as outlined in the Policy Framework adopted by the SACOG board in 2022.
Do the land use assumptions in the 2025 Blueprint supersede local land use regulations?
No, they do not. Including growth within the 2025 Blueprint is not a guarantee that it will happen. Likewise, growth not assumed in the plan may occur during the planning period. In any event, SACOG has no authority to require or prohibit growth of any kind. While local agencies may take advantage of certain CEQA benefits and other incentives, CEQA does not mandate that local agencies use the plan to regulate GHG emissions or for any other purpose. Senate Bill 375 also specifically states that a sustainable communities strategy does not regulate land use, that city and county land use policies and plans are not required to be consistent with the Blueprint, and that nothing “in a sustainable communities strategy shall be interpreted as superseding the exercise of the local land use authority of cities and counties within the region.” (Gov. Code, § 65080(b)(2)(K)). The Blueprint does not regulate local land use authority or preclude a local jurisdiction from planning and approving growth that is different in terms of total units or geographic extent.
How do local land use plans and development projects factor into the Blueprint land use assumptions?
As a part of each Blueprint update, SACOG develops a regional growth forecast that estimates the number of new homes and jobs that will be created across the region between our base year and the horizon year of the plan. The base and horizon years for the current plan update are 2020 and 2050, respectively. The SACOG board adopted the growth projections for this 2025 Blueprint update in February of 2022. Those projections had the region growing by 263,000 new jobs and 278,000 new homes between 2020 and 2050, which is about 30% higher than today.
Local general plans, specific plans, and other vested development rights form the foundation of the land use assumptions. Regardless of how it is measured, the region’s regulatory capacity far exceeds the 278,000 new homes projected to occur by 2050 in the plan. In fact, there is over 7 times the remaining housing capacity than there are projected new homes in this period. As such, SACOG has to make its best estimate of how much of all that planned growth is most likely to occur during the planning period. SACOG cannot include all existing capacity planned for at the local level. Development projects that are either recently completed or under construction are the first step in translating the regional projections to the parcel level. Approved and under review projects that are likely to reach the construction phase are also included. From there, SACOG must make a series of assumptions for which planned growth is likely to occur by 2050. Those assumptions, as discussed below, are based on a variety of factors.
What does SACOG consider in making the land use assumptions for the Blueprint?
There is not a single prescriptive formula for determining the land use assumptions in the plan. Staff evaluate regulatory, market, and policy factors to narrow in on an ambitious but achievable picture of how the region’s land use pattern could evolve. These factors, including a comprehensive exploration of existing general plan buildout and market feasibility, were discussed at the August 2022 Board meeting. More information on the key factors considered in the land use assumptions is included in the table below and in more detail in this attachment.
The land use assumptions are shaped by the considerations described in the table below. The regulatory capacity forms the envelope within which the assumptions operate. The region is divided into community types and sub community types, which are depicted here. For example, Greenfield Specific Plan X is a sub community type within the developing community type in City Y. In this hypothetical, the specific plan has not started construction yet, but includes capacity for 10,000 units. SACOG must then make an assumption between 0 and 10,000 units for this specific plan for the 2020-2050 period. The assumed number of units is shaped by questions like is the plan fully approved? Are there any regulatory or legal hurdles before it can begin construction? Is there strong demand for new housing in this part of the region? Is the type of housing planned for market feasible? Is it proximate to jobs and services? How will infrastructure be paid for and is that financing plan feasible? Are there large regional transportation investments that are necessary for growth to move forward? Will growth in this sub community type help the region to achieve its triple bottom line goals across equity, environment, and economy?
These are all critical questions that SACOG is asking as a means of making an assumption for growth for the sub community type. SACOG then allocates the sub community type growth down to the parcel level, starting first with approved projects and projects already under construction or likely to reach construction phase in the near future, and then moving to vacant and underutilized sites until the control total is met. In the case of a master plan or specific plan, the phasing plan is adhered to.
Policy (Triple Bottom Line)
How does SACOG develop the assumptions for infill areas? Do those assumptions consider availability of infill sites and adequacy of existing infrastructure to service the development assumed?
For each plan cycle, SACOG develops a buildout inventory for existing housing and job capacity across the region. SACOG used a Caltrans planning grant to do a comprehensive update to our buildout inventory this cycle, which allowed us to measure buildout in a variety of ways. The buildout inventory methodology, which will be included as an appendix to the adopted plan, provides much more detail on this process. The primary way we catalogue existing capacity is through what we call a regulatory maximum buildout, which is essentially a rough calculation of parcel-level land area multiplied by the allowed density in the local general plan, specific plan, or master plan. The parcels are then aggregated up to the sub community type level. Manual reductions were then made at the sub community type geography for specific plan and master plan EIR caps for situations where the aggregated parcel level allowances were more permissive than the growth analyzed at the plan level. These regulatory maximum buildout assumptions were vetted through multiple rounds of review by local government planning staff, which resulted in an additional layer of reductions.
There is a recognition that the growth that is theoretically allowed for under local regulatory schemes is unlikely to be fully realized due to a variety of factors, including market demand, zoning form standards (i.e., setbacks, lot coverage, height limits, parking requirements, etc.), and other points of development friction like infrastructure costs and development review processes. As a part of this cycle, the buildout inventory project captures some of these constraints through a market feasibility analysis, which measured what is financially feasible to build given current market conditions, and a zoning analysis which sought to explore the plan-level to zoning-level constraints.
Recognizing these realities, the vast majority of the growth stays within the envelope of these assumptions for both infill and greenfield capacity. It’s worth noting that while SACOG conservatively assumes a static amount of capacity based on existing and proposed/pending plans, the allowed capacity will almost certainly increase between today and 2050 as new specific plans are proposed, and general plans are updated. There are a number of state preemptions of local zoning within existing state law that allows for housing capacity beyond what is allowed in local plans, most notably State ADU law, SB 9, and AB 2011. While the capacity created by these preemption bills is not accounted for in the regulatory maximum buildout numbers, SACOG does assume some growth between now and 2050 will be accommodated through these means. For example, local governments made assumptions in their 2021-2029 housing elements for the number of ADUs that would be built in their jurisdiction over the 8-year planning period. SACOG annualized and extrapolated these assumptions out through 2050, which results in approximately 15,000 new units or 5% of regional housing growth.
There are infrastructure barriers to new growth regardless of its type and location. For example, a more dispersed land use future where the majority of regional growth occurs in developing and potential developing communities would require an expensive highway capacity transportation budget to serve that growth. On the flip side, upgrading aging infrastructure in infill areas presents a unique funding challenge to growth in centers and corridors and established communities as well.
Funding and building this infrastructure is a key focus of the plan update and is one of the primary components of the Green Means Go program, which seeks to fund infrastructure investments in key infill areas as a means of facilitating the infill growth assumed in the Blueprint.
What proportion of existing infill capacity does SACOG assume?
SACOG defines infill areas as either centers and corridors or established communities, as shown in this map. There is ample regulatory capacity for infill across the region relative to what the regional growth projections expect in the region by 2050. Even in the most optimistic of infill futures, only about 20% of the available housing capacity in infill areas will be realized by 2050. Market feasibility, availability of labor, and other development frictions like zoning form standards and development review processes reduce the amount of capacity in infill areas that is reasonable to expect, which is why SACOG does not assume close to what is allowed at the regional level.
There is a lot of uncertainty around the proportion of assumed infill housing growth relative to total housing growth looking out 30 years to 2050. As part of SACOG’s planning process for the 2025 Blueprint, three differing land use futures were explored, ranging from 42% of growth to 88% of growth occurring in infill areas. In the 2016-2020 period, approximately 72% of housing growth occurred in infill areas. However, that growth was predominantly established communities building out, with 53% in established communities and only 18% in centers and corridors.
Why are some developments that are further from employment centers included while others that are closer not included in the land use assumptions?
While job proximity is a key consideration for economic prosperity and job access factors, it is only a rough proxy for VMT performance. Only about 15% of trips in the SACOG region are commutes to and from work. If a new growth area is proximate to an employment center, but future residents would need to travel longer distances for the 85% of trips that are not work related, the employment center proximity might not offer strong VMT benefits. Irrespective of VMT performance and job proximity, there are a myriad of other factors that SACOG considers in the decision-making process for how much growth to assume in any particular new growth area. There are some parts of the region with good job proximity but due to these other factors there is limited growth. These factors are discussed in more detail above.
As part of the 2025 Blueprint land use assumptions, does SACOG consider plan-level mitigation measures for energy consumption or electric vehicle charging in new development?
As part of the statewide AB 32 Scoping Plan, the State identifies reduction targets in a variety of sectors as a means of achieving carbon neutrality. The GHG target that is assigned to regional governments like SACOG is specifically for greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles achieved through a reduction in vehicle miles traveled. SACOG cannot and does not account for GHG reductions coming from other measures like vehicle electrification (specifically, those that are already accounted for in the State Scoping Plan; though SACOG is able to take credit for reductions that result from accelerated deployment of EVs through regional programs above and beyond what the state assumes), fleet efficiency, building codes, carbon sequestration, and others. As such, the extent to which new growth impacts the ability of SACOG to achieve its GHG target is almost entirely dependent on the amount and distances new residents drive. This is why growth in infill areas, which tend to have more proximate trip destinations and sufficient density to facilitate non-auto modes for some trips, typically has lower household VMT/capita than new growth areas.
As part of the 2025 Blueprint land use assumptions, does SACOG consider economic development?
Economic prosperity is one of the three legs of the triple bottom line in the Blueprint policy framework. While many of the ways in which economic prosperity is factored into the Blueprint relate to the transportation side, the plan seeks to prioritize growth patterns that support the region’s key economic clusters including food and agriculture, health and life sciences, and advanced mobility. Part of this means protecting the region’s prime farmland through more compact development patterns and supporting health and life sciences clusters that are developing in the core of the region in places like the bridge district in West Sacramento and Aggie Square. It also means supporting housing growth where job growth is occurring. In the 2016-2020 period, 89% of job growth occurred in the infill areas of the region. With the decline in big box retail, there is also an increasing recognition that the retail that is surviving is experiential in nature. For our ageing commercial corridors to thrive, it will be critical to develop a proximate customer base for these commercial districts through more housing in close proximity.
In addition, the triple bottom line policy framework identifies the goal of improving our competitive standing among peer regions across the country that are looking to grow, attract, and retain a talented workforce. Employers that value, above all else, access to a highly skilled workforce are looking for vibrant, walkable, high amenity built environments because these are the places that highly skilled prospective employees want to live. This was a key finding from the Amazon HQ2 exercise. Part of the 2025 Blueprint land use strategy is to foster these types of environments as a means of attracting larger employers and a skilled workforce.
As part of the 2025 Blueprint land use assumptions, does SACOG consider infrastructure financing plans?
Yes, infrastructure financing is one of the market factors that are considered as part of the land use assumptions. If a new growth area has an adopted infrastructure financing plan, that reduces uncertainty and makes growth in that area more likely. However, the existence of an infrastructure financing plan does not guarantee that the development fees assumed in that plan will not negatively impact development feasibility over the course of market cycles. In some cases, the fees needed to cover internal infrastructure financing can be high enough to preclude the project from feasibility. On a regional scale, SACOG evaluates the costs of building and maintaining infrastructure in new growth areas, but does not do specific plan-level financial analysis for long range projects or preliminary scenario development. We often rely on local agency staff to provide insight into the viability of infrastructure financing plans.
In addition to the infrastructure paid for by infrastructure financing plans, there are often also larger regional investments that are depended on to access the new growth area that are rarely paid for by the development fees in a specific plan. Similar to the regional growth projections including less growth regionally than is locally planned, there are limited amounts of transportation funding available as part of the Blueprint relative to the regional demand for transportation infrastructure. As such, the extent to which new growth areas can feasibly pay for their own infrastructure is absolutely a factor we consider when making decisions around what specific plans to include in the plan.