March 2, 2015

Letter from Sacramento: Smart ways to spend $10 billion

Photo courtesy  Peter Thoeny on Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo courtesy Peter Thoeny on Flickr Creative Commons.

A couple of weeks ago, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins shot an arrow into the air that has enlivened a perennial debate about how California can pay for its transportation system.

During a speech to a transportation organization and through a press release, the Speaker proposed a plan to raise $10 billion dollars over the next five years—about $2 billion a year—to “address the state’s transportation challenges.”

The funds would be raised by shifting some money around within the budget, and then establishing a new road user charge. Almost as fast as you can say “pothole”, I started receiving emails from Club members around the state who were asking me what the Speaker meant by this proposal.

Why so much interest by environmentalists?

First, transportation is one of the single largest sources of air pollution in the state. That includes the smog and other ground-level pollution that damages hearts and lungs, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions that disrupt the climate. There are 33 million cars and light- and medium-duty trucks registered in California, more than in any other state in the U.S. And that number doesn’t include the big heavy duty trucks that carry freight around the state.

Second, road congestion in many parts of the state has become nearly unbearable. As Speaker Atkins noted in her speech to the California Transportation Foundation, Californians annually waste nearly $19 billion in time and fuel while stuck in traffic. The average San Diego traveler can expect to spend 67 hours a year waiting in traffic, while the average San Francisco traveler can expect to spend 80 hours stuck in traffic.

Third, the way we use transportation is changing, and will continue to change. A new report by the federal Department of Transportation identifies some fascinating trends in travel habits. A few notable trends include that per-capita vehicle miles traveled has been declining nationally since 2006, even before the Great Recession began. There is no single reason for this trend, but one notable one is that millennials—people between the ages of 18 and 34—are driving much less.

Whether because of pollution, traffic, or less desire or need to move, everything points to needing to approach the transportation system differently than has been done in the past. The standard practice by transportation agencies, including our beloved CalTrans, has been to focus on building highways and heavily traveled, multi-lane surface roads designed primarily for automobiles. All the indicators say that standard practice will no longer work.

In California, the California Transportation Commission (CTC) estimated in 2011 that the state has about a $193 billion shortfall in the amount of money needed just to fix and maintain the transportation system through 2020. And that doesn’t include money to improve the system, especially bike, pedestrian and transit improvements.

Speaker Atkins’ proposal for raising $10 billion for highways, bridges and roads deserves attention. It won’t make a huge dent in the funding shortfall predicted by the CTC, but her proposal can make a difference in how California’s transportation system adjusts to the new realities. If that $10 billion is raised and spent the same way as in the past, it will be like throwing good money after bad.

But, if the funds are distributed in a way that, for instance, insures that local road improvements include fixing potholes and making them friendlier to transit, pedestrians and bicyclists, then the money will make a long-term difference for the better.

If the funds are used to establish more transit express lanes on roads and highways, they will make a difference.

However, if the funds are just spent to build some extra highway lanes, the new funding won’t mean much. It won’t get us clean air, it won’t ultimately reduce congestion (except possibly for a brief period after the new lanes open), and it won’t provide the kind of system that California needs.

The Speaker’s office tells me that details for the funding proposal, including whether the user charge will be a real user fee based on vehicle miles traveled or some other metric or just a flat fee, are still to be worked out. That’s fair. It’s early in the two-year legislative session.

Speaker Atkins did a good thing by presenting the proposal. Transportation funding isn’t an easy discussion and it takes nerve to lead the charge.

Now everyone, including environmentalists, will be trying to help direct where the arrow lands. If you have a good idea about how to raise or spend those dollars, let me know.

Kathryn Phillips
Director, Sierra Club California

Richmond residents to Chevron: Get your dirty money out of politics

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Bay Chapter Conservation Manager Jess Dervin-Ackerman at the announcement of the resolution.

On Thursday, February 12th, Richmond residents, social justice advocates, elected officials, and Chevron shareholders announced a resolution being put forward at Chevron’s upcoming shareholders meeting that would prevent the company from dumping money into the political cycle. The resolution comes after Chevron spent more than $3 million to influence elections in Richmond — a small portion of the millions spent to influence elections at all levels across California and the country.

Despite being outspent 20-1, community leaders in Richmond defeated Chevron-backed candidates. Now the community is backing the resolution as part of ongoing efforts to reclaim their neighborhoods and put an end to Chevron’s pollution of their air, water, and democracy.

The events in Richmond and the Chevron shareholder resolution are part of a growing movement to beat back polluter-backed candidates and interests as communities work to clean up their environments and our democracy.

“Chevron flooded our democracy with millions of dollars in 2014, but Richmond voters saw through their attempt to buy our elections and the progressives candidates triumphed.  Chevron should refrain from its oversized influence on our local democracy if it has any desire to repair its profoundly damaged reputation among our community,” said city councilmember and former Richmond Mayor Gayle Mclaughlin.

In Richmond, a lot of us are living in poverty and therefore we tend to gravitate towards money. But with this last election we proved that like our health, our elections are not for sale! Chevron’s money is no longer good in Richmond. We choose to live, and vote for leaders who care for our health and shared wealth,said Sandy Saeteurn of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.

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Richmond residents, social justice advocates, elected officials, and Chevron shareholders at the announcement of the resolution outside the Richmond Chevron headquarters.

The Chevron refinery in Richmond has a history of health, safety, and environmental problems, including an explosion in 2012 that sent 15,000 community members to the hospital. Yet instead of abiding by safeguards, the company has abused the political system to change the laws.

For a refinery that is under probation until the end of 2015 after pleading ‘no contest’ to six counts of criminal negligence for the fire of 2012, Chevron has proceeded as if money could help the community forget while it tried to buy a city council. Moving to clean energy is vital and Chevron should be finding ways to transition instead of processing dirtier crude.  The bottom line should be human health and safety, not profits.  If their disregard for the community did not outweigh their good works, we would be finding solutions to global warming together,” said Eduardo Martinez, recently elected city councilmember.

“Chevron has resisted the will of the people for too long and has demonstrated a perverse willingness to spend escalating obscene amounts of money to try and impose their will. Fortunately the people of Richmond are strong and we have shown that we will not back down in the face of their corporate bullying. History has shown us in Richmond that when the people organize they can demand accountability. Shareholders should be ashamed and demand an end to this kind of behavior,” said Andrés Soto, Richmond resident and social justice advocate.

Representatives from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN).

Representatives from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN).

“Chevron continues to try to throw its weight around like a bully on the playground as it drowns local elections with a flood of shareholder dollars in an attempt to influence local decision making and democracy,” stated Leslie Samuelrich, President of Green Century Capital Management. “Shareholders don’t want to keep footing the bill for Chevron’s failed gambles in politics, and are calling on the company to put an end to political contributions.”

“Chevron has spent millions of dollars to try and roll back state and federal regulations to the detriment of our climate, our environment, our communities, and even the safety of their own workers,” said Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter Director Michelle Myers. “We support the community of Richmond and Chevron shareholders in calling for Chevron to stop corrupting our democracy.”

Bay Chapter forms Federal Parks Committee

Point Reyes Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Frank Schulenburg on Flickr Creative Commons.

Point Reyes Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Frank Schulenburg on Flickr Creative Commons.

The Bay Chapter has formed a Federal Parks Committee, which will be concerned with planning and other issues in our region’s national parks. The committee’s immediate focus will be parks currently engaged in planning processes, including Marin’s Muir Woods, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Point Reyes National Seashore.

The Bay Area is home to many spectacular sites of natural and historic interest that are managed by the National Park Service. In addition to the three parks listed above, examples include the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park, the John Muir National Historic Site, the Presidio, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Fort Point National Historic Site, and the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site.

The new committee will not deal with federal wildlife refuges in the Bay Chapter.

If you are interested in joining the Federal Parks Committee, please contact committee chair Alan Carlton at (510)769-3403 or carltonal@yahoo.com.

Health, environmental concerns about tire-crumb turf call S.F. plans into question

Construction on the Beach Chalet soccer fields as of January, 2015. Photo by Greg Miller.

Construction on the Beach Chalet soccer fields as of January, 2015. Photo by Greg Miller.

One of the most visible and vexing byproducts of our love affair with the car—besides climate change—is the used tire. Taking a cue from the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” cities including San Francisco are repurposing the leftover tires to pave sports fields and playgrounds. However, growing concerns about the health risks posed by toxins present in tires have the Sierra Club and many other environmental and consumer safety groups calling for their removal. San Francisco has in place a Precautionary Principle that should preclude the use of materials that could pose a risk to the health and safety of its citizens and the environment. So why is the city continuing with plans to install this potentially hazardous material at the Beach Chalet soccer fields?

In part, the city’s installation of tire-crumb—or styrene butadiene rubber — turf sports fields is a part of a nationwide undertaking, once encouraged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By 2003, Americans were generating about 290 million used tires annually. To keep waste tires out of landfills and from polluting the countryside, the EPA began to encourage their reuse. Several states, including California, followed suit and created grant programs that local governments could tap into to repurpose used tires.

Encouraged by such incentives, tire-crumb playgrounds and sports fields have begun to proliferate in San Francisco parks in recent years. In November, following the failure of a ballot measure that would have prevented the project, the city’s Recreation and Parks Department commenced construction on its largest-yet tire-crumb facility: the Beach Chalet soccer complex, located at the western end of Golden Gate Park. This project involves demolishing seven acres of natural grass fields and covering those seven acres with an estimated 3.5 million pounds of ground-up tires covered with plastic grass.

Because of projects like the Beach Chalet fields, there may be fewer heaps of used tires throughout the nation, but growing concerns about the safety of tire-crumb turf have raised questions about the wisdom of this tradeoff.

For several years, the Sierra Club has been litigating the Beach Chalet soccer fields project based on inadequacies in the project Environment Impact Report (EIR), including these safety concerns. For one thing, the EIR acknowledges that ingested toxins in the tire crumb exceed hazard levels for children by 220 percent, based on a report by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (you can find the full report at http://tinyurl.com/oehhastudy). What are those substances that exceed the trigger levels?  Among others, they are arsenic, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, molybdenum, nickel, and zinc. Physiological impacts of overexposure to these toxins range from irritated eyes, rashes, and joint pain to developmental delays, cardiomyopathy, and cancer.

Other government agencies have likewise acknowledged safety issues with tire crumb. In 2013, in response to advocacy by the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the EPA retracted a 2009 statement that read, “The limited study, conducted in August through October 2008, found that the concentrations of materials that made up tire crumb were below levels considered harmful.” The EPA now admits that the information from its 2008 study is outdated.

In 2014, NBC News reporters aired a series of stories on the potential link between tire-crumb turf and cancer in soccer players, mostly goalies, a number of whom have developed lymphoma and leukemia, among other cancers. Soccer goalies spend a lot of time on the ground, diving into the crumb rubber. The NBC stories revealed that the EPA now admits that more studies need to be done before tire-crumb turf can be declared safe.

Additionally, in December 2014, State Senator Jerry Hill, representing Peninsula district 13 and Chair of the Standing Committee on Environmental Quality, introduced legislation calling for a temporary moratorium on the installation of tire-crumb soccer fields pending the results of a state study on their safety. Senate Bill 47, The Children’s Safe Playground and Turf Field Act of 2015, would require the study to be completed by July 2017. Unfortunately, because the moratorium would not apply to any projects already underway before July 2016, the legislation would not stop installation of the Beach Chalet fields or remove the many acres of tire crumb-filled artificial turf already in use throughout San Francisco.

At a Park, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee meeting on January 6 of this year, Dawn Kamalanathan, the SFRPD director of Planning and Capital Management, said that as part of the department’s capital plans for 2015-16 and 2016-17 it is considering a proposal to replace tire-crumb turf fields at the Franklin, Youngblood Coleman, Garfield, and Silver Terrace playfields with “natural infill material.” Despite this positive development, Kamalanathan said that the department still plans to install tire crumb turf at the Beach Chalet fields.

San Francisco’s Precautionary Principle, adopted in 2003, requires policymakers to thoroughly vet projects and choose the option least harmful to human health and the city’s natural systems. Given all that we know—and still don’t know—about the toxins present in tire crumb, the Precautionary Principle would seem to preclude the Beach Chalet project right from the get go.

The Sierra Club’s fight to appeal the Beach Chalet project EIR is ongoing, with a ruling expected in early 2015. If the Club wins its appeal, the city will be forced to redo the project’s Environmental Impact Report. At that point, environmentalists and those concerned about the health of soccer players will have an opportunity to lobby for safer turf for the city’s children.

Read more about the environmental and health impacts of the Beach Chalet soccer fields project in the Yodeler online in “November election pits grassroots initiative to protect Golden Gate Park against Park Department power play” and “Sierra Club appeals Beach Chalet court decision that ignores critical safety hazards“.

— Sue Vaughan, chair of the San Francisco Group Executive Committee, and Kathleen McCowin, an attorney, geneticist, and soccer mom.

Generations of Bay Chapter activists honored at 90th anniversary celebration

Arthur Boone (center, at microphone) and tree-planting team volunteers accept the Excellence in Community Service award at the Bay Chapter’s 90th anniversary celebration.

Arthur Boone (center, at microphone) and tree-planting team volunteers accept the Excellence in Community Service award at the Bay Chapter’s 90th anniversary celebration.

2014 was a year of many anniversaries: the 90th anniversary of the Bay Chapter, the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the centennial of John Muir’s death, and the 20th anniversary of the California Desert Protection Act. All these momentous occasions gave the Bay Chapter the opportunity to reflect on past achievements and honor the activists whose vision and passion have guided us for close to a century. At the Chapter’s birthday party in November, we honored a small number of our dedicated activists with the following awards:

Edward Bennett, Edward Bennett Lifetime Achievement Award

A true Golden Sierran, Ed Bennett was elected to the Chapter Executive Committee in 1969, and served as Chapter chair, treasurer, or assistant treasurer for a period of 30 years. He takes special pride in his work on the successful campaign 1972 campaign for Proposition 20, the Coastal Initiative, which provides protection for much of the California coastline, and Proposition 70, the Wildlife, Coastal, and Park Land Conservation Act of 1988, which provided $25 million to help establish the East Bay Shoreline Park. In 1976 Ed founded the slide-lecture series “EVENTS,” which continued for 16 years and provided the Chapter with a major source of funding.

Zeke Gerwein, Future Leader Award

This summer, 13-year-old Zeke Gerwein embarked on a second summer biking adventure, pedaling 3,400 miles from Mexico to Canada and back down the coast to Arcata. Zeke’s trip raised money for the Bay Chapter and raised awareness of climate disruption. Zeke’s was an educational enterprise on multiple levels; an extraordinarily articulate young man, he shared his story and learned from the people he met along his route. Since his return to his home in Berkeley, Zeke has shared his experiences with others. Show your support for Zeke’s work by making a donation to the Bay Chapter at tinyurl.com/thankzeke.

Arthur Boone and Tree-planting Team, Excellence in Community Service

When Oakland reduced its tree crew in mid-2009, Sierra Club leader Arthur Boone stepped up to fill the void. Boone worked with the Northern Alameda County Group to garner the support of Oakland’s city officials, including former Councilwoman Jane Brunner. The tree team recruits and trains volunteers who plant trees between November and July. Over the last four-and-a-half years the Sierra Club’s all-volunteer tree-planting team planted 1,072 street trees in Oakland, with many more going in this season.

Jane Barrett, Paul Foster, Anna Robinson, Evelyn Randolph, and Jack Sudall (in memorial) of East Bay Dinners, Excellence in Social Events

In 1948, several volunteer leaders organized dinners to introduce new members to the Sierra Club and all it had to offer. Over time, these dinners became the East Bay Dinners: an evening of socializing with friends and a slide show presentation of members’ interesting trips. The current committee (our awardees) shares 128 years of Sierra Club membership and has given us 35 years of service. We also honor two past program coordinators, Bill Loughman and John Shively, as well as Jack Sudall, who led the group for 52 years and passed away in 2014.

Katherine Howard, Activist of the Year

“The public needs to be informed of what’s happening with our parks so that they can hold their elected officials responsible for protecting our precious park heritage,” said Kathy Howard. That statement pretty much sums up her approach to conservation. Over the years Kathy has helped to form various grassroots groups to be a voice for Golden Gate Park. Her efforts in Golden Gate Park include saving 100-year-old trees in the Music Concourse; successfully opposing the construction of a 40,000-square-foot water-treatment facility inside the park; and a six-year campaign to stop the Beach Chalet project.

Dick Schneider, Acre by Acre Award

Dick Schneider’s 40-year “career” in the Sierra Club has ranged from environmental research on high-altitude Sierra Nevada lakes to work on energy, toxics, and population issues as a Club leader. Dick’s leadership has been instrumental to campaigns to protect unincorporated eastern Alameda County land from sprawl and other harmful development. He has been involved in numerous growth-control initiatives in Fremont, Livermore, Hercules, Moraga, and Dublin, where in 2014 he helped lead the successful campaign to defeat a developer-backed initiative that would have broken the city’s new urban-growth boundary and authorized urban sprawl in rural Doolan Canyon.

Past Recipients, Michener Outings Leadership Award

In 2001, the Bay Chapter established the Dave and Pat Michener Outings Leadership Award, named after the volunteers who co-edited the Chapter Activities Calendar for more than 30 years. The award recognizes individual Chapter outings leaders for superior leadership. Michener Award recipients are: Don de Fremery (2001), Patrick Colgan (2002), Guy Mayes (2003), Jayne and Erwin Keller (2004), Jack Sudall (2005), Katy and Brad Christie (2006), Richard Watson (2007), Diane Smith (2008), Lloyd Sawchuck (2009), Chuck Collingwood (2010), Russ Hartman (2011), Mike Hayman (2012), Janess Hanson (2013), and Vera Lis (2014). These individuals have enriched outings participants and served the environmental movement in countless ways.

Letter to the editor — NPS: “Golden Gate National Recreation Area works to help coho salmon survive in Redwood Creek”

Redwood Creek watershed location

Redwood Creek watershed location

Coho salmon have been in the news lately, including the last issue of Yodeler. The number of salmon in Redwood Creek and elsewhere on the California Coast has dropped to alarmingly low levels.

The National Park Service (NPS) appreciates the public’s interest in the status of Redwood Creek salmon and what can be done to reverse their decline. As part of our stewardship mission we have been actively involved for several decades in working to protect and improve coho populations in the Redwood Creek.

Why have the salmon numbers dropped so low? The absence of progeny of the class of 2007-08 was the subject of the article in the December-January issue of the Yodeler, titled “On the brink: Is it too late to save the salmon of Redwood Creek in Muir Woods?” The reasons are complex, and require an understanding of the salmon life cycle.

Coho salmon are anadromous and generally spend one year in streams before migrating to the Pacific Ocean, to rear for another 1.5 years. Adults return to their streams of origin generally as three-year-olds, with little mixing among different year classes. During their lives, salmon are vulnerable to condition changes in the ocean and stream habitats. A study by National Marine Fisheries Service found that there was a 73% decline in coho salmon adults returning in winter 2007-08 to California streams due to unfavorable ocean conditions, particularly warm, low nutrient water that leads to lower food production. Almost no coho returned to Redwood Creek that year. When populations drop to extremely low levels, they are at a much higher risk due to inbreeding and unfavorable environmental conditions such as the droughts and extreme flood events that have characterized the past several years.

Since the early 1990s, the NPS has worked to improve habitat conditions for salmonids in the Redwood Creek watershed. While much of the watershed is in public ownership and managed by agencies and organizations with strong resource stewardship interests, there is a legacy of past land management activities including stream channelization and instream wood removal that reduced the natural capacity of the creek to support salmon.

Historical estimates of Central California Coast coho spawners (Source: National Marine Fisheries Service 2012 Coho Recovery Plan Executive Summary)

Historical estimates of Central California Coast coho spawners (Source: National Marine Fisheries Service 2012 Coho Recovery Plan Executive Summary)

In the early 2000s, the NPS participated with various stakeholders to develop a framework for habitat protection and restoration, including salmonids, at watershed and site-specific scales. We moved facilities away from drainages, added fencing to protect riparian habitat, and reduced adult salmon passage barriers. Several restoration projects are completed including instream and floodplain restoration at Muir Beach. We are working with other resource agencies and the water provider for the town of Muir Beach to improve summer instream flows for fish. Current projects include a captive rearing and release program to “jumpstart” the coho population, stream water quality assessment, and continued long-term monitoring of salmon and habitat conditions.

We have partnered with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) during the past two decades on this project. Gail Seymour, CDFW Supervisor, put it this way: “The NPS commitment to watershed restoration is a critical part of species recovery efforts in Redwood Creek as well as the overall Central California Coast coho salmon region.”

Helping the coho survive in Redwood Creek will take a concerted effort by resource agencies and the public. For those interested in helping, there are several winter volunteer opportunities. Visit http://go.usa.gov/zRVx to learn more.

— Darren Fong, Aquatic Ecologist, Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Berkeley moves to stop balloons from polluting the Bay

Photo by Brenda Anderson on Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Brenda Anderson on Flickr Creative Commons

While balloons may seem like harmless fun, when they are released into the air they can cause serious problems for our environment. Recognizing the threats balloons pose to the Bay Area’s wildlife and marine habitats, the City of Berkeley has studied and debated balloon regulation for years—and 2015 could be the year that the city finally reins in the environmental impacts of helium-filled balloon release.

After being released into the air, balloons often end up in waterways, where they can be consumed by fish and other marine wildlife, causing harm and death. For bayside communities like Berkeley, this possibility is of particular concern. Balloons made of aluminized Mylar also have conductive properties and have been known to cause power shortages upon contact with power lines, posing a hazard for utility workers. Birds, meanwhile, can become entangled in the strings attached to balloons.

The State of California has partially addressed the issue by passing a law requiring that helium-filled foil balloons carry a warning label and be anchored with a weight when sold. California law also prohibits the release of helium-filled balloons made of electrically-conductive material like Mylar at specified events. However, no state law regulates latex balloons.

In 2008, recognizing the threat that releasing helium-filled balloons poses to the environment, the Berkeley City Council referred the issue to the City’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission (CEAC). The Council requested that the Commission explore a public education campaign and restrictions on sales of helium-filled balloons. In November 2009, the CEAC returned to the City Council with recommendations to: 1) declare the release of balloons to be an environmental and physical hazard, 2) prohibit the release of balloons at special events permitted by the City, and 3) initiate a public education campaign regarding the hazards of balloon release.

An industry group of latex and Mylar balloon producers called The Balloon Council vigorously opposed the City’s modest proposal and engaged in an intense lobbying campaign to thwart it. Unfortunately, their efforts were successful in creating enough confusion and concern that the Council voted to table the issue for future consideration. The Balloon Council has also successfully blocked attempts at the state level to legislatively address release of helium-filled latex balloons.

This past October, Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin re-introduced the issue of regulating the release of helium-filled balloons in Berkeley. In December, the City Council once again referred the issue of regulating balloon releases to the CEAC. The CEAC is expected to present the Council with proposals on how to address the environmental impact of balloon releases early this year.

The Sierra Club—whose Northern Alameda County Group voted to support the concept of balloon regulation—will be following this issue as it works its way through the commission process and will continue to advocate for measures to mitigate the harmful effects of balloon litter in our Bay. For more information or to get involved, email Northern Alameda County Group Executive Committee member Luis Amezcua at lamezcua27@gmail.com.

— Luis Amezcua

Raising climate awareness at the pump

A working concept of Berkeley’s gas pump warning label. Credit: 350 Bay Area.

A working concept of Berkeley’s gas pump warning label. Credit: 350 Bay Area.

The Sierra Club supports two local proposals currently working through the Berkeley City Council and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to mandate labels at gas stations informing consumers of the link between driving, carbon dioxide emissions, and climate disruption.

In San Francisco, Supervisor John Avalos introduced the ordinance “Greenhouse Gas Information Labels for Gas Pumps,” which will be debated at the Land Use Committee in early 2015—likely as soon as mid-February. As for Berkeley, in November the City Council voted to direct the City Manager to draft an ordinance requiring the posting of the gas station warning labels. Once a draft is finalized, it will go back to the Environmental and Energy Commissions for approval before returning to the Council for adoption later in the spring.

It is important that consumers be given the tools they need to make informed decisions. Educating consumers at the point of purchase raises awareness of the connection between their action and its effects; in this case, that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming. The strategy of warning drivers of the global consequences of filling up the tank is comparable to printing graphic images of diseased lungs on cigarette cartons; in both cases, the goal is to encourage consumers to think twice about their purchase, and ultimately cut down on their purchases.

Although the final gas pump label language has not been determined for either city, proposed designs inform the consumer about how much tailpipe carbon dioxide is produced by burning one gallon of fuel, and explain that carbon dioxide emissions are a significant factor in recent climate change. One proposed design for San Francisco’s label provides a resource for people wishing to make changes; directing people to the website sfclimate.org gives the city the opportunity to highlight numerous ways to reduce gasoline use — from improving mileage to avoiding solo driving altogether, by car-pooling, taking public transit, biking, or walking.

Gas pump warning labels have the potential to be part of the larger strategy for the cities of Berkeley and San Francisco to seriously address climate change.

For a sustainable Bay Area, tracking the viability of a key smart-growth program

Priority Development Areas shown in pink. Image courtesy of MTC, 2013.

Priority Development Areas shown in pink. Image courtesy of MTC, 2013.

This article is the first in a series about the Bay Area’s Priority Development Areas, or PDAs, and the Sierra Club’s efforts to ensure that this critical smart-growth program is implemented successfully and sustainably.

In 2015, the Bay Chapter’s Transportation and Compact Growth Committee will focus special attention on two related subjects: 1) working to make Priority Development Areas (PDAs) a success, and 2) attempting to shift the focus of county Congestion Management Agencies from congestion management to greenhouse-gas reductions.

PDAs, or Priority Development Areas, are areas targeted for infill development alongside public transit. Successful PDAs should be developed as “complete communities”—that is, they should provide amenities and services to meet the day-to-day needs of residents in a pedestrian-friendly environment. The goal of PDAs is to ensure sustainable housing growth even as the region’s population booms (by one estimate, the Bay Area will be home to an additional two million new residents by 2040). Successful implementation of the region’s PDAs should prevent sprawl, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide affordable housing, and preserve open spaces.

PDAs are the core smart-growth program of Plan Bay Area, the region’s integrated land-use and transportation plan. The integrated approach to regional development was a result of the California Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (SB 375), which set regional emissions-reduction targets and required each region to develop a strategy to reach that goal. Plan Bay Area was the region’s roadmap to reaching required cuts to per-capita greenhouse-gas emissions of 7% by 2020 and 15% by 2035; and to sustainably house the influx of new residents.

Thus, the 2013 Regional Transportation Plan (Plan Bay Area) was, for the first time, the joint responsibility of the transportation agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and the land-use and housing agency, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). As noted in Plan Bay Area, to meet the requirements of SB 375, “Plan Bay Area directs more future development to areas that are or will be walkable and bikeable and close to public transit, jobs, schools, shopping, parks, recreation and other amenities.”

This summer, the Sierra Club and Communities for a Better Environment settled a lawsuit brought against MTC and ABAG, the agencies in charge of Plan Bay Area. The lawsuit alleged several areas of concern with regard to the Plan’s ability to meaningfully address its stated goals of reducing climate change; securing the health and safety of vulnerable communities; and promoting sustainable growth. A key concern was the viability of PDAs in the first iteration of Plan Bay Area. The Sierra Club and others were troubled by the fact that some PDAs have little or no access to public transit, and that there was no guarantee as to what to expect in the future in terms of the provision of adequate service. Further, several PDAs are vulnerable to earthquake hazards or flooding from sea-level rise, while others potentially pose a risk to nearby natural resources.

One of the agreements reached in the settlement is that there will be an analysis of PDA performance before the next update of Plan Bay Area in 2017. The Sierra Club will support PDAs that ABAG and MTC demonstrate are likely to be successful. But if a particular area has flaws that suggest it will not be viable as a PDA, then it is not unreasonable for the responsible agencies to consider taking the area off of the PDA list and to stop providing funds to support its development.

MTC and ABAG have now begun work on developing the successor to Plan Bay Area. It will be interesting to see the PDA analysis as the new plan is assembled.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series, which will appear in the April-May 2015 issue of the Yodeler. The next article will review two East Bay PDAs: one that looks like it will be a success, and another that has several troublesome factors.

— Matt Williams

Learn the basics of backcountry travel — Beginners Backpack Course Spring 2015

Backpackers resting in Yosemite. Photo by Thomas Meissner.

Backpackers resting in Yosemite. Photo by Thomas Meissner.

Application deadline: March 15.
Indoor seminar: March 29.
Field trips: April 11-12, April 18-19, or May 9-10 (participants choose one).

Learn how to travel safely and comfortably with only a pack on your back during the annual Beginner’s Backpack course run by the Backpack Section. We are offering this opportunity for folks who have little or no experience in backpacking but who want to explore backcountry trails and get away from the crowds.

The course consists of:

  • A full-day indoor session on Sunday, March 29, including a series of short lectures, discussions, slide and equipment show. The event will be hosted from 9 am – 5 pm at the Naturebridge Conference Center (Golden Gate National Recreation Area).
  • One overnight backpack trip on a weekend in April or May in small groups led by experienced instructors. There are three dates to choose from (see above).

The backpack trips will take place in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. During the backpack trip you will have the opportunity to try out your gear, learn how to set up a tent and operate a backpack stove, practice basic navigation skills, and, most importantly, experience how it feels to hike with a heavy pack on your back. Participation in the backpack trip requires attendance at the indoor session.

Participants should be in good physical shape and have no serious health conditions. A good background in day hiking is necessary.

Families with children age 12 and older are welcome. The course is not suited for younger children.

Cost is $70 per adult; $35 ages 12 – 22. Early registration is recommended, as space is limited. Applications received after March 15 will be considered only if space is still available

For more information and to sign up, contact: Thomas Meissner by email at meissner.thomas@sbcglobal.net (strongly preferred), or by phone at (707)795-7980 (only if you do not have email access).