- No categories
GREEN CITY When the clock or the calendar hits 420 — and particularly at that magical moment of 4:20 p.m. on April 20 — the air of Northern California fills with the fragrant smell of green buds being set ablaze. But this year, some longtime cannabis advocates are trying to focus the public’s attention on images other than stoners getting high.
“I hope the house of hemp will replace the six-foot-long burning joint as the symbol of 420,” says Steve DeAngelo, executive director of Harborside Health Center, an Oakland cannabis collective, and one of the organizers of an April 23 festival in Richmond dubbed Deep Green that offers an expanded view of cannabis culture.
In addition to big musical acts, guest speakers, and vendors covering just about every aspect of the cannabis industry, the event will feature a house made almost entirely of industrial hemp. That exhibit and many others will highlight the myriad environmental and economic benefits of legalizing hemp, as California Sen. Mark Leno has been trying to do for years, with his latest effort, SB676, The California Industrial Hemp Farming Act, clearing the Senate Agriculture Committee on a 5–1 vote April 5.
Public opinion polls show overwhelming support for ending the war on drugs, particularly as it pertains to socially benign substances like industrial hemp, a strain of cannabis that doesn’t share the psychoactive qualities of its intoxicating sister plants. Yet DeAngelo said that after 40 years of advocating for legalization, he’s learned to be patient because “unfortunately, our politicians are lagging behind public opinion.”
In San Francisco and many other cities, marijuana dispensaries have become a legitimate and important part of the business community (see “Marijuana goes mainstream,” 1/27/10), spawning offshoots like the edibles industry that provide more safe and effective ways of ingesting marijuana (see “Haute pot,” 1/25/11).
But the proof that the medical marijuana is about more than just getting people high also continues to grow, from the endless touching tales of cancer, AIDS, and other patients who have been saved from suffering by this wonder weed to the lengths that the industry is going to cultivate cannabidiol (CBD), a compound found in marijuana that doesn’t get people high but offers many other benefits, including acting as an antidepressant and antiinflammatory medicine.
CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, generally have an inverse relationship in cannabis plants, so the efforts by generations’ worth of pot cultivators to breed strains with higher THC content have almost completely bred the CBD out of the plants. “In the underground markets, it didn’t have any value,” DeAngelo said.
When Harborside Health Center first started laboratory-testing marijuana many years ago, DeAngelo said that of 2,000 strains tested, only nine had “appreciable quantities of CBD.” In addition to efforts by Harborside and the San Francisco Patient and Resource Center (SPARC) to work with growers on bringing back CBD-heavy strains, modern scientific techniques are allowing CBD to be extracted from the strains that do exist.
“It’s not psychoactive, but let me tell you, it is mood-altering,” says Albert Coles, founder of CBD Sciences in Stinson Beach. “A lot of people, when they smoke pot go inward, but that often isn’t good for social interactions.”
His company makes laboratory-tested cannabis tinctures called Alta California that have been increasingly popular in San Francisco, offering three different varieties: high THC/low CBD, low THC/high CBD, and a 50-50 mix. “It’s good for creative thinking because it just clears out all the noise,” Coles said of CBD.
But even when talking about THC, many in the industry dispute the criticism that most marijuana use is merely recreational drug use. Vapor Room founder Martin Olive has said most pot use isn’t strictly medical or recreational, but a third category he calls “therapeutic,” people who smoke pot to help cope with the stress of modern life.
DeAngelo agrees, although he puts it slightly differently: “The vast majority of cannabis users use it for the purpose of wellness.”
DEEP GREEN FESTIVAL Saturday, April 23. Performances by The Coup, Heavyweight Dub Champion, and more; speakers include pot cultivation columnist Ed Rosenthal, Steve DeAngelo, and business owner David Bronner. $20 advance/$30 door ($20 for bicyclists and carpoolers, $100 VIP).
Craneway Pavilion, 1414 Harbour Way South, Richmond. www.deepgreenfest.com
Green today, gone tomorrow
URBAN FARMING Green thumbs may soon be mourning the partial removal of Hayes Valley Farm. The urban agriculture education project is facing the prospect of condos being built on one of its two sections of city-issued property by Bay Area development company Build Inc., as early as February 2012. The company has been slated to build on the property since before the farm project began in January 2010, but was delayed by the recession of 2008 and its wet-blanket effects on new construction projects.
Today the farm sits on 2.2 shady acres near the heart of the Hayes Valley neighborhood. Visit on a typical day and you’ll find volunteers planting fava beans, school-age kids wandering through crops and trees on a school tour, perhaps a instructor teaching a beekeeping class, and on Sundays, a group of volunteers distributing free produce to anyone who stops by. All the while, plant and animal life buzz amid the fertile urban enclave.
But while volunteers have put hundreds of hours into making the farm what it is today — even going so far as to purify the car exhaust-infused soils to make the land arable — this green space was never intended for long-term use. Hayes Valley Farm is among a handful of ventures around the city — another one is interdisciplinary collective Rebar’s Showplace Triangle, a street at the base of Potrero Hill that has been turned into a pedestrian zone with repurposed benches and planter beds as part of the group’s Pavement to Parks project — that are aimed at making interim public space out of underutilized properties.
The current story of the land that the farm occupies starts with the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The quake’s damage to the Central Freeway resulted in the city acquiring major parcels of land where the thoroughfare once stood. Since then, the city has relied on sales of those properties — which it designated as Parcels A to V — to build Octavia Boulevard and redevelop the Hayes Valley-Market Street neighborhood. Half the land was to be made into affordable housing.
But at one point, the neighborhood noticed that some of the parcels awaiting sale were attracting crime, graffiti, dumping, and otherwise unsavory activities. The Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association teamed up with the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development to go looking for potential projects that could put these spaces to constructive use during the time that they awaiting development.
“We went out and actually sought a user for this. We got in contact with Jay Rosenberg and Chris Burley, who were interested in doing the farm, and we brought them here and asked them if this was doable,” says Rich Hillis of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “We were 100 percent clear that it was going to be for interim use only, and they embraced that.” Hillis and colleague Ken Rich ensured that Hayes Valley Farm received a $50,000 grant from the Mayor’s Office to get started on the work of clearing the property and setting up community programming on the land.
While it’s clear that the farm project was meant from the get-go to be an interim use for Parcels O and P, some members of the community are upset to see Parcel P turned over so soon to Build Inc. “As a citizen, I have the freedom of being able to ask what’s better for the community, this farm or more developments?” says Morgan Fitzgibbons, head of the neighborhood sustainability group the Wigg Party and farm volunteer. “The farm is an anchor of a burgeoning sustainability movement, and after seeing all the good it can do, are we still going to go in there and build? I think the issue is bigger than one city block.”
But Booka Alon, who is part of the 10 core farm volunteers who manage and run the farm, says they will not be putting up a fight. “We are very grateful to the Mayor’s Office and we’re ready to leave when asked. That’s part of our agreement.”
Alon says that the farm gives a sense of hopefulness and accomplishment to many young volunteers who are otherwise underemployed during the economic downturn, but turning Hayes Valley Farm into a long-term career commitment is not something many volunteers are itching to take on. “Planting and farming are hopeful acts, but not very lucrative in an urban setting.”
Many community members who championed the farm in the first place hope that the transition of Parcel P to Build Inc. will go smoothly so that other interim-use projects will be supported in the future. “We love the farm,” says Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association member Jim Warshell. “What they’ve done has been spectacular and wonderful, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t honor your commitment. The way we respond to Parcel P will affect how people trust us with future deals.” And while the farm’s popularity among city residents can’t be denied, some look forward to the fruition of the city’s promise that the area will be converted into homes that residents can afford.
But the sun hasn’t set on the work of Hayes Valley Farm. The group is collaborating with the city on finding another location to continue planting and teaching. And the future of Parcel O appears to be some shade of green. For now, there are no imminent development plans for the space and, unlike Parcel P, Parcel O is under the auspices of the city’s Redevelopment Agency, not a private company.
Alon says that some of the plant beds and flowers on Parcel O might someday be incorporated into the mixed-income housing developments that will eventually stand around — and possibly on — it. As for the permaculture soil that the farm hands have diligently created, she hopes it can be recycled along with the knowledge that was shared through the project. “Maybe we’ll give the soil to neighbors when it’s over. They can use it in their own gardens.”
For more information on how to support the farm, visit www.hayesvalleyfarm.com.
Working on it
GREEN ISSUE With the recession fast seeping into the everyday fabric of American life (or at least Monday through Friday’s fabric), the enthusiasm that the term “green jobs” generates can be well understood. But can we really call a $10 hourly pay rate for installing solar panels sustainable? And what would be the bigger of the two triumphs: creating a carbon-free country or a more equitable nation? With partnerships springing up across the country like the Blue Green Alliance, created by the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, maybe the two goals aren’t so separate after all. Here are some West Coast organizations fighting to make sure that the environmentally-friendly jobs that do exist — and have yet to be created — pay a decent wage.
OAKLAND GREEN JOBS CORPS
Created by the long-time civil rights champions at the Ella Baker Center and other community partners, this program recruits poor young adults to a 38-week course of study that recognizes what it takes to break the cycle of unemployment. Participants begin with classes in basic job skills, literacy, and substance abuse counseling, then continue on to classes at Laney College in basic construction skills, eco-literacy, and specialized green building practices. At graduation, participants are hooked up with well-paying jobs in the green construction sector or traditional building trade union apprenticeships — where their newfound environment-saving skills will make them leaders in the years to come.
CALIFORNIA INTERFAITH POWER AND LIGHT
Pray for change — or change the way you pray? Created 10 years ago in SF, CIPL, whose work has since spread to 38 state affiliates, aides faith communities of all denominations in greening their place of worship. Greatest hits include installing a geothermal heating system in a Berkeley synagogue, work on First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco, and tricking out a Bayview-Hunters Point church with solar panels on the congregation’s extremely limited budget. Workers hired to make the holy places sing a song of sustainability are usually sourced from organizations like Richmond Build, which provides training to many people living in public housing and with criminal records.
Apollo Alliance, another nationwide coalition-building organization that got its start in SF, is making green jobs happen in Los Angeles — with or without federal dollars. The group sponsored the city’s Green Retrofit and Workforce ordinance, which required that municipal buildings achieve LEED certification at the silver level or higher, prioritizing updates on the buildings that were near areas with low income and high unemployment rates. Linked directly to workforce training programs, the ordinance is already under attack in Washington by H.R.1, a bill that would strip its funding. But L.A. is making the first move on the threat — the city is hoping to fund the successful program through energy conservation bonds.
GREEN FOR ALL
Erstwhile Obama appointee, environmental rock star, and Ella Baker Center founder Van Jones started this organization in 2008 to place the war on poverty at the heart of the sustainability movement. Sure, with offices around the country, it’s not exactly local. But the group plays an important role supporting nationwide policies that will make green jobs fair and just for workers. Plus, it led the charge against last year’s Prop. 23 challenge to the growth of green technologies, taking to the road in a bus that interviewed community members and green energy experts in 10 Californian cities. Plus, it kicked ass with a media campaign smart enough to best the bummers at PG&E and other public utilities.
It’s not easy being green
A smattering of the phenomenal sustainability people and places you can plug into around the Bay.
Green your home
Yeah, yeah, you watched The Cove and try to keep up on the latest bycatch horror stories — but sometimes you’re out with friends and that petrale sole looks divine … eek, was it on the “good” list? Text 30644 with the word “FISH” and the name of the waterway inhabitant in question (or be fancy and use the iPhone app) and within minutes you’ll receive a text with its sustainability level — and the rationale behind it.
GHOST TOWN FARM
It has been said that the key to success is having good role models. And if your aim is growing your own meals inside city limits, you could do a lot worse than Novella Carpenter. Her book Urban Farmer gave a tantalizing primer on her life farming in West Oakland, and her blog provides inspiration, tips, and community farming news. Carpenter is currently sparring with Oakland city government over urban farming regulations, but we’re confident she’ll pull through in the end — and educate us all while doing so.
ALEMANY FARMERS MARKET
“Affordable” usually isn’t the first word that comes to mind when it comes to local, natural foods. The Alemany farmers market became the first to open in the Bay Area in 1943, and is affectionately referred to as “the people’s market.” It’s rumored to be one of the most affordable markets in the city, and is well-known for supporting small farmers.
Every Saturday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. 100 Alemany, SF
Ever wonder if your favorite coffee shop or tapas bar is as green as you want it be? This website has user-generated sustainability ratings of hundreds of city eateries (not to mention helpful rankings of businesses from spas to furniture stores).
One of the hardest parts about being car-free are those days when you just want to get out of the city and into nature. Enter Post-Car Press, the website and guidebook assembled by East Bay couple Kelly Gregory and Justin Eichenlaub. The two give you the low-down on how to get to camp-hike spots in Marin County, Mount Diablo, even Big Sur without a motor vehicle.
BAY BRIDGE BICYCLE SHUTTLE
Biking and BART don’t always mix, especially at peak commute hours. That’s why Caltrans has this smart, cheap shuttle to get you and your bike across the Bay Bridge during morning and afternoon rush hours for only $1. It will pick up you and your steed and drop the two of you off at the MacArthur BART Station and SF Transbay Terminal.
PLANETTRAN TAXI SERVICES
These green taxis and shuttles will take you where you need to go without increasing your carbon you-know-what-print. With a fleet of exclusively ultra fuel-efficient vehicles in the country, it’s the first taxi service to put fuel efficiency in the front seat. PlanetTran’s primary business is in green rides to and from the San Francisco and Oakland airports.
SUSTAINABLE BIODIESEL RETAILERS ALLIANCE
An association of biodiesel companies committed to providing fuel to those who already use it — and assistance for those who want to lead their diesel engines to greener fields. Go to any of the alliance’s locations to fill up on biofuel or get help converting your vehicle to biodiesel. Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley, Dogpatch Biofuels, and People’s Fuel Cooperative located in Rainbow Grocery are all part of this groovy green oil alternative. www.autopiabiofuels.com
Green your home
SAN FRANCISCO COMMUNITY POWER
Partnering with the San Francisco Department of the Environment, SFCP is a nonprofit that helps small businesses and low-income residents save money and reduce environmental impact. SFCP recently launched a free Green Home Assessment Audit initiative available to all city residents that helps improve home safety, disaster-preparedness (how timely), efficiency, and ecofriendliness. It also distributes vouchers for home improvements.
This benevolent mulch-making company donated all the material needed for sheet-mulching the magnificent Hayes Valley Farm and has contributed, free, to dozens of other community projects. Even the small-time urban grower can pick up mulch, compost, or soil amendment from its SF or Redwood City sites. It also delivers (for a small fee), so go ahead and rip out those invasive, inedible weeds in front of your house. Your own patch of nature awaits.
CALIFORNIA NATIVE PLANT SOCIETY
Speaking of patches of nature … visit this group’s website for gardening tips, links, and a list of local nurseries that sell native plants.
RECYCLED MATERIAL BUILDING SUPPLIES
Before you build, paint, remodel, or so much as hammer in a nail, it’s worth tripping to the Bay’s building resource centers — second-life sites for construction debris and used building supplies. The East Bay’s Urban Ore and The Reuse People host landscapes of pink toilets, claw foot tubs, and towering stacks of discontinued tile. Looking for some SF supplies? Try Building Resources in SF (www.buildingresources.org) or www.stopwaste.org.
Build your green community
SAN FRANCISCO GREEN FESTIVAL
Of course, being sustainable isn’t all heavy lifting and culinary vigilance — environmental friendliness can be a fertile way to meet your like-minded neighbors. This weekend, trek to the city’s largest green expo for more than 130 speakers, music, and exhibits featuring everything from Food Not Bombs to reclaimed redwood manufacturers.
Sat/9 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sun/10 11 a.m.–6 p.m., $5–$25. SF Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 Eighth St., SF. www.greenfestivals.org
SF GREEN MAP
A great online visual for people looking for the nearest community garden, recycling center, and so much more, this happy cartographic achievement documents our city by highlighting its bright green hubs of activity.
GARDEN FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Gardening involves more than just a tub of dirt, seeds, and a healthy appetite. To really get your hands dirty, there is a body of knowledge you’d do well to tap into. At Garden for the Environment’s Inner Sunset one-acre farm, you can learn about leafy greens while meeting like-minded seed slaves. After all, it pays to have a buddy who can plant-sit.
Threads of change
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GREEN ISSUE Planting indigo seedlings in a leaky greenhouse in the mist of a cold Marin County afternoon, Rebecca Burgess thinks about what she’s going to wear. She’s not a fashion model, or a clotheshorse, but she is on a yearlong quest to attire herself only in garments that were sourced and produced bio-regionally — or within a 150-mile radius of home — an area she calls her local fibershed.
Why take on such a challenge? “If we don’t want BP oil spills, it’s about more than just not fueling our cars with it,” Burgess says. While many activists seeking to unplug from oil dependency have worked to encourage bicycles, local agriculture, and reusable shopping bags, her approach takes on the materials we use to clothe our bodies.
Half of all jeans sold annually in the United States — around 200 million pairs — are produced in the Xintang township in China’s Pearl River Delta, where a Greenpeace study found hazardous organic chemicals and acidic runoff in the watershed, both of which may contribute to profound health risks for factory workers and their communities.
Of course, oil is consumed in the transport of factory-made garments halfway across the globe. But as Burgess notes, that’s only part of the reason for her project, which so far has yielded a book on the making of natural dyes and a plan for a community cotton mill in Point Reyes.
She’s also concerned about the synthetic fibers mass-manufactured clothes are made of. “We’re wearing a lot of plastic,” she notes. Not just plastic: petrochemicals, formaldehyde, and carcinogenic polycrylonitriles can all be used to produce your outfit— materials that seep into your pores when you’re active and can hardly be considered ideal to wear against your skin.
To limit support of the oil-reliant garment industry, Burgess envisions a collaboratively created source of clothing made from materials and processes that are — unlike the heavy-metal laden industrial effluent from denim dyes flowing into China’s Pearl River — completely nontoxic. To that end, she’s linking natural fiber artisans and raw material providers throughout the region with the fibershed project, which aims to bolster local clothing production.
Today, she’s the poster child for her effort. Burgess sports striped alpaca kneesocks, an organic cotton skirt sewn by a friend, and a wool sweater her mom knitted with handmade yarn, sourced from a sheep farmer they know. The clothes look well-loved, which makes sense: relying on one’s fibershed for a wardrobe is not easy. When Burgess first embarked on her yearlong bioregional clothing challenge, there wasn’t much in her dresser. “I lived out of three garments for weeks,” she laughs. “People were like, ‘You’re wearing the same thing over and over and over again.'<0x2009>”
But she found that she wasn’t the only one who believed that a change was possible in our closets. Friends, family, and a wider community of shepherds, cotton growers, knitters, seamstresses, and artisans all pitched in to help her along with the project. Burgess says this growing network underlies what it will take for communities to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle. “All this is about encouraging more relationships.”
There’s Sally Fox, whose non-genetically modified colored cotton operation in the Capay Valley is the culmination of years of seed-selecting for natural color tones. There’s the 96-year old sheep farmer in Ukiah. Not to mention the hip fiber artisans based in Oakland and the young fashion students in San Francisco who were inspired by her project.
“It’s not just of value to an old spinster community, it’s of value to a young, hip generation of people who want to live in a carbon-free economy,” Burgess notes. “A bunch of urban young people are really into fibers.” Most, she adds, are women.
Burgess makes her own clothing, too, and to research her book (Harvesting Color, Artisan, 180 p., $22.95) traversed the country learning from female “wisdom-keepers,” women whose craft practices were based on passed-down traditions encouraging the health of their ecosystems.
Today is part of her latest endeavor: growing her own indigo dye so that locally made garments can be dyed blue sustainably. Her day’s work entails planting 400 indigo seeds in flats filled with soil from a ranch down the road. This spring and summer, she plans to raise 1,000 indigo plants in three garden plots just outside the greenhouse. The day the Guardian came to visit, sheep lounged in the pasture beyond her garden plots, as if to illustrate the point that this process won’t require any long-distance transport.
She realizes that few people have a greenhouse to plant indigo in, much less the time necessary to produce their own clothing — or the money needed to dress in handcrafted pieces. But by proving that it’s possible to wear clothes that were created by your own community, she hopes that people will at least “settle for second best, which in this case is wearing organic, American-made materials.”
Even that would be something — right now clothes just aren’t on most of our sustainability compasses. As an example, Burgess recalls a panel discussion she attended at which sustainable food champions Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin were speakers. Someone (“And it wasn’t even me!” she insists) asked them what role garments played in a sustainable lifestyle. “And they were speechless. They didn’t have a thing to say.”
It was a PR challenge Burgess was happy to assume — she has since struck up an e-mail correspondence with Pollan, which she hopes will spread her message further. “Clearly we need some education.”
Join Burgess and other yarn producers for a locally made fashion show and to see plans for their community mill May 1 at Toby’s Feed Barn in Point Reyes. For more information call (415) 259-5849 or visit www.rebeccarburgess.com
Drawing a line in the toxic triangle
GREEN ISSUE California is often viewed as being among the brightest shades of green. The Golden State’s landmark climate-change legislation has proven magnetic for green-tech startups, while Northern California is defined in part by its longstanding love affair with natural foods and solar power. San Francisco boasts a well-used network of bike routes, a ban on plastic bags, mandated composting of kitchen scraps, and a host of urban agriculture projects.
While much of the Bay Area’s environmental reputation is well-deserved, things look different from poor neighborhoods where homes are clustered beside hulking industrial facilities and public health suffers. For years, grassroots organizations working in Richmond, Oakland, and Bayview-Hunters Point have sought to improve air quality and promote environmental justice in neighborhoods plagued by higher-than-average rates of respiratory disease, cancer, and other preventable illnesses.
The Rev. Daniel Buford of Oakland’s Allen Temple Baptist Church told the Guardian that he began talking about the polluted areas of Richmond, Oakland, and San Francisco as a “toxic triangle” two decades ago. It was an analogy, he explained, that plays off the mysterious deaths that the Bermuda Triangle is famous for. Yet the label also served a purpose — to unite three communities of color that were fighting separate yet similar battles against health hazards associated with their surroundings.
“There were a lot of things that weren’t in place with public consciousness that are in place now,” Buford said.
Today, he isn’t the only one uttering the catch phrase. A host of community organizations banded together as the Toxic Triangle Coalition last year to organize three forums on environmental justice in the three cities. Advocates cast the neighborhood-specific problems as three parts of a regionwide phenomenon, highlighting how pollution from shipping, crude oil processing, freeway transportation, abandoned manufacturing sites, hazardous waste handlers, and other industrial facilities disproportionately affect communities of color, where poverty and unemployment rates are already high.
Buford views the Toxic Triangle Coalition as a strategy to mount pressure for stronger enforcement of environmental laws in disproportionately affected areas. “We live in the whole Bay Area — we don’t live in one little part of the Bay Area,” he noted. “Our coalition strongly urges our state representatives in each of the counties to call for a hearing at the state level.”
In Richmond, California’s top greenhouse-gas emitter looms as an expansive backdrop of the city, a tangled network of smokestacks and machinery near a hillside cluster of large, cylindrical oil storage containers. Chevron Corporation’s Richmond Refinery was built more than a century ago. A few years ago, the oil company began making noise about how it was in need of an upgrade.
Weaving through a blue-collar residential area of Richmond in her sedan, Jessica Guadalupe Tovar recounted how Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), the nonprofit she works for, revealed that Chevron hadn’t told the whole story when it was petitioning for a permit to expand the refinery. The oil company’s long-term goals, CBE learned from a financial report, included gaining capability to process thicker crude that tends to be sourced from places like Canada’s Alberta tar sands.
“We call it dirty crude,” she said. “But it’s really dirtier crude.”
Converting thicker crude to fuel requires higher temperatures and pressures — and that translates to higher greenhouse-gas emissions and a heightened risk of flaring and fires.
The refinery expansion could have meant an air-quality situation going from bad to worse. Public health problems such as asthma and cancer have spurred campaigns led by the West County Toxics Coalition, CBE, and other environmental justice groups. Tovar explained how CBE orchestrated an air-monitoring program in 2006, collecting samples from 40 homes in Richmond and 10 in Bolinas as a point of comparison.
While trace amounts of chemicals from household cleaners were present in both, samples from the Richmond residences also contained the same toxic compounds that spew from Chevron’s refinery. “We found pollution known to come from the oil refinery settling inside people’s homes,” Tovar explained. “Once it’s trapped in your home, it starts to accumulate.”
Chevron won its expansion permit by a slim margin in 2008 with a city council dominated by officials who had reputations for being friendly to the oil giant. Yet environmental organizations filed suit, saying the environmental impact report (EIR) approval was based on was illegal because it failed to analyze the company’s likely plans for heavier crude processing. A Contra Costa County judge ruled in favor of the environmentalists, halting the expansion project in 2009. Chevron appealed, but the decision was upheld in 2010.
Stopping the expansion was a substantial victory, but environmental justice advocates remain wary of Chevron — particularly after the company attempted to blame job losses on the green coalition that filed suit. “Chevron pit workers against us,” Tovar noted. “And also started saying, ‘This is why environmental laws are bad for the economy.'”
GLOBAL TRADE, LOCAL FUMES
Each day, the Port of Oakland fills with trucks waiting to load up on goods shipped in from around the globe on massive cargo vessels. It’s a local symbol of a globalized economy. But for the West Oakland neighborhoods surrounding the port, the daily gathering of diesel rigs means an unhealthy infusion of particulate matter into the air.
A report issued by the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), the Pacific Institute, and the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports found that West Oakland residents are exposed to particulate matter concentrations nearly three times higher than the regional average. Health studies have shown that asthma rates in West Oakland are five times higher than that of people living in the Oakland hills, and cancer risks are threefold compared to other Bay Area cities. For the truck drivers, the risk of cancer is significantly higher than average.
A state air-quality law that went into effect in early 2010 banned pre-1994, heavily polluting diesel trucks from the port, thanks in part to years of environmental campaigning that has publicized public-health impacts associated with the diesel pollution. Yet the new regulation brought an unintended consequence: for truck drivers who must purchase their own gas and pay for their own upgrades, the new rule was ruinous. A survey by the Public Welfare Foundation found that since the new environmental regulation went into effect, 25 percent of Oakland truck drivers had declared bankruptcy, been evicted, or faced foreclosure.
Retrofitting the trucks with new air filters is a five-figure prospect, while the cost of a new truck can clear $100,000. “At the end of the day … a lot of them will only take home about $25,000 a year,” explained EBASE spokesperson Nikki Bas. “It’s an immigrant workforce who are living in poverty.”
So the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, which pushed for tougher air-quality regulations, is now pressuring for a reform of the trucking industry to place the cost of clean upgrades onto powerful trucking companies instead of low-wage drivers. The coalition’s campaign has sought to link the needs of the drivers and the surrounding community, organizing rallies with blue-green signs bearing the motto “Good Jobs & Clean Air” to call for a change to the truckers’ employment classification from independent contractors to employees, which would shift the cost of compliance onto employers instead of drivers.
West Oakland isn’t the only East Bay area inflicted by excessive levels of diesel particulate matter from trucks entering the Port of Oakland. The fumes also affect East Oakland neighborhoods bisected by the big rigs’ primary thoroughfares. In addition to truck traffic and freeways, East Oakland is also the site of numerous hazardous-waste handlers and abandoned industrial sites.
Nehanda Imara, an organizer with CBE who also helped put together the Toxic Triangle Coalition forums, described how her organization recruited volunteers to count the number of trucks passing through a heavily traveled East Oakland strip as a way to quantify the source of particulate matter pollution. They reached a tally of around 11,700 over the course of 10 days.
Some progress has been made to limit the exposure of diesel pollution for East Oakland residents. The city is working on a comprehensive plan to assess trucking routes, and a campaign to limit truck idling is helping to limit unnecessary tailpipe emissions.
Yet youth hospitalizations for asthma in East Oakland are 150 percent to 200 percent higher than Alameda County taken as a whole, and an air-monitoring project in that area revealed high levels of particulate matter exceeding state and federal standards.
“That’s also an environmental injustice,” Imara said. “When the laws are there, but not being enforced.”
In San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, environmental justice groups have spotlighted the toxic stew associated with the naval shipyard and other pollution sources for years. A 2004 report produced jointly by Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, the Bayview-Hunters Point Mothers Environmental Justice Committee, and the Huntersview Tenants Association outlined a “toxic inventory” of the area. The inventory depicts a more complicated web of toxic sources than the asbestos dust and naval shipyard cleanup that have been focal points of news coverage surrounding Lennar Corp.’s massive redevelopment plans for that neighborhood.
“Over half of the land in San Francisco that is zoned for industrial use is in Bayview-Hunters Point,” this report noted. “The neighborhood is home to one federal Superfund site, the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard … a sewage treatment plant that handles 80 percent of the city’s solid wastes, 100 brownfield sites [a brownfield is an abandoned, idled, or underused commercial facility where expansion or redevelopment is limited because of environmental contamination], 187 leaking underground fuel tanks, and more than 124 hazardous waste handlers regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
The shipyard, meanwhile, has been the central focus of controversy surrounding plans to clean up and redevelop the area. People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) and Greenaction are currently challenging the EIR for Lennar’s massive redevelopment plan for the neighborhood, charging that the study is inadequate because a cleanup effort on the part of the U.S. Navy has yet to determine the level of toxicity that will need to be addressed, so the assessment is based on incomplete information. Asthma is commonplace in the Bayview, and health surveys have shown that the rates of cervical and breast cancer are twice as high as other places in the Bay Area.
“Our environmental issues are massive still, and it’s not just Bayview- Hunters Point,” notes Marie Harrison, a long-time organizer for Greenaction and a Bayview resident.
Harrison recalled the many times she’d gotten out of bed in the middle of the night to drive a friend’s or neighbor’s asthmatic child to the hospital. “That story has repeated itself tenfold in Richmond and in Oakland,” she added. Nor is the problem simply limited to those Bay Area cities, she said, noting that communities of color throughout the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 9 face similar issues.
As awareness about the scope of the problem has increased over the years, she said, “We start to say, my God, this triangle has to become a circle.”
1892: The Sierra Club is established by John Muir and a group of professors from UC Berkeley and Stanford in San Francisco. In its first conservation campaign, the club leads efforts to defeat a proposed reduction in the boundaries of Yosemite National Park.
1902: After two years of intense lobbying and fundraising, the Sempervirens Club, the first land conservation organization on the west coast, is successful in establishing Big Basin Redwoods State Park — the first park established in California under the new state park system.
1910: The first municipally owned and operated street car service commences in San Francisco.
1918: Save the Redwoods League is established in San Francisco. A leader in proactive land conservation, SRL would go on to assist in the purchase of nearly 190,000 acres to protect redwoods and help develop more than 60 redwood parks and reserves that old these ancient trees in California.
1934: The East Bay Regional Park is established as the first regional park district in the nation. This radical Depression-era idea would much set the tone as the Bay Area land conservation vision expanded.
1934: The Marin Conservation League is founded by wealthy Republican women. Three years later, at the league’s behest, the Marin County Board of Supervisors adopts the first county zoning ordinance in the state in 1937. Over the next 10 years, the league helps create State Parks at Stinson Beach, Tomales Bay, Samuel P. Taylor, Angel Island, and expand Mt Tamalpais State Park.
1956: San Francisco activists, led in party by Sue Bierman, launch a campaign to stop a freeway that would have run through Golden Gate Park. It marks the first time city residents successfully block a freeway project and launches the urban environmental movement in America.
1958: Citizens for Regional Recreation and Parks is founded. It becomes People for Open Space in 1969 and morphs in 1987 into the Greenbelt Alliance. Their efforts lead to the creation of the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District in 1972 and Suisun Marsh in 1974.
1960: Sierra Club Executive Director David Brower launches a brand new organizing and educational concept, the exhibit format “coffee table” book series, with This Is the American Earth, featuring photos by Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhalland. These elegant coffee-table books introduced the Sierra Club to a wide audience. Fifty thousand copies are sold in the first four years, and by 1960 sales exceed $10 million. The environmental coffee table book emerged as part of a campaign to persuade Congress to enact the Wilderness Bill, legislation that would guarantee the permanence of the nation’s wild places.
1961: Save San Francisco Bay Association is founded by Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr and Ester Gulick to end unregulated filling of San Francisco Bay and to open up the Bay shoreline to public access.
1961: Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announces plans to build a nuclear power plant at Bodega Bay. Rancher Rose Gaffney, UC Berkeley professor Joe Neilands and others mount what will become the first citizen movement in the country to stop a nuclear plant. The Bodega Bay campaign marks the birth of the antinuclear movement.
1965: Responding to Bay Area citizens’ demands for protection of the bay’s natural environment, the California state legislature passes the McAteer-Petris Act, which establishes the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and charges it with preparing a plan for the long-term use and protection of the Bay and with regulating development in and around it.
1965: Fred Rohe opens New Age Natural Foods on Stanyan Street in San Francisco. He goes on to open the first natural foods restaurant in 1967, Good Karma Cafe on Valencia Street. Rohe would go on to open the first natural foods distribution company in Northern California, New Age Distributing in San Jose in 1970 and found Organic Merchants (OM), the first natural foods retailer trade group.
1967: The Human Be-in is held Jan. 14 in Golden Gate Park (as a prelude to the Summer of Love) with as a major theme higher consciousness, ecological awareness, personal empowerment, cultural and political decentralization.
1967: Alan Chadwick comes to UC Santa Cruz and establishes the Student Garden Project and training program, which would train hundreds of today’s organic farmers.
1968: The Whole Earth Catalogue, published by the Point Foundation and edited by Stewart Brand out of Gate 5 Road in Sausalito is introduced, providing tools, philosophy, and reviews to the growing back-to-the-land movement, helping promote ecological living and culture alternative sustainable culture decades before those words became mainstream.
1969: Brower, after losing his job at the Sierra Club in part because of his opposition to the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, founds Friends of the Earth, the cutting edge activist group that would eventually have affiliates in 77 nations around the globe and become the world’s largest grassroots environmental network.
1970: Peninsula resident Neil Young writes and sings the lyrics “Look at Mother Nature on the Run in the 1970s.”
1970: Berkeley Ecology Center opens.
1971: Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund is established, marking the beginning of an explosion in environmental law.
1971: Alice Waters opens Chez Panisse, serving up California Cuisine and altering the Bay Area diet helping to create a market for local fresh organic fruits and vegetables. 1971: Berkeley resident Francis Moore Lappé publishes her best-selling book Diet for a Small Planet. Two million copies are sold and as the first book to expose the enormous waste built into U.S. grain-fed meat production, for her a symbol of a global food system creating hunger out of plenty; her effort alters millions of diets.
1971: San Francisco dressmaker Alvin Duskin launches a campaign to limit high-rise office development in San Francisco, creating new allies and a new coalition for urban environmentalism.
1972: The Trust for Public Land, a national, nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, historic sites, and rural lands, is founded by Huey Johnson, Doug Ferguson and Marty Rosen in San Francisco. TPL would go on to protect 2.8 million acres of land and is key in getting land trusts started in Napa, Sonoma, Marin, Big Sur, and around the state.
1972: The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, first urban wildlife refuge in the United States, is established, encompassing 30,000 acres of open bay, salt pond, salt marsh, mudflat, upland and vernal pool habitats located in South Bay.
1972: The Save Our Shores campaign, developed in part by Bay Area residents, results in a state initiative, the Coastal Act of 1972, which is passed by the voters and establishes the first comprehensive coastal watershed policy in the nation.
1974: Berkeley Ecology Center starts the first curbside recycling approach in California, one of first such programs in the nation.
1974: The Farallones Institute in Berkeley begins building the first urban demonstration of an ecological living center with the Integral Urban House, a converted Victorian using solar and wind technologies, a composting toilet, extensive gardens, and energy and resource conservation features. It serves as an early model for the emerging Appropriate Technology Movement.
1975: Berkeley resident Ernest Callenbach self publishes Ecotopia after a round of rejections from New York publishers; it ultimately sells more than a million copies and becomes an environmental classic.
1975: San Francisco’s first community gardens are established at Fort Mason and elsewhere.
1975: The Marine Mammal Center, a nonprofit veterinary research hospital and educational center dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of ill and injured marine mammals, primarily elephant seals, harbor seals, and California sea lions, is established in the Marin Headlands.
1978: Raymond Dasmann and Peter Berg coin the term Bioregionalism in the publication of Reinhabiting a Separate Country, published by Berg’s Planet Drum Foundation in San Francisco. It represents a fresh, comprehensive way of defining and understanding the places where we live, and of living there sustainably and respectfully through ecological design.
1979 Greens Restaurant opens at Fort Mason in San Francisco and quickly establishes itself as a pioneer in promoting vegetarian cuisine in the United States.
1980: The Marin Agricultural Land Trust is established by Wetland Biologist Phyllis Faber and diary farmer Ellen Straus.
1980: Berkeley resident Richard Register coins the term “depave” — to undo the act of paving, to remove pavement so as to restore land to a more natural state. Depaving begins to spread to create many inner city urban gardening projects.
1981-82: Register and other activists, bring about the first urban day lighting of a creek in Berkeley’s Strawberry Creek Park where a 200-foot section of the creek is removed from a culvert beneath an empty lot and transformed into the centerpiece of a park.
1982: Earth First, a radical environmental group founded by Dave Foreman and Mike Roselle, sponsors the first demonstration against Burger King in San Francisco for using beef grown on land hacked out of rain forests. The demonstrations spread, turn in to a boycott, and after sales drop 12 percent, Burger King cancels $35 million worth of beef contracts in Central America and announces it will stop importing rainforest beef.
1983: Local residents Randy Hayes and Toby Mcleod release the documentary film The Four Corners, A National Sacrifice Area? , which conveys the cultural and ecological impacts of coal strip-mining, uranium mining, and oil shale development in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona — homeland of the Hopi and Navajo. The film wins an Academy Award and illustrates serious environmental justice issues 10 years before that term is coined.
1985: The Rainforest Action Network, established in San Francisco, emerges from the Burger King action.
1986: Fifteen years after Duskin’s first anti-high-rise initiative efforts, San Francisco finally passes Prop. M, the nation’s most important sustainable growth law.
1988: Register invents a stencil to be used next to street storm drains that says “don’t dump — drains to bay.” The wastewater pollution mitigation education concept spreads around the region and nation and then becomes an international volunteer effort to lessen pollution in urban runoff, which generally flows untreated into creeks and saltwater.
1989: Carl Anthony, Karl Linn, and Brower establish the Urban Habitat Program in San Francisco, one of the first environmental justice organizations in the country.
1989: Laurie Mott of the National Resource Defense Council’s SF office rattles the apple industry by engineering a suspension of the use of the pesticide Alar by the Environmental Protection Agency. A national debate ensues.
1992: Berkeley writer Theodore Roszak coins both the term and field of ecopsychology in his book The Voice of the Earth. The movement he helps found asks if the planetary and the personal are pointing the way forward to some new basis for a sustainable economic and emotional life.
1992: The first Critical Mass bike ride (initially called a “Commute Clot”) is held in San Francisco. Similar rides, typically held on the last Friday of every month, began to take place in more than in over 300 cities around the world.
1993: The U.S. Green Building Council is founded by David Gottfriend in Oakland. The council becomes the most important environmental trade organization in the world. In 1998, the council develops the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, which provides a suite of standards for environmentally sustainable construction and design.
1995: The Edible Schoolyard is established by Chez Panisse Foundation at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. It serves as a model for similar programs in New Orleans and Brooklyn, and inspires garden programs at other schools across the country.
1999: The Green Resource Center starts as a joint project of the City of Berkeley, the Northern California Chapter of Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR), and the Sustainable Business Alliance.
2000: Wendy Kallins, working with the Marin Bicycle Coalition, begins a Safe Route to Schools program in Marin to encourage students to walk or bicycle to school. The program is so successful that Congress allocates more than $600 million for similar efforts across the country.
2001: The first Green Festival is held in San Francisco.
2001: Berkeley becomes first city in nation with curbside recycling trucks powered by recycled vegetable oil, thanks to a campaign by the Berkeley Ecology Center.
2002: San Francisco adopts a greenhouse gas reduction initiative that aims to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
2003: Bay Area Build It Green is formed by a number of local and regionally focused public agencies, building industry professionals, manufactures, and suppliers. Its activities are focused on increasing the supply of green homes, raising consumer awareness about the benefits of building green, and providing Bay Area consumers and residential building industry professionals a trusted source of information.
2005: San Francisco passes the Precautionary Principle Purchasing Ordinance, which requires the city to weigh the environmental and health costs of its $600 million in annual purchases — for everything from cleaning
supplies to computers.
2006: Bay Localize is launched in the East Bay with the aim to work to build a cooperative, inclusive movement toward regional self-reliance and increase community livability and local resilience for all while decreasing fossil fuel use.
2007: In an effort to meet the challenges of global warming, carbon pollution and job creation, East Bay activist Van Jones declares that the nation is going to have to weatherize millions of homes and install millions of solar panels. His best-selling book, The Green Collar Economy, stimulates a national movement and a new organization, Green For All.
2007: San Francisco begins collecting fats, oils and grease from residential and commercial kitchens, for free, to recycle into biofuel for the city’s municipal vehicles, the largest biofuel-powered municipal fleet in the United States.
2008: San Francisco becomes the first U.S. city to establish green building standards.
2010: The Green Building Opportunity Index names San Francisco and Oakland the top two cities in the nation for green buildings.
2010: San Francisco becomes home to the Sunset Reservoir Solar Project, the largest solar-powered municipal installation in California.
Fishing for plastic
GREEN ISSUE For the past two summers, scientists and environmentalists with Project Kaisei, a Sausalito nonprofit focused on increasing public awareness of marine debris, have sailed out under the Golden Gate Bridge to survey trash in the North Pacific gyre.
A gyre is a naturally occurring system of rotating currents in the ocean that is normally avoided by sailors because of its light winds. The North Pacific Gyre is the largest of the five major oceanic gyres in the world, and the one with the biggest known accumulation of trash, most of which is plastic. Some folks call this vortex the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But Project Kaisei founder Mary Crowley calls the vortex “the eighth continent” to convey its size and impact.
Now, as Project Kaisei prepares for its 2011 expedition, which will likely take place in June — depending on funding, marine conditions, and equipment collection — team members are taking the next steps in the project’s mission to capture the plastic in the gyre. These steps include testing for efficient ways to clean up trash mid-ocean and exploring if some captured plastic can be turned into liquid fuel to power future clean-ups.
“We’ll be focusing on testing marine debris collection equipment, doing some clean-up, further recording what’s out there, and working with ocean current experts. But we need good sponsorship,” Crowley said. “Down the line, we’re looking to have a recycling plant on deck with smaller vessels feeding it so we can do clean-ups mid-ocean. And we’re going to recycle. It’s not going to end up in a dump with plastic blowing back into the ocean.”
Crowley believes unemployed fishermen should be paid to clean up the gyres. “And we should start in our own towns and states and countries,” she said. “We need to produce a solution locally to take effect globally. Part of the response has to come from multinational corporations that are selling stuff throughout world. It’s shocking to me that 90 percent of our pelagic fish are gone and we’ve killed 50 percent of the corral reefs.”
Project Kaisei’s preparations are taking place in the wake of a tsunami that devastated Japan in March, sucking a big pulse of debris into the ocean and crippling four nuclear reactors that continue to leak radiation into the water, raising fears of damage to sea life.
Experts predict that some of the debris from the tsunami will eventually wash up on beaches in Hawaii and California, but Crowley doubts the state will be affected radiologically. “The majority [of the debris] got whooshed out by the tsunami before the leaks began,” she explained.
She says that at a marine debris conference in Honolulu shortly after the tsunami, attendees expressed concern about “land-sourced” debris — trash that flows into the ocean by way of rivers and streams or is dumped directly into the ocean from ships.
“People said that in recent years there’s also been all this debris from natural disasters, including tsunamis,” Crowley noted. “Well, I see debris from natural disasters as all the more reason to develop effective ways to get trash out of the ocean.”
But Captain Charles Moore, who founded the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in 1994 to restore disappearing kelp forests and wetlands along the California coast, thinks a moratorium on plastic production would make the most sense.
Moore’s focus shifted in 1997, when he encountered trash, mostly plastic, scattered across the North Pacific Gyre, and subsequent studies by his foundation claim that trash outweighs zooplankton in the gyre by a factor of six to one.
“Mary Crowley really wants to go out there with big boats and get big pieces of plastic out,” Moore said. “I’m not really opposed to that, but it’s a lot of time and money that could be spent trying to stop the waste getting there in the first place. It’s like having a leaking faucet and bailing out the sink rather than calling the plumber. The time has come for society to draw a line in the sand and say no more plastic. Our plastic footprint is causing more problems than our carbon footprint.”
Moore believes it’s time to withdraw from globalized production and support locavore and slow-food movements instead. “We send stuff to be produced in the cheapest locations possible, package it in plastic, then send it back here. It’s nuts,” he said.
But Crowley says not all plastic use is bad, even as she advocates for getting larger pieces of plastic out of the water, and supporting companies that use less on no packaging.
“Plastic is an amazing material for construction and railroad ties, decking, and some medical uses,” she said. “It’s just not right material for throw-away items because it lasts for centuries. I subscribe to oceanographer Sylvia Earle’s view that a plastic bottle can last for 500 to 600 years. That’s why it’s important to get out these bigger pieces of plastic. We don’t want them broken down in the belly of a whale or the stomach of an albatross.”
Studies suggest that 100,000 marine mammals — possibly more — along with thousands of sea birds die each year from debris entanglement, and that thousands more marine mammals, sea birds, fish and sea turtles die from ingesting marine debris, including plastic bags, which bear an unfortunate resemblance to jellyfish, once in water.
Crowley recalls how in 2009, when Project Kaisei had 25 people on board, including scientists, sailors, filmmakers, graduate students, and engineers, the team was surprised to find plastic in sampling taken 400 miles off the West Coast.
“We were anticipating clean water,” Crowley said. In the end, the project’s research vessel, the Kaisei, whose name means “ocean star” in Japanese, and the New Horizon, a Scripps Institute vessel that participated in the project’s first mission, found some plastic in every single trawl.
“A lot was smaller microparticulates of plastics and preproduction plastic pellets,” Crowley said, noting that she also saw Clorox bottles, plastic bags, ghost nets, toothbrushes, children’s toys, and plastic chairs floating on, or lurking up to nine feet below the surface of the ocean.
“If you’re in still water, you sometimes see confetti-like pieces of plastic. And if you’re up on the crow’s nest and going two to three knots, you see bigger pieces,” she said.
No one knows exactly how many bits of debris are already floating in the ocean or have been ground up into tiny particles on our beaches. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes that, to date, “there has not been a comprehensive marine debris abundance assessment for the world‘s oceans, or even for a single ocean.“
Moore‘s foundation says 80 percent of marine debris comes from land and only 20 percent from marine-related activities like fishing. To Crowley‘s mind, the main problem is that only 5 percent to 7 percent of plastics are recycled.
“Plastic was invented in the 1880s to replace ivory for pool balls and didn’t proliferate until the last 60 years,” she said. “But even when plastic is dumped into a landfill, it has this insidious way of blowing about and ending up in drains, rivers, and oceans because plastic is a very light, easy material to move around.”
Crowley grew up sailing on Lake Michigan, ran away to sea at age 19, and ended up sailing around the world and founding an international boat chartering business. Somewhere along the line, she says, she started describing the vast, continuous expanse of water that covers 71 percent of the planet and creates most of our air as “the global ocean.”
“It really is all connected,” she said. “The health of the oceanic ecosystem is very important to the health of the planet. There’s a terrible misconception that the oceans are so vast they can be used as a garbage pail.”
When she began to see trash underwater, Crowley realized that future generations wouldn’t be able to enjoy the oceans the way she has. She decided to take action four years ago when she began to see an increase in the garbage covering the North Pacific Gyre.
“I kept seeing the message that there’s a terrible problem, but there’s nothing we can do,” Crowley said, recalling how that messaging and her own sense of urgency prompted her to found Project Kaisei to increase public understanding of what’s in the gyre.
“If you’re in the area for a couple of weeks, you have days when you feel you’re voyaging through a field of scattered garbage,” she said. “And when you look out, you see garbage on the horizon.”
Desperately seeking squash bees
UPDATE! In the print version of this article, this reporter inadvertently described Anthidium maculosum as a territorial leafcutter bee. It is in fact a wool carder bee. My humble apologies to the bees and the experts who helped identify them.
GREEN This summer, I hunted squash bees. The hunt began on a sunny mid-July afternoon at the home of Celeste Ets-Hokin, an advocate for native bees who lives in Oakland and has just published a 2011 calendar on the importance of conserving bee habitats.
As Ets-Hokin explains in the forward of her calendar (available from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation), “Most of our fruit, vegetable, and seed crops depend on bees for pollination. For bees, success depends on habitat, habitat, habitat.”
Ets-Hokin has planted her own backyard, on a sunny ridge near Lake Merritt, with lavender, basil, and other bee-attracting plants. Although her yard was abuzz in midsummer with the sound of honey, bumble, carpenter, leafcutter, longhorn, and green metallic sweat bees, there was no sign of squash bees.
That’s because squash bees only visit the blossoms of squash plants and other members of the gourd family, which Ets-Hokin doesn’t grow in her yard.
So we decided to head for the trials garden next to Lake Merritt, which is funded by the University of California and the Alameda County master gardeners program.
Ets-Hokin spent the last 18 months creating a bee-attracting zone in this garden. And now she hoped to find squash bees in the garden’s vegetable patch, where squash and other vegetables are tested for suitability to the local environment.
Clad in just shorts and T-shirt, Ets-Hokin looked rather vulnerable, considering she was about to go bee hunting. But, as she explained, there was no imminent threat of stings: female bees only sting those who threaten their nest, and male bees have no stingers.
“Male squash bees live to drink (nectar) and have sex with female squash bees,” Ets-Hokin joked, as Rollin Coville, a lanky entomologist who has photographed insects for three decades, joined the squash bee hunt.
Dressed in a hat, slacks, and vest and hauling a state-of-the art camera, Coville was hoping to get shots of the elusive male squash bees, which emerge in late summer and can sometimes be found taking naps in the squash blossoms in the afternoon.
Last year Ets-Hokin produced a 2010 native bee calendar highlighting Coville’s kickass images and informative sidebars on how to attract these native pollinators to urban yards.
This year she focused on the importance of bee habitat on farms in face of proposed food safety regulations that could undermine existing federal bee conservation programs. And she hoped to use Coville’s squash bee photographs as her August 2011 pin-up shot.
But before we could escape Ets-Hokin’s yard, Coville quickly withdrew a clear vial from his vest pocket, popped it over a bee on a nearby flower, then corked the vial.
The bee began to buzz furiously.
“I think it’s a Anthidium maculosum,” Coville declared as he uncorked the vial and let what turned out to be a territorial wool carder bee go back to its business of guarding nectar in a nearby plant.
We eventually reached the trial gardens, where Coville showed me how to pry open the fleshy yellow squash flowers that lie half-hidden below the plant’s massive prickly leaves atop budding zucchini that threaten to grow as big as canoes if left unpicked.
The first dozen squash blossoms were vacant, save for a few ants and beetles, and Coville wondered aloud if late rains and a cold snap had decimated bee populations.
But then I found a squash bee sitting inside a flower like a king on a bright yellow throne. And at the next flower, six squash bees were gently napping inside.
As I tried to hold the fleshy flower petals open so Coville could photograph these sleepy males, one petal began to vibrate loudly. I let go and a male bee unwrapped itself from the petal and zoomed away into the undergrowth.
At the end of the afternoon when I thanked Ets-Hokin for inviting me on the bee hunt, she turned to Coville and laughed, “I told you she was easily entertained.”
For information about native bees, visit www.xerces.org/pollinator-resource-center.
Complicating the simple
GREEN CITY San Francisco can legally give more street space to bicycles, even if it delays cars or Muni in some spots, a policy that enjoys universal support among elected officials here. So why have all the city’s proposed bike projects been held up by an unprecedented four-year court injunction, despite the judge’s clear affirmation of the city’s right to approve its current Bicycle Plan as written?
The answer involves a mind-numbing journey into the complex strictures of the California Environmental Quality Act and its related case law, which was the subject of a three-hour hearing before Superior Court Judge Peter Busch on June 22 that delved deeply into transportation engineering minutiae but did little to indicate when the city might be able to finally stripe the 45 bike lanes that have been studied, approved, funded, and are ready to go.
Anti-bike activist Rob Anderson and attorney Mary Miles have been on a long and lonely — but so far, quite successful — legal crusade to kill any proposed bike projects that remove parking spaces or cause traffic delays. They have argued that the city shouldn’t be allowed to hurt the majority of road users to help the minority who ride bikes, urging the city and court to remove those projects from the Bike Plan.
But Busch repeatedly said the court can’t do that. “That’s the policy question that’s not for the court to decide,” he told Miles in court, later adding: “I don’t get to decide that the Board of Supervisors’ policy is misguided.”
Yet city officials have offered detailed arguments that the policy of facilitating safe bicycling isn’t misguided, but instead is consistent with the transit-first policy in the city charter and with the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving public health, and even alleviating overall traffic congestion by giving more people good alternatives to driving a car.
Busch hasn’t indicated that he has any issues with that rationale. Instead, the question is whether policymakers had enough information — in the proper manner spelled out by two generations’ worth of legal battles over land use decisions in California — to make their unanimous decisions to approve the Bike Plan in 2005 and again in 2009, after completing a court-ordered, four-volume, two-year, $2 million environmental impact report.
Miles argues that the EIR is legally inadequate in every way possible, employing such gross hyperbole in condemning it as a hollow document that does nothing to explain or justify any of its conclusions that Busch told her at one point, “That’s such an over-argument, it leaves me wondering about the rest of your argument.”
But he’s certainly considering the rest of her argument that more analysis was required, going into great detail on the questions of whether the city studied and spelled out enough alternatives and mitigation measures, how much of the voluminous traffic survey data should be in the plan, whether there was enough support for the thresholds of significant impacts, and what the remedy should be if he finds some minor errors in the methodology.
Yet even Busch said there wasn’t a clear regulatory road map for the city to follow on this project. “There probably has never been an EIR for a project like this,” he acknowledged. It was the city’s decision in 2004 to do a Bike Plan that mentioned specific projects without studying them that led to the injunction and this extraordinarily complex EIR, which did detailed analysis on more than 60 projects.
“Once you get that complexity, the toeholds are everywhere to fight it,” activist Mark Salomon, who has long criticized city officials and bicycle activists for their approach to the Bike Plan, told us.
But Kate Stacey, who heads the land use team in the City Attorney’s Office, says the city will be in a good position to quickly create lots of bike lanes once this plan passes legal muster.
“The city can now go through the specific bike projects without having another step of analysis,” she told us. “I think it’s a complete and elegant approach even if it was more time-consuming at the outset.” Busch asked both sides to submit proposed orders by July 6 and responses to those orders by July 13, with a ruling and possible lifting of the injunction expected later this summer.
From freeway to favas
Perhaps you’ve noticed a fresh mountain of fava beans arising along Octavia Boulevard as you travel toward Market Street, in the spot where a freeway used to touch down. Don Wiepert certainly has. He’s a senior citizen who lives across the street from the rows of green sprouts, and even helped to raise the crop in his own living room.
Wiepert is one of 1,500 neighborhood volunteers who have taken part in the birth of Hayes Valley Farm, an exciting experiment in participatory urban agriculture. Started in January by three young permaculture activists, the project has converted into farmland a city block whose previous harvests were auto exhaust from the freeway on-ramp, and most recently, crime and vagrancy.
Farm organizer Jay Rosenberg explains the process as we tour the fields he helped to envision. Back in 1964, neighborhood activists from Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association and other groups organized to stop the progress of the Central Freeway that would connect Highway 101 to the Golden Gate Bridge. The show of community force was impressive, but it stranded the planned highway on- and off-ramps on a block of land between Octavia and Laguna streets. “They left them here standing like ruins,” Rosenberg said. “This was a 2.2-acre forgotten space.”
“It was a place for homeless living,” Wiepert said on a recent trip to the farm’s biweekly work party, while volunteers and a handful of paid staff buzzed about replanting seedlings and erecting a homemade greenhouse. “It was fenced off, ugly, inaccessible.” He looks around. Not to resort to a cliché, but there’s a discernible twinkle in his eyes as he says, “Now it’s wonderful.”
Although the block was in a desirable central location, its soil had been damaged from years of exposure to car emissions, which can leave behind lead and other heavy metals. But the team behind Hayes Valley Farm has a plan. The ivy that threatened to strangle the farm’s trees has been stripped, piled into heaps that are covered with cardboard and horse manure to begin a turbo-fertilization process that mimics what happens on forest floors. Once this new soil has been created, it is spread and implanted with fava seedlings, which were selected for their nitrogen-producing capabilities.
Rosenberg halts his tour of the process to pluck a bean plant from the ground and finger the white nitrogen nodule its roots have produced. “Look how well they’re doing,” he says over the nascent crop, proud as a papa. Once these plants are mature, half will be harvested as food, and half chopped at the root to speed the release of their nitrogen into the rest of the soil. Already young lettuces peek beneath the rows of beans, signs that the farm is ready to experiment with other foods.
San Francisco is a weather system unto itself, rendering the city’s ideal crops the subject of much conjecture. “This is a cool, Mediterranean-like, foggy desert,” Rosenberg says. “We’re doing lots of research on species that do well here, which will be knowledge the public can use.” The farm, like the Alameda County Master Gardeners (www.mastergardeners.org) who run a similar program, is serving as a test arena to see what urban gardeners can reasonably expect to thrive here.
The farm is now home to 1,500 plants, including 150 fruit trees, most sitting in pots on the old freeway on-ramp in what Rosenberg calls “the biggest patio garden in San Francisco.” So far, all the crops have gone into the bellies of the volunteers who raised them, putting in more than 4,000 person-hours during the four months the farm has been open.
But it’s not just the free groceries that keep neighbors returning to Hayes Valley Farm. In addition to the work parties, the site has been home to popular screenings of environmentally-themed films and a locus of outdoor learning. One group of students from the Crissy Field Center painted a mural for the farm that will soon occupy one wall of its planned on-site classroom. A weekly yoga class is planned, as are daily tours for farm newbies interested in learning more about the planting going on down the street.
In a time of uncertainty about what we’re supposed to eat, people are finding something to be sure about here. “I appreciate the opportunity to hang out with the younger people and their energy,” Wiepert says, moments before flinging a stick for one of the farm’s part-time dogs to chase after. “I think this place facilitates a feeling for a lot of people that they’re doing something meaningful.” *
HAYES VALLEY FARM
450 Laguna, SF
By Jobert Poblete
GREEN CITY U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wowed urban cycling advocates at the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., in March when he climbed atop a table to praise them for their work promoting livable, bike-friendly communities. LaHood followed up that connection with a blog post in which he announced a "sea change" in federal policy, declaring: "This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of nonmotorized."
The groundbreaking post was accompanied by a DOT policy statement urging local governments and transportation agencies to treat walking and bicycling as equal to other modes of transportation. The statement concluded that "increased commitment to and investment in bicycle facilities and walking networks can help meet goals for cleaner, healthier air; less congested roadways; and more livable, safe, cost-efficient communities."
Since then, LaHood has come under fire for his pro-bike statements. The National Association of Manufacturers’ blog said that the policy would result in "economic catastrophe." At a House hearing, a representative implied that the secretary was on drugs.
But bike advocates, who were initially wary of having this key post occupied by one of the few Republicans in the Obama administration, have rallied to LaHood’s defense. In San Francisco, bike and livability advocates are optimistic that LaHood’s statements will be backed up with meaningful action.
"LaHood is not just talking the talk," San Francisco Bicycle Coalition program director Andy Thornley told the Guardian. "He seems to be actively moving federal transportation policy toward a broader, more sustainable program."
As DOT secretary, LaHood has enormous influence on how federal money is spent and on the Obama administration’s transportation policies. Thornley is hopeful the new policy direction will free more money for bikeways and other alternatives to the automobile. The federal government doles out billions of dollars for transportation, and beyond some direct funding of bike and transit projects, removing conditions that have forced recipients of federal transportation dollars to spend it on roads and highways could have a big impact on bike and pedestrian-friendly regions like the Bay Area.
"We’re already doing a good job regionally of prioritizing how we spend our money," Thornley said. "But on the federal end, the money comes out already conditioned and has to be spent on highways."
Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, echoed Thornley’s enthusiasm for the DOT’s new policy direction. "If livable, walkable communities become a priority of the federal government, that could be really revolutionary," he said.
But Radulovich acknowledged that much of this depends on the outcome of a new surface transportation bill being drafted in Congress. The bill would allocate hundreds of billions in federal transportation dollars, and bike and transit advocates are already mobilizing to make sure it’s written in a way that promotes livability and sustainability. Transportation for America, a national coalition that includes a number of Bay Area groups, is lobbying Congress and the Obama administration to create a "21st century transportation system" that supports walking, biking, and sustainable development.
To succeed, advocates will have to overcome a number of other challenges. Thornley pointed out that outside of urban centers like the Bay Area and Seattle, bikes aren’t taken seriously as a form of transportation. He also warned that the industries that benefit from automobiles will be pushing back and telling the public that more bikes and transit will cost their industries jobs.
But Thornley is hopeful that other industries are getting the message that sustainable development is good for business. He said people are returning to cities and developers are taking note. "Developers are casting positive votes by investing in the city, building up residential options, and recognizing that the market wants these choices."
If new bike-friendly and pro-livability policies are to gain traction, Thornley said, "it will be about showing folks that spending money on transit, biking, and walking is just as productive for jobs and building communities. In the long run, it’s a much better investment."
Court to Chevron: consider climate change
By Adam Lesser
GREEN CITY When a California appellate court rejected Chevron Corporation’s attempt to expand its Richmond refinery without clarifying whether it intends to process heavier, more polluting crude oil two weeks ago, planetary concerns loomed even larger than local impacts.
Environmental and local groups celebrated a ruling against a project that would have fouled Bay Area air, but legal experts have pointed out that the long-term impact of the ruling may have less to do with crude oil refining and more to do with global warming.
Justice Ignacio John Ruvolo took nine pages of the 35-page decision specifically to address the fact that the environmental impact report (EIR) failed to outline how Chevron was going to mitigate the approximately 898,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions the refinery expansion would create. The Richmond refinery is already the largest emitter of CO2 in California, clocking in at just under 4.8 million metric tons annually.
The appellate court’s ruling is the first to state that it is illegal under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to defer to a later date the mitigation of greenhouse gases. Ruvolo, representing the 3-0 ruling, wrote “incremental increases in greenhouse gases would result in significant adverse impacts to global warming, the EIR was now legally required to describe, evaluate, and ultimately adopt feasible mitigation measures that would ‘mitigate or avoid’ those impacts.”
Ruvolo goes on to point out that if the greenhouse gas mitigation is worked out later, the public wouldn’t have a chance to comment on how best to offset those emissions. Or worse: maybe adequate mitigation isn’t even possible. An amicus brief filed by the Center for Biological Diversity pointed out that mitigating 898,000 tons of greenhouse gases is equivalent to taking 160,000 cars off the road. That’s a tall order, and the appellate court wants a better EIR that lays out adequate measures to offset the added emissions.
“There was absolutely no specificity on whether the mitigation could be accomplished,” said Matt Vespa, who wrote the amicus brief. “There needs to be a clear road map of what will happen.”
Possible mitigation measures include internal efficiencies at the refinery, ranging from improved heat exchangers to carbon sequestration. But Vespa and Earthjustice attorney Will Rostov, who argued the case, are hopeful that a plan could include measures that would aid the Richmond community, such as retrofitting low income homes or installing clean sources of energy like solar panels.
The issue of mitigating greenhouse gases comes as Democrats in the U.S. Senate prepare to introduce a cap-and-trade bill. Rostov expressed concern that mitigation could occur far away from Richmond, where residents could suffer environmental harm and receive no benefits from Chevron.
Chevron has not yet said what its plans are, only that it is reviewing its options. They include cooperating with a new EIR, halting the expansion, or appealing the ruling to the California Supreme Court. On the possibility of appealing, Vespa commented, “I certainly don’t think the decision was a stretch in terms of the law.”
For now, the community waits. Richmond has a 19 percent unemployment rate and there have been mixed reactions to the project ever since a Contra Costa Superior Court halted the expansion last summer. The project had support from trade unions in need of jobs, although many residents are fearful of more pollution from a corporation it views as a bad and untrustworthy neighbor.
The political fight between the city and Chevron got worse this year as a battle over how much utility tax Chevron should pay became irresolvable. The situation is heading for a showdown in November, with both sides authoring competing ballot measures and the potential for the city to lose $10 million in revenue. A proposed 15-year agreement recently has been outlined.
The conflict over taxes is another milestone in a difficult relationship between Chevron and the citizens of Richmond. The near-term victory for those living in Richmond is a legal framework for holding Chevron responsible for pollutants it puts in the air Richmond citizens breathe.
“CEQA has been around for 40 years and it’s been protecting air and water,” Rostov told the Guardian. “This case shows that CEQA is going to protect the public health from greenhouse gases.”
Dude, where’s my car share?
By Brady Welch
GREEN CITY Owning and storing a car in San Francisco is neither cheap nor efficient, so car-sharing companies have become increasingly popular in recent years. So why can’t individual car owners share or rent their vehicles? Right now, insurance law makes that difficult, but new legislation could make it easier for people to share their cars.
California Assembly Member Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), a candidate for Insurance Commissioner, unveiled the legislation during an April 28 press conference in San Francisco. Flanked by City CarShare CEO Rick Hutchinson and Sunil Paul, chief of a car-sharing start-up called Spride, Jones outlined legislation that would allow car owners to rent their vehicles to car-sharing organizations without risk of losing their individual auto insurance. Think of the idea as a more decentralized but not quite DIY, at least not yet version of other successful car-sharing organizations.
Hutchinson said there would likely be little difference between current City CarShare members’ experience and these new ventures. The change would be most significant in less dense areas where economic and logistical conditions prevent companies like City CarShare from expanding. By contracting with individual car owners, Spride is proposing to cut out much of the financial and logistical overhead, bringing the benefits of car sharing to a wider array of people. Folks would still reserve vehicles online or over the phone, and the cars would be maintained and tracked using City CarShare’s technology.
Vehicle owners could potentially earn "hundreds of dollars" per month through Spride, Paul said. Although owners wouldn’t be able to set their own rates under Spride’s pilot program, Paul did mention the possibility of pricing "flexibility" if the model proves successful. Owners would set the hours for the vehicle’s availability.
California law is unclear about the insurance ramifications of individual car sharing. The snags concern commercial use of the vehicle and insurance liability. Currently, if you charge people to borrow your car, insurance companies can technically revoke your insurance. This, in turn, leads to the issue of whose insurance policy covers the person who is driving at any given time.
Jones’ bill would clarify that. "Participating in car sharing is something we want to encourage," he said. The legislation would specifically define personal vehicle sharing in car sharing organizations as noncommercial usage. This is significant because commercial insurance is more expensive than personal insurance. By "expanding what City CarShare has pioneered" with the company’s technology and network of members, Jones said that California can "take it to the next level" by promoting and expanding the practice to new markets and individuals.
Even so, the bill still doesn’t address the ramifications of person-to-person car sharing, so don’t rush off to Craigslist in hopes of renting out your Pinto for some extra scratch. It’s still legal to lend your car to friends and family for free, but if donations are offered, you might want to keep that secret from your insurer.
The Association of California Insurance Companies opposes Jones’ legislation. But according to ACIC vice president Mark Sektnan, amending it could bring the group’s members on board. "We want to make sure that people who put their cars into these operations are protected. And we want to make sure the car sharing organization fixes" the vehicle if it’s involved in a crash. As currently written, the bill only provides the car owner with liability insurance. Sektnan wants something more comprehensive. "The car sharing club has to provide appropriate insurance to the people who lend the cars," he said.
Sarah Moussa, a field representative in Jones’ office, said it’s an issue Jones is working on. "The bill only addresses liability, but they want to see more comprehensive coverage," she said. "Right now, we’re working closely with the insurance industry to make sure those amendments are addressed."
Jones noted that the legislation would play a big role in promoting clean air and mitigating traffic congestion. If this change passes and works well, it could be the first step toward getting the most efficiency out of the least green transportation option.
Driving up the cost of housing
By Jobert Poblette
GREEN CITY If you think living in the Bay Area is expensive, think about what it would be like if you didn’t have access to public transportation. A new report by Chicago-based think tank Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) considers just that problem, offering a new way of understanding just what constitutes affordable housing.
The CNT report — dubbed the Housing and Transportation (H+T) Affordability Index (www.htaindex.cnt.org) — maps housing affordability for 337 metropolitan areas and provides before-and-after snapshots that show how affordability changes when transportation costs are taken into account.
Affordable housing is usually defined as consuming 30 percent or less of a household’s income, but CNT proposes a redefinition. Under CNT’s new definition, housing is only considered affordable if the sum of housing and transportation costs constitutes 45 percent or less of household income. That redefinition would have dramatic effects on the Bay Area’s affordability picture.
Many communities in the region that would have been considered affordable under the old definition — including large swaths of Hayward, Marin County, Sacramento, and Stockton — would be unaffordable under the new standard. And San Francisco, well served by public transit, would be deemed a lot more affordable.
The difference that smart planning and public transportation make can be huge, especially for households already feeling the pinch of a weak economy. According to CNT, transportation costs in “location efficient” neighborhoods — its term for “compact, mixed-use communities with a balance of housing, jobs, and stores, and easy access to transit” — can be as low as 12 percent of a household’s budget versus up to 32 percent for less efficient neighborhoods where residents must drive to jobs and services.
For example, CNT calculated an annual transportation cost difference of $2,780 between Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood, which it calls “compact,” and the city of Antioch, which it considers “dispersed.”
CNT says “location efficiency” in development can translate to big savings. According to its report, if 50 percent of new growth in the Bay Area occurs in compact rather than dispersed neighborhoods, the region could collectively save more than $1.1 billion in transportation costs.
Besides reducing a community’s environmental impact and improving residents’ quality of life, the report argues that things like walkability, proximity to jobs and services, and efficient public transportation help make an area more livable and affordable. The report also raises questions about the wisdom of cutting public transportation, especially in a period when many households are being forced out of their homes.
CNT hopes that its analysis will lead to more awareness for policy makers and more transparency for consumers. “What we’re looking for is a new definition of affordability, transportation cost disclosures for consumers, and incentives to build more compact communities around transit,” CNT spokesperson Nicole Gotthelf told us.
Gotthelf said the Bay Area has been at the forefront of this issue, specifically mentioning the work of the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the agency that plans, coordinates, and finances transportation in the nine counties that make up the region. “They’ve been actively trying to understand the housing and transportation trade-offs for Bay Area households.”
In turn, MTC offered support for the principles behind the CNT study. “We agree that it is good policy to promote the development of affordable housing at or near transit hubs,” MTC spokesperson John Goodwin told the Guardian.
In its “Transportation 2035 Plan for the San Francisco Bay Area,” which outlines how the agency will spend $218 billion in transportation funds over the next 25 years, MTC even sets out a goal of “decreas[ing] by 10 percent the combined share of low-income and lower-middle-income residents’ household income consumed by transportation and housing.”
Goodwin told us the agency is committed to smart growth principles: “The Bay Area is not unique, but I think the Bay Area is part of a vanguard … We are among the leading metro areas in making this a policy priority, and I feel confident in saying that this priority will continue to be affirmed.”
Goodwin pointed to the agency’s Transportation for Livable Communities (TLC) program, which is designed to promote development that “revitalizes central cities and older suburbs, supports and enhances public transit, promotes walking and bicycling, and preserves open spaces and agricultural lands.” Now in its 12th year, the TLC program has helped fund scores of transportation-related and affordable housing projects.
The MTC also administers the Housing Incentive Program, which “rewards communities … when they successfully promote high-density housing and mixed-use developments at transit stops to support transit use.” The program provides up to $3 million in grants to local governments that partner with developers to build housing near transit hubs.
Conversely, the agency also won’t approve funding for new transit stops that aren’t in dense areas. The thresholds require a minimum number of housing units within a half-mile radius of new transit stops, from 750 units for new ferry terminals to 3,850 units for new BART stations.
But the MTC’s efforts represent only one part of the equation. Goodwin said that coordination is key. “What we have here in the Bay Area is that decisions about transportation funding — for the most part — are conducted at the regional level, while land-use decisions are made at the local level. So it requires coordination between regional agencies like MTC and local cities and counties.”
In spite of the MTC’s efforts, huge problems plague the region. Housing costs in the Bay Area are among the highest in the nation. A recent report conducted by the Urban Land Institute — based on research conducted by CNT — found that, on average, Bay Area households spent $41,420 a year on housing and transportation, a whopping 59 percent of median income.
With budget crises affecting many of the region’s public transit providers, service cuts and fare hikes make the picture bleaker. Recently, AC Transit and Muni services were cut by almost 10 percent, causing longer waits and crowded buses — and a huge budget deficit could mean deep cuts in Caltrain service this summer. If these cuts force more Bay Area households to turn to cars, the region’s affordability can be adversely affected, even as households deal with the pressures of a weak economy.
On the national stage, several developments offer signs that smart growth principles — including the link between housing affordability and transportation — may be gaining wider traction. These developments are presenting smart growth and public transportation advocates with opportunities to push for reform.
Last year, three federal agencies — the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency — announced a partnership that would have the agencies working together on housing and transportation initiatives. The partnership laid out six “livability principles,” including commitments to provide more transportation choices, “promote equitable, affordable housing,” support existing communities, and “value communities and neighborhoods.” The new partnership’s rhetoric includes references to location and energy efficiency, transit-oriented and mixed-use development, and walkable neighborhoods.
On Capitol Hill, Congress is working on a new omnibus transportation bill to replace a bill that expired in 2009. The bill would provide billions in federal funding for highways and other forms of surface transportation. Consideration of the new bill in both the House and Senate has stalled, but some proposals emphasize the creation of transportation choices and livable communities. Transportation for America (www.t4america.org), a coalition of housing, transportation, environmental, and other groups, is mobilizing to promote public transportation and sustainable development in the new transportation bill, seeking to make CNT’s way of looking at the world into official U.S. policy.
GREEN ISSUE Walk out your front door today and you won’t find a corner store that doesn’t sell “organic food,” a restaurant whose we-buy-sustainable addendum reads “whenever possible,” a trash can with a precious separate compartment for your all-natural soda cans. It’s hard to forget that it’s not all another secret plan from the government to make your life less fun. But it’s not! Below, please find assembled an all-star list of resources that are honest-to-goodness designed to help you help out our little ball, spinning all terrestrially out in space.
They’ve tried to make it easy on you. Compost goes in green! Beer bottles in blue! Devil Styrofoam — where’d you get that? — in black! But still, you have questions. What about the bottle caps? Can I recycle the bag my Korean taco came in? Can I get a new green bin without a rat-hole in it? (Yes! No, that’s compost! Yes, but work on that vermin problem!) One quick stop at the Recology SF Web site has you sorted. You’ll also find info on the dump’s sculpture garden — the world’s only garbage company’s art park.
GROWING THAT GREEN
Because that window box in your bedroom hasn’t contributed anything to dinner in way too long, SF Garden Resource Organization maintains a database on everything you need to grow your own sustenance in the city. Find within its welcoming Internet embrace info on cheap local classes to turn that idle thumb green, all kinds of gardening pointers, and the lowdown on which community gardens are accepting new plot tenders.
PESTICIDES AND JUNK MAIL
They’re awful, aren’t they? And they’re all around us, which is why the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia’s toxicity guide for everyday lotions, cleaners, and pet products is so nice to have on hand. Thanks, Nova Scotia! For up close and personal commerce, the friendly worker-owners at Rainbow Grocery can steer you toward natural household products. An there are a bajillion lovely shops like Marie Veronique Organics (1790 Fifth St., Berk.) that’ll sell you the good local stuff. Kill your junk mail with the support of the helpful folks at Bay Area Recycling Outreach Coalition.
Go organic or go secondhand. For natural fiber or recycled fabric gear, the Bay’s got lots of flash spots like Ladita (827 Cortland, SF. 415-648-4397 www.shopladita.com) or Eco Citizen (1488 Vallejo, SF. 415-614-0100. www.ecocitizenonline.com). Little Otsu (849 Valencia, SF. 415-255-7900 www.littleotsu.com) is all you need for gift shopping, with unique posters, books, and various assorted preciousness. But for the broke environmentalists, wait for the $2 per item of clothing sales at Goodwill (Various locations, www.goodwill.com), Mission Thrift (2330 Mission, SF. 415-821-9560), or even one of the several consignment stores along Fillmore like Repeat Performance (2436 Fillmore, SF. 415-563-3123) or Seconds to Go (2252 Fillmore, SF. 415-563-7806) to feel good about confounding consumerism. The big fish in our green pond, however, remains the invaluable Green Zebra coupon book, with hundreds of deals on earth-lovin’ spas, goods, and adventures.
OUT ON THE TOWN
There are oodles of spots to help you make a night of it without playing our environment for a fool. Terroir (1116 Folsom, SF. (415) 558-9546, www.terroirsf.com) serves elegant, chemical-free wines that taste even better if the wine-bar’s adorably scruffy owners pour them. Thirsty Bear Brewpub (661 Howard, SF. (415) 974-0905. www.thirstybear.com) has a stellar system of low-waste operation and serves only organic brews through its taps. For the club kids, the eco spot de rigueur is Temple (540 Howard, SF. (415) 978-8853 www.templesf.com), where owner Paul Hemming’s Zen Compound concept is expanding to include a roof garden, global art gallery, and dance floor that harnesses the energy expended on beats.
Of course, you could always do something outside your day’s normal scope. Hit up the following organizations to make change in your little corner of the world: Roots of Change for food sustainability issues, Livable City for hopes of a future outside our cars, and Planning and Conservation League for work on issues like global warming and water usage.
GREEN ISSUE The tiny, rigid-hull inflatable boats that researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography use for whale tagging are a mere fraction of the size of the blue whales they are deployed to search for. But Scripps PhD candidate Megan McKenna says there’s no reason to worry about the mammoth creatures — which can weigh as many tons as 27 elephants put together — bumping up against the boat when she reaches overboard with a pole to tag them.
“They’re just pretty mellow, I guess,” McKenna says. “There’s no flailing or anything. Some barely even notice that we’re there.” For two summers, she’s ventured out in pursuit of the endangered whales, popping short-term monitoring tags on them to learn how they behave when massive cargo shipping vessels motor past.
It’s an important question for a couple of reasons. Government funding was provided for the Scripps study after two blue whales were struck and killed by commercial shipping vessels in 2007, tragedies magnified by the fact that the marine mammals are still struggling for survival. If even two die in such collisions every few years, the entire species could be imperiled, McKenna says.
At the same time, a less-understood phenomenon has marine scientists worried that the deep-blue giants’ survival is being undermined by a subtler problem, that Jackie Dragon of San Francisco-based Pacific Environment likens to “death by a thousand cuts.” Noise generated by whirring ship propellers registers at the same frequency as the low tones whales use to communicate and forage for food, and researchers are concerned that the constant interruption is affecting their ability to engage in basic survival behavior.
Put together with an array of concerns including chemical pollution, marine debris, over-fishing, and ocean acidification, noise pollution is just coming onto the sonar of local marine sanctuary councils and federal environmental agencies, and proposed solutions are only in the fledgling stages.
Pacific Environment is one of several environmental organizations advocating for shipping vessels to travel at slower speeds, a quieter practice that also reduces the chances of hitting a whale. Despite growing evidence that noise pollution and ship strikes pose big problems for the planet’s largest mammals, it’s likely to be an uphill battle in an growing global industry where time is money, and on-time delivery is paramount.
Endangered whales favor the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank sanctuaries, not far from San Francisco, so Pacific Environment has chartered a catamaran to take ecologically-minded whale watchers out to what Dragon dubs the “Yosemites of the sea.” Using hydrophones, they capture the deep, rumbling whale calls. They also pick up noise generated by commercial ships, whose designated lanes cut directly through the protected areas.
Under just the right ocean conditions, the low, eerie mating call of a male blue whale off the coast of California can be heard by a female off the coast of Hawaii. “That just has to do with the physics of sound in the ocean,” McKenna explains. “They’re vocal animals. You can think of sound in the ocean as our vision. Sound travels so much better in water than light does, so it’s really an acoustic environment that they’re living in.”
McKenna is working with whale researchers John Calambokidis of the Cascadia Research Collective and John Hildebrand of Scripps Institution. While they’ve observed that some whales linger at the surface longer than usual after a ship has passed, leaving them vulnerable to a strike, there are no conclusive results as of yet.
To explain the noise impacts, Dragon uses an analogy of trying to communicate in a crowded bar where it’s difficult to hear. “In the ocean, sound is king,” she says. “This chronic, noisy, foggy environment … has a masking effect. It might mean whales will not be able to navigate correctly, or may not be able to communicate with mates or offspring.”
The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary supports a rare concentration of blue whales, partly because the water is rich in nutrients, biodiversity, and tiny, shrimp-like creatures called krill. Blue whales and endangered humpbacks forage there from April through November, the colossal blues consuming an astounding 4 tons of krill each day.
At an April 8 joint meeting between the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank marine sanctuary advisory councils, the groups discussed creating a working group — bringing together stakeholders from the U.S. Coast Guard, shipping industries, and others — to establish a set of recommendations for how to regulate noise pollution in the sanctuaries.
“The purpose is to better understand the issue from the standpoint of the sanctuary,” explains Lance Morgan, who chairs the Cordell Bank council. “Ideally, we’d produce a report that says, here’s what we think the issues are.”
Yet Morgan acknowledges that it won’t be easy to get the federal government to impose new sanctuary regulations since there are still so many outstanding questions. “We’re learning a lot about the acoustic environment,” he says. One concern is whether whales are actually able to perceive the sound of the giant shipping vessels, he notes, since the environment has become so noisy. If they can’t hear the ships, they’re at a much higher risk of collision. “We certainly know we can drown out whale calls in certain situations,” he says, “but what does that mean in the long term?”
There are around 14,000 blue whales left across the entire watery globe, according to the most optimistic estimates, just a sliver of the estimated 300,000 that lived before they were nearly harpooned to extinction during a ruthless whaling era. Scientists are encouraged that their numbers have climbed since the mid-1960s when they were listed as endangered.
Yet even with this mild success story as a backdrop, there is growing concern about potential long-term effects of underwater industrial noise. Navy sonar, military air guns, and blasts from seismic surveys all contribute to the problem at varying frequencies. The collective din of ocean noise has doubled every decade since the 1950s, and the shipping business is only expected to grow.
Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, runs weekly container ships from Hong Kong to ports in Oakland and Long Beach, a journey lasting more than two weeks. Getting the goods there on time is “the most important thing to our customers,” says Lee Kindberg, the company’s environment director.
The container ships arrive crammed full of everything from electronics — which require special climate-controlled containers — to clothing, bath products, household items, and pharmaceuticals. Perishable items are transported in refrigerators, consuming a third more energy and powered by auxiliary engines. Up to 8,000 containers can be packed onto a single ship, and the average vessel size has expanded around 20 percent in the past five years. More than 90 percent of the world’s traded goods are transported by water, with shipments on container vessels increasingly rapidly.
If ever there was an icon for globalization, and all that the buy-local and sustainability movements rail against, it would be a diesel-powered container ship transporting heavily packaged stuff halfway across the globe.
“Clearly it’s not a good thing if we hit a whale,” Kindberg says. Undersea noise pollution “is certainly an issue that we’ve been made aware of. But there doesn’t seem to be any real clarity as to what the impacts are,” she notes. Maersk would support certain speed reductions to protect the whales, Kindberg says, but “if you slow down in one place, you need to speed up someplace else, and that can take more fuel.”
Regulations in certain waters off the eastern seaboard already require ships to move at slower speeds to minimize harm, and Kindberg says Maersk has voluntarily opted to operate at slower speeds to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (it saves on fuel costs too). But when going along at 10 knots (around 11 m.p.h.), the speed environmental organizations say is safest for marine mammals, it’s harder to maneuver the ship, Kindberg says. Sailing around the marine sanctuaries is not an option in California, she adds, since ships have to pass through them to get to the ports.
Other efforts to solve the shipping-noise problem focus on ship design. “We’re building larger and larger ships, and they’re getting noisier and noisier,” says marine ecologist Leila Hatch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who studies the effects of underwater sound on marine mammals.
The International Maritime Organization accepted a plan in 2008 to form a working group and to pin down guidelines for making commercial ships quieter, according to Hatch. Although the guidelines aren’t enforceable and are unlikely to be implemented any time soon, she sees it as an opportunity for a win-win scenario. If new ships featured a design with more efficient propulsion, they could be quieter, cheaper to operate, and more energy-efficient — which would also improve the air-quality problems associated with giant commercial ships.
The California Air Resources Board, meanwhile, initiated an effort last year for a program to get commercial vessels to slow down near the coastline, a bid to reduce emissions of smog-causing chemicals and the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Not much is happening on that front to date, but such a program could have the positive side effect of quieting underwater noise.
Hatch has been trying to quantify the decline in hearing ranges for marine mammals as the seas grow increasingly crowded with larger, noisier ships. “Much of the space they used to have is taken up by shipping noise. What is that likely to mean in terms of their ability to communicate effectively and find food?” she asks.
To find answers, she’s engaged in a research project at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Massachusetts that blends GPS ship-tracking data with profiles from sound-monitoring devices planted on the sea floor. Results suggest that whales’ communication ranges have diminished by 80 percent in some places.
There are few easy answers, however, since scientists are still trying to piece it all together. One certainty is that “we’re changing the environment they’re trying to live in,” notes McKenna, who says she now finds herself wondering if she’ll end up purchasing something that’s packed onto a massive containership when she spies one out on the horizon. “To what degree is it impacting them?”
She can’t say exactly, and that’s part of the problem, because the global shipping industry wants to see some concrete facts before the battleship can be turned. In the meantime, Kindberg says the captains helming Maersk line are just trying to avoid hitting the whales.
In the company of bees
GREEN ISSUE On a rainy afternoon in April, I’m standing on an abandoned military base on Alameda Island counting bees on a wild rosemary bush. In the three minutes I’ve been standing here, I’ve spotted five large, furry bumblebees, flitting from flower to flower, performing the function that keeps the whole ecosystem buzzing.
But the honeybees I often see here are absent. I’m not surprised. As I learned from Bernd Heinrich’s Bumblebee Economics (Harvard University Press, 1979) bumblebees are tundra-adapted insects that are better able to forage at low temperatures than sun-loving Italian honeybees.
I’ve been obsessed with bees for years. My sister says it began when I got stung on the bum as a toddler. My daughter says it started the day we rescued a swarm of half-drowned honeybees that had gotten stranded in high winds on a beach in Santa Cruz. All I know is that my bee obsession really bloomed when we lived on a lavender farm on the north coast of California and I found bumblebees asleep on the lavender, at night.
A beekeeper on the farm explained that, unlike honeybees, bumblebees don’t form permanent colonies. Instead, they nest in empty mouse holes and form small social groups that die out each fall. The bees sleeping on the flowers were probably male, he added; they tend to be lazier, while the females do most of the work.
He told me that only the young pregnant bumblebee queens hibernate in the fall, emerging alone the next spring to start new colonies. There are more than 4,000 species of native bees in North America. Some are the size of ants; others are territorial and drive other bees off the flowers they guard. Most are solitary, nonaggressive loners, and some aren’t that busy at all.
Curious, I bought a book about beekeeping from a clerk who told me his father once kept bees in Oakland. “Urban honey is the best,” he said, explaining that urban gardens often contain unusual and diverse collections of plants. “City bees have far more exotic choices of nectar.”
Fast-forward to the present and it seems that the general public also has taken a much more active interest in bees, particularly since 2006 when colony collapse disorder decimated honeybee populations, triggering warnings of a coming agricultural crisis and potential devastation to the ecosystem.
Scientists estimate that bees pollinate nearly three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants. These plants provide food and shelter for many species of animals. A 2008 survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that 36 percent of the 2.4 million hives in the U.S. have been lost to colony collapse disorder, which translates into billions of honeybees.
Some species of bumblebees also are vanishing. Robbin Thorp, professor emeritus of entomology at UC Davis, blames their disappearance on commercially reared bumblebees that are imported to pollinate hothouse tomatoes and then escape into the wild, where they leave pathogens on flowers (see “Buzz Kill,” 01/27/10).
But amid such big news, I’m still keeping a diary of notes on bees and focusing on my own backyard on Alameda Island, wondering how I can attract more bees. Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation heeded Thorp’s thesis and petitioned to stop the cross-country movement of bumblebees, but the Portland, Ore.,-based group has also produced handy pocket guides to help people like me identify bumblebees in the field.
So far I haven’t spotted the missing Western bumblebee, Bombus occidentalis. But I did see a bumblebee queen spiraling through a Potrero Hill garden on a mild day in early January. Reached by phone, Heinrich, professor emeritus of the biology department of the University of Vermont, told me that the queen would retreat into her underground hole when the weather got cold and wet again, which it soon did.
When he was writing Bumblebee Economics, which explores biological energy costs and payoffs using bumblebees as the model, Heinrich studied Bombus terricola, the yellow-banded bumble bee that was plentiful around Maine bogs in the 1970s.
“I could see dozens all at once. But since then, for years I didn’t see any at all, and since then I’ve only seen a few,” Heinrich said “Nobody figured out what happened.”
Gordon Frankie, professor and research entomologist at UC Berkeley, told me he’s happy to see the increased interest in urban bees. “People have begun to recognize that bees have a major role to play in agriculture,” Frankie said, as he and Rollin Coville, who has a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley and a passion for photographing insects, showed me around the experimental urban bee garden they created in 2003 at the edge of a field in downtown Berkeley.
“Bees love blues, purples, pinks, and yellows,” Frankie said, explaining that bees can see ultraviolet hues but not red flowers as we observe bees busily foraging on a blue lilac bush.
He also said bees love hanging out in open meadows where the sun shines and where they can see the flowers. “In the forest is no damn good if you’re a bee,” he said.
In July 2009, Frankie, Coville, and Thorp published an article in California Agriculture that outlined the results of bee surveys in gardens in Berkeley, La Canada Flintridge, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Ukiah.
“Evidence is mounting that pollinators of crop and wild land plants are declining worldwide,” they wrote. “Results indicate that many types of residential gardens provide floral and nesting resources for the reproduction and survival of bees, especially a diversity of native bees. Habitat gardening for bees — using targeted ornamental plants — can predictably increase bee diversity and abundance and provide clear pollinator benefits.”
Frankie and Coville also helped produce a 2010 native bee calendar that features Coville’s photographs of bumble, squash, mason, carpenter, leafcutter, mining, wool carder, cuckoo, and ultragreen sweat bees, plus tips on how to attract these pin-ups by planting a variety of bee-friendly plants, avoiding pesticides, and refraining from over-mulching.
Researchers have observed almost 50 species of native bees at UC Berkeley’s bee garden, out of 85 species recorded citywide. UC Berkeley’s urban bee gardens’ Web site, (www.nature.Berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens) notes that bees have preferences for gardens as well as flowers.
“Gardens with 10 or more species of attractive plants attracted the largest number of bees,” the Web site states, cautioning people against hanging around plants too long. “If an observer spends too long in one place hovering over the same patch of flowers, the bees will gradually begin to move on to other flowers where they won’t be bothered. To facilitate counts, it is sometimes a good idea to create little paths through the garden so that all patches are accessible to the observer.”
Here in California, high real estate prices have led to the increased paving over of bee habitat. And bees have come under additional stress in the wake of a 2006 E. coli outbreak that sickened more than 200 individuals and resulted in at least three deaths on the Central Coast. Growers have since been pressured to eliminate hedgerows, wetlands, habitat, and wildlife around farms.
But as a February 2010 Nature Conservancy report on food safety and ecological health notes, “certain on-farm food safety requirements may do little to protect human health and might in fact damage the natural resources on which agriculture and all life depend.”
These concerns have a direct, if hidden, impact on Bay Area residents, whose food supply comes almost exclusively from outside urban limits. Take San Francisco, where crop production consists of $1 million worth of orchids, flower cuttings, and sprouts on two acres of land, according to a 2008 Department of Public Health report.
Missing from that equation is the honey that local bees produced. As San Francisco beekeeper Robert MacKimmie recently noted, mites hit his hives hard in 2009. “And the summer and fall were pretty brutal since we were in the third year of drought,” MacKimmie said.
He hopes El Nino-related rains will be good for this year’s bees: more water means more flowers for bees, which rely on nectar and pollen to sustain themselves and their developing brood.
MacKimmie doesn’t have a garden and uses other people’s yards to keep his bees. “The honey serves as rent,” he said, noting that he only places two hives in each yard to disperse the bees in more equitably and sustainably. He points to the work of Gretchen LeBuhn, a San Francisco State University professor who started the Great Sunflower Project in 2008, as a fairly easy way to gather information about bee populations.
Reached by e-mail, LeBuhn said her project has more than 80,000 people signed up to plant sunflowers this year. “Participants create habitat by planting sunflowers and then contribute data to our project by taking 15 minutes to count the number of bees visiting their sunflower,” she wrote.
“The Great Sunflower Project empowers people from preschoolers to scientists to do something about this global crisis by identifying at risk pollinator communities,” LeBuhn said. “By volunteering to collect data as a group, these citizen scientists provided huge leverage on a minimal investment in science and created the first detailed international survey of pollinator health and its implications for food production.
“Getting this kind of critical scientific data at thousands of locations using traditional scientific methods would cost so much money that it is untenable,” she added.
LeBuhn encourages people to submit their bee count data at www.greatsunflower.org, which recommends growing bee balm, cosmos, rosemary, tickseed, purple coneflowers, and sunflowers. Unfortunately her data shows that “at least 20 percent of the gardens are getting very poor pollinator service.”
The public is encouraged to visit the UC Berkeley bee garden in May when public tours begin. But you might want to brush up on your Latin, the language experts speak when they hang out with the bees.
Coville saw a mason bee land on a lavender-flowered sage and said, “I think I just saw an Osmia on a Salvia mellifera!”
Frankie smiled at me and said, “It’s bee talk.”
Our stuff, our planet
Annie Leonard, author of The Story of Stuff (Free Press, 2010), sat in her office in Berkeley explaining why we must direct our energy toward making policy and reforming laws, not just individual green lifestyles, to avoid destroying the planet.
Leonard recalled how, at a recent reading to promote her book, she was presented with the claim that people in Berkeley are environmentally superior to other folks. “But people shouldn’t point the finger at other individuals unless those individuals are the heads of Chevron, Dow Chemical, Disney, Fox News, Halliburton, McDonald’s, Shell, or the World Bank,” Leonard warned.
Her point is that the planet’s biggest problems are systemic, not a result of personal choices. “Because our choices are limited to the forces outside the store. We have this big illusion of that ‘free market,’ but I can’t choose pajamas for my kid without them containing neurotoxins because of the law. And I cannot choose an electrical appliance that lasts for more than a year. The overall structure encourages people to use toxics. We have to start looking at these harder issues,” she said. “It’s so easy to think it’s an individual’s fault.”
Leonard’s quest to shine some cleansing light on the toxic effects of capitalism started with her short film, The Story of Stuff, which became an Internet sensation with more than 10 million viewings. It showed how our obsession with buying stuff is trashing our planet, communities, and health, thanks to the hidden costs in how we organize our economy.
Her book goes into the details of how these costs come at the expense of millions of people who live and work in dangerous, unhealthy circumstances. Leonard isn’t saying that people shouldn’t be responsible and smart in their individual and household actions. But she is critical of the idea that we can solve the problems caused by “our take-make-waste paradigm” entirely through green living.
“Unfortunately, there are no 10 easy things individuals can do to save the planet,” Leonard said. “We definitely should engage in these actions, as long as we don’t let them lull us into a false sense of accomplishment or let the effort of maintaining this constant, uptight, rigorous green screen on our life exhaust us. And as long as taking these actions doesn’t stand in the way of engaging in the broader political arena for real change.”
Leonard includes a list of “recommended individual actions” in her book, but it’s tucked behind examples of “promising policies, reforms, and laws” and ahead of a sample political letter warning that “PVC is the most hazardous plastic at all stages of its lifecycle.”
What worries Leonard is that the planet is already bumping up against ecological limits. “If we don’t change, we’ll have change forced upon us,” she said. “If change is by design, it’ll be much more compassionate and strategic. If it’s by default, it’ll be a lot uglier, a lot more violent, and a lot less fair.”
Leonard says our planetary problem stems from approaching product purchases as if we were exempt from the ecological system. “If you think as a consumer, you want the best product and the best price. But if you think as a citizen, you want what’s best for your community, your environment.
“We all know how to be good consumers, but our citizen muscle has atrophied,” she added. “That has limited our ability to know how to solve problems. And often environmental victories here become problems elsewhere, like e-waste that gets taken to third world countries.”
Fox News has labeled Leonard anticapitalist, describing her as “Karl Marx with a ponytail.” But Leonard stresses that she is not anti-stuff, just stuff that trashes the planet, poisons people, and that people confuse with personal self-worth.
“I’m pro stuff,” she said. “But I want us to have a reverence for it, to ask, ‘Who made this, and where did it come from?’ Because someone mixed those metals, felled that forest. And I’ve become fascinated by why folks in the U.S. can’t talk about capitalism. It’s the economic system that must not be named. It’s like we’re in an ice cream shop that serves only one flavor and we’re not allowed to look over the counter.”
The battle to win San Francisco’s lucrative garbage disposal contract turned nasty as city officials tentatively recommended it go to Recology (formerly Norcal Waste Systems), causing its main competitor, Oakland-based Waste Management, to claim the selection process was flawed and bad for the environment.
Recology is proposing to dispose of San Francisco’s nonrecyclable trash at its Ostrom Road landfill in Yuba County, which is double the distance of the city’s current dump. The contract, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, would run until 2025.
For the past three decades, the city has trucked its trash 62 miles to the Altamont landfill near Livermore, under an agreement that relied on the services of the Sanitary Fill Company (now Recology’s SF Recycling and Disposal) and Oakland Scavenger Company (now Waste Management of Alameda County).
That agreement allowed up to 15 million tons of San Francisco’s municipal solid waste to be handled at Altamont or 65 years of disposal, whichever came first. As of Dec. 31, 2007, approximately 11.9 million tons of the capacity had been used, leaving a balance of 3.1 million tons, which the city estimates will be used up by 2015.
Currently Recology collects San Francisco’s curbside trash, hauls it to Pier 96, which is owned by the Port of San Francisco, then sends nonrecyclables to the Altamont landfill operated by Waste Management.
After SF’s Department of the Environment issued a request for qualifications in 2007, Waste Management, Recology, and Republic Services were selected as finalists. The city then sent the three companies a request for proposals, asking for formal bids as well as details of how they would minimize and mitigate impacts to the environment, climate, and host communities, among other criteria.
Republic was dropped after a representative failed to show at a mandatory meeting, and Recology was selected during a July 2009 review by a committee composed of DOE deputy director David Assmann, city administrator Ed Lee and Oakland’s environmental manager Susan Kattchee.
The score sheet suggests that the decision came down to price, which was 25 percent of the total points and made the difference between Recology’s 85 points and Waste Management’s 80 in the average scores of the three reviewers. But the scores revealed wide disparities between Kattchee’s and Lee’s scores, suggesting some subjectivity in the process.
For instance, Kattchee and Lee awarded Recology 15 and 23 points, respectively, for its “approach and adherence to overarching considerations.” Kattchee awarded 13 points to Recology’s “ability to accommodate City’s waste stream,” while Lee gave it 24 points. And Kattchee awarded Waste Management 13 points and Lee gave it 20 for its proposed rates.
When the selections and scores were unveiled in November, Waste Management filed a protest letter; Yuba County citizens coalition YUGAG (Yuba Group against Garbage) threatened to sue; and Matt Tuchow, president of the city’s Commission on Environment, scheduled a hearing to clarify how the city’s proposals was structured, how it scored competing proposals, and why it tentatively awarded Recology the contract.
Emotions ran high during the March 23 hearing, which did little to clarify why Recology was selected. Assmann said that much of the material that supports the city’s selection can’t be made public until the bids are unsealed, which won’t happen until the city completes negotiations with Recology and the proposal heads to the Board of Supervisors for approval.
YUGAG attorney Brigit Barnes said Recology’s proposal could negatively affect air quality in Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, Yolo, Sacramento, and Yuba counties, and does not attain maximum possible reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Barnes pointed to a study commissioned by Waste Management showing the company’s biomethane-fueled trucks emit 68 percent fewer greenhouse gases than Recology’s proposed combination of trucks and trains.
Barnes further warned that Recology’s proposal might violate what she called “environmental justice strictures,” noting that “Yuba County has one of the lowest per capita incomes and one of the highest dependent populations in the state.”
She also claimed that awarding the contract to Recology would create a monopoly over the city’s waste stream and could expose the city to litigation. “Every aspect of garbage collection and waste treatment will be handled by Norcal’s companies,” Barnes stated, referring to antitrust laws against such monopolies.
Deputy City Attorney Tom Owen subsequently confirmed that the two main companies that handle San Francisco’s waste are Recology subsidiaries. “But it’s an open system,” Owen told the Guardian. “Recology would be the licensed collectors and would have the contract for disposal of the city’s trash.”
Irene Creps, a retired schoolteacher who lives in San Francisco and Yuba County, suggested at the hearing that the city should better compare the environmental characteristics of Ostrom Road and the Altamont landfill before awarding the contract. She said the Ostrom Road landfill poses groundwater concerns since it lies in a high water table next to a slough and upstream from a cemetery.
“It’s good agricultural land, especially along the creeks, red dirt that is wonderful for growing rice because it holds water,” Creps said of Recology’s site. “I’d hate to see that much garbage dumped on the eastern edge of Sacramento Valley.”
Livermore City Council member Jeff Williams said the Altamont landfill has the space to continue to dispose of San Francisco’s waste and he warned that Livermore will lose millions of dollars in mitigation fees it uses to preserve open space.
“Waste Management has done a spectacular job of managing the landfill and they have a best-in-their-class methane control system,” Williams said, noting that the company runs its power plants on electricity and its trucks on liquid methane derived from the dump.
Williams pointed out that the Altamont landfill is in a dry hilly range that lies out of sight, behind the windmills on the 1,000-foot high Altamont Pass. “It’s many miles from our grapevines, in an area used for cattle grazing because it’s not particularly fertile land,” Williams said. “We are filling valleys, not building mountains.”
Waste Management attorney John Lynn Smith told the commission that the city’s RFP process was flawed because it didn’t request a detailed analysis of transportation to the landfill sites or fully take into account greenhouse gas emissions, posing the question: “So, did you really get the best contract?”
David Gavrich, who runs San Francisco Bay Railroad and Waste Solutions Group, testified that he helped negotiate the city’s contract 35 years ago, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, and that the city needs to be smarter about this contract.
Gavrich and port director Monique Moyer wrote to the Department of the Environment in June 2009, stating their belief that shipping trash by rail directly from the port “can not only minimize environmental impacts, but can also provide an anchor of rail business from the port, and a key economic engine for the local Bayview-Hunters Point community, and the city as a whole.” But Gavrich said DOE never replied, even though green rail from San Francisco creates local jobs and further reduces emissions.
“Let the hearings begin so people get more than one minute to speak on a billion-dollar contract,” Gavrich said, citing the time limit imposed on speakers at the commission hearing.
Wheatland resident Dr. Richard A. Paskowitz blamed former Mayor Willie Brown’s close connection to Recology mogul Michael Sangiacomo for the company’s success in pushing through a state-approved 1988 extension of its Ostrom Road Landfill while assuring Yuba County residents that the site would only be used as a local landfill.
“The issue is that Yuba County is becoming the repository of garbage from Northern California,” Paskowitz said, claiming that the site already accepts trash from Nevada.
Members of the commission told Assmann that they wanted an update on the transportation issue, but they appeared to believe the process was fair. “One guy got the better score,” Commissioner Paul Pelosi Jr. said. “The fact that they may or may not have permits or the best location, that’s for the Board of Supervisors to take up.”
Recology spokesperson Adam Alberti told the Guardian that its bid was predominantly about handling the waste stream. “Everybody’s bid included transportation, so you include the cost of getting the trash there. But primarily we were looking at the cost of handing the city’s waste,” Alberti said. “Recology’s Ostrom Road facility has more than enough capacity to hold not only San Francisco’s, but also the surrounding region’s, waste.”
Alberti said Recology is still pursuing a permit for a rail spur to get the waste from Union Pacific’s line, which ends some 100 yards from Ostrom Road site. Still, he said the company is confident it will be awarded, calling this step “a pro forma application with Yuba County.” Alberti also noted that it’s normal for host communities to object to landfills but that Yuba County stands to gain $1.6 million from the deal in annual mitigation fees.
Assmann told the Guardian the selection process took into account issues raised at the hearing. “The important thing in a landfill is to make sure there is no seepage, no matter how much rainfall there is, “Assmann said. “And there are still two hurdles Recology needs to clear: a successful negotiation, and the approval of the board.”
Building better buses
By Adam Lesser
GREEN CITY To hear Jaimie Levin talk is to understand that his cause is larger than just promoting alternative fuels for public transportation. “We either pay the tax ourselves or we pay the tax of sending money to the Middle East,” he said as we walked through the noisy AC Transit bus yard in East Oakland. “There’s a human cost of lives lost in a foreign war.”
AC Transit uses 6.5 million gallons of diesel per year. As the agency’s director of alternative fuels policy, it’s Levin’s job to lower that number. He has experimented with biodiesel and gas-electric hybrid buses. But the passion that consumes him these days is hydrogen. He has spent the last 10 years testing and deploying three hydrogen fuel cell buses for AC Transit, and he’s ready for more.
The first of 12 new hydrogen fuel cell buses begin arriving from Belgium at the end of April, doubling the number of fuel cell buses operating in the United States. They will run on multiple lines, including the 57, 18, and the NL transbay route, which runs between San Francisco and Oakland.
Levin promotes a mix of energy sources, but he argues that hydrogen is the best way to go, even if there’s a big near-term problem: the price of a hydrogen fuel cell bus. The new buses cost $2.5 million each compared to a standard diesel bus, which runs $400,000. Levin describes the buses as research vehicles and works with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to monitor their performance.
“It’s not cheap. We understand that. These are still hand-made. We’re talking about making less than 20 vehicles,” he says. Levin is hopeful that if orders for hydrogen fuel cell buses could reach even 200, the cost of the fuel cells would come down by 45 percent. Levin has secured 16 different grants from federal, state, and regional agencies, ranging from the Federal Transportation Administration to the California Air Resources Board, to cover the $57 million program. The use of outside funds has been critical at a time when AC Transit is cutting service to deal with its budget shortfall.
The cost of the hydrogen fuel itself has caused some to ask if it’s a viable alternative to gasoline. A kilogram of hydrogen, which is equivalent to a gallon of gas in terms of energy content, typically costs $7-$8. But hydrogen fuel cells are twice as energy efficient as internal combustion engines.
AC Transit currently gets its hydrogen fuel from its own production facility that it built with Chevron, which is regularly criticized by environmental and human rights groups for everything from pollution to obscene profits to support for despotic regimes. “Chevron Hydrogen” billboards plaster the bus yard, and the logos are yellow and baby blue, a noticeable difference compared to the traditional blue and red Chevron insignia. There’s an ecofriendly, sunny quality to the branding.
But come September, Chevron will exit its collaboration with AC Transit, which will begin purchasing its hydrogen from a Linde plant in Southern California. Part of the reason is that the Chevron-designed system does not have the capacity to produce hydrogen for 12 buses. Industry watchers note that oil companies have scaled back initial forays into hydrogen, perhaps not wanting to facilitate the transition from fossil fuels.
“The big issue is the infrastructure side. What’s cooling it off right now is how far the oil companies have backed off,” said Tim Lipman, codirector of the UC Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center. “If you’re an oil company, you’ve got to figure you’re going to lose money for a while — and you’re making tons of money in your existing business. It’s not broken right now. They don’t see an advantage of being the first to market. We’re not running out of oil.”
Maybe not yet, but between the global warming impacts of oil and the increased cost of extracting oil after the most readily available supplies peak, there is a pressing need to develop alternatives to fossil fuels.
“The oil companies were getting all sorts of pressure to get off oil and carbon so they go out looking for an alternative that looks good and takes the longest to implement. Hydrogen is perfect,” said David Redstone, editor of Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Investor, who has covered hydrogen for more than 10 years.
After studying hydrogen for so many years, Redstone has become skeptical about its real potential. “I was a believer when I started,” he told us. “I learned a lot. I knew a lot less when I started. I knew a lot less about the engineering and cost issues involved.”
For example, fuel cells require platinum, which acts as a catalyst to help burn hydrogen fuel. There is ongoing research to reduce the amount of platinum needed in a fuel cell, and exploratory work with less expensive catalysts like nickel. But for now and in the foreseeable future, hydrogen is still a very expensive technology. “They’ve been demonstrating these fuel cell buses for 20 years. It’s like the mentality at the companies involved is that it’s perfectly normal to be a demonstration technology forever,” added Redstone.
He believes that the realistic solutions to the overuse of fossil fuels lie in a mix of behavioral changes and economic incentives, not technological silver bullets. Stop suburban sprawl, get people to live closer to work, and start taxing carbon. Or in Redstone’s simpler terms, you’ve got to put an end to “assholes commuting 75 miles to work in a Hummer.”
The International Panel on Climate Change estimates that surface temperatures will rise 2 degrees to 11.5 degrees Farenheit in the 21st century. Greenhouse gas emissions are a major contributor to global warming.
The promise of hydrogen fuel is that its only emission is water. The major criticism of the move toward battery electric plug-in vehicles has been that the power to charge batteries comes from a power grid that is frequently a heavy greenhouse gas emitter. Half of the electricity generation in the U.S. comes from coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels.
But the hitch with hydrogen fuel is how to make it. You can’t drill for hydrogen, you have to create it in a process that requires energy. The predominant source for hydrogen fuel is natural gas, which emits less carbon than gasoline but is still a fossil fuel.
The holy grail of alternative energy is an efficient method for making hydrogen fuel from water instead of natural gas. The problem has been the significant amount of energy required to electrolyze water, to split apart H2O to make hydrogen fuel.
Levin believes he has the beginning of an answer. Before the end of 2010, AC Transit will complete its installation of a solar-powered proton electrolyzer in Emeryville. Solar panels will be built atop the roof of the hydrogen fueling station and the solar energy trapped will power the electrolyzer, in turn producing hydrogen fuel from water, hopefully about 60 kilograms per day, enough to power two buses. Levin received $6.4 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the project. The remaining 10 hydrogen fuel cell buses will rely on hydrogen fuel made from natural gas.
As important as the production of hydrogen fuel are the pump stations to deliver it. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s promised “hydrogen highway” hasn’t happened. The initial plans called for 50 to 100 stations by the end of 2010, and a station every 50 miles, but there are now just 21 stations clustered in urban areas. And with oil companies withdrawing their support and government agencies hurting for resources, the hydrogen highway remains as far off as ever.
“I see the power of corporations growing and the power of politicians actually waning,” Lipman said. “Who is really going to benefit the most? It’s society and consumers, but they’re not going to lobby for it.”
When it comes to lobbying, few can outgun the power of the Western States Petroleum Association. WSPA is consistently among the top few lobbyists in California, spending $10.5 million to influence the Legislature in 2007-08. Even with the push for alternative energy options, it’s oil that really governs the debate. Relatively inexpensive and easily storable, oil is still king even as gasoline prices hover at $80 a barrel.
“We will never run out of oil, but the question is, can we afford it?” said WSPA spokesperson Tupper Hull. Rising oil prices have helped proponents of alternative energy because the cost spread between gasoline and other energy options has narrowed. But they worry that momentum will be lost if the recession lingers and oil drops in price.
Proponents of the “peak oil” theory say we are approaching a point at which global oil production will start declining, necessitating a rapid and potentially painful transition to new fuels. But identifying the peak is difficult, complicated by events such as the 2007 discovery of more than 5 billion barrels of oil off the coast of Brazil. The oil field was found under 7,060 feet of water, 10,000 feet of sand, and another 6,600 feet of salt. What the oil industry is ultimately worried about is whether we will hit a point where extracting oil gets so expensive that the cost of oil starts to cripple the global economy. Drilling four miles under the sea isn’t cheap.
In an e-mail exchange about Chevron’s AC transit hydrogen fueling station, Chevron spokesperson Brent Tippen wrote, “Hydrogen has potential as a transportation fuel in the long term, but significant technical and economic obstacles prevent it from being a widespread commercial fuel option right now.”
Levin is cautiously optimistic that it could be the gas companies like Linde and Praxair, and not the oil companies, that carry the hydrogen torch forward.
After a brief ride in a hydrogen fuel cell bus, Levin noted how quiet they are. At one point, he bought Tibetan bells and had them welded to the bus so it would be audible as it moved, but there wasn’t enough vibration to make them ring.
Therein lies Levin’s dream: a quiet, nonemitting vehicle for public transportation. And maybe even someday an entire society running on a clean, renewable, domestic fuel source. But for now he’ll start with what he’s got: a $2.5 million bus that emits water from the tailpipe and doesn’t make any noise.
By Skyler Swezy
The Haight-Ashbury is out-of-control, according to some recent news reports and testimony by cops and other backers of the proposed sit-lie ordinance. They report street toughs brazenly smoking crack, blocking sidewalks, spitting on babies, and intimidating citizens with pit bulls.
As this story goes, dangerous thugs have replaced harmless beggars. They’ve gone from annoying to menacing, a change police say they’re helpless to address without legislation banning sitting or lying on sidewalks, which Mayor Gavin Newsom and Police Chief George Gascón introduced March 1.
Proponents and opponents have attended City Hall meetings and voiced their arguments in the media. The police, homeless rights advocates, Haight Street business owners, residents, Newsom, and columnists have spoken their piece. But what do the street kids, who haven’t been heard from in this debate, have to say for themselves?
So on March 19, I spent the day walking the Haight to get the perspective from the street, asking kids what they think is going on?
It’s 3 p.m. and I’m standing on the southwest corner of Central and Haight streets next to a Bob Marley mural painted on the side of a liquor store. A cop car cruises by. With no thugs or panhandlers in sight, I head toward Golden Gate Park along the south side of the street.
On the corner of Masonic and Haight, there are some well-kept teens perched against the wall of X-Generation. Clutching shopping bags, they are not panhandlers, but they sit on the ground because Haight Street doesn’t have benches, except for one on Stanyan facing the park.
These kids clearly aren’t the targets of this ordinance, so I move on to the notorious Haight-Asbury intersection, which is also devoid of vagabonds. An old woman and young boy, both well-dressed, squat in front of Haight Asbury Vintage, watching shoppers pass by.
Almost at the end of the block, outside a closed storefront, a scruffy young man is perched on a back pack holding a battered piece of cardboard that reads “SMILES/HAVE A NICE DAY!? OR NIGHT.”
“You have a beautiful smile,” he croons to passersby. Most stare straight ahead, some smile without making eye contact; a woman in her 30s asks to take his picture. Jay is 18, has a scarce beard and crust in the corners of his sleepy pale blue eyes. He is from Ohio and says he has been bumming on Haight and sleeping in the park for about three months. He hitchhiked to San Francisco because his sister is “a back-stabbing crack head, so I left.”
He doesn’t think panhandling has become more aggressive recently, but that business owners “just want to be asses.” He’s not much of a talker and more interested in smiles, so I leave Jay to his work.
On the next block I meet Kevin Geoppo, 31, cupping a handful of coinage, sitting on the window ledge of a storefront under renovation. Kevin says he’s a heroin addict who grew up in Orlando, Fla., and made his way to San Francisco years ago. He’s obtained an SRO and primary care doctor, but can’t get a job.
He sees both sides of the sit/lie law debate. “Those who sit and lie do cause a lot trouble, stir up energy that isn’t needed to [hurt] tourism, and [threaten] violence, so I can understand why this is being talked about,” he says.
At the same time, he is wary of how the police would use the law and at whom it would be directed. He doesn’t think things are getting worse, but he says the panhandling and menacing attitudes of some kids ebb and flow as different groups pass through the city.
“A lot of these yuppie, rich, bureaucrat people are trying to clean up everything because if you take a left or a right anywhere off Haight Street, it’s rich people living in those houses,” he says. I let him get back to business and proceed down the street.
I decide to drop into Aub Zam Zam cocktail lounge for a veteran bartender’s opinion. Owner Bob Harpe is behind the horseshoe bar, slicing limes and chatting with long-time Haight resident Paul Zmudzinski.
Harpe doesn’t have problems with aggressive or congregating street kids. “If you ask them to move and treat them with a general level of respect, they go on their way.”
He believes the rising number of homeowners in the neighborhood and businesses catering to a more affluent clientele are behind the recent uproar. “The rents on Haight Street have escalated dramatically, so boutique owners have to pump up their prices. Then you get more affluent shoppers who are turned off by the skuzzy-looking street kids coming through,” Harpe says. “The whole thing is kind of disgusting.”
Back outside, I head to the next block and come across Kasper who is “flying a sign” that reads “SEX!!! NOW THAT I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, SPARE ANY $$$?”
He is a 33-year-old traveler who just landed back on Haight, having spent the last three weeks in Berkeley. He’s headed north to a 420 Rainbow gathering and then to Idaho for work. With combat boots, Army pants, and a neck tattoo, he’s a tough-looking guy with a soft-spoken voice.
“They don’t understand all the money they’ll lose. We panhandle money in the street and then spend it in the stores here,” Kasper says. “Those liquor stores rely on street people.”
He says many tourists come to the Haight to see people playing guitars, banging drums, and selling their hemp trinkets. And when it comes to instances of violence or aggressiveness, those are limited to a few of the community and could happen anywhere, regardless of a sit-lie law.
“These things are heavy,” he says nodding to his backpack. “To have to stand, hold your straps, and fly a sign to get something to eat is just ridiculous.”
McDonalds is the last establishment before Golden Gate Park, which serves as a three-mile squatter haven stretching to the Pacific Ocean. Beneath the golden arches, three guys are singing an improvised McDonalds song, but two busted guitar strings kills their burger ballad hustle.
The three agree to an interview and form a semicircle on the sidewalk. Stoney, 19, the guitar player, is wearing sunglasses, a backwards cap, and is heavily scarred on his arms and neck. “Are you against weed?” he asks, before hitting a pipe carved from a deer antler.
Angelo, 23, is a self-dubbed vagabond originally from Virginia. He just got out of jail for selling weed to a cop in the Tenderloin. Nick, 18, wears a mighty Afro and says almost nothing.
Two bike cops zip up and tell us to move it. “You’re blocking the sidewalk,” one cop says. Everyone stands up. “It’s not illegal yet, dude!” Stoney yells back toward the cops as we cross Stanyan to enter the park.
Stoney and Angelo agree with each other that lawmakers are focusing on the bad actions of a few to push all street kids off Haight. “We have the right to use the sidewalk just like anyone else,” Angelo says. “It’s crazy, man. We’re all just fuckin’ a bunch of cells put together, floating around a ball of fire in space.”
The sit-lie ordinance could be considered by the Board of Supervisors next month. For details on a March 27 citywide protest of the measure, visit www.standagainstsitlie.org.