May 30, 2016

Volunteer signature-gatherers needed for initiative to protect Richmond hills

The Richmond Hills Scenic Area Initiative applies to an undeveloped hillside area of roughly 430 acres (greyed out in map above) surrounded by public and private lands.

The Richmond Hills Scenic Area Initiative applies to an undeveloped hillside area of roughly 430 acres (greyed out in map above) surrounded by public and private lands.

We need your help to qualify an initiative for the ballot that would protect a special stretch of scenic open space in the Richmond hills north of Wildcat Canyon.

To qualify the Richmond Hills Initiative for the ballot, we need to gather 6,000 signatures in the next few months. It’s a big effort, but we can do it if we all pitch in! If you can volunteer a few hours of your time to support this important initiative, please sign up for one or more signature-gathering shifts.

Slump on the Clark-Boas portion of the property. If the city of Richmond approves housing developments here, it could open itself to liability due to geologic instability.

Slump on the Clark-Boas portion of the property. If the city of Richmond approves housing developments here, it could open itself to liability due to geologic instability.

The initiative would protect 430 acres of undeveloped hillside with stunning panoramic views and important ecological value. The area offers a mixture of dense oak forest, rolling hills, stream beds, and pasture — all providing homes for birds and wildlife. Although the land is poorly suited for development (it’s prone to landslides, for one), it has been targeted for large-scale housing projects numerous times over the years. Right now, these misguided developments have to be beaten back one-by-one.

The Richmond Hills Initiative would protect this land forever by rezoning it to preserve scenic views, protect wildlife habitat, and prevent residential subdivisions and other harmful development. The area would be open to recreation like hiking and horseback riding, as well as small-scale agriculture and grazing. This initiative is modeled after similar initiatives that have successfully protected open space in Dublin, Hercules, and elsewhere.

Nine watersheds provide potential habitat for endangered species.

Nine watersheds provide potential habitat for endangered species.

Signature gatherers will work in pairs at high-traffic locations like farmers markets, grocery stores, and special events. It’s a great way to do good and meet new people, so sign up today! If you’re interested in volunteering, or even if you’re still on the fence, come to this Saturday’s volunteer orientation to learn more about the initiative and get trained in signature gathering:

WHAT: Volunteer orientation
WHEN: Saturday, May 28th, 9 – 10 am
WHERE: 3841 Linden Lane, El Sobrante (map)
RSVP: to richmondhills2016@gmail.com

This is our chance to protect our hills for the long-term — but first, the initiative needs to qualify for the ballot. Please sign up to gather signatures, even if you have only a few hours to give. This is a big endeavor and we need your help now to protect our beautiful open space forever!

Alameda County fracking ban moves forward — Come to 6/1 campaign meeting to strategize next steps

What a whirlwind Monday’s hearing was! In case you missed it, after years of immense pressure and delays from the oil industry, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to approve the anti-fracking ordinance! The next step is a vote of the Transportation and Planning Committee (stay tuned for details). Then it will move on to a final vote of the full Board of Supervisors.

We are well on our way to banning fracking and protecting our groundwater, our children’s health, and the future of Alameda County. What’s next? Join us at a critical campaign meeting Wednesday, June 1st, to hammer out how we’re going to win!

The fracking ban as it stands also prohibits cyclic steam injection, acid fracturing, well stimulation, and nearly every other dirty and dangerous method of extreme oil extraction. But here’s the tricky part: the ordinance that the Planning Commission recommended includes one weakness, which is a loophole allowing some kinds of waterflooding, a water-intensive “cousin” of fracking.

Can we stand behind this ordinance as it moves to the Board of Supervisors? As Alameda County Against Fracking, we have to decide. And for that, we need you. Join us at a can’t-miss campaign meeting to discuss our future and what winning will look like:

WHAT: Alameda County Against Fracking: What’s next? Campaign meeting and supporter meet-up
WHERE: Food & Water Watch, 1814 Franklin St., 11th Floor, Oakland, CA (take BART to 19th St.)
WHEN: Wednesday, June 1st, 6-7:30 PM
RSVP: on Facebook, or email eteevan@fwwatch.org

We’ve come this far, thanks to your tireless work. Now it’s time to think hard about the future of Alameda County.

Ella Teevan, Food & Water Watch

Zeke rides again! Fourth annual climate ride for 15-year-old from Berkeley

Zeke and his bike, from his Instagram page, @zekegerwein

Zeke and his bike, from his Instagram page, @zekegerwein

Now 15 years old, Zeke Gerwin will ride again this summer to raise awareness of climate change and raise money for the Bay Chapter’s work to create a just transition to a 100-percent-renewable-energy economy and stop dangerous fossil fuels from coming through the Bay Area.

This is the fourth year in a row that Zeke will be spending his summer  break pedaling for climate justice. Last year he raised $4,939 from fans and supporters who share his concerns about the climate and want to encourage Zeke’s dedication. Here are a few words from Zeke about this year’s ride:

“This summer I’ve chosen to ride my bicycle along the dirt roads and trails that run 4,000 miles along the length of the Rocky Mountains through three countries (Canada, the U.S., and Mexico).

While I am super excited about this ride because it will be an amazing adventure, it does not seem like it will do all that much to stop climate change. It might not. It might be useless (come to think of it, this might not actually be the smartest thing to put in a letter imploring people to give money to the Sierra Club). But I really, really hope it will do at least something, act as a tiny levee to stop the flood of carbon dioxide.

I want to talk to the people who live along the Great Divide; the First Nations people of Alberta whose homes are destroyed by the Tar Sands; the ranchers in Montana who have watched coal mining ruin whole mountains; the Coloradans who have to admire the view of miles of pine forest scoured by the pine beetle (which is now surviving through the winter due to global warming); farmers in Estado de Chihuahua who have observed the Chihuahuan Desert march forward, once lush mountainsides ravaged by drought.

I want to talk to people who subscribe to the views of the Koch Brothers and Cruz and Trump and Kasich and Clinton. It will be hard, and I may end up avoiding it, but I want to convince them that this is happening, to show them the evidence.

The Sierra Club has defeated over half of the coal plants in the United States, worked with many other environmental groups to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, and is now battling on the front lines to stop coal exports, right here in the Bay Area.

And in case you were wondering, since this is a self-organized ride funded by my oh-so-generous parents, every cent of your donation goes to the Sierra Club.”

Show your support

Zeke dipping his tire in the Pacific after last summer’s 4,000-plus-mile ride across the continental U.S.

Zeke dipping his tire in the Pacific after last summer’s 4,000-plus-mile ride across the continental U.S.

If you believe in Zeke’s mission, please give today! You can make a donation online, or make out a check payable to “SF Bay Chapter, Sierra  Club” and send it to:

2530 San Pablo Avenue, Suite I
Berkeley CA 94702

Put  “Zeke’s Ride” in the memo line so that your contribution counts toward Zeke’s goals.

Want to ride with Zeke?

Zeke is looking for a biking buddy for the last leg of his trip from August 15th in Los Angeles to August 24th in Mexico. If you are a seasoned cyclist interested in joining the trip, send an email to zekesride@sfbaysc.org for more information.

Follow Zeke’s ride online

Can’t get enough Zeke? Follow him on Instagram @zekegerwein and check out his blog. Happy trails, Zeke, and thanks!

Oakland City Council moves forward with process to ban coal exports — Critical hearing on June 27

Oakland residents have been protesting the coal-export proposal for over a year. Here, Katy Polony of No Coal in Oakland carries the message to Oakland City Hall last July. Photo by Brooke Anderson.

Oakland residents have been protesting the coal-export proposal for over a year. Here, Katy Polony of No Coal in Oakland carries the message to Oakland City Hall last July. Photo by Brooke Anderson.

Early in May, the Oakland City Council took an important step toward banning coal exports from the redeveloped Oakland Army Base. The Council voted unanimously to approve a contract with consulting firm ESA to prepare a report on the health and safety impacts of coal exports. Signing a contract now means that it is still possible to get a final decision on this matter before the Council’s upcoming summer recess.

Now that the City has finalized this contract, the consultant can begin the process of evaluating the thousands of pages of evidence pointing to the significant health and safety impacts of coal exports, submitted by experts and advocates including the Sierra Club. From increased asthma rates to decreased emergency vehicle access, the risks of exporting coal through Oakland are grave. We expect ESA’s findings to concur.

The City Council was originally scheduled to approve a contract with ESA on February 16th that would have pushed the timeline well into the fall and cost the city nearly $250,000. Prior to the February council meeting, Mayor Libby Schaaf released a statement urging the council to postpone contracting with ESA to evaluate more options.

The city ultimately decided to stay with ESA, while scaling down its scope of work. In a recent statement, the mayor said, “The revised contract with ESA is more financially responsible and appropriately limits their role to validating evidence and assisting the City in its job to determine whether there is ‘substantial evidence’ to find ‘substantial endangerment’ of health and safety. The revised scope clarifies that this determination belongs to the City and not a contractor.”

Hearing set for June 27

The consultant, ESA, has been given a mid-June deadline to evaluate evidence so that an initial consideration by the Council of any health and safety regulations can be heard prior to July. Acting on a recommendation from council member Rebecca Kaplan, the full council voted unanimously to take up the issue on June 27th at a special City Council meeting.

Setting June 27th for a hearing of findings is a step in the right direction to getting the city to enact a ban on coal exports, as any action the city takes to enact such a ban will require two readings of an ordinance. A first reading in June gives the council enough time to have a second reading and final vote in July, before council goes on break for summer recess.

Blocking additional fossil fuels

On May 9th, the City Council held a special public hearing to receive information, testimony, and evidence regarding the public health and  safety impacts of transportation, transloading, handling, and export of fuel oil, gasoline, and crude oil in and through the City of Oakland. Although there are no current plans to ship these products through Oakland, both fuel oil and gasoline were listed among the potential commodities that could be shipped through the terminal at the army base redevelopment.

In 2014, the city passed a resolution opposing the transportation of hazardous fossil fuel materials, including crude oil, coal, and petroleum coke, through the City Of Oakland. As a follow-up to that resolution, ESA will consider the health and safety impacts of these additional fossil fuels in their report on coal.

If all goes as planned, the city will be able to introduce and pass an ordinance banning all fossils fuel exports, though the council has made it clear that coal is the top priority. We will be watching to make sure the council acts on their resolution to ban these dirty and dangerous products before they go on summer break. After more than a year of waiting, the people of Oakland deserve to know where their council members stand on this important issue before casting their votes in November.

To get involved in this campaign, contact Brittany King at (510)848-0800 or brittany.king@sierraclub.org.

– Brittany King

A cap on refinery emissions can keep tar sands and fracked oil out of the Bay Area

At a recent community forum in Richmond, Sierra Club organizer Ratha Lai explained why we need refinery emission caps to protect public health and the climate.

At a recent community forum in Richmond, Sierra Club organizer Ratha Lai explained why we need refinery emission caps to protect public health and the climate.

Back in 2012, the Bay Area’s air regulators determined that changes in the types of crude oil being brought in by local refineries would lead to an increase in emissions. Since the Air District’s own research had found that levels of toxic air pollution were already “unacceptably harmful to public health,” they resolved to pass a regulation preventing increases in refinery-wide emissions. Four years later, we’ve seen a lot of delays and excuses, but still no rule to keep emission levels from rising.

What the Air District foresaw back in 2012 has now come to pass. From 2012 to 2015, Bay Area refineries have requested permits for at least ten infrastructure projects that would allow them to bring in and refine dirtier and more dangerous grades of crude oil like Canadian tar sands and fracked Bakken shale oil. And to our dismay, the Air District has proceeded to rubber-stamp these refinery proposals with little or no public input.

A rule capping refinery emissions including particulate matter and greenhouse gases would effectively keep out these dirtier and more dangerous oils. It would protect Bay Area families from pollutants that cause asthma, cancer, and heart disease, and protect the global climate from the most carbon-intensive types of crude oil.

Unfortunately, the Air District staff has again and again delayed the introduction of a rule capping refinery emissions (also known as Rule 12-16). Any further delays could push introduction of this rule into 2017, when a turnover in board members could make adoption of a strong rule much more difficult.

We’re asking the Air District board to do three things:

  1. Direct the Air District staff to prepare a rule adoption package for Rule 12-16 that will allow the board to consider adopting refinery emission caps no later than August 20, 2016.
  2. Ensure that Rule 12-16 includes specific, enforceable, numeric emission limits on each refiner’s facility-wide emissions, based on actual current emissions.
  3. Hold the adoption hearing in a Bay Area refinery community on a weekday evening so that the communities most impacted by refinery emissions are able to attend.

WhatYouCanDo

If you’ve had enough polluted air for one lifetime, tell the Air District board. You can send a message online here.

To get involved in this campaign, contact organizer Ratha Lai at (510)848-0800 or ratha.lai@sierraclub.org.

Sierra Club and allies help shape a clean-energy program for the East Bay

The Sierra Club’s allies at the East Bay Clean Power Alliance carry signs at the May 5th meeting of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors reading, “Community Choice should represent the diversity of the East Bay!” Photo courtesy of the Local Clean Energy Alliance.

The Sierra Club’s allies at the East Bay Clean Power Alliance carry signs at the May 5th meeting of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors reading, “Community Choice should represent the diversity of the East Bay!” Photo courtesy of the Local Clean Energy Alliance.

Planning is underway for a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) clean-energy program for Alameda County. The East Bay Clean Power Alliance, of which the Bay Chapter is a member, has been closely following this process to ensure that Alameda County’s program emphasizes community participation, development of local renewable resources, and the creation of local clean-energy jobs.

On May 4th, the Steering Committee for the development of Alameda County’s CCA met to discuss two meaty items: draft results of the CCA feasibility study, and a draft Joint Powers Authority (JPA) agreement.

CCA Feasibility Study

The County’s technical consultants, MRW & Associates, presented the overall electricity load of the County — assuming all eligible cities are participating — and presented three scenarios the program’s energy portfolio could move forward on.

  1. Minimum Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) compliance: 33% to 50% qualifying renewables;
  2. More aggressive: Initially 50% RPS with lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; and
  3. Very low GHG emissions: 50% to 80% by year five.

The analysis then projected the program’s rate and how competitive it was in comparison to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). For Scenarios 1 and 2, the CCA’s rates were, on average, 5% less than PG&E’s; but, for Scenario 3, the rates were closer to PG&E’s rates. The analysis then provided different energy portfolios for the above scenarios with different levels of non-renewable, hydro, and renewable sources.

For a comprehensive view, the study then provided a rate projection of all three scenarios in comparison to PG&E, depending on real-life possible situations that may occur over the years, such as high natural-gas prices, a high Power Charge Indifference Adjustment fee (or PCIA, and also known as “exit fees,” levied on customers who leave PG&E for a CCA), and the relicensing of the nuclear power plant in Diablo Canyon.

Outside of the program’s energy portfolio, the study also presented the macroeconomic implications of each scenario (spurring local economic development and jobs), the administration and development of energy-efficiency programs, and the capacity for building local renewable resources; the study estimated that up to 10% of the program’s renewable supply could come from local resources by 2030.

JPA Agreement

The Joint Power Authority agreement is the legal document that will officially form the agency that will run Alameda County’s CCA program. At the May 4th meeting there was a general overview by County counsel of the draft JPA agreement, with much of the discussion focusing on the voting procedures of the JPA board. In sum, all matters, except as expressly required, need a simple majority of all Board members. However, two or more Board members may request a “voting shares” vote, which is a weighted vote that is calculated through a formula of a city’s annual electricity usage.

There was also major support for spelling out the community goals in the JPA agreement. As the program’s founding document, it is critical that desired values, goals, and priorities are enshrined in it, including: community representation, aggressive greenhouse gas reductions, local jobs and renewables development, and more.

The Alameda County Steering Committee meets every first Wednesday of the month in the Castro Valley Library. County staff is expected to return with the results of the feasibility study and JPA agreement in June to show any feedback that was integrated in the drafts and continue the discussion to finalize the documents.

You can view a presentation of the CCA status update online here, and the draft JPA online here.

– Luis Amezcua

Secret Contra Costa Water District ‘Twin Tunnels’ deal sells Delta short

The critically endangered delta smelt could disappear if more fresh water is diverted from the Delta. Photo courtesy USFWS Pacific Southwest Region Flickr page.

The critically endangered delta smelt could disappear if more fresh water is diverted from the Delta. Photo courtesy USFWS Pacific Southwest Region Flickr page.

Recently, a backroom deal was made between Contra Costa Water District (CCWD) and the State Department of Water Resources that sells short CCWD customers as well as Delta fish and farmers.

The story began when CCWD opposed a petition by the State to divert more fresh water from the Sacramento River around the Delta as part of the controversial twin tunnels, or “WaterFix,” project. CCWD was against the proposal because it would negatively impact water quality throughout the Delta, including sites where it draws water for its customers.

On March 24th, in a closed-session meeting that wasn’t announced ahead of time, the CCWD’s Board of Directors approved an agreement with the Department of Water Resources to get upstream water from the State to offset the impact of the proposed twin tunnels — in exchange for CCWD dropping its opposition to the diversion petition.

CCWD operates under the State’s Ralph M. Brown Act, which requires that local agencies conduct their business in open meetings “…to facilitate public participation in local government decisions and to curb misuse of the democratic process by secret legislation…” In violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Brown Act, there was no release of a public agenda nor announcement of the closed session. The board didn’t even report on the substance of the agreement in open session at the public meeting during which the closed session was held.  A subsequent news release just said that the Board of Directors would review details of the agreement at the April 6th board meeting.

On April 2th, East Bay Times reporter Denis Cuff broke the story in an article titled “East Bay Water District’s Delta Deal raises eyebrows among environmentalists.” At the April 6th board meeting, details of the agreement were at last revealed to the public, but there was no opportunity for input into the decision since action had already been taken.

CCWD’s decision to enter the agreement was extremely disappointing and a significant departure from past policy. The board’s action runs contrary to interests of its constituents as well as the Delta environment. By obtaining more higher-quality water upstream of the Delta, less fresh water will run into and through the already threatened estuary. This at a time when indicator species such as the critically endangered Delta smelt have declined significantly in numbers and now face extinction.

For decades, CCWD fought alongside Contra Costans to protect the Delta in order to save fish populations and to protect irrigation sources for farmers. In 1982, CCWD was a leader in the successful effort to defeat the Peripheral Canal, which 96 percent of Contra Costa residents and a majority of State voters opposed. Now the Peripheral Canal is back, renamed the “WaterFix.”

There are many protests in play against the State’s change-of-diversion petition that would make way for the twin tunnels; DWR is trying to buy them off one by one. Building the tunnels hinges on the willingness of water agencies — including several in the Bay Area — to pay for it. Bay Area residents will be directly affected by the tunnels, and can have a voice in these decisions by urging our water agencies to stand firm in protecting the Delta and opposing the tunnel plan. Deals like CCWD’s agreement will strengthen the tunnels’ proponents, and put the Delta in greater jeopardy.

CCWD’s decision violated its legal requirements to be transparent and accountable to the public. The Board should hold a public hearing on the agreement as soon as possible to reconsider its position. The Sierra Club recommends that the CCWD board revoke the settlement agreement with the State and reinstate their protest against the WaterFix tunnels.

WhatYouCanDo

Send a letter to the CCWD Board of Directors and General Manager Jerry Brown, 1331 Concord Avenue, Concord, CA 94524.  Tell them that because they violated specific provisions as well as the spirit of the Brown Act on a critical and controversial issue — the twin tunnels deal — they should hold a public hearing as soon as possible to reconsider their position. Urge them to revoke the settlement agreement and reinstate their protest of the twin tunnels.

If you’re interested in this and other water issues, consider attending a meeting of the Chapter’s Water Committee. The Committee meets the third Monday of each month — in person at the Bay Chapter’s Berkeley office in odd-numbered months; and via conference call in even months. For more information, you can reach out to Water Committee co-chair Sonia Diermayer at sodier at mindspring.com or (510)336-1102.

– Bay Chapter Water Committee

Bay Area cities can lead the way to 100% clean energy

Activists at the 2015 Paris Climate conference made a full-body appeal for 100 percent renewable power. Credit: Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Spectral Q.

Activists at the 2015 Paris Climate conference made a full-body appeal for 100 percent renewable power. Credit: Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Spectral Q.

In his blog post “America’s Ready for 100,” the Sierra Club’s executive director Michael Brune wrote: “Time, tides, and climate disruption wait for no one. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA announced that global temperatures last year reached their highest level in 136 years of record-keeping. There’s only one rational response to news like that: cut climate pollution as fast as we possibly can. That means not only pushing back against fossil fuel projects but also expanding and accelerating our development of renewable energy. As Buckminster Fuller put it, we need to ‘build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.’”

That’s where the Sierra Club’s “Ready for 100” campaign comes in. We know it’s possible for the United States to power itself with a new model of 100 percent clean energy. Solar prices have fallen 80 percent in recent years. Wind prices have fallen 60 percent. In several regions of the country, clean energy is already cheaper than coal and gas and nuclear power. But the necessary transition to clean fuels won’t happen fast enough unless we set and meet some ambitious goals. Right now, the most effective way to do that is for cities, businesses, and local communities to commit to renewable power.

The “Ready for 100” campaign kicked off early in 2016 with a surprise action during the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C., and a challenge to get 100 U.S. cities to commit to 100 percent renewable energy. Already, 15 U.S. cities have declared they will go all-in on clean energy. Three of them, Burlington, Vermont, Greensburg, Kansas, and Aspen, Colorado, have already achieved that goal.

San Francisco was one of the first cities to commit to going 100 percent renewable, with a target date of 2020. CleanPowerSF — the local “Community Choice” clean-energy program that launched in May to provide an alternative to PG&E’s dirtier, pricier power — is a big part of how the city plans to reach that goal. Programs to increase energy efficiency and ramp up local renewable-power generation will also be key.

In addition to San Francisco, there are several other Bay Area cities that are ready to step up to meet the “Ready for 100” challenge. This year, the Bay Chapter and our local partners will be focused on getting Richmond and Oakland to take the pledge to commit to 100 percent renewable energy. Both cities have large environmental justice communities that are impacted by the fossil fuel industry (just look at emissions from Richmond’s Chevron refinery and the proposal to export coal through Oakland). Both cities also have Bay shorelines threatened by sea-level rise.

For Richmond and Oakland, as for San Francisco, being part of a Community Choice local clean-energy program will be an important part of getting to 100. Richmond already gets its power from Marin Clean Energy, which offers customers the option of 52 percent (the base “Light Green” option) or 100 percent (“Dark Green”) clean energy. As the cost of clean energy continues its downward trajectory and more renewable resources are developed locally, the percentage of clean energy in MCE’s “Light Green” option will rise, and more customers will migrate to the Dark Green option. Oakland, meanwhile, is likely to join the Alameda County Community Choice energy program now in development and projected to launch in early 2017.

The transition to a clean-energy economy will help Bay Area communities now, not just down the line. A recent economic study estimated that a transition to clean energy will add 1 million jobs in the U.S. by 2030 and increase household disposable income by $350-$400 in 2030 and by as much as $650 in 2050. San Francisco’s CleanPowerSF program, for example, is projected to create 8,100 construction jobs by building $2.4 billion worth of proposed solar, wind and geothermal projects.

As Richmond works to develop a Climate Action Plan and Oakland re-opens its own for updates, now is the time for these Bay cities to show their climate leadership and commit to 100 percent clean energy. Making this commitment will help create a safer, healthier world for future generations, as well as supporting our local economies.

We need your support to convince Bay Area cities to take the “Ready for 100” challenge. The first thing you can do is send a message to your mayor that you’re ready for 100 percent clean and renewable energy. Take that action today!

To get involved in the “Ready for 100” campaigns in Oakland and Richmond, email conservation organizer Nathan Duran at nathan.duran@sierraclub.org.

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

Greener pastures: East Bay Park District should update grazing policy to protect public lands

Sedimentation runoff due to overgrazing. Photo courtesy William Yragui.

Sedimentation runoff due to overgrazing. Photo courtesy William Yragui.

Nearly two thirds of the 120,000 acres of parkland in the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) are leased to cattle-grazing interests, under the oversight of park managers. Grazing policies have an important impact on plant habitat, riparian areas, the preservation of native species, and sediment runoff into San Francisco Bay. Unfortunately, current grazing policies aren’t adequately protecting our public resources.

Starting in the late 1980s, environmentalists fought to protect grassland and mixed woodlands from the impacts of overgrazing. After years of discussion, a détente was reached among EBRPD, academics, and environmentalists who all agreed to work together on a compromise plan. EBRPD staff and an eight-member Range Management Technical Advisory Committee that included ranchers, academics, park staff, and environmentalists released the “Wildland Management Policies and Guidelines” policy statement in 1992. The document was redrafted in 2001 “to better protect riparian areas, to improve monitoring and restoration activities, to improve conditions for park users, to encourage alternative management techniques, and to improve public understanding about grassland management.”

In the 15 years since, drought conditions have prevailed in Northern California and are ongoing, without historical precedent in terms of duration and intensity. With ecosystems subject to severe stress, environmental stakeholders must join together again to reconfigure grazing policies and practices to face the new epoch of climate extremes. The science of range management has progressed and changed, with a better understanding of interdependencies, a growing acceptance of the use of fire as a management tool, and better economic models for managing open-space preserves.

Grazing licenses set forth management policies for each grazing contractor, and are revised annually. Their objective is to leave enough dry vegetation on the ground to protect the pasture from loss of topsoil, prevent sediment runoff, and retain moisture. Each contract specifies a minimum amount of vegetation, the mass of Residual Dry Matter (RDM) in the pasture at the end of the dry season in early fall. The requirement is greater than 1,000 pounds per acre (10.41 grams per square foot), usually between 6 and 8 inches of standing grass.

Traditional grazing practices such as high-herd densities and year-round intensive foraging are not adapted to intense drought conditions, as shown by widespread shortfalls in Residual Dry Matter measurements. This indicates that grazing management has failed to keep pace with environmental changes and evolving science. Traditional practices have stripped vegetation, terraced steep hillsides, and trampled riparian habitats. In some areas of the EBRPD you can see evidence of cattle damaging wetlands, encroaching on busy trails, and stripping grasslands to less than six inches of dry grass. Overgrazing of grassland creates a bare appearance, like a golf course without the putting greens, interspersed with patches of dense, prickly non-native thistle. Practices that cause such degradation of our public parkland must change.

Maintaining adequate forage cover lessens erosion, increases soil permeability to store moisture, and reduces evaporation losses. Grasslands found throughout the East Bay Regional Park District must be managed as public landscapes to serve diverse stakeholders, including threatened native species. The environmental community should have several seats at the table as the EBRPD Wildland Management Policies and Guidelines are redrafted.

– William Yragui