January 17, 2017

Logging large trees won’t prevent fires–make phone calls today!

forest event 12995A friend told me about a fire chief who saved his requests for more money until the next fire–when people would approve anything with the hope of avoiding catastrophe ever again.

That’s what is happening to us now. With the Rim Fire still burning, Assemblymember Richard Gordon quickly created Assembly Bill 744 and rushed it to the Senate floor last Friday. AB 744 purports to keep us safe from fire by increasing the size of trees that can be removed with a thinning exemption from 18 to 24 inches in diameter.

But wait. Larger trees are fire resistant and important to maintain a balanced healthy forest. Removing larger trees won’t make us safer.

Please call Assemblymember Gordon at (916)319-2024 and ask him to withdraw AB744 and take next year to perfect it. It’s OK to call after hours and leave a message.

After you make the call, please let us know by clicking here.

Sierra Club members value California’s forests. Many of us hike in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Sierra, and the North Coast. Even those of us who are not outdoors fans realize the importance of forests to maintain our way of life. 75% of our water originates in forests, and 20% of carbon emissions are caused by deforestation.

Your legislators need to know you care how they vote.

Why AB 744 won’t work

Forest owners can already remove trees 18 inches or smaller in diameter. Small trees and underbrush increase fire risk. Allowing the removal of larger trees will not make us safer.

Larger trees are fire resistant. Removing them modifies the forest climate by increasing sunlight–thus raising the temperature and encouraging flammable underbrush to grow.

Removing the larger trees changes the forest character. Larger trees are important to the forest and provide valuable wildlife habitat.

There is more to preventing forest fires than thinning. Climate change increases fire activity. Logging can also increase fire.

For example, clearcutting initially creates a hot dry climate. The plantations that follow consist of just one or two species, but all are young, the same age and planted close together to produce many straight pine trees. If they catch fire, it spreads quickly and easily. 

What’s happening now

AB 744 is what is known as a “gut and amend” bill. It was reviewed by Assembly and Senate committees as a recycling bill. It was even passed the Assembly as a recycling bill.

Now on the brink of being passed by the Senate, the recycling bill language is removed and replaced with forestry legislation. Neither the Assembly Natural Resources Committee nor the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee have scrutinized its wording or intent.

Instead this bill will be read for the second time on the Senate floor on Monday and then voted on by the Senate as early as Tuesday.

Then back to the Assembly. This bill must pass the Assembly by noon on Friday, when the 2013 legislative session ends.

The whole process for this bill may take less than week–rather than the usual nine months.

Please call Assemblymember Gordon at (916)319-2024 and ask him to withdraw AB744 and take next year to perfect it. It’s OK to call after hours and leave a message.

After you make the call, please let us know by clicking here.

Kathryn Phillips, Sierra Club California director

Come to the Fourth Annual David Brower Dinner

Sen. Loni Hancock (left) with Save the Bay founder Sylvia McLaughlin at last year's David Brower Dinner.

Sen. Loni Hancock (left) with Save the Bay founder Sylvia McLaughlin at last year’s David Brower Dinner.

Friday, October 4, 6 – 9 pm, Parc 55 Hotel, 55 Cyril Magnin Street, San Francisco (map).

Representative John Garamendi, Representative George Miller, California Energy Commissioner David Hochschild, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, CEO Lynn Jurich of Sunrun, state Senator Leland Yee, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, Earthjustice, and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates invite you to join us on Friday, October 4, for the Fourth Annual David Brower Dinner.

Our keynote speaker will be Tom Steyer, the founder of Tomkat Center for Sustainable Energy within the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford, and of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance.

The Trailblazer Award will go to Mosaic, a solar-finance company started by activists, located in Oakland.

The Phil Burton Badge of Courage Award will go to California state Sen. Loni Hancock.

Ticket price is $225 per person. Purchase your tickets on-line today!

Promote your brand at the David Brower Dinner; learn more about the benefits of sponsorship.

Use our secure checkout to purchase your tickets online today.

Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, a limited number of tickets will be available at a reduced rate. You may wish to add your name to our community-tickets waiting list. If you do so, we will contact you by e-mail if such a ticket becomes available.

Is SF getting ahead of itself on Warriors’ proposal?

 Former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos calls this “the most beautiful spot on the waterfront”. Should this land be used for the Warriors’ sports arena or for better public access to the shoreline? Photo courtesy San Francisco Waterfront Alliance.

Former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos calls this “the most beautiful spot on the waterfront”. Should this land be used for the Warriors’ sports arena or for better public access to the shoreline? Photo courtesy San Francisco Waterfront Alliance.

Update (June 17, 2013): to tell BCDC Commissioners and state Senators to halt this project from getting further in the planning process, go to No Warriors Arena on the Pier.


San Francisco has been barreling ahead on the Golden State Warriors’ proposal for an event center and multi-use development at Piers 30 – 32  off the The Embarcadero between Bryant and Brannan Streets.  In October the city issued “Findings of Fiscal Responsibility and Feasibility” prepared by Economic and Planning Systems. This report was accepted by the Board of Supervisors. At the request of the city, Assemblymember Phil Ting has introduced AB 1273 which would declare a multi-use development to conform to the Public Trust, even though his district does not include the proposed project.

On May 1, AB 1273 passed out of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on a 7 – 2 vote (Nancy Skinner and Mark Stone voting no) despite the opposition of Save the Bay, San Francisco Baykeeper, the San Francisco Waterfront Alliance, Sierra Club California, and the mayors of four East Bay cities (Tom Bates of Berkeley, Stephen Cassidy of San Leandro, Gayle McLaughlin of Richmond, and Jean Quan of Oakland). As the mayors’ letter stated, AB 1273 would diminish the authority of the State Lands Commission and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) in the project approval process. The bill moved to Local Government, where it passed unanimously. Next it goes to Assembly Appropriations.

This project has moved so quickly that the San Francisco Planning Department issued a Notice of Preparation (NOP) for the Draft Environmental Impact Report before the Planning Department had received project designs and building models. The Citizens’ Advisory Committee and its subcommittees have had to cancel meetings for lack of project information. Upcoming hearings before the San Francisco Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee, and BCDC will require the plans.

BCDC is clearly prepared to do its important job here. Its comments responding to the NOP were detailed, quoting the McAteer-Petris Act and the criteria of the Port’s Special Area Plan (SAP) for allowable development: “The SAP (p. 20) characterizes the Northeastern Waterfront which includes Piers 30 – 32, as a ‘regional recreation and scenic resource.’ Generally, the SAP provides that waterfront development should provide maximum feasible public access—of which visual access is a ‘critical part’ (p. 32), preserve important Bay views and have a low scale height and bulk.”

Also threatening open spaces on the waterfront is the Port’s proposal to turn the plaza behind the Ferry Building into a parking lot. The Waterfront Land Use Plan designates this plaza as open space. Parking over water is prohibited by the Waterfront Land Use Plan, San Francisco’s General Plan, and the BCDC Special Area Plan. The plaza is over water, as is the Ferry Building itself.


To be alerted when it is time to speak up against this and other outrageous waterfront proposals, make sure that you are signed up to receive the Sierra Club Bay Chapter’s updates and alerts.

Or to get involved now, please contact conservation organizer Jess Dervin-Ackerman at (510)848-0800, ext. 304, or jess@sfbaysc.org.

Becky Evans, chair, Sierra Club San Francisco Group

Governor’s tunnel vision leaves out Delta protection

Sierra Club California logo.Update (Aug. 8, 2013): On July 20, the Sierra Club passed the following resolution:

Sierra Club California opposes the proposed construction and operation of the Delta twin tunnels, the “preferred alternative” outlined in the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan (see http://baydeltaconservationplan.com/Home.aspx).

The following is the text of a letter sent on May 6, 2013, by Sierra Club California to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Dear Governor Brown:

Sierra Club California has for more than 26 years led legislative and regulatory advocacy in California for the Sierra Club, one of the largest and oldest volunteer-driven environmental organizations in the country. The Sierra Club itself, founded in 1892 by a group that included naturalist John Muir, was launched and is headquartered in our state.

We open with this background—of which, as a student of California history, you are surely familiar—to underscore that we are not newcomers to California’s environmental issues. In particular, we are not newcomers to the long struggles in California to develop water polices that support our communities and economy while also protecting the State’s precious natural environment. The Club has been an active voice for the environmental values that make California unique, but which are too often ignored or dismissed by policymakers, even today.

In the past California has relied on supply-based engineering solutions that too often paid little regard to environmental degradation and losses. These solutions included the damming of the Tuolumne River at Hetch- Hetchy Valley in the 1920’s; the diversion of the San Joaquin River at Friant Dam shortly after World War II; and construction of the New Melones Dam in the 1970’s, among other water projects. These engineering projects from another era have helped delay development of a sustainable water policy in our current era. It is critical that the current debate about the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta system not lead us to repeat history’s mistakes.

More than seven years ago, when the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) process began, Sierra Club was concerned that the endangered-species-directed approach would not adequately take into account the total Delta environment. We worried that the planning process was directed towards the interests of the largest project water users, rather than Delta residents or Californians as a whole.

General aerial photo of Delta patterns, July 15, 2004. Photo by Paul J. Hames.

General aerial photo of Delta patterns, July 15, 2004. Photo by Paul J. Hames.

The recent administrative draft BDCP documents, and your public statements, reinforce the appearance that the BDCP process is wedded to a new, large and complex water conveyance system in the Delta. Whereas the Delta Reform Act speaks to dual goals of ecosystem restoration and reliability of Delta supplies, in the context of programs for long-term reliability statewide, the documentation released for the BDCP seems intent on maintaining or increasing high exports out of the Delta to benefit the State Water Project and Central Valley Project contractors at the expense of the environment.

The BDCP—funded by the Southern California water agencies and the western San Joaquin Valley farming corporations who draw on so much Delta water—proposes a water supply solution that improves contract deliveries despite substantial evidence that the Delta ecosystem would benefit from higher outflows. Moreover, analyses show that climate change is likely to reduce the project’s ability to reliably provide higher amounts of water. This is not the path to reliable water supplies. It is the State’s responsibility to address water supply reliability in a manner that meets the needs of all Californians in ways that are consistent with environmental protection, resource conservation, and long-term sustainability. The BDCP draft fails to accomplish this balancing.

We are sorry to see that our early skepticism and worries appear well founded. We believe the proposed 9,000 cfs twin tunnel conveyance project, requiring a series of gigantic intake structures along the Sacramento River near Hood, combined with the apparent continued use of pumping stations in the southern Delta at Tracy, will be disastrous for the environment, the cultural resources and the economy in the Delta. The twin tunnels scenario also has the added risk of seriously degrading migrating fish, such as salmon, in the Sacramento River.

You were not the governor when the BDCP process began. However, you do bear considerable responsibility for the course of the debate about the Delta’s future since you took office in 2010. The Sierra Club is disappointed with some of your recent public statements and your administration’s stance regarding the State’s water supply issues and Delta policy.

Specifically, your administration seems to be focused on, if not obsessed with, building a large water conveyance project no matter what its impacts on the ecosystem and economy in Northern California. Your seeming disregard for the proposed conveyance system’s short-term construction and long-term operational, environmental and economic impacts was most recently demonstrated in your April 22 letter urging the U.S. Department of Interior to accelerate its review of the BDCP document even before the full document has been publicly released.

We are especially concerned about your rush to judgment that a large conveyance will be beneficial even though any detailed information about how that conveyance will be operated—how much water will be taken from the Delta system and when—has not even been released or determined. Even if construction of a conveyance is the right thing to do—and we believe the current proposal isn’t, given the evidence of its impacts—how that conveyance is
operated has an enormous influence on its environmental and economic impact. How can the public be asked to even consider such a proposal without solid commitments that its use would be governed by environmentally protective requirements, and without analysis showing its feasibility under such conditions?

You and your administration are relying too heavily on an old-fashioned approach to resolving California’s water demand challenges at a time when more updated ideas and alternatives are needed. Your solution is to build something big before you leave office. Yet, building something big and old-fashioned isn’t going to ensure— especially during a time of climate disruption—that the people of California and the environment will be guaranteed the reliable and essential water supply needed at the time it is most critical.

California needs 21st-century leadership on water policy that fully considers a wide range of alternatives that address how we can reduce water loss from existing infrastructure, preserve water quality, improve conservation across the state and across sectors of the economy, and restore watersheds to help California meet its essential public health, economic, and environmental goals. We are asking you for a commitment to fiercely protect and fight for the public trust of surface and groundwater resources, which belong to all Californians.

Rather than rushing to a tunnel solution, we urge you to reconsider your position on the Delta and explore alternative plans to lead California in a bolder, more enlightened and comprehensive direction on water supply policy. Our organization stands ready to assist in developing a better path. We want a healthy, lasting environment in California for all Californians. We hope that you do, too.


Kathryn Phillips

Director, Sierra Club California

Cc: Secretary John Laird
Deputy Secretary Gerald Meral
Reps. Doris Matsui, John Garamendi, Jerry McNerney, Ami Bera, George Miller
California Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee
California Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee

Alameda County Supervisors reject threat to open space

Some of the agricultural lands in North Livermore protected by Measure D. Photo by Richard Rollins.

Some of the agricultural lands in North Livermore protected by Measure D. Photo by Richard Rollins.

On May 7 the Alameda County Board of Supervisors rebuffed a threat to the county’s Urban Growth Boundary (UGB).

Measure D, written by Sierra Club members and passed by the voters in 2000, enacted the UGB and established limits to development outside it. One of the limits restricts the proportion of a parcel that can be covered with buildings to 1% of the parcel’s area. This keeps the scale of development commensurate with parcel size and maintains viable habitat and other natural values in rural areas.

At the behest of one Castro Valley landowner, though, an attempt was made to change the floor-area ratio so that his covered arena wouldn’t count (see December 2012-January 2013, page 3). The landowner had bought the property with very large barns already on site. He then illegally covered his arena and then went to the Board to amend Measure D to legalize his act retroactively.

The Club opposed the amendment because policies enacted by voter initiative can only be changed by a subsequent vote of the people. Measure D did not give the Board authority to make this change without a public vote.

The five-member Board deadlocked 2 – 2, thus defeating the change. Supervisors Wilma Chan and Richard Valle voted against the amendment. Supervisor Keith Carson had to leave the meeting early, but would have voted no also, had his vote been necessary. All three supervisors deserve our thanks.

Dick Schneider

Will California improve or weaken Environmental Quality Act?

Sierra Club California logo.Gov. Jerry Brown recently told reporters, during his China trip, that he was temporarily backing off of his push to weaken California’s environmental review law, the California Environmental Quality Act. A few days ago Evan Halper, the Los Angeles Times’ Sacramento Bureau chief, wrote an interesting article about this and the governor’s latest efforts to push ahead with controversial big projects. Then, a day or two later, our own Sierra Club California Executive Committee member Gary Patton wrote a great letter regarding the governor’s position, which was also published in the Times.

While the governor is certainly a threat to CEQA, is he the only or biggest threat to environmental review? More than a week before Brown’s statement from China, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told the Sacramento Bee that, during a presentation about why the National Basketball Association should keep the Kings in Sacramento, Steinberg assured the NBA that the legislature wouldn’t allow any environmental laws to unnecessarily slow down construction of a new arena for the Kings. Then late last week, Steinberg said something similar to television reporters. According to KCRA, ”Steinberg said before the Kings relocation first unfolded, he had started to work on SB 731, which includes comprehensive reform for environmental regulations and might prevent lawsuits that could hold up an arena project.”

The last big proposal to reduce enforceability of CEQA, AB 900, was drafted by Steinberg and his staff as a gut-and-amend bill at the end of the 2011 legislative session. The most offensive aspect of that bill would have allowed challenges to certain kinds of projects to bypass the lower court and go straight to the appeals court. The Club opposed this provision because we believed then–and continue to believe–that this would reduce the ability of local groups to effectively challenge Environmental Impact Reports and actually enforce CEQA.

Our friends at the Planning and Conservation League challenged that provision, and in March an Alameda Superior Court judge struck it down as unconstitutional.

Fortunately, there are a few good CEQA bills that we support. These bills, including two by Sen. Noreen Evans and one by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, will help make sure the law works better for all Californians by doing things like taking advantage of technology to encourage electronic posting of project announcements and making sure there’s a firewall between project analysts and the developers who are sponsoring the projects.

Meanwhile, we’re also waiting to see what will actually be in Sen. Steinberg’s SB 731. So far, it only contains intent language.


Tell the Senate Environmental Quality Committee members, who will hear the bills soon, that Evans’ SB 617 and SB 754 and Jackson’s SB 436 deserve support. The bills will make information about big development projects more available to the public—consistent with the true intent of CEQA.

Disparate interest groups have argued that the CEQA process needs to be made more efficient. The improvements in these bills will help do that without sacrificing the heart of environmental review and its enforcement.

Urge the Senate Environmental Quality Committee to pass Evans’ SB 617 and SB 754 and Jackson’s SB 436.

Help make sure CEQA keeps working for the public’s interest.