September 1, 2014

Alameda County Board of Supervisors to consider a ban on fracking

thisoneThe fight to ban fracking in Alameda County is coming to a head. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of our local alliance, Alameda County Against Fracking, a county-wide fracking ban is on the agenda at the September 4th meeting of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. You can help make the fracking ban a reality by joining us at the meeting and writing a letter to the Supervisors showing your support for a frack-free Alameda County.

We need a big crowd to turn out and voice their support for this action. In a conversation last month, Supervisor Scott Haggerty—who is introducing the anti-fracking legislation—emphasized that the success of this ban relies on the Supervisors hearing directly from their constituents. He also said: “I will certainly hear from Chevron.”

Big Oil will fight us on this. So it’s more important than ever that our elected officials hear from YOU. Let’s make sure the Board of Supervisors stays accountable to the voters—not to the oil and gas industry.

WHAT: Alameda County Transportation and Planning Committee meeting
WHEN: Thursday, September 4, 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
WHERE: 1221 Oak Street, 5th floor, Oakland

Even if you can’t make it to the meeting, please take a few minutes to write a letter urging your local Supervisor to sign on to the fracking ban, and thanking Supervisor Haggerty for introducing the legislation.

Read more about the Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter’s anti-fracking efforts in “New alliance calls for Alameda County fracking ban.”

Celebrate owls at the Marin Group fall picnic

Photo by Bill Gracey, Flickr CC.

Photo by Bill Gracey, Flickr CC.

Enjoy a walk through owl habitat and build your own owl box at the SF Bay Chapter’s Marin Group fall picnic.

WHEN: Saturday, October 11, 9:30 am to 3:30 pm
WHERE: Muir Woods Park Community Association Clubhouse, above Muir Woods, 40 Ridge Avenue, Mill Valley, CA 94941  (off Panoramic Highway)

Join the group from 9:30 to 11:30 am for a morning hike (three levels of difficulty). From 11:45 am to 12:45 pm, enjoy a potluck lunch with your fellow Sierra Club members. Last names A-E, please bring an appetizer; F-J, salad or side dish; K-O, entree, P-T, dessert; U-Z, non-alcoholic beverage. Please, no alcohol.

After lunch, learn about local owls and build your own owl box. You will assemble your box on site, and take home a completed owl box, ready to mount. This is a fun project for families! Bring your charged Phillips head screwdriver. Everything else necessary for the project will be provided. You can choose between a Western screech owl box for shady, forested areas ($60, tax-deductible) or a bigger barn owl box for areas on the edge of large fields and open to the sky ($80, tax-deductible).

Owl box kits are made to order, so you must make your reservations in advance! Reserve your box(es) by sending a check (made out to Sierra Club Marin Group) along with the following information to: Michele Barni, Sierra Club Marin Group Executive Committee Chair, P.O. Box 4, San Quentin Village, CA 94964. Please submit your owl box order by September 22, 2014.

  • Name
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Your order
  • Number and kind of boxes (Western screech owl, $60, or barn owl, $80)
  • Total tax-deductible check enclosed
  • Do you need a screw gun?

Questions? Contact laurachariton at comcast.net. For more information on owl boxes, please visit the Hungry Owl Project website.

We hope to see you there!

Lobby EBMUD for Mokelumne Wild and Scenic protection

Photo by Katherine Evatt.

Photo by Katherine Evatt.

Your support for SB 1199—state Wild and Scenic designation for the Mokelumne River—is needed on Tuesday, August 12. SB 1199 has traveled a long road, but last week it was put in “suspense” at the Appropriations Committee. That means it is alive, but side-tracked.

The backing of the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) Board is absolutely critical now to show needed strength and help the bill to advance. The EBMUD Board meets this Tuesday, August 12, at 1:15 pm, at 375 11th Street in Oakland. If you are available, please attend this meeting and urge the Board to adopt a position of active support for SB 1199. Briefly state one or more of the following points:
  • It is in the best interest of EBMUD customers’ drinking water supply and future salmon restoration efforts to protect the 37-mile stretch in question from the construction of upstream dams or diversion facilities.
  • EBMUD should not defer to Tea Party-dominated Amador County, where a small group of politicians continues to try to impose language on the bill that would set a terrible precedent, weakening the California Wild and Scenic Act itself and endangering future bids to protect other rivers.
  • Major constituencies in the EBMUD service area have passed resolutions of support for Mokelumne Wild and Scenic protection, including the Richmond City Council (in 2009), the Berkeley City Council (in 2009), and the Oakland City Council (this month). The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors  recently reaffirmed its support.
  • Sierra Club California—representing the views of nearly 150,000 Californians—and the San Francisco Bay Chapter strongly advocate state Wild and Scenic protection for the Mokelumne River.
  •  Passage of SB 1199 will allow all Californians, including communities in the watershed, to benefit in perpetuity from the environmental, recreational, scenic, touristic, cultural, and historic values the Mokelumne River offers.
If you can’t attend the EBMUD Board meeting in person, please send a short email incorporating the above talking points to the following EBMUB Boardmembers:
Your local advocacy can make a real difference in our struggle to help preserve a unique natural resource in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Save the “Moke,” a river for all! Read more about this issue in “Wild and Scenic protection for the Mokelumne River is not out of the woods.”

November election pits grassroots initiative to protect Golden Gate Park against Park Department power play

Rendering of proposed SFRPD project at Beach Chalet fields.

Rendering of proposed SFRPD project at Beach Chalet fields.

After working around the clock to qualify the Golden Gate Park Recreational Fields Renovation Act for the November ballot, dedicated environmentalists and health-conscious parents submitted over 15,000 signatures to San Francisco’s Department of Elections in July.   If certified, the Fields Renovation Act would give San Franciscans the opportunity to cast a simple “yes” or “no” vote on installing artificial turf and stadium lighting in the western end of Golden Gate Park. The Act requires the City to maintain those same sports fields as grass.

The Fields Renovation Act was born from efforts to protect Golden Gate Park from the destructive Beach Chalet soccer fields project.  For over five years, the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Park (SFRPD) has pushed for demolishing the natural grass fields to make way for a seven-acre artificial-turf soccer field containing toxic tire waste and 150,000 watts of stadium lighting on 60 foot poles.  The SFRPD project would bulldoze grassy and forest habitat as well as bringing in more car traffic, more concrete, and extensive night-lighting, right next to Ocean Beach.

The outpouring of grassroots support for the Fields Renovation Act has prompted SFRPD to file a competing initiative through the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors. The SFRPD initiative would amend the Park Code to “authorize renovation of children’s playgrounds, walking trails and athletic fields where a certified environmental impact report documents at least doubling in anticipated usage.”

The SFRPD initiative is both too vague and too broad, presenting a Pandora’s Box of unforeseen consequences for the entire park system—not just for Golden Gate Park. While it claims to satisfy the need for more recreation areas, what the SFRPD initiative would actually accomplish is unclear.  SFRPD already possesses the authority to renovate city parks, and the initiative does not provide any new funding to accomplish its stated goal of future renovations. Moreover, the SFRPD initiative is vague as to the meaning of “usage,” opening the door for the department to use its own data to decide unilaterally which activities should take precedence in all of San Francisco’s parks.

The SFRPD initiative would take control of the park system away from the public in other ways. First, the impact of the proposed legislation on the public’s right to appeal under the California Environmental Quality Act or at the Board of Appeals is uncertain. Second, the initiative states that it shall be “liberally construed,” potentially opening the parks to privatization and commercial “usage.” And third, the initiative states that it can be amended by the Board of Supervisors. Control of the parks was taken away from the Supervisors years ago, because they could not be trusted to look beyond the next election. Is this legislation the first step to placing power over our parks back in the hands of the Supervisors?

The SFRPD initiative is actually a thinly veiled power grab, disguised as a measure that will somehow benefit children. By contrast, the grassroots Fields Renovation Act would save Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach from irrevocable environmental damage, while promoting maintenance of the existing playing fields. The Sierra Club urges you to support the Recreational Fields Renovation Act and reject the SFRPD’s competing initiative when you go to the ballot box in November.

For more information about the ballot initiative to protect Golden Gate Park, visit www.protectggp.org. For background information on the Beach Chalet soccer fields, visit www.sfoceanedge.org.

—Katherine Howard, ASLA

Settlement puts Plan Bay Area back on track

Photo via Flickr.com/thomashawk.

Photo via Flickr.com/thomashawk.

On June 19, Communities for a Better Environment and the Sierra Club, together with Earthjustice as legal counsel, announced an agreement with the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) over a lawsuit related to the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), otherwise known as Plan Bay Area. This settlement is a victory for all Bay Area residents, ensuring that planning for the region’s transportation, housing development, and land management will meaningfully address the goals of reducing climate change; securing the health and safety of vulnerable communities; and promoting sustainable growth.

The litigation goes back to August 2013, when the social justice and environmental organizations filed a lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act. Plan Bay Area (a 28-year, $292-billion master plan) was supposed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through smart growth programs and by improving transportation alternatives to driving. However, the plan did not provide information about the sustainability of the key smart growth programs, and did not assure adequate funding to maintain the region’s existing transit system. Plan Bay Area also took credit for reduced greenhouse-gas emissions for projects and programs unrelated to it, such as new statewide formulations for motor-vehicle fuels.

Further, there was no program for dealing with increased freight traffic, which poses health and safety risks for people living near busy truck and railroad lines (see “Oakland joins forces with neighboring cities to oppose dirty fuels by rail” on page xx).

Under the settlement, ABAG and MTC must be transparent about what the next regional transportation plan—likely to be adopted in 2017—will do to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Bay Area residents have the right to know how and to what extent the plan secures their health and safety, and that of the environment.

Plan Bay Area’s smart growth program is based on Priority Development Areas (PDAs) targeted for sustainable housing growth. For example, West Oakland Transit Town Center will have more than 6,000 new housing units built during the life of Plan Bay Area. The settlement requires that the next regional transportation plan provide the public with information about whether or not each of the approximately two hundred PDAs will be successful and sustainable. For instance, residents will be told if a PDA will be adequately served by public transit, or if it may flood due to sea-level rise.

The settlement also requires that the next regional transportation plan have a transparent and effective strategy for reducing air pollution from trains and trucks moving through populated areas such as West Oakland.

Subsequent to the environmental settlement, an Alameda County judge dismissed a related lawsuit by the group Bay Area Citizens, represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, claiming that Plan Bay Area was unnecessary and would reduce property values.

—Matt Williams, Chair of the Chapter Transportation and Compact Growth Committee

Chapter gets behind “Raise the Wage” campaigns

A Whole Foods worker goes on strike. Photo via Flickr.com/ari.

A Whole Foods worker goes on strike. Photo via Flickr.com/ari.

This year, the Bay Chapter took the historic step of supporting local campaigns to raise the minimum wage in several of its member cities. Bolstered by President Obama’s call to raise the federal minimum wage, recent attempts by state legislators to do the same in California, and the successes of  “Raise the Wage” campaigns in San Francisco and San Jose, a broad coalition has emerged around this issue in the East Bay. Many leaders within the Sierra Club have supported “Raise the Wage” campaigns in Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland, writing letters to and speaking in front of city councils and participating in strategy meetings. A strategy meeting hosted by the Bay Chapter earlier this summer drew nearly forty representatives from labor, communities of faith, and progressive organizations.

In June, the Chapter Executive Committee voted to support all campaigns to increase the minimum wage within its member jurisdictions. This decision is in line with the Club’s commitment to sustainable communities and the goal of curbing carbon pollution, because when workers can afford to live in or near the cities where they work there is an aggregate reduction of sprawl and greenhouse-gas emissions. The ExComm decision also demonstrates solidarity with workers and other organizations that support this important issue, such as the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Bend the Arc, and Tax the Rich.

Although “Raise the Wage” campaigns in the East Bay called for a minimum wage of $15/hour, the city councils of both Richmond and Berkeley ultimately passed watered-down resolutions featuring more modest wage increases and a number of exemptions. This suggests that placing an initiative directly before the voters may be a more effective way to raise the wage. In Oakland, the Sierra Club recently signed on to a November ballot initiative supported by coalition partners that raises the wage from $9 to $12.25/hour. Meanwhile, a business-aligned coalition is currently lobbying the Oakland City Council to place a competing measure on the ballot that would phase in minimum wage increases over three years and exempt certain employers.

As strategy discussions continue around the Oakland campaign and next steps for Richmond and Berkeley, we welcome participation from Sierra Club members. To get involved, contact Bay Chapter Vice Chair Igor Tregub at itregub at gmail.com.

—Igor Tregub, SF Bay Chapter Vice Chair

Three-day celebration of Clair Tappaan Lodge 80th anniversary

ClairTappaan drawing_Ottmar Goebel 1970John Muir famously said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” In that spirit, you are invited to a three-day celebration of the 80th anniversary of Clair Tappaan Lodge, from August 15 to 17. Built by Sierra Club volunteers in 1934, Clair Tappaan is the Sierra Club’s flagship lodge, hosting a wide variety of programs that support sustainable practices and the Club’s mission to “explore, enjoy and protect the wild places of the Earth.”

Anniversary festivities begin on Friday with an afternoon hike, gourmet dinner, and dramatic, panoramic slide program of Yosemite and the High Sierra by John Muir-reenactor Don Baldwin. On Saturday, you’ll have the opportunity to swim in a High Sierra lake and join guided hikes with themes including archaeology, geology, and photography. On Saturday afternoon, indulge in wine and cheese in the Hutchinson Lodge while enjoying the music of classical guitarist Stephen Holland. After dinner, Sierra Club President David Scott will give a keynote address on the topic of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Afterwards, tap your feet to the traditional bluegrass, original tunes, and honky tonk harmonies of Mountain Fire. The celebrations will conclude on Sunday with a raffle and day hikes.

The cost for the weekend is $195 per person, which includes six meals (vegetarian options available), two nights’ lodging, and all activities. The fee for Saturday only is $95; or $25 to attend only the Music in the Hutchinson Lodge wine and cheese reception on Saturday afternoon. Participant fees partially support Lodge operations and those funds are not tax deductible. If you can’t attend the celebrations but want to support grants for youth to study environmental education at the Lodge, donations are gratefully accepted. To make your reservations, call (530)426-3632 or email reservations at clairtappaanlodge.com. You can find more information online here.

“Out of the classroom”: an intern observes environmental activism up close

Author Frances Swanson (second from right) with (left to right) Chapter conservation organizer Jess Dervin-Ackerman and fellow summer interns Vanessa Gerber, Isabella Bustamante, and Thomas Munzar.

Author Frances Swanson (second from right) with (left to right) Chapter conservation organizer Jess Dervin-Ackerman and fellow summer interns Vanessa Gerber, Isabella Bustamante, and Thomas Munzar.

As the Rolling Stones said, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.” I walked away from the Senate Energy Committee Meeting on June 23 with mixed emotions. A patchwork of frustration, hope, and excitement mingled together while feelings of empowerment and disempowerment played leap-frog. At the end of the day, we—those fighting Assembly Bill 2145, the Utility Monopoly Protection Bill—got what we needed, but not what we wanted. Community Choice Aggregation in California was no longer saddled with an opt-in provision, but the bill still passed.

When I drove up to Sacramento that Monday morning, I did not know what to expect. Before that day I had attended meetings of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and the Oakland City Council, but this was the first time I would experience decision-making at the state level. In fact, just about everything I did that day I did for the first time: going to a press conference on the steps of the California State Capitol, running around to senators’ offices in an attempt at last-minute lobbying, waiting for over an hour in a crowded hallway for the hearing to commence, and speaking in front of the committee during the public comments period.

I spent the majority of my day watching and listening. I decided to intern at the Sierra Club this summer because I wanted to experience what environmental activism looked and felt like, and this was a perfect opportunity for me to observe. I observed as the Bay Chapter’s conservation organizer, Jess Dervin-Ackerman, debated with a man there to share his support of the bill. I noticed how both of them were simultaneously joking around while being deadly serious about the matter. I saw how the people around them turned an eye and an ear to their conversation in the hope of seeing some action. I saw how both were truly listening to what the other had to say, while maintaining their own firm stance.

I observed the audience of the Senate Energy Committee meeting react throughout the hearing. I saw the woman sitting next to me raise her hands and wiggle her fingers in support of someone’s statement. I saw activists making pointed eye-contact and whispering to one another. I observed the blank faces of the senators sitting on the committee. I saw the fear on the No on 2145 organizers’ faces when thirty people stated their support of the bill. I saw the energy in those same faces when seventy people stated their opposition to the bill. I experienced the butterflies right before I got up to the microphone and the smile on my face as I walked away.

I observed all of the anger, patience, annoyance, fear, optimism, and passion of the day. While I have many, many more things to observe, people to meet, and thoughts to consider, my trip to Sacramento and the four weeks of planning and organizing leading up to it gave me a bitter-sweet taste of environmental activism out of the classroom and in “the real world.”

—Frances Swanson, SF Bay Chapter intern

Read more about AB 2145 in “AB 2145, renewable energy wrecking ball: down but not out” and “Alameda County Board of Supervisors votes to move forward on Community Choice.”

Oakland Zoo’s proposed expansion into Knowland Park goes from bad to worse

10272777_228030487396164_7927941693625751956_oThe Sierra Club has grown increasingly concerned about the California Trails exhibit that the Oakland Zoo proposes to build on the ridge line of Knowland Park. The City of Oakland approved the fifty-six-acre project in 2011 on a fifteen-year-old Mitigated Negative Declaration. Since then, however, the permitting agencies have provided significant pushback to the zoo’s claim that the project would have no significant environmental impacts. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recommended that the project be built within the zoo’s existing footprint to avoid significant impacts to rare plant communities and to the threatened Alameda whipsnake. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), meanwhile, sent the zoo’s application back to the drawing board, noting that the project is at best conceptual.

Two-and-a-half years later, after much heated negotiation, both CDFW and USFWS find that the zoo and the city have each grossly underestimated impacts to Alameda whipsnake habitat, and now require fifty-two acres be set aside for mitigation. In order to fulfill this requirement, the zoo is now proposing that an additional twenty-one acres of Knowland Park land be set aside. In addition to the fact that taking park land for mitigation is double-dipping, this proposal would require the loss of public access to that land.

The parcel in question is closed-canopy oak bay woodland, not the high-quality Alameda whipsnake habitat that the project would destroy. And, because the Deed of Transfer that conveyed the park from the state to the city required that it always remain a public park, removing acreage from public access could potentially trigger the “reverter clause” that would re-convey the land to the state. The zoo and the city are once again offering a ludicrous solution to a self-imposed problem: they propose to keep the appearance of public access by allowing the public to view the twenty-one acres under mitigation from the project’s aerial gondola or a viewing station.

It is clear that the city failed in its fundamental duty as Lead Agency to require a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Such a process would have included the critical alternatives analysis, which would have uncovered the major problems with the project and proposed better alternatives. In fact, early in the process the Sierra Club requested that the City conduct a full EIR. The California Native Plant Society’s East Bay Chapter, the California Native Grasslands Association, and Friends of Knowland Park all concurred. As of this writing, not a single East Bay environmental organization endorses this project.

The Sierra Club believes that the public’s right to full and complete access to land in Knowland Park is unequivocal. Furthermore, building on ridge lines, in protected park land, and in listed-species habitat is an affront to conservation principles—especially when there’s more than adequate unused land to accommodate this project within and immediately adjacent to the zoo footprint. The City has dragged the public down a long, twisted path in its quest to accommodate the zoo’s desire to build in the wrong place. The Sierra Club recommends that the City acknowledge that it has gotten in over its head and hit the re-set button.

WhatYouCanDo

Contact Oakland City Council members, the Director of City Planning, and the Office of Parks and Recreation to let them know that you oppose developing high-quality park land.

—Norman La Force, Chair East Bay Public Lands Committee

Getting UC out of the fossil fuel industry

Fossil Free UCIn response to pressure from the Fossil Free UC student movement, the Regents of the University of California (UC) will vote at their September meeting on whether to divest from their fossil fuel holdings. With a General Endowment Pool of nearly $7 billion, a vote to divest would be a huge victory for the planet.

Divestment is a tactic that has worked in the past for issues such as apartheid in South Africa, tobacco, and the Sudan. Climate change is arguably the biggest issue of our time. The students of Fossil Free UC recognize that if we continue to emit atmosphere-warming greenhouse gases at the current rate, by 2050—when current UC students are in the prime of their lives—the impacts on global climate could be catastrophic. We owe it to future generations to ensure their future is not unlivable, and UC can make a difference.

The University of California has an admirable carbon-neutral goal for the year 2025. Holding stocks in fossil fuel companies (oil, gas, and coal) runs counter to that worthy goal. Also, many UC researchers have contributed to the science that concludes that 80% of fossil fuels must be left in the ground in order to avoid the worst damages of climate change. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel companies spend millions every day exploring for new sources of carbon to exploit and sell.

Holdings in fossil fuels pose a financial risk as well. Just as there was a housing bubble, there could also be a carbon bubble, and holdings could become stranded assets—worthless compared with investments in water, wind, and solar.

Divestment is a moral statement more that an attempt to financially damage the fossil fuel industry. It is wrong to profit from the destruction of the planet. While our politicians seem unable to do what needs to be done—such as put carbon taxes into place, build more effective public transportation, and subsidize clean energy—the divestment movement sends a powerful message: get dirty oil money out of politics, and do it now. Move on with slowing climate change.

WhatYouCanDo

The eyes of the world will be on the Regents as they vote on divestment at their meeting in San Francisco on September 17. Join a coalition of concerned citizens and UC students, faculty, staff, and alumni at the meeting and help put pressure on the Regents to use their investment portfolio of nearly $7 billion to address climate and sustainability. For more information about attending the September 17 meeting or getting involved in the campaign, visit www.fossilfreeUC.org.

—Kathy Barnhart, Fossil Free UC