November 26, 2014

Taking down Goliath in Richmond—progressive Team Richmond defies Chevron’s millions to sweep elections

IMG_5198With checks on political spending falling away left and right, the strength of our democracy was tested this election cycle. But voters proved that democracy is alive and well in Richmond. Chevron—whose 3,000-acre refinery in the town is the state’s largest greenhouse-gas emitter—spent close to 4 million dollars on political ads with the goal of packing the city council and mayor’s office with industry-friendly candidates. Avalanches of mailers, television spots, web ads, billboards, and canvassers targeted local progressive candidates who promised to hold Chevron accountable, and forced Richmond residents to endure one of the nastiest political smear campaigns in history. Despite negative reactions from the community, Chevron kept the lies flowing all the way to the end of Election Day.

The Bay Chapter endorsed a slate of progressive city council candidates who banded together as “Team Richmond”: termed-out mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles, and Planning Commissioner Eduardo Martinez. Martinez is a member of the Bay Chapter’s West Contra Costa County Executive Committee. The Club also endorsed Jael Myrick for a two-year term city council seat and Tom Butt for mayor.

Sierra Club members and supporters joined in the grassroots efforts to help Team Richmond defeat the corporate-backed candidates. We made phone calls, walked precincts, passed out slate cards, and put in as many hours as we could. And the hard work paid off: all five Sierra Club-endorsed candidates won, with McLaughlin, Beckles, and Martinez coming in first, second, and third place respectively; Myrick receiving 52% of the vote, with his closest competitor (Corky Booze) garnering only 31%; and Mayor-elect Butt taking 51% of the vote, with Chevron-backed Nat Bates coming a distant second with 35% of the vote.

Sierra Club volunteers, including Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton (center) at Team Richmond headquarters on Election Day.

Sierra Club volunteers, including Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton (center), at Team Richmond headquarters on Election Day.

Chevron’s campaign of lies only made Team Richmond stronger, helping to attract a loyal volunteer base that wanted a local government that would provide responsible oversight for the refinery’s 1-billion-dollar modernization project; aggressively pursue a lawsuit against the oil giant over the 2012 refinery fire; and generally provide strong oversight. Sierra Club member Victoria Stewart exemplified the passion of Team Richmond supporters, volunteering to knock on doors despite being in chemotherapy.

Richmond’s neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by the fossil fuel industry. The entire city lies in the blast zone of a potential oil-train explosion; our children breathe in the toxic emissions from the refinery; and our neighbors suffer the consequences when lax safety standards cause fires and other refinery accidents. Our newly-elected city government understands these threats and will work to correct them. Just a few weeks before the election, Mayor McLaughlin brought a resolution to the city council to formally denounce crude by rail and call upon the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to revoke Kinder Morgan’s permit for shipping highly explosive and toxic Bakken Shale oil into Richmond—a permit that was issued in secrecy. That same night, the candidates made stopping bomb trains and all fossil fuels by rail a priority cause. On election night, Richmond’s voters delivered five strong allies in the fight to turn away from our dependence on fossil fuels, and toward a safe and secure clean-energy future.

—Ratha Lai

On the brink: is it too late to save the salmon of Redwood Creek in Muir Woods?

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Photo of Redwood Creek via Flickr Creative Commons, www.flickr.com/giofusco.

The federal government is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to save the endgangered coho salmon, but the Sierra Club is concerned that these efforts are ignoring the real source of contamination—and meanwhile, our salmon are inching closer to extinction.

In Marin, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) collected comprehensive scientific research on our two most significant spawning grounds, Lagunitas Creek in the San Geronimo Valley and Redwood Creek, which traverses Muir Woods to reach Muir Beach and the Pacific Ocean (you can find the full text of NOAA’s “Recovery Plan for the Evolutionarily Significant Unit of Central Coast Coho Salmon” online). As part of the habitat restoration effort, 15 million dollars was spent to restore Big Lagoon and Muir Beach. Yet these efforts did not save the latest generation of coho.

Thirteen adult spawners were counted this year but apparently none of the hatched fry from five observed nests survived. Scientists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife confirm that for the first time in Redwood Creek’s recorded history, the local extinction of this year’s coho has occurred.

Earlier generations, now 18 months and three years old, are in deep trouble too. In August, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service “rescued” the remaining coho in Redwood Creek and Mount Tamalpais State Park. They found no babies, instead transporting the 105 smolt-sized fish that failed to migrate out to sea to the Warm Springs Fish Hatchery in Sonoma. Although some of the smolt found this year may survive to spawn, the trajectory is not looking good.  Scientists warn of an “extinction vortex” for coho. A recovery threshold of 272 fish is the minimum indicated for Redwood Creek in the National Marine Fisheries Service Coho Recovery Plan.

All this begs the question: What happened to the coho young this year?

Though the National Park Service and other agencies have spent over 15 million dollars on habitat restoration, they have failed to test the water in Redwood Creek for contaminants. Every year, an estimated 1.4 million visitors and 350,000 vehicles use the road that runs alongside Redwood Creek, leading to Muir Woods. Along a four-mile stretch of that road, 15 culverts deliver contaminated storm water directly into the creek. Road runoff is a well-documented source of toxins in creeks, and water contamination could be a significant factor in the coho’s plight.

Car brake pads emit copper, a known neurotoxin. Government scientists have concluded that low levels of copper found in waterways harm sense of smell in young coho salmon, reducing their ability to avoid predators and confusing migration and spawning ability. Copper tests cost only 10 dollars.

Moreover, a 2013 study from NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Washington linked unidentified compounds in highway runoff to coho salmon death. In that study, toxic chemicals that washed into creeks in the rush of stormwater after a rainfall were found to be killing adult salmon before they could spawn.

coho salmon graph

Chart compiled by Laura Chariton.

According to a regional water board spokesperson, parking alongside Redwood Creek should not be allowed because of the known vehicle contaminants. Yet on any given day a mile-long queue of parked cars lines the county-owned road along the creek. The National Park Service has suggested adding a valet service and online registration system, which would only exacerbate the problem.

Many believe our government and agencies have failed in their responsibility to protect our salmon, favoring visitors over natural resources. This is an occasion for the County of Marin to step forward and do what the federal and state agencies are apparently incapable of doing; the county must follow up on the billions of dollars spent on plans and research and take active steps to save these fish. Marin County owns the roads and must manage them. If we want Muir Woods to continue in harmony with the legacy upon which it was founded, then we need to save its native wildlife from extinction.

The solution: give Muir Woods a break from individual cars. Clean the water and restrict use until we can begin to recover the two remaining coho populations that are on the brink.

—Laura Chariton

Read more about coho salmon in Marin in “Marin Supervisors pass toothless streamside ordinance–will our salmon survive politics?“.

Meet us at the Chapter holiday open house!

IMG_1881Friday, December 5, 6-9 pm, Chapter office, 2530 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley.

Join your fellow Sierra Club members and Chapter staff and leadership at our annual holiday party. The Sierra Club will be joining several other organizations in our building to celebrate the season and all the work we do.  Those sharing in the fun include the Ecology Center, League of Women Voters, Golden Gate Audubon Society, and SEEDS Community Resolution Center.

There will be food, beverages, live music, a free raffle, and, of course, lively conversation.

To make this event a success, we need your help! To volunteer or donate food, please contact Joanne Drabek at joanne1892@gmail.com or (510)530-5216.

In Alameda, rare S.F. Bay harbor seal habitat at risk

harborsealPacific harbor seals have been coming to Alameda Point to find food, suitable breeding habitat, and resting area in recent years, taking up residence at a site adjacent to Enterprise Park and the Bay Trail. The seals have been using the Alameda Point Channel and Inner Harbor for feeding, hauling out, and even delivering pups. Rather than encouraging their homestead, the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) wants to kick them out. If WETA gets its way, it would be a permanent loss for the seals and a lost asset for the community of Alameda and visitors.

WETA’s plan for the Central Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility in Inner Bay Harbor—a ferry maintenance facility project—will have a profound impact on the marine ecosystem. One of its most prominent inhabitants, the harbor seals, have not been adequately addressed in the Incidental Harassment Authorization Level B permit application by WETA.

Following the end of Navy operations at Alameda’s Naval Air Station in 1997, the Navy’s recreational boating dock fell into disrepair. The simultaneous lack of maintenance and lack of human presence on the docks was ultimately fortuitous for the harbor seals that frequent the protected waterway. The dock itself, along with odd wooden structural debris that lodged against the dock, became an easy and inviting haul out for the seals, and an ideal spot to rear their pups.

Shoreline development is one of the primary reasons for harbor seal abandonment of San Francisco Bay. When haul-out sites are disturbed by nearby development or regular human presence, the seals are prone to depart for safer surroundings. In the case of the WETA ferry facility project, it is not a traditional natural shoreline that will be disturbed or destroyed.  But the dock’s demolition and replacement with an active berthing facility for 11 ferries will leave the harbor seals little choice but to move on.

The Sierra Club recommends that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)—which will decide on WETA’s harassment authorization permit—apply additional mitigation measures to the project to compensate for the loss of harbor seal habitat. Given the geography of the Alameda Point Channel and Inner Harbor, the addition of a new haul-out dock nearby, possibly an anchored floating dock, should be evaluated as a mitigation measure to help retain the colony of harbor seals that find respite along Alameda Point’s shore.

It is unknown when NMFS will issue a finding on WETA’s petition application to move forward with its ferry project. NMFS could also call for going from an Environmental Assessment to an Environmental Impact Statement, which would undoubtedly involve a full-blown study of harbor seals at Alameda Point.

Before the project can begin, WETA will need a construction permit from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). It is unknown when they will apply for that permit, but likely after NMFS issues a decision on the harassment permit—probably early next year. BCDC can also require mitigation as a condition of issuing a permit.

WhatYouCanDo

Add your name to the petition asking WETA not to harass and displace the seals. For more information or to get more involved, contact Richard Bangert at alamedaptenviro-2013@yahoo.com. Look for future alerts calling on the BCDC to protect these precious marine mammals.

Your help needed to protect California from the next oil-by-rail disaster

An interactive mapping tool created by ForestEthics shows the oil-train blast zone. Find out whether you live in the blast zone by visiting http://explosive-crude-by-rail.org.

An interactive mapping tool created by ForestEthics shows the oil-train blast zone. Find out whether you live in the blast zone by visiting http://explosive-crude-by-rail.org.

Right now, Phillips 66 (part of the ConocoPhillips fossil-fuel-based energy empire—the third-largest energy company in the U.S. and the fifth largest refiner in the world) is fighting to upgrade its Santa Maria refinery, located just south of San Luis Obispo, so it can begin receiving one-mile-long trains carrying explosive “extreme oil” (for more information on extreme oil, see “Bay Area Air District moves to reduce oil refinery emissions 20 percent by 2020”). If approved, these dangerous “bomb trains” will roll through thousands of California communities each day, traversing the northern and western shorelines of Contra Costa County and traveling straight through the hearts of East Bay cities in Alameda County. This project will put the communities of Antioch, Pittsburg, Bay Point, Martinez, Crockett, Rodeo, San Pablo, Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, San Leandro, Hayward, Union City, Fremont, and thousands more at risk for accidents and spills, threatening our air, water, and health, and contributing to climate disruption.

The many hazards

Our rail system was designed to connect population centers, not move hazardous crude oil. Emergency responders are not prepared for these heavy, dangerous trains, and current safety standards do not adequately protect the public. As the oil industry moves more crude oil across the U.S. and Canada by rail, oil-train derailments, spills, and fires are on the rise. Anyone within a mile of a rail line is within the dangerous blast zone if there is a derailment, spill, and fire. On July 6, 2013, one such accident occurred in Lac- Mégantic, Quebec, leveling the downtown area and killing 47 people.

On top of the threats to public health and safety, trains carrying extreme oil also create dangerous air pollution and threaten California’s water supplies. Volatile toxic chemicals leak out of tank cars and into the air, poisoning communities along rail lines. In its latest environmental review, Phillips 66 admitted that its proposed oil-train facility will create “significant and unavoidable” levels of air pollution, including toxic sulfur dioxide and cancer-causing chemicals. The report cites increased health risks— particularly for children and the elderly—of cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, and premature death.

In addition, the proposed route for transporting extreme oil to the refinery in San Louis Obisbo carries trains through the San Francisco Bay-Delta watershed and along California’s treasured central coast. Each oil train carries more than three million gallons of explosive, toxic crude oil. A derailment near a river, stream, reservoir, or above a groundwater aquifer could contaminate drinking water for millions of Californians.

A double threat

The proposed oil-train terminal in Santa Maria is linked by pipeline to the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo, located along the San Pablo Bay in west Contra Costa County. In addition to upgrading its Santa Maria facility, Phillips 66 proposes to modify its Rodeo refinery so that it can refine the most toxic crude oil on earth: Canadian tar sands. Transporting and refining tar sands will create more toxic air and water pollution for families living along the rail line and near the refinery. At every stage of the mining, transportation, and refining process, Canadian tar sands are more carbon intensive than other sources of oil. These crudes also have a higher content of sulfur and nitrogen, meaning they are more corrosive and more highly polluting.

The Bay Area would be doubly impacted by this project if Phillips 66 gets its way: the imminent threat of crude by rail to the Santa Maria facility—on top of increased pollution and risk of accident at the Rodeo refinery. Moreover, bringing tar sands to California will drastically undermine the state’s efforts to be a global leader in addressing climate disruption.

Our opportunity

The San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors is scheduled to make a decision on the crude-by-rail proposal in early 2015. However the Environmental Impact Review (EIR) process required under the California Environmental Quality Act is ongoing and could delay that action. Due to the submission of over 800 public comments questioning the thoroughness of the first version of the EIR, the report is being re-circulated. The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission will hold a hearing to consider the second round of comments in Jan., 2015.

WhatYouCanDo

This is our best chance to stop this dangerous project. We need everyone—whether you live along the rail lines or not—to write an email to the decision makers and let them know why California must reject this reckless and highly-polluting project. Please send comments  to the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission at p66-railspur-comments@co.slo.ca.us or by mail to:

Murry Wilson
SLO County Dept. of Planning and Building
976 Osos St., Room 200

San Luis Obispo, CA 93408.

—Jess Dervin-Ackerman

Marking the passage of the California Desert Protection Act, 20 years on

The Old Woman Mountains Wilderness in 1992, before the passage of the California Desert Protection Act.

The Old Woman Mountains Wilderness in 1992, before the passage of the California Desert Protection Act.

October 31, 1994! 

Why is that date special for California and the nation?

Sure, it was Halloween, but that happens every year. Twenty years ago, rather than ghosts or pumpkins, the highlight of the day was President Bill Clinton’s signing of the California Desert Protection Act, the largest single land-conservation measure ever to be enacted by the U.S. Congress for the lower 48 states.

Soon after then-Senator Alan Cranston introduced the bill into the U.S. Senate early in 1986, the San Francisco Bay Chapter began to play a leading role in advocating for this monumental legislation. The bill established 68 new Bureau of Land Management wilderness areas in the California Desert, established the new Mojave National Preserve, and expanded both Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Monuments and upgraded their status to national parks.

Previous desert activism had been concentrated in southern California, closer to the desert, which comprises fully one quarter of California’s land area. But Bay Area activists realized that in order to pass such a large land-preservation bill, all of California must offer support. The Bay Chapter’s Wilderness Committee persuaded the Sierra Club California/Nevada Regional Conservation Committee to establish a northern California Desert Task Force and began advocating for the bill. Their efforts took a number of forms.

County resolutions endorsing the bill proved to be a significant tool. In time, each of the Chapter’s four counties passed a resolution, led by local activists. Overall, 14 California counties (out of 58) endorsed the desert bill. While this may seem like a small minority, these were the counties with big urban populations, meaning that desert advocates could claim the support of 75 percent of California’s population.

In order to get people acquainted with the places we were fighting for, the Chapter led outings to some of the desert areas slated to receive protection. The Bay Chapter “adopted” three desert Wilderness Study Areas in the bill and designed a series of trips there. Numerous Chapter volunteers got their introduction to the beauties of the remote California desert through these trips.

Other strategies in the desert protection campaign included: helping run national phone banks at key moments in the congressional battle to get Sierra Club members in other states to contact their legislators; keeping northern California activists updated on events via regular meetings of the northern California Desert Task Force; taking part in several volunteer wilderness lobby weeks in Washington, DC to educate congressional offices on why the desert needed protection; and informing the Club’s general membership by running regular articles in  the Yodeler, which were then picked up by other Chapter newsletters.

Soon after the California Desert Protection Act was signed into law, the Club’s California/Nevada Regional Conservation Committee began partnering with the Needles office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) (which had the most new desert wilderness area to manage), on a series of service trips to help the agency enhance wilderness values. This series continues to this day! The next trip with BLM, set for March 26- 29, 2015, is planned to the Old Woman Mountains. Trip leader Vicky Hoover will take sign-ups beginning in January. For more information, call Vicky at (415)977-5527, or email at vicky.hoover@sierraclub.org; the trip write-up appears in the December 2014 issue of the wilderness newsletter Words of the Wild; contact Vicky to be added to the electronic subscription list.

Twenty years after the passage of the California Desert Protection Act, it is time to reflect on the accomplishment and savor, once again, the newly protected areas in the California desert.

What is the attraction of the desert in a culture more accustomed to regard the colors “green” and “blue” as emblems of scenic beauty? Activist leader Elden Hughes used to say, “You must get over the color green.” That may take a while for some, but once that is accomplished the desert exerts a strong emotional pull. I know of no one who said it better than John Van Dyke, an early desert enthusiast, writing his prose poetry in 1901:

In sublimity — the superlative degree of beauty— what land can equal the desert with its wide plains, its grim mountains, and its expanding canopy of sky! You shall never see elsewhere as here the dome, the pinnacle, the minaret fretted with golden fire at sunrise and sunset; you shall never see elsewhere as here the sunset valleys swimming in a pink and lilac haze, the great mesas and plateaus fading into blue distance, the gorges and canyons banked full of purple shadow. Never again shall you see such light and air and color; never such opaline mirage, such rosy dawn, such fiery twilight. And wherever you go, by land or by sea, you shall not forget that which you saw not but rather felt — the desolation and the silence of the desert.

—John S. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901

 Article by Vicky Hoover

Air District moves to reduce refinery emissions 20% by 2020

Me TemplateOn October 15th, the 22-member Board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District defied the wishes of Chevron, Shell, Tesoro, Valero, Phillips 66, and the Western States Petroleum Association by unanimously passing a resolution that blatantly prioritizes community health and safety and climate protection over corporate profits. The resolution is a victory for the Bay Chapter and a coalition of sympathetic community groups who, since 2012, have lobbied the Air District to issue stricter refinery regulations.

This important resolution directs Air District staff to craft “rules” to govern the levels, contents, and tracking of refinery emissions. The regulation requires staff to present the following regulations:

  1. A rule that inventories emissions and improves fence-line monitoring of pollutants that could harm surrounding communities.
  2. A companion rule that sets caps for each of the pollutants emitted by the refineries, ranging from carbon pollution to cancer-causing benzene.
  3. A required 20% reduction of refinery emissions by 2020—or, alternatively, require proof that refineries are using the “Best Available Control Technologies” throughout their facilities (in other words, trying as hard as possible to reach a 20% reduction). Most of the Bay Area’s refineries are nearly 100 years old, and much of the most polluting equipment is so old it was installed before air-pollution controls were implemented in 1955. Currently, these so-called “grandfathered sources” are not required to adhere to present-day regulations because they existed before the regulations began. In some cases, replacing just one of these large grandfathered sources could achieve the required 20% reduction.

Why is the Board’s action significant? Conventional crude oil, sourced from “traditional” drilling practices in California, Alaska, the Gulf, and various sites abroad, is running out. In response, oil companies are turning to what are called “extreme fuels”: crudes that are extracted through unconventional and often unsafe practices. These practices include fracking, well stimulation, and clear cutting forests to mine for tar sands. More energy, more toxic chemicals, and more dangerous practices are required to get these fuels out of the ground and processed. Bay Area refineries want to bring in two types of extreme crude: toxic Canadian Tar Sands and explosive, fracked Bakken Shale Oil (read about what you can do to stop a current proposal to bring extreme oil by rail through Bay Area communities in “Your help needed to protect California from the next oil-by-rail disaster“). Such extreme fuels are appealing to oil companies because they are cheaper to produce than importing dwindling supplies of conventional fuels. Unfortunately, they are also more dangerous, more highly polluting, and have higher costs to society.

In the past two years, multiple Bay Area refineries have filed requests to “upgrade” and “modernize” (their words)—or “retool” and “expand” (our words)—their facilities in order to keep up with the changing crude markets. These refineries want to be able to transport, receive, and process extreme fuels so that they can continue to make record profits at the expense of the health and safety of communities located near the refineries. Also at risk are those communities located along the transport routes from the extraction site to the refinery.

If proposed refinery expansions are approved and acted on before the Air District implements new rules regulating refinery emissions, the baseline emissions levels upon which regulations will be set will be much higher. A 20% reduction of emissions would thus be less significant. In that case, the Air District’s power to curb climate change and protect the health and safety of local residents and refinery workers would be severely constrained. Therefore, the Sierra Club and its partners are urging the Air District Board to implement the new rules before any new projects are approved.

The oil industry has thrown its full weight behind trying to stop, or at least weaken, the Air District’s proposed new regulations. Throughout the process, industry has continually threatened the Board with legal action over the “taking of their vested rights,” meaning the threat to the money they’ve already invested in the process of switching over to these extreme fuels. While the Board’s resolution was a step in the right direction, we can be sure that the oil industry is not giving up the fight. We need you to join us as we continue to push for new refinery regulations!

WhatYouCanDo

Join us at the next Air District Board meeting to defend this important action to prioritize people over corporate profits.
Wednesday, December 17th, 9:30am
939 Ellis Street, 7th Floor
RSVP to ratha.lai@sierraclub.org

—Jess Dervin-Ackerman

East Bay wins major open-space victories in the 2014 elections

10295384_760409887357464_664081245092806404_oEnemies of suburban sprawl scored major victories for open space on Election Day, defeating two developer-backed initiatives in Southern Alameda County in what the Contra Costa Times called “a defining moment for slow growth advocates.” Here’s more on the two open-space victories:

Dublin voters reject Measure T by 4:1; protect Doolan Canyon from development

In a stunning endorsement of open space protection, 84% of voters in Dublin (in eastern Alameda County) rejected a developer-sponsored initiative to break their new urban growth boundary and authorize urban sprawl in rural Doolan Canyon without further voter approval (see “Fate of Doolan Canyon hangs on competing ballot initiatives” in the Aug-Sept 2014 Yodeler, http://theyodeler.org/?s=doolan). Developer Pacific Union Land Company had spent over $160,000 to place Measure T on the ballot but failed miserably to find public support.

Earlier in the year, a coalition of local residents and environmental organizations including the Sierra Club wrote and qualified an open-space initiative to enact an urban-growth boundary on Dublin’s east side. In June, the City Council unanimously adopted the initiative, thereby thwarting Pacific Union’s strategy of running a confusion campaign with two similar-sounding land-use measures on the November ballot.

Measure T, formally titled the Let Dublin Decide Initiative, was billed as a way for Dublin to exert local control over unincorporated Doolan Canyon and prevent nearby Livermore from annexing and developing the area. But voters saw through that ploy. Measure T would have expanded Dublin’s new growth boundary by 2 ½ square miles, over the exact same area where Pacific Union had previously proposed a 1,990-unit housing development.

Doolan Canyon is a rural valley of rolling hills and grasslands now used for ranching, a dozen rural homesteads, and an equestrian center. It is habitat for numerous rare and special status species including the California red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, Golden eagle, Western burrowing owl, Congdon’s tarplant, and more.

With the overwhelming margin by which Dublin voters defended their urban-growth boundary, and with voter-approved urban-growth boundaries in place around Livermore, Pleasanton, and Alameda County, developers will think long and hard before proposing new sprawl developments in Alameda County’s Tri-Valley area.

Measure KK defeated in Union City

With the endorsement of the Sierra Club and other state and local environmental organizations, the Save Our Hills Committee in Union City earned a smashing victory on November 4 with the defeat of Measure KK, the Flatlands Development Initiative. The measure was soundly defeated, with voters casting 5,296 (65.14%) “no” votes to a meager 2,834 (34.68%) “yes” votes. This victory ensures that the 63 acres of flatlands to the northeast of Mission Blvd. and the undeveloped hills to the east of the flatlands will remain as open space.

In 1996, the Sierra Club-endorsed Measure II—which codified the Union City Hillside Area Plan and protected 6,100 acres of open space—passed with approximately 65% of the vote. That measure required that any changes to the Plan would have to go before the voters; Measure KK was the first attack on the 53 policies in Measure II.

The proponents of the Flatlands Development Initiative (the Masonic Homes of California) spent about $610,000 in their failed campaign. A major theme of their misleading messaging was a ruse to “Protect the Hills.” This disingenuous slogan was designed to get voters to cast a “yes” vote. The Save Our Hills Committee’s message was to “Save Our Hills.” Given the likelihood that many voters may in fact have been confused as to what a “yes” vote meant, the percentage of voters who do not want new development on the Union City hills and flatlands is probably even higher than the 65% who correctly cast a vote for open space.

——Dick Schneider and Bob Garfinkle

San Francisco Elections Recap 2014

MUNI_diesel_hybrid_busSierra Club members in San Francisco had reason to feel unhappy about the election results; several of our priority races didn’t go our way. But we will learn all the lessons we can from these losses—and we shouldn’t forget the important victories we did rack up!

First the bad news:

With ballots still being counted, Supervisor David Campos conceded in his race to represent District 17 in the State Assembly. The winner, who will replace outgoing Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, is David Chiu, the current President of the Board of Supervisors (fun fact: both Davids are 44-year-old Harvard Law School graduates). Although he lost, Campos ran one of the best field campaigns in the city’s history, with over 500 volunteers working to get out the vote on election day. Campos went into the race as the underdog and exceeded expectations by earning 48.8% of the vote to Chiu’s 51.2%. The Sierra Club looks forward to Campos continuing his leadership on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and in advocating for clean-energy solutions—particularly the CleanPowerSF program—on the Board of Supervisors. The election results now give way to two questions: who will Mayor Lee appoint as Chiu’s District 3 successor, and who will the Board of Supervisors choose as their next President?

Tony Kelly, who ran on a platform of independence from the mayor’s office and giving the neighborhood a voice in City Hall, also came in second in his race to represent San Francisco’s District 10 on the Board of Supervisors. With his loss, self-identified progressives failed to take a back a seat considered crucial for advancing environmental issues. The Sierra Club hopes to work more closely with incumbent Supervisor Malia Cohen in the next four years.

In other disappointing news, the Yes on H and No on I campaigns did not go the way the Sierra Club had wished. Proposition H, the initiative that proposed to keep seven acres of soccer fields as natural grass and prevent the installation of 60-foot stadium nightlights, failed to pass. And unfortunately, Proposition I—a competing “Poison Pill” measure, little more than a Parks Department power grab—did pass. The very morning after the election, the S.F. Recreation and Park Department chained off Golden Gate Park’s Beach Chalet fields and began cutting down trees and demolishing the bucolic fields. In the days that followed, local activist Kathleen McCowin was arrested for her part in a sit-in that blocked work trucks from accessing the site (she spent the night in jail and was released without charge the following day). But not all is lost! The Sierra Club lawsuit against the environmental impact report for the contested Beach Chalet project is now in the appeals process. If the Sierra Club prevails, a new EIR will have to be completed. Park advocates would then have an opportunity to demand environmental improvements to the project.

And now for the good news!
Proposition F, a developer proposal to raise height limits at Pier 70 to 90 feet (the height of the tallest building currently at the site), and construct residential housing and parkland, passed. The project will protect artist studios currently at the site and otherwise put to good use an underutilized part of the city. The Sierra Club supported this community-supported infill measure because 600 units (or 30 percent) of all new housing will be affordable and in close proximity to the T-Third transit line.

The Sierra Club was happy to see the failure of Proposition L, a policy measure that sought to reverse San Francisco’s decades-old “Transit First” policy and establish a “Cars First” policy. The initiative lost by a wide margin, garnering only 37 percent of the vote. The proponents, supported by $40,000 from Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sean Parker, called for municipal garages in every neighborhood and permanent bans on the operation of parking meters on Sundays and holidays. The Club is thrilled that San Franciscans have embraced a safe and healthy multimodal transit system and rejected a message of increased congestion and degraded air quality.

Meanwhile, the two transportation funding measures endorsed by the Sierra Club passed. The Mayor’s $500-million bond, Proposition A, will go a long way toward addressing the $10 billion in crucial infrastructure projects needed over the next fifteen years, although the measure was not accompanied by a spending plan. Proposition B, authored by Supervisor Scott Wiener, dictates increases in the Muni budget as the population increases.

Another big transportation victory was the election of Nick Josefowitz to BART District 8, dislodging longtime director James Fang. BART faces massive deferred maintenance costs and the percentage of renewables in BART’s power supply has dropped from 100% in 1996 to 56% today. A forward-looking director like Josefowitz will seek solutions—not the status quo.

In other good news, John Rizzo was re-elected to the Community College Board.  The future of City College of San Francisco is still up in the air; its status is before a Superior Court judge in San Francisco, but trustees are hopeful that they will be re-instated sometime in 2015.

The Sierra Club supports measures to increase affordable housing and raising the minimum wage, because when people can afford to live near where they work—particularly in transit-rich, walkable, urban areas like San Francisco—there is an aggregate reduction of sprawl and greenhouse-gas emissions. Jane Kim, who has been an advocate for affordable housing, handily won her bid for re-election to the Board of Supervisors in District 6. Proposition J, which will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018 and thereafter increase hourly wages based on inflation, won handily, with over 77 percent of the vote. Unfortunately, Proposition G, the measure to place a hefty transfer tax on some residential properties sold within five years of purchase, lost 54 percent to 46 percent.  Prop. G would have served as deterrent to the purchase of residential buildings, eviction of tenants, and quick sale of highly lucrative empty buildings. We hope the proposition will be back on the ballot soon.

You can see all of our 2014 endorsement results at sfbay.sierraclub.org/endorsements.

—Becky Evans and Sue Vaughan

 

Northern Alameda County Group Elections Recap 2014

451530644_bce7c15715Though there were some heartbreaking losses, the story in Northern Alameda County is generally one of success. We are blessed with a deep bench of decent candidates to choose from, and overall we are very pleased and excited to have seen so many of the Sierra Club-endorsed candidates win their respective races. We learned once again that hard work, grassroots organizing, and the Sierra Club’s coveted seal of approval have a strong influence on the outcome of any election.

As so many races in this election showed, a candidate can win with only a fraction of registered voters participating in the process and with as little as a single-vote lead. So vote, Americans, vote! So many people in the world are denied this right.

Here’s a city-by-city look at some of the most notable races in Northern Alameda County.

Alameda
There are numerous environmental battles ongoing in the City of Alameda, and our local Sierra Club activists worked hard to elect representatives who are solid and reliable on environmental issues. In this case, hard work and a well-deserved Sierra Club endorsement guaranteed an endorsed candidate’s victory: we are happy to welcome Frank Matarrese to the city council. And though we did not endorse another city council newcomer, Jim Oddie, we look forward to working with him as well.

Trish Spencer entered the race for mayor close to the deadline and was not endorsed by the Club, but local and group activists have high hopes for her as an environmental ally.

Albany
Sometimes good things just happen. Because there were only as many candidates as there were available seats, Albany did not have a formal election. Two of our endorsed candidates—Nick Pilch, who serves on the Bay Chapter Executive Committee, and appointed incumbent Rochelle Nason—will start their first full terms next month.

Berkeley
In District 1, Sierra Club-endorsed incumbent councilmember Linda Maio won in a race against another great progressive candidate. No voting record is perfect and Linda was accused by some of not voting correctly on mercury issues. Despite this, the Sierra Club was convinced that her overall environmental record was very strong—not only on local issues but also on issues of state and federal importance, like transport of crude oil by rail. Linda not only sponsored Berkeley’s resolution opposing crude by rail, but also brought this issue to the attention of the League of California Cities, which prompted the creation of a working group to provide recommendations to the federal government. She also led the California delegation in Washington, DC to press the Department of Transportation to more effectively regulate the railroads.

In District 7, we were glad to see endorsed incumbent Kriss Worthington retain his seat on the council in a tough race in a dramatically reconfigured district.

Our endorsed candidate in District 8, George Beier, lost by only 16 votes to Lori Droste. We are optimistic about building a robust working relationship with Droste.

We also celebrated the wins of both of our endorsed ballot measures in Berkeley, both of which passed overwhelmingly. Measure F, a special parks tax, will ensure the beautification and maintenance of Berkeley’s many incredible parks. Measure Q is an advisory measure that calls on the city council to adopt an ordinance to give Berkeley employees the right to request part-time or flexible work arrangements (academic research has shown that shorter work time reduces ecological footprint and carbon emissions).

Emeryville
The Emeryville City Council gained two excellent representatives in Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue. These two newly-elected officials entered the race as running mates with shared values for preserving open space, creating affordable housing, and improving bike, pedestrian, and transit access throughout the city. It is crucial to have environmentally-conscientious elected officials representing our coastal cities and we are delighted to have Dianne and Scott representing Emeryville.

Oakland
Oakland had some of the most spectacular wins in the whole Bay Area. The most contentious and crucial race in Oakland for the Club was for the city council District 4 seat. Despite some deceptive tactics by her opponent (who printed the Sierra Club logo and the words “proud supporting member of the Sierra Club” next to her endorsements on campaign materials), the true Sierra Club-endorsed candidate, Annie Campbell Washington, won the election by a landslide.

It is worth noting that Shereda Nosakhare, our endorsed candidate for Oakland City Council District 6, lost narrowly (by less than 500 votes!) to long-time incumbent Desley Brooks. During the endorsement process Shereda demonstrated knowledge and commitment to environmental values, and she would have been a great representative for Oaklanders. We encourage her to run again. We do, however, also hope to develop a stronger working relationship with Councilmember Brooks.

While the Club did not make an endorsement in the mayor’s race, many Sierra Club leaders were disappointed about the loss of Mayor Jean Quan, who in her four years in office had many impressive environmental accomplishments to her name. We congratulate Mayor-elect Libby Schaaf—whom we had endorsed four years ago for her city council seat—and have high hopes that we will be able to work well with her.

The Sierra Club also endorsed Measure FF, which significantly raises Oakland’s minimum wage, and were delighted that it passed with large margins (San Francisco’s minimum-wage initiative, Proposition J, also won handily). 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.

San Leandro
In San Leandro, two Sierra Club-endorsed candidates won: Pauline Cutter for mayor, and Corina Lopez for San Leandro City Council District 5. Sierra Club activists were impressed with the overall environmental commitment of both candidates, particularly with regard to their commitment to affordable housing built close to public transit; and a Complete Streets approach that calls for investing in sidewalk- and bicycle-path expansion alongside road repair and maintenance.

We look forward to working with both Cutter and Lopez, as well as with the other newly-elected councilmembers, Deborah Cox and Lee Thomas, and are hopeful for a new pro-environment majority on the San Leandro City Council.

Special districts

In other election news, Sierra Club-endorsed incumbent Robert Raburn retained his seat on the BART Boart, despite labor opposition. With Nick Josefowitz’s win in District 8, the BART Board has become even more amenable to Sierra Club concerns.

One final victory to note was the election of Marguerite Young to the East Bay Municipal Utility District Board of Directors. As with the BART board, Marguerite’s election to the EBMUD board has created an environmental progressive majority, which will make it easier to pass water-conservation measures and protect the Mokkelumne River.

Finally, Measure BB, which will restore much-needed bus service and invest unprecedented sums of money into bicycle and pedestrian improvements, passed in Alameda County with over 70% of the vote. The Sierra Club’s endorsement and efforts to promote it were critical to its success.

You can see all of our endorsement results at sfbay.sierraclub.org/endorsements.

—Olga Bolotina and Igor Tregub