December 19, 2014

Help us protect Berryessa Snow Mountain on Friday, December 19

Tired hikers in the extreme south of the proposed National Monument get a glimpse of Lake Berryessa. Photo courtesy of Tuleyome.

Tired hikers in the extreme south of the proposed National Monument get a glimpse of Lake Berryessa. Photo courtesy of Tuleyome.

The Berryessa Snow Mountain region is the crown jewel of Northern California’s wild Inner Coast Range. Efforts to protect this wild place go back over a decade. Right now, we finally have the opportunity to protect Berryessa Snow Mountain as a national monument — and we need your help!

Please attend an important public meeting about the future of Berryessa Snow Mountain this Friday:

Friday, December 19, 2-4 pm
Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center
2277 Napa-Vallejo Hwy, Building 100 Napa, CA 94558

This meeting will be hosted by Representative Mike Thompson and attended by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Undersecretary of Agriculture Robert Bonnie, Representative John Garamendi and other officials seeking public response to the idea of protecting Berryessa Snow Mountain as a National Monument. Your attendance and enthusiasm at this meeting will go a long way toward protecting this important landscape and rewarding Berryessa Snow Mountain with the “star on the map” as a national monument that this place has long deserved. There will be an opportunity for the public to speak so please be ready to talk about why this area is important to you! National monuments are areas of public lands that have unique attributes that merit protection for future generations. Please help to make that a reality by attending the meeting on December 19th!

Transportation will be available from the following locations, but you must RSVP:

  • Davis – Amtrak Station, 840 Second Street
  • Winters – Community Center, 201 Railroad Avenue
  • Sacramento – Convention Center, 1400 J Street
  • Berkeley – North Berkeley BART Station, 1750 Sacramento Street

For more information and to RSVP contact: Mike Thornton, California Coastal Organizer, Sierra Club California/Our Wild America, at Michael.thornton@sierraclub.org or 916-803-5942.

Let’s protect Berryessa Snow Mountain – now and forever!

Join the Sierra Club at events this weekend to support the struggle for racial justice

inspirMany of us have been touched by the recent Grand Jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island not to indict police officers who killed unarmed black men on the streets of America. Sierra Club members, staff, and allies have been out in the streets throughout the country, protesting these injustices and countless more, and demanding civil rights and racial justice for all Americans.

This week the Club’s Executive Director, Michael Brune, wrote a blog post about why we can’t be silent on this issue. He wrote:

The Sierra Club believes that all people deserve a healthy planet with clean air and water and a stable climate. All people also deserve equal protection under the law and the right to live their lives free of discrimination and hatred. These issues are not separate. Indeed, we believe that working toward a just, equitable, and transparent society is not only morally necessary but also exactly what we need to confront the unprecedented environmental challenges we face.

Injustices in our political system and in our culture empower polluters and lead to the destruction of our most cherished places. Those same injustices often breed hatred, sow division among us, and threaten our health and safety. The Sierra Club’s mission is to “enlist humanity” to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet. That mission, which applies to everyone, cannot be achieved when people’s rights are being violated and their safety and dignity are being threatened on a routine basis. This must stop.

That is why we must speak out on these issues. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

We want to invite you to join us in participating in several actions this weekend to reflect on the injustice that people of color face every day in this country, reflect on all we have lost, and demand action from our elected leaders to change the system that has brought us to this point. At each of these events, we will have a Sierra Club contingent present to show solidarity with our allies and to show our commitment to fighting for racial justice as part of our mission to achieve equity and climate justice for all. Please wear black so we can identify each other.

Saturday, December 13th, 9:30 am
Join Outdoor Afro for a Healing Hike to Breathe
Meet at Inspiration Point in Tilden Park. **Check for updates due to weather and trail conditions.
Sierra Club folks will meet at the Inspiration Park sign on Wildcat Canyon Road.

Saturday, December 13th, 2 pm
Millions March for Justice, San Francisco
Meet Chapter Director Michelle Myers and the Sierra Club/ Environmental Justice contingent in green at the Vaillancourt Fountain in Justin Herman Plaza. Wear black and bring signs!

Saturday, December 13th, 2 pm
Millions March for Justice, Oakland
Meet Chapter Conservation Manager Jess Dervin-Ackerman and the Sierra Club/ Environmental Justice folks in green on the steps of Oakland’s City Hall. Wear black and bring signs!

Each of these events is well organized and family friendly, with specific routes determined in advance. The marches will have monitors and peacekeepers to ensure everyone’s safety. Please feel free to bring family and friends. If you can’t make it this weekend, there will surely be other events in the near future that we will be participating in.

S.F. Board of Supervisors passes new support for local clean power

Photo of Hetch Hetchy by Cowgirl Jules on Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo of Hetch Hetchy by Cowgirl Jules on Flickr Creative Commons.

In a move that will help San Francisco reach its carbon-reduction goals, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance that will increase the amount of clean and renewable energy flowing to the city. The legislation, sponsored by Supervisors Scott Wiener and London Breed, authorizes the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (the SFPUC) to sell much more excess hydroelectric power from the Hetch Hetchy dam system to local development projects. This policy will enable the SFPUC to reduce the City’s greenhouse-gas emissions, sell the hydro power at rates that reflect its real value, and support the City’s developing Community Choice energy program, CleanPowerSF.

Currently, the SFPUC sells most of its excess hydro power at under-market wholesale rates to municipalities outside of San Francisco. The Supervisors’ action authorizes the SFPUC to  sell the greenhouse-gas-free power at higher retail rates to large new developments here in the City (such as the new Transbay Transit Terminal project) and also to the CleanPowerSF program. PG&E is currently the default power provider in the city.

By authorizing the sale of surplus power at higher rates, the new policy will boost the SFPUC’s budget by tens of millions of dollars per year, which it can use to cover current budget shortfalls and pay for clean energy and streetlight projects that are badly in need of funds.

The legislation will also help spur the creation of new renewable energy projects in California. Cities that formerly purchased greenhouse-gas-free power from Hetch Hetchy at bargain-basement prices will now have to buy and build new clean energy sources of their own to meet climate action goals.

When it was originally introduced in July 2014, the legislation did not contain any support for CleanPowerSF. The Sierra Club and other clean energy advocates successfully pushed for an amendment that makes CleanPowerSF—once launched—a priority customer for the surplus hydro power. This amendment will help ensure that CleanPowerSF will be more cost-competitive and reliable.

The San Francisco Department of the Environment has stated that the City cannot meet its aggressive climate action goals without implementing a strong CleanPowerSF program, which would provide the City with at least 50% of its electricity from clean, local sources within the next decade. By contrast, PG&E’s power mix is only 20% renewable. CleanPowerSF will help San Francisco reduce its reliance on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels and transition to a 100% clean-energy economy. By strengthening CleanPowerSF and giving the city first right to excess hydro power, this new ordinance facilitates San Francisco’s energy transition and helps achieve climate goals.

—Eric Brooks

Read more about CleanPowerSF in “Clean-energy advocates demand mayor restore CleanpowerSF language to San Francisco Climate Action Strategy” and “CleanPowerSF deleted from San Francisco Climate Action Strategy“.

 

Sierra Club supports gas pump warning labels

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Proposed gas pump warning label, courtesy of 350 Bay Area.

The Sierra Club supports the proposed “Greenhouse Gas Information Labels for Gas Pumps” ordinance introduced by San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, and urges its approval. If passed, gas stations in San Francisco would be required to post labels on pumps warning that burning fuel contributes to global warming.

It is important that consumers be given tools to make informed decisions. The proposed gas pump labels will do that by informing people buying gasoline how much tailpipe carbon dioxide is produced by burning one gallon of fuel, and by explaining that carbon dioxide emissions are a significant factor in recent climate change.

The labels won’t only provide a warning, but will also provide 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.

These labels have the potential to be part of a larger strategy for the city of San Francisco to seriously address climate change.

The proposed ordinance will be debated at the Land Use Committee in early 2015. Look to the Yodeler for details as we get closer.

In November, the Berkeley City Council approved a similar ordinance that would mandate labels at fueling stations informing consumers of the link between driving, CO2 emissions, and climate change.

Affordable housing policies in San Francisco could reduce sprawl

Low-income housing advocates in San Francisco; photo by  Steve Rhodes via Flickr Creative Commons

Low-income housing advocates in San Francisco; photo by Steve Rhodes via Flickr Creative Commons

The Sierra Club has long opposed habitat-destroying, greenhouse gas-generating sprawl. To fight sprawl, the Club supports policies to raise the minimum wage and make housing more affordable; 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. In the past year and a half, the Bay Chapter’s San Francisco Group has embraced legislation to preserve affordable, rent-controlled housing in San Francisco and to slow evictions that force average- to low-income people out of the city and into auto-centric suburbs.

There is good news: Mayor Ed Lee chose not to veto the latest piece of legislation to protect tenants and fight sprawl. The legislation, which was sponsored by Supervisor David Campos, passed by the Board of Supervisors this fall.

That legislation will regulate tenant buyout agreements — transactions in which property owners offer money to tenants in order to induce them to leave. Many buyout offers are preceded by threats to evict tenants using the Ellis Act, a state law that permits landlords to empty buildings and get out of the rental business. Once those buildings are emptied, they are often sold quickly and converted into tenancies-in-common, agreements in which the occupants of the units share the entire mortgage for the building. Property owners prefer not to use the Ellis Act because future conversion of the units into lucrative condominiums is restricted, and because of the public disclosure requirements.

Buyouts have usually involved paying tenants more to leave, but until now there have been no restrictions on their future conversion of property into condominiums; nor have landlords and tenants been required to publicly disclose the transactions. The recently-passed legislation will restrict the condominium conversion of units that have been emptied through buyout agreements and require public disclosure of buyout transactions.

In 2013, the Bay Chapter’s San Francisco Group supported legislation that suspends the condominium conversion lottery for tenancies-in-common for ten years and places further restrictions on those conversions. That legislation passed and is now law. The buyout legislation is yet one more measure to put a damper on speculation in residential real estate that leads to tenant evictions and ultimately sprawl.

The S.F. Group also took a position this year against the demolition of rent-controlled housing in San Francisco for the same environmental reasons it supported the buyout and tenancy-in-common condo conversion legislation. Days before Thanksgiving, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors heard an appeal of conditional use permit to demolish a small, Richmond District house with two rent-controlled units. The supervisors unanimously upheld that appeal and saved the two units. A San Francisco city planner later said that their decision was precedent setting. The S.F. Group did not take a position on the particular appeal in question, but we are very pleased with the supervisors for protecting two sound units of rent-controlled housing.

Because of state law, no residences built after 1978 can be subjected to rent control.  According to official San Francisco performance measure reports, between the 2007-2008 and 2012-2013 fiscal years, San Francisco lost 4,032 rent-controlled units to condominium conversion or demolition — dropping from 175,337 to 171,305 rent-controlled units. Only 2,507 units of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income San Franciscans were constructed during those years. These troubling figures demonstrate why the Club’s support for affordable housing and tenant rights is critical.

—Sue Vaughan

Learn about forest-fire mitigation in the East Bay hills from EBMUD and Cal

1991 East Bay hills fire.

1991 East Bay hills fire.

Saturday, December 6, 10 am-5 pm. Ever wanted to know why there aren’t more fires in our hills, especially during a drought? Join outings leader Ben Alvers for an educational hike on forest-fire mitigation in the East Bay hills. EBMUD Ranger Mark Silva and UC Berkeley facilities planner Tom Klatt will instruct us on their respective institutions’ strategies to avoid another  firestorm like the one that ravaged 1,520 acres and destroyed nearly 4,000 homes in 1991.

Our route will take us along the border between the EBMUD and UC Berkeley watersheds then back along the Sibley ridge line, where we can enjoy (weather allowing) beautiful views of San Francisco, Mount Tamalpais, and Mount Diablo.

Meet at 10 am sharp in the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve parking lot. Eat a large breakfast because lunch will be later on the route. Total distance will be about 10 miles, although there is an early opt-out for those who want a shorter hike (7 miles, and less elevation). This event has been organized by the Bay Chapter’s Conservation Committee, and is free and open to the public. Learn more at the Bay Chapter activities calendar.

Development discussion and walk in the MLK, Jr. Regional Shoreline Park

Willets at Arrowhead Marsh. Photo via Flickr Creative Commons, flickr.com/taylar.

Willets at Arrowhead Marsh. Photo via Flickr Creative Commons, flickr.com/taylar.

Sunday, December 7, 9:30 am. Join the Bay Chapter’s Conservation Committee for a leisurely, three-mile hike on paved, level paths along Oakland’s San Leandro Bay shoreline, starting at Arrowhead Marsh in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline Park.

San Leandro Bay is one of the Central Bay’s most glorious bodies of water. We’ll enjoy great views, see thousands of water birds and shorebirds, and hopefully spot a few endangered species. Along the way, we’ll see some of the region’s most successful wetland-restoration projects. We’ll also walk the site of the Bay Area’s first major development proposal for lands that will likely be under water by 2100.

As we explore land likely to disappear under sea-level rise, we will reflect on the impact of development and climate disruption to species that depend upon tidal marshes; explore new proposals to preserve the Bay’s remaining wetlands; and consider whether it is appropriate to build in areas threatened by sea-level rise.

The proposed Oakland Coliseum Area development would be an enormous (780-acre) project, described in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) this way: “Overall, this proposed Project would create three new sports venues, 5,750 housing units, and almost 8 million square feet of net new commercial and business uses.  The Coliseum Area would have around 7,000 residents… by the time of project Buildout in… 2035”.

How does the DEIR address expected sea-level rise? It suggests that buildings have car garages on the first floor with businesses and housing on the second floor “to allow sea level rise to impact uninhabited parking structures rather than dwelling units.” Perhaps the idea is that as sea level rises and the garages flood everyone will take to boats. Another solution proposed by the DEIR is to have all essential infrastructure built above the anticipated sea level, 3 to 6 feet in the air. The image brought to mind is of elevated roads surrounding lower blocks of housing and businesses (with the garages now flooded) like a gigantic waffle.

The DEIR does acknowledge that something would need to be done to avoid catastrophe for the 7,000 residents whose homes would be underwater. Perhaps, it suggests, a massive levee will be required along the entire length of the bay shoreline? We won’t go into the costs or headaches of the DEIR’s strikingly inadequate proposals here. Suffice to say that such short-sighted plans only punt, abdicating responsibility for the consequences of their actions to future generations and shifting the burden of response to relevant regional agencies.

We will ponder these questions and more, while enjoying a spectacular—and endangered—natural area. Join us! For more details, visit the Bay Chapter activities calendar.

Contra Costa County Transportation Plan projects more driving

Photo courtesy of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority.

Photo courtesy of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority.

Transportation is the single-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the Bay Area, so it must be a key focus in our fight against climate disruption. Unfortunately, a new plan for transportation spending in Contra Costa County is projected to result in more driving, which would likely lead to an increase in greenhouse-gas emissions.

Each of the nine counties in the Bay Area has a “congestion management agency.” One of the goals of the Sierra Club Bay Chapter’s Transportation and Compact Growth Committee is to try to shift these agencies away from the hopeless cause of trying to manage congestion and towards beneficial work to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and light trucks.

In August, Contra Costa County’s congestion management agency, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, released a draft of its new 25-year Countywide Transportation Plan. The Executive Summary states: “By improving the transportation system, we can help address the challenges that a growing population, more jobs, and more traffic will bring. The [Countywide Transportation Plan] lays out a vision for our transportation future, the goals and strategies for achieving that vision, and the future transportation investments needed to promote a growing economy, advance technological changes, protect the environment, and improve the quality of life.” The Sierra Club contests the claim that this plan would protect the environment.

Alas, the Transportation Plan, which runs until 2040, states that it will result in a five percent increase in vehicle miles traveled per person—the opposite of the objective laid out by the Bay Area Regional Transportation Plan (“Plan Bay Area”), which calls for a ten percent reduction of vehicle miles per capita over the next 25 years. Greenhouse-gas emissions from cars are directly related to vehicle miles traveled, so the county’s Transportation Plan flies in the face of California’s goal of cutting the climate disruption-causing emissions.

The Bay Area Regional Transportation Plan (“Plan Bay Area”) contains a list of “performance targets.” Two of these are to “reduce per-capita carbon dioxide emissions from cars and light-duty trucks by 15 percent” and “increase non-auto mode share by 10 percentage points.” The County Transportation Authority does not disclose whether the Transportation Plan will achieve these targets, but given the projected increase in vehicle miles per capita, we can conclude that it would be incredibly difficult to do so.

As for congestion reduction, the County knows its Transportation Plan will not do much. The draft Plan notes, “Where feasible and beneficial, improve the throughput capacity of roadways while recognizing that these improvements will not, in the long run, eliminate congestion.” Despite this stated understanding, the Plan proposes to lay out $3.8 billion on building more freeway lanes. That money would be better spent on projects and programs that could lead to a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, such as  providing more frequent bus service or accelerating the Complete Streets program.

The Contra Costa Transportation Authority should withdraw its draft Transportation Plan and begin fresh on one with an overarching goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

—Matt Williams

Read more about Plan Bay Area in “Settlement puts Plan Bay Area back on track“.

Feds continue court action over Crown Beach Park

Crab_Crown_TrailmapLast July, the Alameda City Council heeded the will of Alameda citizens (and the Sierra Club) by zoning federal surplus property near Crown Memorial State Beach as open space. As a result, a private housing developer recently defaulted on its contract to purchase the property from the federal General Services Administration (GSA), and walked away from a plan to build 48 houses on the property.

One might think this is great news for the East Bay Regional Park District—that the way is now cleared for the district to acquire the land for the purpose of expanding the park at Crab Cove, just as the voters intended back in 2008 when they passed Measure WW. But the United States Department of Justice, acting on behalf of the GSA, is continuing its action to take over title of McKay Avenue, the state-owned street leading to the Crab Cove Visitor Center. If the GSA were to take control of McKay Avenue, the GSA could transfer the right to a private developer to dig up the street in order to install the utilities necessary for its project. The state and park district are fighting to kill the eminent domain action so that the GSA—which currently only has utility easement rights for federal government agencies—is compelled to sell the empty lot to the park district.

The Department of Justice says it needs to seize McKay Avenue for the “continuing operations of the Alameda Federal Center,” which is located on the upper part of the street. (The 3.89 acres vacated by the Department of Agriculture—and now zoned open space—are located at the end of the road closest to the beach.) However, the state and the park district argue that the eminent domain action is actually intended to secure a more profitable sale of the vacant property.

On November 10, the court sided with the state and the park district on a motion to strike affirmative defenses. In his ruling, Judge William Alsup determined that the Department of Justice’s claim that it needs to take ownership of McKay Avenue for its “continuing operations” is disingenuous and “belied by the easement it already retains and the circumstances around the now defunct sale to the private developer.” The judge went on to write, “The only real reason the United States seeks to obtain title to McKay Avenue in fee simple is to secure easements for a prospective private development of the vacant federal parcel.”

This ruling was good news, but it is far from the last word on the matter. Judge Alsup ordered the United States to file a summary judgment motion, in which the judge decides the case based on undisputed facts without a trial, on or before February 16, 2015, and also urged the parties at the hearing to pursue immediate settlement negotiations.  If the case is neither settled nor resolved by summary judgment, it is scheduled for trial in October 2015.

WhatYouCanDo

Write to the Alameda City Council, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and ask them to help end the eminent domain action and make way for the expansion of the park at Crab Cove.

—Irene Dieter

Read more about Crab Cove in “Promising news for Alameda’s waterfront”.

National Wilderness Conference inspires a new generation of activists

Vicky Hoover at the National Wilderness Conference.

Vicky Hoover at the National Wilderness Conference.

Enlightening. Profound. Sobering. Just a few adjectives for the National Wilderness Conference, held October 15-19, 2014, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Over 1,200 people from dozens of organizations and federal resource agencies converged on Albuquerque for the first national gathering of the wilderness community in 25 years.

The conference offered a rich array of plenary sessions, presentations, panels, exhibits, films, field trips, and skill-development workshops. Six wilderness themes were woven into every aspect of the programming: stewardship, education, history, experience, civic engagement, and science. The companion Wilderness Celebration Exhibition showcased organizational booths surrounding a “Wilderness Awareness Trail” for students. The culmination was a free-to-the-public outdoor “Get Wild” festival with music, Native American dance, kids’ stories and activities, and keynote speakers rallying to action a new and more diverse generation of wilderness advocates.

Throughout the conference, a litany of threats to the integrity and very existence of our National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) was explored. The Wilderness Act promised to “secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” Yet, while the amount of land designated as wilderness has increased since 1964 by over ten-fold—from 9 million to nearly 110 million acres, 14% of which are in California—the wildness of those lands has not been well safeguarded. Human impacts from nearby development, population growth, climate change, and inadequate stewardship continue degrading wilderness values. Those manifold values include solitude and refuge from the sights and sounds of civilization in places where ecosystems remain undeveloped and intact, where natural processes unfold without direct human intervention.

When the Wilderness Act was signed into law, it was after years of effort building a broad public and political consensus about the “idea” of wilderness: that it is fundamental to our national character and must be protected. That consensus has eroded, even as pressures on our wild areas have increased from all sides.

Acknowledging these critical problems, leaders of the four federal agencies responsible for protecting the NWPS—the National Park Service, the National Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management—ceremonially signed a “2020 Vision” document setting interagency priorities for the next five years. The major themes are to: protect wilderness resources; connect people to their wilderness heritage; and foster excellence in wilderness leadership and coordination.

Energized and renewed by our experiences, several conference attendees from the Bay Chapter are collaborating to build on the momentum to improve and expand wilderness protection. Three current wilderness proposals in our area are:

  • Central Coast Heritage Protection Act. This bill would add roughly 300,000 acres of wilderness, scenic areas, and other protections and 159 miles of wild and scenic rivers in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument.
  • The current Forest Plan process in Inyo, Sierra, and Sequoia National Forests, which could and should include Wilderness recommendations from the Forest (see “Help secure Wilderness designation for National Forest lands!” for what you can do to help).
  • Senator Diane Feinstein’s new California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act, a bill to be introduced in January when Congress reconvenes. According to the Senator’s website, “The bill builds on Feinstein’s historic California Desert Protection Act, which became law in 1994. The new legislation is designed to protect additional land and help manage California’s desert resources by carefully balancing conservation, recreation and renewable energy development.”

If you are working to mitigate climate change, encourage smart growth and effective public transportation, shift toward sustainable food and energy systems, and reduce our ecological footprint, then you are also working on behalf of wilderness. If you’d like to join the conversation and get involved more directly in wilderness advocacy work in our chapter, please contact Alan Carlton at carltonal@yahoo.com, Anne Henny at anneth16@sbcglobal.net, or Teri Shore at terishore@gmail.com.

—Anne Henny