The Plan for the Future Bill (SB 932) could change the shape of California communities for the better. That is if it survives its trip through the Assembly and eludes the governor’s veto. The bill, authored by Senator Anthony Portantino (SD 25) and sponsored by Streets for All and CalBike, will require regional and city general plan circulation elements to make streets safer for people biking, walking, using scooters, and taking public transit. And it includes deadlines for starting and finishing construction of the new facilities, so cities have to build what they plan.
This groundbreaking legislation might never have happened if not for a global pandemic that got a lot more people, including one California senator, out riding bikes.
Senator Portantino makes a (literal) left turn during the pandemic
During the pandemic, Senator Portantino had to drive back and forth to his district in Southern California instead of flying, so he spent longer stints in Sacramento. He had started walking six miles a day for exercise, but all that walking was taking a toll. So, over one Thanksgiving week in the capital, he tried a bike ride.
“I had an old 10-speed Schwinn that was probably 40 years old,” he says. His first ride was five miles roundtrip, and he told his wife she might have to come to pick him up.
Portantino made it home from that first ride under his own power. Sacramento’s flat terrain allowed him to build his bike legs without pain.
During his years in the Assembly and Senate, Portantino had always left his Sacramento residence and turned right to head toward downtown. “I never made a left for six years,” he says. Once he got on a bike, he turned left and discovered the bike trail along the Sacramento River.
Soon he started riding farther. “Five miles turned into seven miles, seven miles turned into 12,” and even farther, he says. “It was a whole new world.” He went on wine country rides and rode to the Rose Bowl. “I started taking on more hills and harder rides,” Portantino says. “It’s been a great experience. I ride every day.”
In the process, Portantino lost 160 pounds and started to see the cityscapes he inhabits differently. “Every day, I learn more about intersections,” he says. “The most dangerous intersection was the one by my house” in Southern California. It took him months to figure out the safest way home on his bike, an experience many bike riders can identify with.
“The more I ride, the more I see issues,” Portantino says. He’s been nearly clipped many times, though his only spill was rider error (he went down after riding into a crack in the roadway).
So, when Streets for All asked to talk with him about a housing bill, he was ready for a conversation about safe streets, too.
A tough conversation turns into a collaboration
“When Streets for All came to talk to me, originally they came to talk about an issue where we disagreed,” Portantino says. His staff asked if he wanted to have the conversation because they knew the advocates would take him to task, but he invited the input. “That led to finding common ground on other things,” he says.
“Streets for All is honored and excited to be sponsoring no less than four pivotal bills with Senator Portantino and his office this session,” says Bubba Fish, Streets for All legislative advocate. “With his partnership, we are on the cusp of requiring the planning and implementation of traffic calming measures on dangerous corridors, addressing noise pollution from illegally modified mufflers, and creating a tax credit for having fewer cars than adults in your household. We have found an incredible partner in Senator Portantino, and we look forward to expanding on the progress we have already made in the years to follow.”
“The key is for all of us not to be shy. There’s a role for the activists to play,” says Portantino. “Out of that conversation with them, I left saying this is a great group to collaborate with.”
The senator was interested in drafting something comprehensive for bikes, and he reached out to other advocates from the Los Angeles bike scene to brainstorm. From that seed, the Plan for the Future Bill was born.
The Plan for the Future Bill: A path to more sustainable cities
As Portantino rides more, he’s become aware of how many people ride to work or take kids to school by bike. “I hadn’t noticed that before. Now I see them all the time,” he says. SB 932 prioritizes bike and pedestrian infrastructure and sends a message that it’s time to take safe streets for everyone seriously.
The Plan for the Future bill is not without controversy. The mandate to move beyond planning to implementation has some city officials worried about the cost.
But Portantino comes from a background in local government, so he understands that many cities have neither the resources nor the activist base to apply the pressure needed to get bike infrastructure built. The bill’s time frame and mandate ensure that even communities without an existing bike culture to advocate for better infrastructure will get the resources they need to create one.
And the measure includes funding provisions. Portantino says, “We want to make sure we fund this as well. This is not just about having a piece of paper.”
A final push for the future
The Plan for the Future Bill has passed the Senate and is now in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Appropriations is where many bills die in both houses (Portantino is chair of Senate Appropriations, so SB 932 was safe there). The next week could be make-or-break for this groundbreaking bill. You can help by sending an email to your assemblymember (even if they’re not on the Appropriations Committee) and asking them to speak up for the Plan for the Future Bill.
Portantino notes that the pandemic gave people the one thing they didn’t have: time. “Our challenge is to keep that healthy, slow pace as we go back to the new normal,” he says. Californians are moving from being a car culture (though Portantino notes that he still loves cars and going to car shows) to working from home and creating urban transit corridors. “We should have policies that are forward-looking and recognize that shift,” he says. The Plan for the Future Bill does just that.