The stated goals of the Livability Agenda are to preserve open spaces; ease traffic congestion by improving road planning and promoting alternative transportation; restoring a sense of community by fostering citizen and private sector involvement in local planning; promoting collaboration among neighboring communities; and enhancing economic competitiveness by nurturing a high quality of life that attracts well-trained workers and cutting-edge industries.
Specific elements of the agenda include:
- Better America Bonds. The plan calls for a new bond program to help communities raise money to preserve green space, create or restore urban parks, protect water quality and clean up old industrial sites or “brownfields.” The administration proposed $700 million in tax credits over five years to leverage $9.5 billion in bond authority nationwide. Investors would get federal tax credits instead of interest when they buy these 15-year bonds.
- Transportation. The proposed Transportation Department budget for next year includes $6.1 billion for public transit and $2.2 billion to implement innovative community-based transportation programs. These programs are intended to help communities create regional transportation strategies, improve existing roads and transit systems and encourage a broader use of alternative transportation.
- Regional Connections Initiative. To promote regional smart growth strategies, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will provide $50 million as matching funds for local partnerships to design and pursue growth strategies that cross jurisdictional lines. These strategies would include such things as compact development incentives, coordinated reinvestment in existing infrastructure and reinforcing the region’s overall development strategy.
- Community-Centered Schools. A $10 million grant program would encourage school districts to include communities in the planning and design of new schools, with the goal of situating new buildings in areas where students can walk to school, not outside of town.
- Community-Federal Information Partnership. A $40 million program would provide local communities with information about planning for future growth.
- Regional Crime-Data Sharing. A $50 million grant program would help improve computerization and communications for local police agencies to help them better share information and improve public safety.
Lands Legacy Initiative
The proposed $1 billion Lands Legacy Initiative would be the largest, one-year land preservation investment in the nation’s history. Most of the money, about $900 million, would come the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Financed by royalties from off-shore oil drilling, the fund was designed to finance land acquisition and conservation programs, although in recent years, almost all of the money was used to offset budget deficits. In the past year, strong bipartisan support has emerged for redirecting the money to conservation programs.
The goal of the initiative is to expand the federal protection of “critical lands” across the nation, help states and communities preserve local green spaces and strengthen protection for oceans and coasts.
Specific elements of the initiative include:
- Federal Land Acquisition. The money available in the Land and Water Conservation Fund for federal land purchases would increase by 26 percent, to $413 million. The money would help expand national parks, wildlife refuges and national forests, and purchase lands for the Everglades restoration effort.
- Wilderness protection. Wilderness protection would be expanded to more than 5 million acres of federal lands, primarily in the West, but also including portions of Assateague Island National Seashore and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Wilderness is the highest level of federal protection.
- Land Acquisition Grants. The Land and Water Conservation Fund would provide $150 million in matching grants to state, local and tribal governments and nonprofit land trusts for the acquisition of land and easements for urban parks, greenways, outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat and coastal wetlands. The program will be reworked to give priority to projects consistent with statewide smart growth plans.
- Open Space Planning Grants. Fifty million dollars in matching grants would be provided to states to develop open space preservation and smart growth strategies. The intent is for states to identify priority areas for urban development, farmland and conservation. Priority would go to proposals that tie state plans to regional strategies for managing the economy, job growth and infrastructure development.
- Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund. The initiative proposes $80 million (a $66 million increase) for state and local land acquisition to protect the habitat of threatened and endangered species.
- Forest Legacy Program. The initiative proposes $50 million — an almost sixfold increase — for matching grants to states to purchase permanent conservation easements to protect private forest land that provides important wildlife habitat and is threatened by development. The funding would protect roughly 135,000 acres of forest nationwide, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
- Urban and Community Forestry. The initiative proposes $40 million, a 29 percent increase, for matching grants to states and communities to establish, maintain and expand urban and community forests and related green spaces. The funding would support 75,000 projects in more than 10,000 communities.
- Farmland Protection Program. The initiative would provide $50 million in matching grants to states, communities, tribes and land trusts for the purchase of permanent conservation easements on farmland threatened by development.
- Smart Growth Partnership. The initiative would create a new revolving loan program to support the acquisition of land and easements in rural areas. The partnership, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, would make loans to intermediate borrowers (state or local governments or nonprofit corporations) which in turn would loan funds to rural businesses, land trusts and other nonprofit organizations. Priorities would be to support smart growth strategies and help owners of underproducing forest land, at risk of being sold for development, to improve forest productivity.
- Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery. The initiative proposes $4 million in matching grants and technical assistance for the restoration of parks in economically distressed urban communities. The program, administered by the National Park Service, awarded 1,200 grants from 1978 to 1995, but has been unfunded since 1995.
- National Marine Sanctuaries. Lands Legacy proposes $29 million, a 107 percent increase, to strengthen protection at 12 marine sanctuaries off California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas, Washington and American Samoa, and to plan for future marine sanctuaries.
- Coastal Zone Management Act Program. To help promote smart growth along the nation’s coasts, the initiative proposes $90 million, a 55 percent increase, to help states implement Critical Coastal Area Management and Restoration Plans. The matching grants can be used to acquire lands or to undertake other efforts to protect wildlife habitat, protect life and property from coastal hazards, and revitalize ports and urban waterfronts.
- National Estuarine Research Reserves System. The initiative proposes $19 million — a 375 percent increase — to expand a network of critical estuaries representing all of the biological regions along the nation’s coasts. Under the program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides guidance and matching funds for states to acquire land, protect resources and conduct research and education. There are 22 reserves in 19 states (including Maryland and Virginia) which manage about 500,000 acres. The proposed funding would double the protected acreage.
- Coral Reef Restoration. The initiative proposes $10.3 million, a $10 million increase, to protect coral reefs from pollution and other human impacts. It would also create a coral “nursery” to grow donor material for restoration projects.
- Coastal Dredge Area Restoration. The initiative proposes $10 million for NOAA to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use material dredged from ports and shipping channels to restore coastal habitats.
- Fisheries Habitat Restoration. The initiative proposes $25 million for NOAA’s National Fisheries Service to acquire and protect critical habitat for fish. Efforts would focus on regions that participate in the National Estuary Program or have multiple threatened or endangered species.