November 28, 2015

Bay Chapter says goodbye to “superstar” organizer Jess Dervin-Ackerman

jessIf you engaged with the local chapter of the Sierra Club at any point in the last three years, you probably came across conservation manager Jess Dervin-Ackerman. Fiercely engaged, powerfully persuasive, and boundlessly energetic, Jess has been one of the chapter’s greatest assets. Jess seems to know everyone, and she earns the admiration and respect of everyone she meets.

In her three-year tenure here Jess has done an almost super-human amount of good. Here are just a few of her proudest accomplishments:

  • Launching an incredible, diverse, multi-sector campaign against coal exports through Oakland which has garnered over 14,000 petition signatures and engaged 2,000 individuals
  • Meaningfully engaging the Sierra Club in frontline fights against refineries and the Wes Pac oil terminal proposed in Pittsburg
  • Growing the movement for Community Choice clean energy in the Bay Area — CleanPowerSF is just a few months away from launching and the East Bay Clean Power Alliance is moving full speed ahead with an Alameda County program scheduled to launch in 2017!
  • Bringing recycling workers and environmental activists together to advocate for higher wages and more stringent zero waste policies, and expanding composting services to all Oakland residents
  • Coming together with social justice organizations and labor unions to elect progressive champions to local, regional, and state offices
  • Mentoring over 25 interns, many of whom have gone off to be involved in activism, politics, and furthering our causes through academia and research

Now Jess is, in her words, “taking a sabbatical to take care of myself so that I can continue to do this important work of fighting for climate justice for the long haul,” and “to have an incredible adventure with my partner who has supported me and my work at the Sierra Club.”

Jess has a message of thanks and a special appeal to “the inspiring community of activists” she has worked with at the Sierra Club:

“I’ve worked hard to advance environmental, social, and racial justice causes locally with the Bay Chapter and I would love nothing more than to see that good work continue in my absence.

Please consider making a gift in my honor to the Bay Chapter to support their grassroots campaigns to protect our air, land and water, advance a just transition to a clean energy economy, and encourage folks to get out and enjoy the beautiful natural places of the Bay Area. I will come back, and when I do I want to continue to work on climate issues. I believe it helps everyone involved to have the Sierra Club well-positioned and well-resourced to support and drive local fights for a better, more just, and more sustainable world.

Thank you to everyone for your support, encouragement, bravery, creativity and partnership over these 3 years. Probably my greatest personal accomplishment was creating so many amazing relationships with activists, organizers, elected officials, and many more folks that now engage with the Sierra Club and that I hope to work with for years to come.”

It’s been an honor to work with you, Jess. We will miss your energy, warmth, and passion. Enjoy your next adventure!

RSVP soon for Thu., Dec. 3 East Bay Dinner — “Sierra Starlight!”

A bright Geminid Meteor falls from the sky over the summit of 14,505 foot Mount Whitney in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. Photo by Tony Rowell.

A bright Geminid Meteor falls from the sky over the summit of 14,505 foot Mount Whitney in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Photo by Tony Rowell.

Join us for an exciting evening featuring the stunning images by renowned photographer and author Tony Rowell. He will share new work from his California by Starlight Project and from his new book, Sierra Starlight. The San Francisco Chronicle writes that the images in Sierra Starlight “will take you back to your first campsites, starry nights and shooting stars.”

Tony is the son of renowned photographer and mountaineer, Galen Rowell. Tony’s photography expeditions have taken him across the globe, from the Arctic Circle to the mountains of Tibet. His astro-time-lapse videos have been featured on the National Geographic Channel and his award-winning photos have been published in AstronomyBackpacker, Mountain Bike Action, and Outdoor Photographer magazines. Tony will have copies of his books and prints on display and for sale.

No-host cocktails/social hour at 6 pm, dinner at 7 pm, program 8 pm. Join us at the Berkeley Yacht Club on the Berkeley Marina, one block north of the west end of University Avenue (ample free parking is available in the Marina parking lots).

Cost of dinner and program is $27, including tax and tip. For a reservation, please send your check, payable to “Sierra Club, SF Bay Chapter” with your name, telephone number, and the names of your guests, to:

Jane Barrett
170 Vicente Road
Berkeley, CA 94705

Attendance is limited to the first 115 reservations received. Reserve early, as these programs do fill up. Reservation deadline has been extended to November 30th. There is no admittance for program only.

Cultivated Thoughts: autumn in the Bay Area garden

compostIt’s fall again, and it’s finally beginning to feel the part. After a few small hiccups, it seems to have taken hold.

Fall is my favorite season to spend time in the garden. It doesn’t have the obvious beauty of spring, or the ease and comfort of summer, but it isn’t without its own certain charm. It’s a time when you get to know your landscape more intimately, a time to wade deeper into its workings. It’s a time when you’re able to peel back the layers of the spring and summer and redirect the energy of your garden to the preparation for next year.

Many garden shrubs require periodic deep pruning to maintain their overall health and vigor, and the fall is the perfect time to do it. Semi-woody shrubs like Elderberry and Hydrangeas will want their leggy canes cut low, and shorter shrubs like Salvias and grasses are often best shorn nearly to the ground. Care-ful pruning takes timing: catch the sap when it’s running more slowly and you’ll lose much less energy through the healing process. This, in turn, helps the plants invest in the burgeoning nodes which will be-come next spring’s tender branches and buds.

If you have the space, too, those trimmings will make a great addition to the compost which will season over the coming months and feed the garden when the year turns over again. Add more trimmings and kitchen scraps periodically (I recommend only vegetables), and remember to add plenty of brown leaves and debris to keep the mix from getting too potent. A 3-to-1 ratio of leaves to scraps, or higher, is ideal.  If you’ve already established your composter, and have the rich results on hand, now is the perfect time to dole out heaping handfuls to the base of your plants. Be generous, if you have enough to give, but re-member not to lay it farther out than the root ball of the plant. A good general rule is that the plant below ground is nearly the same size as the plant above, so lay the compost no further out than the edge of its canopy.

The chance to spend time walking in your garden amongst the smells of fallen leaves and dampening soil is a feast for the senses. Getting down on the ground to spread compost and mulch rekindles something deep in us, and serves as a reminder that gardens give so much more than simply a beautiful space. It’s another thread in the cord that binds us to the natural world, a chance to give back as much as we get. A garden is a gift of good fortune, and what we do to keep ours healthy will yield rewards in so many ways. Some flowers will call to birds and bees, some wide leaves will lend us shade. But beneath it all is the kinship we breed with these living, struggling organisms as we help each other more happily grow out into the world.

Peter Reinke is a garden designer who has spent most of his life enthusiastically diving into dirt.

Sierra Club and community partners keep pressure on Oakland City Council to ban coal exports—Join Dec. 8 teach-in and action

Margaret Gordon testifies at the Oakland City Council's hearing on the public health and safety impacts of coal exports. She said, "If we bring in coal we can't boast about being a green city."

Margaret Gordon testifies at the Oakland City Council’s hearing on the public health and safety impacts of coal exports. She said, “If we bring in coal we can’t boast about being a green city.”

Since the Oakland Army Base adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge was decommissioned in 1999, Oakland officials and community groups have been planning a project at the site of the former Army Base that would benefit the local economy and clean up the local environment. That vision of the project is now in jeopardy.

The redevelopment project, now called the Oakland Global Trade & Logistics Center (aka Oakland Global), is being built by private developer Phil Tagami. Last April, the Sierra Club discovered that Tagami had been in backroom talks with four Utah counties to make a deal that would dedicate at least half of the planned Oakland Global bulk marine terminal’s capacity to exporting millions of tons of Utah coal abroad. This deal would make Oakland the largest coal-exporting site on the West Coast, and would increase national coal exports by 19%!

Hundreds of anti-coal protesters at Oakland City Hall

Hundreds of anti-coal protesters at Oakland City Hall

Tagami has solicited hundreds of millions of public dollars to make Oakland Global a reality. Perversely, if the coal deal is allowed to go through, our taxpayer dollars will fund a project that would make air quality worse in West Oakland, a community that’s already overburdened by pollution.

That’s why we have spent the last six months fighting alongside labor, environmental justice, faith, and community groups to counteract the influence of private developers and coal companies at Oakland City Hall. To protect communities from West Oakland to Utah, and to put a stop to the catastrophic climate change caused by burning fossil fuels, this coal needs to stay in the ground. Oakland Global can and should be a success without transporting toxic fossil fuels.

After a summer of activism, the City Council acknowledged thousands of community petitions by hosting a public hearing on the potential health and safety impacts of local coal exports. On September 21st, hundreds of residents, activists, and experts came to City Hall and spoke out against coal exports.  Thanks to community pressure, the Council then ordered staff to review public testimony, and investigate courses of potential action.

Because of the imminent threats to the health and safety of the workers and the community that coal exports pose, the Oakland City Council has the legal authority to ban coal exports from the Oakland Global terminal. They set December 8th as a deadline for themselves to take action on this issue — though action may now be delayed. We need to stand strong on December 8th and demand immediate action on this urgent issue.

For the city to finalize the coal exports ban, an ordinance will have to see at least two more readings.  Thus, the Council will need to take at least two more meetings in the beginning of next year to finalize the ban.


Join us on December 8th as we return to City Hall for a teach-in and action calling for an end to this crazy coal plot. We have a better vision for Oakland: good, safe jobs, healthy communities, and public land used for the public good.  Now it’s time to make our voices heard and make this vision a reality.

WHAT: Teach-in and action for a coal-free Oakland
WHEN: Tuesday, December 8th, 5:30 to 7 pm
WHERE: Oakland City Hall

If you are an Oakland resident, please take the time to call your council member now and ask them to vote to keep Oakland coal free! If you are not an Oakland resident, please call Mayor Schaaf and tell her that coal exports would be a disaster for the local economy, public health and safety, and climate.

  • Dan Kalb, District 1, (510) 238-7001
  • Abel Guillen, District 2, (510) 238-7002
  • Lynette Gibson McElhaney, District 3, (510) 238-7003
  • Annie Campbell Washington, District 4, (510) 238-7004
  • Noel Gallo, District 5, (510) 238-7005
  • Desley Brooks, District 6, (510) 238-7006
  • Larry Reid, District 7, (510) 238-7007
  • Rebecca Kaplan, At Large, (510) 238-7008
  • Mayor Libby Schaaf, (510) 238-3141

Jeremy Gong

Mount Diablo Group January meeting—“After the fire: tracking Mount Diablo’s amazing recovery

Photo by Joan Hamilton

Photo by Joan Hamilton

Wednesday, January 20, 7 pm. Ygnacio Valley Library, 2661 Oak Grove Road, Walnut Creek.

On a sweltering September afternoon in 2013, fire broke out on the east side of Mount Diablo.  Whipped by high winds, the inferno scorched 3,100 acres before it was finally extinguished.

Immediately after the blaze, the incinerated landscape appeared lifeless and barren. But closer inspection revealed the presence of charcoal beetles and other animal life. In the following months, seeds that had lain dormant in the soil for decades began to sprout. Golden eardrops, flame poppies, whispering bells, and other fire followers bloomed in perfusion. Charred trees and shrubs re-sprouted from underground root crowns. The ravaged landscape transformed into a vibrant wonderland of color.

Photo by Joan Hamilton

Photo by Joan Hamilton

The embers were still smoldering when nature writer and photographer Joan Hamilton began tracking Mount Diablo’s recovery from the Morgan Fire for Bay Nature magazine. Join us at our January meeting as Joan shares her photographs and observations documenting how various parts of the mountain changed over time—and what scientists are learning from the fire.

Joan Hamilton is a freelance writer and editor. In addition to writing for Bay Nature, Joan produces Audible Mount Diablo — a series of downloadable hiking guides — and is a former editor-in-chief of Sierra magazine.

This program is open to all and no reservations are necessary. If you have questions, contact Ken Lavin at or (925) 852-8778.

Arthur Boone, architect of Oakland Tree Team, honored for service to the Sierra Club

Arthur (far right) circa 1995 at a protest against Coca-Cola for not including recycled content plastic in their soda bottles. Also ictured from left are Sierra Club activists Ruth Abbe and David Tam and Rick Best, former Legislative Director of Californians Against Waste. Photo by Steve Lautze of the Northern California Recycling Association.

Arthur (far right) circa 1995 at a protest against Coca-Cola for not including recycled content plastic in their soda bottles. Also ictured from left are Sierra Club activists Ruth Abbe and David Tam and Rick Best, former Legislative Director of Californians Against Waste. Photo by Steve Lautze of the Northern California Recycling Association.

Longtime Bay Chapter volunteer Arthur Boone has been honored with the Sierra Club California’s Sally and Les Reid Award for exemplary service in the area of conservation. Arthur is a life-long member of the Sierra Club who has served in a multiplicity of volunteer roles, from chair of the Bay Chapter’s conservation committee to head of the Oakland Tree Team.

“He does so many things for this good earth,” writes David Haskell, who has worked with Arthur on the Chapter’s Zero Waste Committee for many years. “He dedicated his life’s work to Zero Waste and resource recovery and recycling spanning decades of effort — never wanting anything in return for himself. He is a dear man with such a good heart.” Mary Lou Van Deventer, also of the Zero Waste Committee, heartily concurs, calling Arthur “a force of nature on the side of the planet.”

Arthur steps up for Oakland’s “green lung”

When the City of Oakland reduced the budget and staff of its Tree Division in 2009  — at the height of the Great Recession — and stopped planting new trees in front of homes and businesses, Arthur Boone stepped up to fill the void. Over the next five years, Arthur led the Sierra Club’s Tree Team in planting some 1,350 trees across Oakland. Arthur has personally planted about 500 of those trees, either by himself or with one of the volunteers. How many of us can claim to have made such a tangible, positive impact on our communities?

Arthur with one of his trees.

Arthur with one of his trees.

Tree Team volunteer and Northern Alameda County Group Executive Committee member Kent Lewandowski says of Arthur: “He knows where all the trees are like a shepherd knows his sheep. Arthur is known to drive around Oakland in his old truck to check on trees, water them, prune them, and talk to homeowners to help educate them how to take care of them. That’s what makes him so effective. The trees are kind of like his children. No matter what other challenges he might face (like lack of money, difficulty finding steady volunteers, problems with supplies), he does not get bothered about it. He knows he’s doing a good thing for the planet, and it gives him energy working with the volunteers. So he just keeps on going.”

Arthur passes the torch

Arthur “starts things that continue” says Mary Lou Van Deventer. So it’s fitting that Arthur has been honored with the Sally and Les Reid Award as he hands the reins of the Tree Team over to Derek Schubert.

New funds support Tree Team work

A key feature of the program, says Derek, is “how economically [we have] been able to plant our trees.” The Tree Team recently received two major pots of money that will allow it to continue — and even ramp up — the program Arthur built with the help of so many volunteers. The Bank of America Charitable Foundation granted the program $42,000 through the American Forests group in Washington, D.C. The first round of those funds paid for 90 trees in the Oakland flatlands between January and April 2015; the rest of the funds will pay for hundreds more. And this past July, the Tree Team was awarded $310,000 from the state’s cap-and-trade funds to plant 1,500 more trees in the East Oakland flatlands by the end of 2018.

The Sierra Club actively advocates for the City of Oakland to commit the funds to reinstate its comprehensive tree program, but until then, our volunteers-led program will be there to fill this important role.

Plant a tree with us!

Tree Team volunteers about to put a new tree in the ground.

Tree Team volunteers about to put a new tree in the ground.

The tree-planting season has now begun! In planting season (generally November through July, weather depending), the tree team meets on Saturdays, 9 am to 1 pm.

If you want to improve Oakland’s quality of life, planting a tree is one of the best things you can do. Trees fight global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. In urban areas they can cool temperatures by up to 10° F by providing shade, breaking up urban “heat islands” and releasing water vapor. Trees absorb pollutants and filter particulate matter, leaving cleaner air behind. Studies even show that tree-lined streets improve commerce, raise property values, and have lower incidences of violence.

You can learn more about the Tree Team (including how to get involved and make a donation) and read their latest newsletter on our website.

SF Dinner—Thu, Jan 21: “Parisian for a Year”

Photo by Michael Saint James

Photo by Michael Saint James

Note new location and cost. See below for details.

Living in Paris for a year, author and photographer Michael Saint James spent his days and nights capturing images and researching history for his new book, Bridges of Paris. Michael immersed himself in French culture to discover the heart of Paris, and the result was the adventure of a lifetime. Join us for an illuminating visit to the City of Light. Learn Parisian history from the bridges’ point of view, and you will never see Paris the same way again.

Michael has over 30 years of experience as a photographer, educator, and world traveler. He is a speaker on Impressionist art and the history of Paris. You may remember his Sierra Club presentation “In the Footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh.” His award-winning book, Bridges of Paris, was published in 2015, and has received outstanding reviews.

Social hour at 6 pm, dinner at 7 pm, program at 8 pm. New location: Grace Lutheran Church, 3201 Ulloa  St. at 33rd Ave. Take Muni L to 32nd Ave., walk one block to 33rd, turn left on Ulloa for 1 block. Street parking available. From East Bay, take BART to Embarcadero station, then transfer to Muni L Taraval.

To reserve your place, send a check for $22 (note new price), made out to “Sierra Club, S.F. Bay Chapter,” to Gerry Souzis at:

1801 California St., #405
San Francisco, CA 94109

Checks must be received by Friday, January 15. Please indicate the program date, number of guests, and your phone number. Non-members are welcome. Bring your own wine or soft drinks. Glasses and ice are available. Let us know if you are a vegetarian.

For questions, contact Gerry between 4 and 9 pm (no morning calls please) at (415)474-4440 or

Westlands water deal threatens health of the Delta

Map of the Westlands Water District

Map of the Westlands Water District

In a settlement with grave implications for the imperiled environment of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the Interior Department on September 15 turned over to the Westlands Water District the responsibility for cleaning up toxic irrigation drainage water that has damaged 285,000 acres of farmland within its boundaries. The deal would guarantee Westlands, located in western Fresno and Kings counties, a supply in perpetuity of taxpayer-subsidized water drawn from the Trinity River and the Delta, eliminating a previous requirement to renew the contract every two years. The district would also be relieved of a $375-million-dollar interest-free debt to taxpayers for construction costs of the Central Valley Project, the massive federal water delivery system.

The Interior Department touted the agreement, which requires congressional approval by January 2017, as a savings to taxpayers of $3.5 billion — the estimated cost of cleaning up the district’s toxic drainage. This is misleading, however, because if the federal government had cleaned up the drainage problem  as required by the courts, Reclamation law would have obligated Westlands to reimburse the government (and the taxpayers) for the entire cost of the cleanup.

The soil in nearly half of Westlands’ 600,000 acres contains shallow, salty groundwater that impedes crop growth. All of the land within Westlands is plagued by high amounts of mineral salts and selenium, a naturally-occurring trace element left by an ancient sea. The salts are harmful to crops, and selenium in irrigation drainage can kill and cause severe birth defects in fish and wildlife.

Conservation groups quickly denounced the agreement for ensuring Westlands vast amounts of inexpensive federal water to irrigate toxic land. Westlands would continue drawing water from the Trinity River and the Delta, an environment already damaged by excessive diversion, with no limits on the size of farms eligible to receive it. The California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), Food and Water Watch, and Restore the Delta summarized its impact: “Water would be provided at lower prices, without acreage limits, and with permanent entitlements. These terms will lead to ever-increasing water deficits for California’s communities, economy, and environment.”

The groups also questioned Westlands’ ability to accomplish the clean-up. Lloyd Carter, president of the California Save Our Streams Council, told the Fresno Bee, “It’s ridiculous that Westlands even claims it can solve the drainage problem when federal agencies, spending hundreds of millions of dollars, did not find an economical and environmentally safe solution.”

The settlement in fact contains no performance standards for Westlands to meet, requiring only that the district become “legally responsible for the management of drainage water” within its boundaries. Kate Poole, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which intervened in litigation over the dispute, pointed out to the Los Angeles Times, “So there’s no indication that they have to do something more than what’s currently happening [with drainage] or that they have to do it by a certain time.”

Environmentalist Carter observed that the inexpensive water provides a further windfall for Westlands, as it can sell its unused supply to urban districts for a sizable profit. Indeed, a very real possibility exists of Westlands transferring its entire water contract to such a district for a huge financial gain. The impact would be devastating to the Delta if the transfer were a permanent one, since even in years of drought urban water districts are guaranteed 50% of their contracted water delivery, while agricultural districts like Westlands can be denied 100% of their water if there is real scarcity, as has occurred in the past two years. This would result in hundreds of thousands of additional acre-feet of water being drawn from the Delta each year during a protracted drought.

Local Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-09) called the settlement a “sweetheart deal” that gives Westlands “an advantageous, no-need-to-review contract that could improve the water deliveries they receive from the Delta and further devastate its fragile ecosystem.”

Richard Frank, director of the California Environmental Law and Policy Center at U.C. Davis, observed to the Los Angeles Times, “My hunch is that the more Congress digs into the details of this, the more controversial the settlement is going to get.  And the less are the prospects for a quick and easy congressional ratification.”

David Holloway for the Water Committee

Thu., Jan. 28 East Bay Dinner — “Life Above 11,000 Feet”

Photo by Bob Case.

Photo by Bob Case.

The alpine tundra of Colorado is a marvelous place to hike and enjoy earth’s biodiversity. Come explore the world above 11,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies with photographer and naturalist Bob Case. Flower portraits, insects, and mountain scenery in the Rocky Mountain National Park, Trail Ridge area, and Berthoud Pass area will be featured as we stroll above the timberline in mid July. The area offers many opportunities to take leisurely day hikes to rich and diverse habitats including alpine tundra, treeless ridge tops, cirques and riparian areas. Trailheads above 11,000 feet make for easy to moderate high-elevation saunters to revel in the stark beauty of the treeless zone.

Bob Case retired in 2004 as a Deputy Agricultural Commissioner from the Contra Costa County Department of Agriculture after 24 years of service. Bob also taught biology and environmental science classes in Bay Area community colleges for 25 years. He is a frequent speaker and writer on invasive plant management and wildflower photography. His photographs have appeared in many books, plant publications, websites, and lectures.  Bob is an enthusiastic gardener who specializes in California native drought-tolerant plants and common sense, least-toxic pest management. Traveling much of the Lewis and Clark Trail has inspired several classes and lectures for local plant enthusiasts. He has made it a goal to visit all National Parks in the US and has only three more Alaskan National Parks to visit to realize his goal. Bob earned his Masters in Ecology & Sistematics from SF State.

Photo by Bob Case.

Photo by Bob Case.

No-host cocktails/social hour at 6 pm, dinner at 7 pm, program 8 pm. Join us at the Berkeley Yacht Club on the Berkeley Marina, one block north of the west end of University Avenue (ample free parking is available in the Marina parking lots).

Cost of dinner and program is $27, including tax and tip. For a reservation, please send your check, payable to “Sierra Club, SF Bay Chapter” with your name, telephone number, and the names of your guests, to:

Jane Barrett
170 Vicente Road
Berkeley, CA 94705

Attendance is limited to the first 115 reservations received. Reserve early, as these programs do fill up. Reservation deadline is January 21. There is no admittance for program only.

Plans for Berkeley Priority Development Areas fail to mention GHG emissions

With a $750,000 planning grant in hand, the City of Berkeley is moving forward with two Priority Development Areas (PDAs); the “Adeline PDA” covers Adeline Street from Shattuck Avenue south to the Oakland city boundary, and the South Shattuck PDA runs down Shattuck from Dwight Way to Ward Street. A Staff Report released to the Berkeley Planning Commission in October has given us a window into the planning process for the PDAs. Based on that report, we see that in some areas — affordable housing and public spaces — the city is talking the talk; now it’s time to make sure they follow through. But in one crucial aspect —the PDAs’ greenhouse gas emissions — the city’s process is falling dangerously short.

Adeline Corridor Plan Area Map

Adeline Corridor Plan Area Map

Priority Development Areas (PDAs) are the cornerstone of the Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) contained in Plan Bay Area, the $292 billion Regional Transportation Plan. The core objective of PDAs is to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in cars and light trucks so as to meet greenhouse gas (GHG) targets from the transportation sector. Yet search of the Staff Report for the following terms produced no hits: “Greenhouse”; “GHG”; “VMT”; “Sustainable”; and “Sustainable Communities Strategy”.

It is also troubling that the Staff Report, in a section entitled “Environmental Sustainability,” disconcertingly states, “there are no identifiable environmental effects or opportunities associated with the subject of this report.”

The Sierra Club will certainly be following up with City of Berkeley planning staff to find out why GHG and VMT reductions have been omitted from the PDA process thus far.

Despite this major omission, there are some areas where the Berkeley PDAs are on track. The public outreach has been impressive, and what the community thinks important generally is supportive of the Sustainable Communities Strategy. The Staff Report notes, “the need for more affordable housing and avoiding displacement of existing residents was mentioned by (all) groups (at a community visioning workshop).”

Affordable housing and displacement are huge issues for the two PDAs, and getting a grip on them by the city now would be a big help to residents. The Staff Report does not provide a timetable for affordable housing production, however, and the recent history is not hopeful. Citywide, for the years 2007-2014, only 13% of the required number of permits for very low-, low-, and moderate-income housing were issued; 93% of the required permits to build above moderate income were issued, though.

Plan Bay Area has a displacement target: “House 100 percent of the region’s projected growth (from a 2010 base year) by income level (very-low, low, moderate, above-moderate) without displacing current low-income residents.” The University of California’s Urban Displacement Project has produced a map showing the area of the two PDAs, and it appears that a section of the Adeline PDA is “at risk of gentrification or displacement.” The area is shown as a lower-income tract, with more than 39% of households considered low income. UC also indicates that much of the South Shattuck PDA and a portion of the northern section of the Adeline PDA are in a state of “advanced gentrification.”

Map from UC Berkeley's Urban Displacement Project shows displacement risk in PDA area.

Map from UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project shows level of displacement in PDA area.

The Staff Report also mentions slowing vehicular traffic speeds is supported by the community, which well be a help in making the PDAs more attractive to residents and businesses. As planning rolls forward, the city will need to figure out how to “calm” automobiles while not hindering AC Transit bus passengers.

Another thing the Staff Report has right is its take on providing more public and community spaces “where people could gather for various events or community meetings.” These amenities are important to successful PDAs. Adeline Street has a lot of offset surface parking lots that ought to be considered for new uses, including community spaces.

You can count on the Sierra Club continuing to monitor the planning process for the Berkeley PDAs and calling the city to account where it’s falling short.

By Matt Williams