January 17, 2017

Double trouble: County transportation plans take credit for State GHG reductions

150918122001-clean-air-act-violations-780x439Every resident of Planet Earth has a stake in making sure that greenhouse gas emissions go down. In the Bay Area, cars and light-duty trucks are the biggest generators of climate-warming emissions. That’s why it’s so critical that the local planning processes tasked with reducing car and truck miles are doing their job. Unfortunately, the plans for Alameda and Contra Costa are going in exactly the wrong direction.

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) are preparing a Regional Transportation Plan for adoption next year. The Plan will have a Sustainable Communities Strategy as required by SB 375, the California Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008. The purpose of the Sustainable Communities Strategy is to reduce the driving of cars and light-duty trucks to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The California Air Resources Board has set a standard for the Bay Area to meet in terms of reduced GHGs from driving—a 15 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2035.

While ABAG and MTC are working on the new 2017 Regional Transportation Plan, both the Alameda and Contra County transportation planning agencies are preparing long-term transportation plans that will be significant components of the regional plan. An important issue is whether the county plans help cut GHGs to the 2035 required level. Unfortunately, a review of materials released to the public indicates that neither plan will cut driving to the extent required and, therefore, will not cut GHGs to the extent required.

Alameda County has a $9-billion long-range plan adopted in 2012, plus a $7-billion transportation sales tax expenditure plan approved by voters in 2014. Based on information the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) has provided to the Sierra Club, these two plans, when combined, may result in a 19 percent increase of GHGs per capita from cars and light trucks between 2005 and 2035. That is a long way from a reduction of 15 percent.

A draft of Alameda County’s 2016 long-range transportation plan was recently released. ACTC is not following CEQA and will not prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Also, ACTC reports in the draft plan that while GHGs from transportation will go down due to cleaner vehicle and fuel technologies, there will be a gain in GHGs between 2010 and 2040 due to growth in driving. Unlike the 2012 plan, the 2016 draft does not provide figures showing either changes to vehicle miles traveled per capita or GHGs per capita—another reason an EIR would help both the public and the ACTC governing board better understand what to expect from the plan.

Contra Costa County has a $9-billion long-range plan adopted in 2009. When the plan was adopted, vehicle miles traveled per capita were expected to increase by about 22 percent through 2030. The plan notes that “Vehicle miles traveled are closely correlated with increased levels of GHGs.”

With the 2009 long-range plan as a base, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) is now developing a $2-billion sales tax expenditure plan headed for the November ballot. A “Performance and Equity Evaluation” of the draft tax expenditure plan, released in March, has a section on air-quality impacts and climate protection, which states that “passenger vehicle daily CO2 emissions per capita are not expected to change substantially between 2013 and 2040….” Like ACTC, CCTA is not preparing an EIR for review by the public and CCTA governing board as it develops its 2016 tax expenditure plan.

CCTA also reports on reduced GHGs due to better car technology and fuel formulas, but, as is the case with ACTC, county agencies are not supposed to be taking credit for advances the California Air Resources Board is making in those areas. What they should be doing is reducing vehicle miles traveled per capita. Both regional agencies — ABAG and MTC — have indicated they understand that their mission is to reduce driving to cut GHGs per capita and not to take credit for the State’s work. Planbayarea.org (the web site for the 2013 and 2017 Regional Transportation Plans) states this clearly, calling the practice “double counting.”

The general public doesn’t closely follow county transportation plans. But as climate-change impacts become more evident, more people are paying attention to the dangers of GHG emissions. If people can be made aware of the connection between routine government-agency planning processes and the emissions that cause global warming, perhaps there will be more public outcry when these plans fall short.

We all have a responsibility to hold our governments accountable when they act against the public interest. We should all be asking why these two county agencies have not met their obligations to reduce GHG emissions.

– Matt Williams, chair of the Transportation and Compact Growth Committee

Looking closer at the overall environmental impacts of SF’s private commuter shuttles

A shuttle blocks a man in a wheelchair from boarding a Muni bus from the sidewalk. Photo courtesy Larry-Bob Roberts.

A shuttle blocks a man in a wheelchair from boarding a Muni bus from the sidewalk. Photo courtesy Larry-Bob Roberts.

Private commuter shuttles operating in San Francisco public bus stops have been a bone of contention for several years now. This practice violates a good law — California Vehicle Code 22500.5 — which prohibits operation of any vehicles but public carriers (public transportation accessible to all), cabs, and in some instances school buses, in public bus stops.

In early 2014, when the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) was preparing to adopt a pilot program to regulate these vehicles, the Sierra Club took a position opposing operation of the vehicles in public bus stops and supporting an environmental impact report for the legal parts of the program (regulated operations in white zones, for example).

The Sierra Club position has been confusing to some of our members, given the common perception that private shuttles get cars off the road. Maybe, but maybe not. Private shuttles have impacts the Sierra Club believes should be assessed and mitigated.

Disruptions to Muni

While Muni bus operations are dispersed throughout the City and operate throughout the day, private shuttles concentrate their operations in particular desirable neighborhoods during particular hours. Approximately 30 to 40 private shuttles can be counted along Van Ness Avenue within a few minutes during the morning commute. Similar numbers have been counted along 24th Street in Noe Valley and elsewhere.  The buses pull into one of 125 stops, one after the other, frequently blocking Muni buses and interfering with the ability of public bus riders — especially senior citizens and the disabled — to safely board and disembark.

Unknown air quality impacts

While the SFMTA is increasingly moving to a clean-air fleet, the private shuttles are almost all diesel. The long-term air quality impacts of such a fleet have not been assessed, especially in comparison to a plan in which workforce housing is built in the communities where the jobs are located.

It should also be noted that the shuttles go back and forth between the Silicon Valley and San Francisco several times a day, wasting fuel during the return (or “deadhead”) runs with no passengers.

Fueling displacement

Mounting evidence suggests that the availability of the private shuttles to well-paid tech workers is fueling skyrocketing housing prices and displacement of lower-income individuals and families to the suburbs. People forced out of the city by necessity become more car dependent. A 2014 study by TransForm found that low-income households displaced to the suburbs more than double their vehicle miles traveled, and that the replacement of these households by high-income households in dense, transit-rich city neighborhoods results in a net increase in emissions.

Some of the shuttles are intra-city, but about 75 percent of the people who ride the shuttles live in San Francisco and work in the Silicon Valley. Right now, that’s about 8,500 people — a number that will likely grow as tech companies in the Silicon Valley expand. Apple alone intends to hire 27,900 more people. That would mean more private shuttles. In July 2015, the SFMTA had issued 479 shuttle placards (equal to more than half of the entire Muni rubber-tire fleet). Less than a year later, more than 700 shuttles have placards — and there are no limits on the number of shuttles that can receive them.

So, on balance, are the shuttles getting cars off the road?

And what happens to the ability of the public transportation system to expand to address climate change if bus stops are increasingly monopolized by exclusive private carriers?

A permanent shuttle program unlimited in duration or ability to expand was to have started on February 1st, but negotiations between SEIU 1021 and a coalition of housing and public-transportation activists were able to restrict the life of the program to one year, with a six-month review. Meanwhile, the SFMTA will explore options for removing private carriers from public bus stops. Local government will also commission a study on the housing impacts of the shuttles.

Sue Vaughan, chair, SF Group

Contra Costa County’s transportation plan — the long and winding road

Photo courtesy www.ccta.net. Photo by Noah Berger.

Photo courtesy www.ccta.net. Photo by Noah Berger.

Because they serve as the building blocks for the regional plan, county transportation plans are critical to setting the priorities and direction of the Bay Area’s transportation system. Will our future include yet more car driving and greenhouse gas emissions? Or will we give the climate a break and work toward strengthening transit and encouraging walking and biking? The article “County transportation plans will set stage for regional strategy, impacts” featured an analysis of the San Francisco and Alameda County transportation plans. The following is the first of two articles on Contra Costa County’s flawed plan and convoluted planning process.

In July 2014, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) approved the release of a draft 2014 Countywide Transportation Plan (CTP). The CTP is to run until 2040, to match up with the next Regional Transportation Plan (Plan Bay Area 2040), which is scheduled to be adopted by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments in 2017. CCTA’s schedule called for approval of the Plan and its Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in December 2014 — the first of several missed deadlines.

In August 2014, the Bay Chapter’s Transportation and Compact Growth Committee received a presentation by CCTA staff on the draft CTP. Members raised concerns about whether the CTP would cut greenhouse gas emissions after learning about $12 billion was to go to roads and freeways. (The total costs of the capital projects in the draft CTP totaled over $11 billion, and the operating programs added up to over another $14 billion.) Members also commented on the limited support planned for Priority Development Areas (or PDAs, areas targeted for high-density infill development alongside public transit) in the County. Also troublesome was that the Plan had a funding shortfall of several billion dollars, which went against common transportation planning principles that call for balanced budgets.

The Sierra Club’s comment letter on the draft 2014 CTP noted that, if adopted, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) would increase by 35%, while the County’s population is projected to increase 28% by 2040, working out to an increase in VMT per capita. One of the targets of the current Regional Transportation Plan is to “decrease automobile vehicle miles traveled per capita by 10 percent.” CCTA’s draft plan was going in the wrong direction and was not supportive of the region’s requirements or of State Bill 375, which requires regional transportation plans to include strategies that, if implemented, would reduce driving and allow the region to meet its GHG emission reduction targets.

Another target of the Regional Transportation Plan is to “reduce per–capita CO2 emissions from cars and light–duty trucks by 15 percent (Statutory requirement is for year 2035, per SB 375).” The draft CTP did not state if this target would be met. There was a chart in the draft CTP entitled “Reaching Statewide AB 32 GHG Reduction Targets” but there wasn’t any information about whether the draft CTP would help put the County onto the trajectory to reach required reductions. An important consideration is that if any county fails to satisfy the GHG requirements, it places a bigger burden on the other eight counties in the region.

Despite the increase in VMT per capita and no disclosure of GHG emissions, the draft CTP erroneously stated, “the goals and strategies of the CTP are consistent with the goals and strategies of Plan Bay Area.”
The Sierra Club’s November 2014 comments on the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) of the 2014 CTP were similarly negative. Our letter noted that the draft SEIR was not in compliance with CEQA requirements for “supplemental” EIRs, that it contained erroneous information, and did not support regional transportation targets and strategies.

CCTA ultimately did not adopt the draft 2014 CTP or the draft SEIR by the December 2014 deadline. In February 2015, the CCTA made improvements to its “visions, goals and strategies” for the draft CTP based, in part, on comments made by the Sierra Club, Caltrans, and the East Bay Leadership Council. One of the changes was to produce revised cost and revenue projections. The new projections found that the funding shortfall was now larger than before, now $8.4 billion. A plan such as the CTP must be financially balanced, so the shortfall is a huge issue. Still, adoption was scheduled to take place the following month, in March 2015.

Between the February and March Board meetings, the CCTA Planning Committee voted to recommend the Board certify the Final SEIR, despite the Committee’s not being provided with a copy to review. Staff noted the environmental document would be provided to the CCTA board before its meeting later in March.

March’s Board agenda took up the CTP in a surprising way, in stating that “consideration of the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Report and the 2014 Countywide Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) has been deferred to a later date.”

At the same March Board meeting, the CCTA began discussing development of a new transportation sales tax to help close a growing funding gap—now $11 billion. This created a potentially serious problem for CCTA, which was noted by staff during the March meeting: “…the CTP process was designed to lead into the development of a (sales tax expenditure plan).” Now the CCTA was embarking on a process to identify a list of projects and programs to be funded with a tax expenditure plan without the benefit of a guiding, comprehensive CTP. That is, CCTA risked going in the wrong direction in terms of transportation planning—deciding on solutions without identifying what the problems are that Contra Costa County faces.

That ends Part 1 of 2. Next time, March 2015 to the present on the CCTA’s efforts to adopt a long-range plan (to the year 2040) and a sales tax plan likely to go to the voters this November.

– Matt Williams, chair, Transportation and Compact Growth Committee

Plans for Berkeley Priority Development Areas fail to mention GHG emissions

With a $750,000 planning grant in hand, the City of Berkeley is moving forward with two Priority Development Areas (PDAs); the “Adeline PDA” covers Adeline Street from Shattuck Avenue south to the Oakland city boundary, and the South Shattuck PDA runs down Shattuck from Dwight Way to Ward Street. A Staff Report released to the Berkeley Planning Commission in October has given us a window into the planning process for the PDAs. Based on that report, we see that in some areas — affordable housing and public spaces — the city is talking the talk; now it’s time to make sure they follow through. But in one crucial aspect —the PDAs’ greenhouse gas emissions — the city’s process is falling dangerously short.

Adeline Corridor Plan Area Map

Adeline Corridor Plan Area Map

Priority Development Areas (PDAs) are the cornerstone of the Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) contained in Plan Bay Area, the $292 billion Regional Transportation Plan. The core objective of PDAs is to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in cars and light trucks so as to meet greenhouse gas (GHG) targets from the transportation sector. Yet search of the Staff Report for the following terms produced no hits: “Greenhouse”; “GHG”; “VMT”; “Sustainable”; and “Sustainable Communities Strategy”.

It is also troubling that the Staff Report, in a section entitled “Environmental Sustainability,” disconcertingly states, “there are no identifiable environmental effects or opportunities associated with the subject of this report.”

The Sierra Club will certainly be following up with City of Berkeley planning staff to find out why GHG and VMT reductions have been omitted from the PDA process thus far.

Despite this major omission, there are some areas where the Berkeley PDAs are on track. The public outreach has been impressive, and what the community thinks important generally is supportive of the Sustainable Communities Strategy. The Staff Report notes, “the need for more affordable housing and avoiding displacement of existing residents was mentioned by (all) groups (at a community visioning workshop).”

Affordable housing and displacement are huge issues for the two PDAs, and getting a grip on them by the city now would be a big help to residents. The Staff Report does not provide a timetable for affordable housing production, however, and the recent history is not hopeful. Citywide, for the years 2007-2014, only 13% of the required number of permits for very low-, low-, and moderate-income housing were issued; 93% of the required permits to build above moderate income were issued, though.

Plan Bay Area has a displacement target: “House 100 percent of the region’s projected growth (from a 2010 base year) by income level (very-low, low, moderate, above-moderate) without displacing current low-income residents.” The University of California’s Urban Displacement Project has produced a map showing the area of the two PDAs, and it appears that a section of the Adeline PDA is “at risk of gentrification or displacement.” The area is shown as a lower-income tract, with more than 39% of households considered low income. UC also indicates that much of the South Shattuck PDA and a portion of the northern section of the Adeline PDA are in a state of “advanced gentrification.”

Map from UC Berkeley's Urban Displacement Project shows displacement risk in PDA area.

Map from UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project shows level of displacement in PDA area.

The Staff Report also mentions slowing vehicular traffic speeds is supported by the community, which well be a help in making the PDAs more attractive to residents and businesses. As planning rolls forward, the city will need to figure out how to “calm” automobiles while not hindering AC Transit bus passengers.

Another thing the Staff Report has right is its take on providing more public and community spaces “where people could gather for various events or community meetings.” These amenities are important to successful PDAs. Adeline Street has a lot of offset surface parking lots that ought to be considered for new uses, including community spaces.

You can count on the Sierra Club continuing to monitor the planning process for the Berkeley PDAs and calling the city to account where it’s falling short.

By Matt Williams

County transportation plans will set stage for regional strategy, impacts

car-exhaustHow will Bay Area residents commute to work, run their errands, and get around in general in 2040? There’s a planning process underway that aims to answer that question—and make sure we’re meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets at the same time.

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) — the Bay Area’s two planning agencies for housing and transportation — are working on the 2017 Regional Transportation Plan. Within the San Francisco Bay Chapter area, each of the four counties (through their Congestion Management Agencies) will be providing countywide transportation plans to MTC that will become a big part of the regional plan. Here we check in on the state of San Francisco and Alameda County’s plans, with an eye to what the plans do to cut vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

The first Congestion Management Agency to put together its plan was the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA). SFCTA’s plan runs through 2040 (identical to the next RTP) and was adopted in 2013. San Francisco has recently started work on an “update” to the 2013 plan, which will be adopted by the board next year. The 2016 update will look at car sharing and youth transportation, among other things.

San Francisco Ordinance 81-08 calls for a big reduction in greenhouse gas emissions: an 80% reduction below the 1990 level by 2050. The 2013 plan will cut GHGs significantly, but it doesn’t put the City on the 2050 reduction path. SFCTA has outlined actions that would be needed to get onto the 2050 path, and they include prioritizing the use of streets for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit; widespread adoption of electric cars; and congestion pricing during peak travel hours to cut car trips.

The Alameda County Transportation Commission adopted its long-range plan in 2012, and is now beginning work on its 2016 plan for input to MTC and ABAG. The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (more commonly known as SB 375) has two GHG targets for the San Francisco Bay Area’s 2017 Regional Transportation Plan. With a base year of 2005, by 2020 GHG reductions per capita are to be 7% and by 2035, 15%. The ACTC’s 2016 plan will feed right into the RTP and it could help get the Bay Area meet the GHG reductions, or it might not.

In August, the Sierra Club sent a letter to ACTC asking if the new plan would meet the state’s four greenhouse gas targets (2020, 2030, 2035 and 2050). A letter back from the ACTC noted, “state emission reduction requirements do not directly apply to local agencies such as the Alameda CTC….”

An attachment to the response shows GHG reductions due to the 2012 plan and also with the 2014 Measure BB sales tax. ACTC is indicating a significant reduction in GHG per capita, but most of the reductions are due to changes to motor vehicle fuels (reduced carbon) and improvements in vehicle technology (eg, electric cars). These are not the responsibility of the ACTC, and SB 375 is clear that what transportation plans should be doing is reducing vehicle miles traveled.

However, ACTC does indicate that, with 2014’s Measure BB, vehicle miles traveled will increase at a rate less than the population of the county, which is a remarkable turn around from the 2012 countywide plan. Much of the reduction is due to factors outside the responsibility of ACTC, however. To achieve SB 375’s GHG targets in 2020 and 2035 will require a significant rethink at the ACTC on SB 375’s requirements.

The Sierra Club’s letter also asked if the ACTC was going to prepare a draft Environmental Impact Report as it proceeds to develop the 2016 countywide plan. The response from ACTC was that the the 2016 countywide plan is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act. Public Advocates, a public interest law firm in San Francisco, sent ACTC a letter to let the agency know that the failure to prepare an EIR in connection with adoption of the 2016 countywide plan would violate CEQA.

Because they serve as the building blocks for the regional plan, our counties’ plans are critical to setting the priorities and direction of the Bay Area’s transportation system. Will our future include yet more car driving and greenhouse gas emissions? Or will we give the climate a break and work toward strengthening transit and encouraging walking and biking?

Stay tuned for updates on the Contra Costa and Marin County plans.

By Matt Williams

A Priority Development Area with plenty of problems in Newark

In the last issue of the Yodeler, Matt Williams, chair of the Bay Chapter’s Transportation and Compact Growth Committee, wrote about a sustainable development success story in El Cerrito (read the story here). In this issue, Matt writes about a Priority Development Area that doesn’t look as promising.

This photo of the development area shows the PDA won’t be fulfilling the requirement to be “infill”. Photo by Matt Williams.

This photo of the development area shows the PDA won’t be fulfilling the requirement to be “infill”. Photo by Matt Williams.

There is a Priority Development Area in Newark, near the Dumbarton Bridge, where the number of households is expected to grow from 138 in 2010 to 2,498 by 2040. This PDA is alternately known as the Dumbarton Rail Station Priority Development Area and the Dumbarton Transit Oriented Development Specific Plan. The centerpiece of the PDA is a not-yet-built railroad station for passengers headed to southern San Mateo County.

Initially, the plan was to make track and station improvements and to acquire passenger cars to connect Union City with Caltrain across the Bay, via the rail station planned for the Dumbarton PDA. Since then, the transit situation has deteriorated due to defunding by both by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Alameda County Transportation Commission.

The only other transit service in the area is one AC Transit bus line with a 45-minute headway (the time between buses), inadequate to the requirements of a PDA. There is no plan as yet to run the bus line with a 15-minute frequency during peak times, a requirement of the Regional Transportation Plan, Plan Bay Area.

The environmental documents prepared by the City over the past several years provide a wealth of troubling information about the area. A flock of concerned regional, state, and federal agencies have submitted comments about the proposed PDA on a host of issues including contaminated soil and groundwater, flooding and sea-level rise, and impacts on wildlife.

The California Regional Water Quality Control Board, in a comment made before the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was prepared, warned about contaminated soil and groundwater within the PDA, citing “high concentrations of chlorinated solvents, metals, flammable materials… phenols… [and] dioxins.” Many of these contaminants are left over from when the area was home to several industrial facilities. The Water Board comments go on to note that remediation, where residential development will occur, would have to be thorough. Newark was advised to have the EIR address the “potential threat to human health, water quality, and the environment from residual soil and groundwater pollution during…occupancy and use, based on a changed land use [to residential areas].”

The Water Board also recommended that the hazardous soil be removed to a depth of ten feet below grade at one site in the PDA. Hauling the soil out of the PDA would require about 19,000 truck shipments through populated sections of Newark.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency noted that the PDA is located in a flood hazard area and that all buildings must be raised on pilings and columns that are anchored to resist “flotation, collapse and lateral movement due to the effects of wind and water loads acting simultaneously on all building components.” Newark’s response was to propose raising the entire area with between 500,000 and 1,000,000 cubic yards of fill. Bringing in that much fill would require more than 50,000 truck trips, generating traffic and a large volume of greenhouse gases (which a PDA shouldn’t do).

The US Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service noted that the proposed development area is located near the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and that some bird species and the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse would be adversely affected. The City’s response regarding the endangered mouse is that a “protective cat-proof fence would be established separating the developed project site from any suitable salt marsh harvest mouse habitat.” One Service recommendation is that the City “consider building farther away from the baylands or analyze the potential need for additional flood protection from sea level rise scenarios.”

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) commented on sea-level rise and the safety of fills, noting that “local governments… should assure that new structures and uses attracting people are not approved in flood prone areas or in areas that will become flood prone in the future….” BCDC noted that, by the end of the century, the sea-level rise may be 55 inches. The mapping service of Our Coast Our Future makes it looks very much like projected end-of-century rise will flood a part of the PDA.

Earlier this year, Newark released a Final Environmental Impact Report on a proposed residential development within a section of the PDA. Curiously, if built, the housing would be 244 detached single-family residential units arranged in a street pattern that looks like it would generate more automobile trips, not curb them.

One other thing that stands out about the Dumbarton PDA is that it does not fit within the definition of a PDAs as envisioned by Plan Bay Area, That guiding document described PDAs as “transit-oriented, infill development opportunities areas within existing communities.” Besides the lack of transit, the Newark PDA is not “infill development” and there is no existing nearby community.

Newark’s Dumbarton PDA has enough troublesome issues that perhaps the best thing would be to cancel plans to develop the area altogether and follow the advice of the Fish and Wildlife Service by putting the housing and transit in another place. Regional grant funds would be better spent on other Bay Area PDAs, rather than on the inauspicious Dumbarton Rail Station PDA.

Want more? Follow @abetterbayarea on Twitter for the latest on sustainable communities in the Bay Area.

— Matt Williams, chair, Transportation and Compact Growth Committee

Club advocacy leads to partial win on community benefits for downtown Berkeley

Rendering of 2211 Harold Way in downtown Berkeley.

Rendering of 2211 Harold Way in downtown Berkeley.

In 2010, after negotiating promised community benefits for affordable housing, transportation, and open space, the Sierra Club took a bold stance to support the Berkeley Downtown Area Plan, which was passed by 64% of Berkeley’s voters under Measure R and formally adopted by the City Council in 2012. Since then, we have worked actively and effectively to ensure that these benefits translate from promises to reality. Though the achievement of greenhouse gas reduction targets through transit-oriented development is in and of itself a benefit to the environment, the Sierra Club did not stop there and has advocated for affordable housing, improved and accessible public transportation, streetscape and open-space improvements, and labor benefits for the workers who will be working on and in Downtown buildings.

As a Yodeler article published two years ago shows, the road to real community benefits has not always been a smooth one. However, through meetings with many members of the City Council, two carefully crafted letters, and a petition that was signed by hundreds of Berkeley’s Sierra Club members, we achieved some important wins in recent weeks.

On June 25, the City Council — by a vote of 8 to 1 — passed a “compromise” package of requirements that developers of four of the five tall buildings in the Downtown area would have to provide as “significant community benefits.” Significant community benefits were prescribed in Measure R for four Downtown buildings of up to 120 feet and three buildings of up to 180 feet, but until this meeting these benefits had not been defined.

What ultimately passed was a proposal by Councilmembers Droste and Moore that merged two competing proposals — one by Mayor Bates and Councilmember Capitelli, the other by Councilmember Arreguin. Under the compromise, developers are to submit a community benefits package to the City and follow one of two options:

  • Option A includes benefits related to affordable housing beyond the minimum requirements (the minimum is currently set at 10% on-site inclusionary housing at 50% of Area Median Income, or an in-lieu payment to the Housing Trust Fund of $20,000 for 10% of the market-rate units being provided); a project labor agreement; and at least one other benefit from several categories including arts and culture, streetscape and open-space improvements, sustainability measures beyond the minimum requirement of LEED Gold, or other investments such as in historical restoration or social services.
  • Option B instead sets a flat fee “predetermined by an independent financial consultant that would capture the highest reasonable value while maintaining financial feasibility of the project.” The developer would pay the fee into a city fund used to support various benefits as listed above.

Unfortunately, the first tall building in the pipelining process — the 194-foot 2211 Harold Way project — was exempted from this framework as the Council deemed it to be too far along in the permitting pipeline.  The project’s developer would pay a fee of $100 per square foot from 76 to 120 feet of the building, and $150 per square foot for 121 to 180 feet of the project. It remains an open question whether the developer will seek to reduce this fee if it proposes significant community benefits with the project (for example, a project-labor agreement with the building trades has already been signed).

The exemption of 2211 Harold Way and the relegation of streetscape and open-space improvements to just one possible community benefits option, rather than a required priority option, were two areas in which the proposal came short of the Sierra Club’s request. However, there is much to applaud in what was passed. Three Sierra Club priority elements — affordable housing, project-labor agreements, and an independent analysis of the heightened values of the entitlements and allowable costs that could be borne by the developer — were incorporated into the package that was ultimately approved, either as requirements or as priority options.

As the devil is in the details, the Sierra Club will continue to monitor the implementation of these significant community benefits to ensure they are consistent with what was passed — and with most of what we fought for.

—Igor Tregub, Conservation Committee Chair and Sophie Hahn, Conservation Committee Vice Chair for the Northern Alameda County Group

Northern Waterfront Initiative would fast-track further industrialization of Contra Costa

A ship likely carrying coal heads out through the Carquinez Strait toward San Francisco Bay. Photo courtesy John Halton.

A ship likely carrying coal heads out through the Carquinez Strait toward San Francisco Bay. Photo courtesy John Halton.

If you live in Contra Costa County, you may have heard of a massive effort called the Northern Waterfront Economic Development Initiative, which aims to re-industrialize the coastline along the Carquinez Strait. However, it’s more likely you haven’t heard about it, since it has been operating mostly behind closed doors, with minimal input from local residents.

Launched in 2013, this initiative is an economic development revitalization “framework” led by Supervisors Federal Glover and Mary Piepho, and targets the towns of Hercules, Martinez, Concord, Pittsburg, Antioch, and Oakley, as well as unincorporated Rodeo, Crockett, Port Costa, Mountain View, Vine Hill, Clyde, and Bay Point.

Contra Costa is already the second-most industrialized county in California, behind Los Angeles. Yet the Northern Waterfront Initiative is a 20-year plan to permanently transform our county and bring even more industry here. The plan has no targets for renewable-energy growth, no caps on cumulative emissions, and no goals for attracting sustainable businesses. When county staff were recently asked about the “green” industries they planned to develop, the only example they could give was carpet recycling. While this is technically “green” for the consumer, it would leave the dirt and chemicals in our community.

The Northern Waterfront Initiative has failed to include voices of residents living in the affected industrial areas, and has instead chosen to focus on institutional “stakeholders” like local government and business associations. Instead of working with the community, the Northern Waterfront Initiative treats us as an obstacle to be dealt with. Their “Competitive Assessment of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats” (9/30/13) admits as a “weakness” that “Residential land uses are incompatible with the needs of industry. Citizens in the area may protest more industry because their presence generally increases deleterious effects on the community such as traffic, noise and air pollution.”

In addition to affecting human health and safety, the Northern Waterfront Initiative also puts our coastline, water, and natural environment at risk. The plan itself is focused on water-intensive businesses. It includes a feasibility study to dredge the Carquinez Strait from Richmond to Stockton, from 35 feet to 38 feet. Funded by Contra Costa County, Western States Petroleum Association, and the Port of Stockton, the dredging would allow barges to fill to capacity with dirty commodities including coal and oil. Aside from increasing the amount of dirty fossil fuels that could be shipped through the Bay Area, dredging poses a number of additional hazards: it can increase salinity in the Delta (a shortsighted move during a drought), and it would release a century of buried toxins into our Bay.

The Northern Waterfront Initiative has projected various numbers of jobs it would create; one 20-year prediction was 5,000 jobs, another was 18,000 jobs. But what kind of jobs? And will workers want to live in an even more unhealthy and highly industrialized community? The Northern Waterfront Initiative is not a plan to transition away from the old fossil fuel economy, but just more “business as usual,” despite the well-documented fact that the transition to renewable energy is an opportunity for job growth. Stanford engineer Mark Jacobson has established that if California transitioned to 100% renewable energy, it would create over 450,000 jobs statewide.

According to British Petroleum’s 2014 annual report, there are only 53 more years of proven oil reserves left on the earth. When the oil refineries in Martinez, Rodeo, Richmond, and Benicia shut down, our towns will be left with massive polluted properties and no plan to replace them or transition those workers to sustainable employment. If fully implemented, the Northern Waterfront Initiative will affect our communities for decades to come, but it takes us in the wrong direction.

If you are interested in learning more, please attend our community forum sponsored by the Sierra Club and the Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition (BARCC):

Saturday, August 15
10 am to 1 pm
Nick Rodriguez Community Center
213 F St, Antioch, CA 94509
A light lunch will be provided

For more information or to RSVP, please contact info@bayarearcc.org.

— Tom Griffith is a Martinez resident and member of the Sierra Club’s Mount Diablo Group Executive Committee; Pamela Arauz is an Antioch resident and member of the Sierra Club’s Delta Group Executive Committee.

A sustainable development success story in El Cerrito


El Cerrito’s PDA will feature buffered bike lanes like this as well as protected cycle tracks.

Members of the Chapter’s Transportation and Compact Growth Committee are reviewing Priority Development Areas (PDAs), which are a cornerstone of the $292-billion Regional Transportation Plan. The purpose of PDAs is to reduce car travel by focusing new residents into areas where the transit service is good and where people can easily walk or ride a bike to nearby destinations. Grants of planning money are available to get the PDAs off the ground.

This article will briefly review a PDA success story in El Cerrito. PDAs are complicated creatures, and in no way is this review meant to be comprehensive.

El Cerrito has two PDAs, and both run along San Pablo Avenue, the main street in the city. El Cerrito’s city government treats them as one combined development area (the San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan), and that is how they will be treated here, too.

According to the Association of Bay Area Governments, in 2010 there were about 1,200 households within the boundaries of the combined El Cerrito PDA. By 2040, the plan is to have about 1,000 more households in the same area.

Transit service in the area is good now, with bus service provided by AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit, Vallejo Transit, and WestCat. Along San Pablo Avenue, there is an AC Transit bus about every 7 minutes. There are two BART stations in the PDA too.

El Cerrito is moving forward to make things work for the expected new residents and to cut down on driving. First, the city asked developers what changes they would like to see made to make development easier. The city was told that the building height limit had to be increased and that the number of parking spaces required was too high. The City Council increased the height limit to 75 feet and cut down on the number of parking spaces required. In areas close to BART, the reduction in parking is greater than for housing units farther away.

The city is also working with the Contra Costa Transportation Authority and AC Transit to increase bus service along San Pablo Avenue. The first success was recently achieved when the 72 Rapid bus line began operating on weekends, not just on weekdays.

One of the volumes of the Specific Plan that serves as a guide for the PDA is titled “Complete Streets.” It lays out, over 90 pages, what’s needed to make the area more attractive for transit passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. One interesting feature is the way bicycles and buses will be kept apart from one another, with a special, separate bike lane.

There are other things that are necessary to make a PDA work, of course. Parks, schools, and shopping are important, too. It looks like El Cerrito has these elements under control and a successful PDA on its hands.
You can check out the San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan.

The next article in this series will review a PDA in Newark that unfortunately does not look as promising. Want more? Follow @abetterbayarea on Twitter for the latest on sustainable communities in the Bay Area.

— Matt Williams, Chair, Transportation and Comact Growth Committee

State Transportation Plan shifts focus to reducing greenhouse gas emissions

ctp2040_logo_new_445x197The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) earlier this year released its draft California Transportation Plan 2040 (CTP2040), a long-range policy framework that defines goals and strategies for the state’s transportation system. Comments have been accepted from the public, and after more work, a Final Plan will be issued late this year.

The document lays out some of the things that have to happen to meet Governor Brown’s 2012 executive order requiring that transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) have to be 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

CTP2040 is intended to shift the transportation system “from a focus on infrastructure, capital improvements, and delivery, to a more sustainable focus that supports economic prosperity in concert with GHG emission reductions.” Here Caltrans is signaling that in order to reach our goals, no more highway lanes should be built. CTP2040 makes this point in more than one place. It also states, “The need to reduce GHG emissions makes the case that adding automobile capacity is not the answer.”

This new focus is a huge change for California’s transportation vision! CTP2040 is clear on the magnitude of the change, too. The shift from building highways to a sustainable focus will, in the Plan’s words, “require a fundamental, holistic transformation of the transportation systems.”

A part of the transportation “systems” that need transformation are the County Congestion Management Agencies (CMAs), many of which continue to plan for and finance expansions of roadway capacity (widening arterial streets and building new freeways are examples). How quickly will CMA policy board members (typically, members of city councils and county boards of supervisors) respond to CTP2040’s notice that a “fundamental [and] holistic transformation” is required?

Besides the rejection of more highway construction, the plan notes several other things that have to happen to get to the 2050 GHG target. Among them is the elimination of all “emissive vehicles from California roads.” By 2040, the plan says, cars would have to be “zero- to near-zero-emissions vehicles.”

Even with cleaner vehicles, Californians will still have to drive less, meaning that transit needs to carry more passengers than today. That could happen through a combination of strategies, including increasing transit travel speeds, decreasing fares, and converting 20 percent of the bus routes in the state to Bus Rapid Transit (dedicated right-of-way bus routes to avoid traffic). High Speed Rail is presumed to be running by 2040. Bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure also need to be improved.

Housing and land use is also addressed in CTP2040; the plan notes past practices have often led to an increasing reliance on cars. The goal now is to have people live in housing near transit — an approach sometimes called “transit-oriented development”. The Bay Area’s 2013 Regional Transportation Plan is attempting also to move in this direction, directing new development to areas that are walkable, bikable, and close to public transit.

In its early pages, CTP2040 references a quote from the 2013 statement titled “Scientists’ Consensus on Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems for the 21st century,” signed by over 1,300 scientists worldwide:

“By the time today’s children reach middle age, it is extremely likely that Earth’s life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence will be irretrievably damaged by the magnitude, global extent, and combination of these human-caused environmental stressors, unless we take concrete, immediate actions to ensure a sustainable, high-quality future.”

It is encouraging to see this likelihood acknowledged in so important a document. CTP2040 is not perfect. One blunder is presuming that unbuilt highway-expansion projects (including some in the Bay Area) will go forward. An improvement would be to not build them at all. Getting to grips with GHG emissions now is critical, and despite such lapses, CTP2040 seems to take this imperative seriously.

— Matt Williams, Chair, Transportation and Compact Growth Committee