Brooklyn Law Review


The primary challenge of addressing climate change lies in it requiring a rethinking and even reorganization of fundamental societal institutions that define much of contemporary life. In this paper, we examine an innovative effort to address climate change through regional land-use and transportation policy. We focus on the activities of a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)—a novel governance structure that coordinates transportation funding between federal, state, and local governments. In 2008, the California senate mandated that the state’s seventeen MPOs implement the Sustainable Communities Strategies Act (SB 375), an effort to align transportation and land-use planning with the state’s ambitious Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) and return CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Our research focuses on the implementation of the SB 375 via the Sacramento region’s MPO, an early adopter of an innovative planning approach called “Blueprinting.” Prior research shows that despite being widely celebrated as a “successful” urban transportation and land-use planning approach, actual outcome and performance data suggests that the Blueprint Plan will not significantly reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions. The decoupling of the “planning process” from “policy outcomes” prompted the question that motivates this research paper: Why has the Blueprinting transportation and land-use planning process been deemed a “policy success” while the evidence suggests outcomes associated with it will not achieve SB 375 nor AB 32 attainments? The answer we found centers on legitimacy. We observe and identify four distinctive dimensions that legitimacy took in the strategies and justifications deployed by Blueprinting advocates to win support from regional stakeholders. The legitimation typology we develop in this paper involves structural, popular, technological, and professional forms of legitimacy. We conclude with a discussion of legitimacy as a multifaceted condition involving the potential for conflict and coalition as well as the broader challenges that climate change presents governance as both a material threat and one amenable to decoupling wherein “legitimacy fulfillment” trumps “material attainment.”