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Green City

Stimuutf8g transit


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Public transit agencies in the Bay Area are being hit with deep cuts to their operating budgets, thanks to the recent state budget deal, and are hoping to use money from the federal economic stimulus bill to maintain their operations.

That conflict played out during a Feb. 25 hearing by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in Oakland, the agency that distributes federal transportation funds to the nine Bay Area counties, which was considering how to distribute $341 million in funding intended for public transit agencies and $154 million for road projects.

Caltrain, AC Transit, Bay Area Rapid Transit, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, other Bay Area districts, and transit user groups urged the MTC board to direct most of the money to immediate needs rather than long-term projects.

Community groups urged the MTC to abandon plans to use $70 million for BART’s Oakland Airport extension and $75 million for the Transbay Terminal rebuild in San Francisco.

“People who are most affected when Muni makes fare increases and service cuts are people who are transit-dependent,” said Razzu Engen, who represents the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the Transit Justice Project. “You can have the best capital expansion project there is out there, but if you don’t have the money to run it, forget it, it’s not worthwhile.”

While the MTC voted to remove the Transbay Terminal expenditure — noting that it could tap into a separate pot of $8 billion for high-speed rail projects in the stimulus measure — they kept the BART extension project in place, leaving $271 million to be divided among the transit agencies.

“Our ongoing need is to maintain continuing operations. But maintenance doesn’t have a very big constituency on the commission. We have a firm commitment to capital programs,” MTC spokesperson Randy Rentschler told the Guardian.

Judson True, spokesperson for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (which operates Muni), said the money will help offset state funding losses of $61 million over the next two years and allow the agency to “rehabilitate the system.”

Among the expenditures approved by the MTC was $11 million to install 67 new Muni ticket vending machines and money for new Muni vehicles and rail interchanges.

Jose Luis Moscovich, executive director of San Francisco County Transportation Authority, supported the MTC’s decision. “[We’re] going to see money flowing through formulas to Muni to alleviate service conditions on the T-Third, N-Judah, the L.”

Moscovich maintains that the region “needs to take the opportunity of the stimulus package to do things that are going to change the way we live. Paradoxically, these big projects like the Transbay project are the things that are going to take us in that direction.”

Yet the removal of the Transbay Terminal funding, while upsetting to Sup. Chris Daly — who serves on both the MTC board and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority board — turns out to be even more complicated than it seemed at the time.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported March 2 (“Transbay high-speed rail station hits a snag”) that both the California High Speed Rail Authority and Caltrain — systems expected to share the new Transbay Terminal rail terminus — are now expressing doubts about whether they will use the facility after all because of design flaws with its rail component.

CHSRA chair Quentin Kopp was quoted as saying, “Three sets of engineers met and concurred that the design for the station was inadequate and useless for high-speed rail.”

TJPA spokesperson Adam Alberti, who has been sparring with Kopp in recent months over whether Transbay will be the terminus for a high-speed rail system extending from San Francisco to Los Angeles (see “Breaking ground,” 12/10/08), told the Guardian, “I don’t think it’s as bad as it sounds.”

He said the TJPA is currently working to resolve the engineering problems and handle the increased volume expected from high-speed rail and Caltrain and he hopes to have a solution in place by March 12, when he said the MTC will revisit the matter.

BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger also defended the Oakland Airport extension, telling the Guardian, “The challenge in transit is not one over the other. We need to address all those requirements if we’re going to end up with an effective, functioning system that continues to attract people out of their cars and into the smart environmental choice — which is public transit.”


Home improvement


› culture@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY If you’re thinking of greening your home, you might imagine that your that only option is to install expensive energy-efficient appliances — which many renters can’t do and many homeowners can’t afford. But don’t despair. There are ways to reduce your carbon footprint without significantly reducing your bank account, with or without a landlord’s help. Below are several tips from San Francisco’s premier green architect and eco-remodel guru Eric Corey Freed, principal at organicArchitect. His advice should make your home better for the environment and your utility bills.

Fridge Fundamentals The refrigerator is the single largest user of electricity in a household. Why make it work harder, pushing up your energy costs, by keeping it next to the oven? "Having a fridge and oven side by side is the stupidest thing I can think of that people do in kitchens," Freed laments. "An oven makes things hot, and a refrigerator is supposed to keep things cold — the two don’t belong together." Using the same rationale, it’s also a good idea to keep your fridge out of direct sunlight.

Also, if your fridge is more than a decade old, get over your attachment to the dated design and trade it in for a newer, energy efficient model. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. offers free pickups and a $35 rebate.

Think Thermal Heating your home is another major energy sucker. With more winter cold snaps on the way, investing one afternoon and less than $100 to heat smart will produce almost immediate results in lowering heating costs. The first place to look is your windows. While we love the light windows give, they are weak spots for heating. Freed suggests picking up a package of disposable window coverings ($20 for six windows). You may also be able to caulk around windows and vents to keep heat from escaping. Tubes cost less than $5 a pop.

Once you have your windows all snugged up, turn on the heat only when you need it. Freed recommends a programmable thermostat, which costs about $40. Once installed, you can set the heating to go down when you go to bed at night, kick on just before you get up in the morning, and shut off again when you leave for work. "It’s great, you just set it and forget it," Freed says. No more thumping your forehead at lunchtime realizing you left the heater cranking at home, using precious resources to warm empty rooms.

Shower Saver Most showers pour out 2.5 gallons of water per minute, but for $40 you can pick up an easy to install, water-conserving, lowflow showerhead that still gets you squeaky clean. Since many San Francisco buildings are old and hot water is slow to arrive, consider a model with a pause cord or stop switch. This holds the water in the pipes until it is warm and saves gallons of perfectly good water from being dumped down the drain while the heater warms up. Plus, renters can take the showerheads with them when they move to different digs.

Friendly Flushing Another way to conserve water — one that’s free and easy — is to add a full, two-liter water bottle to the toilet tank. This only takes a minute and eliminates a significant amount of water from being wasted every time you flush. Bottles are better than bricks, which also displace water but can damage your tank. If you’re feeling a little handier, grab a screwdriver and lower the float an inch or so. And if you’re feeling innovative, consider installing a toilet-top sink, which gives waste water a chance to be used more efficiently. This graywater system collects the tap water you use to wash your hands, then uses it to flush the toilet rather than sending it straight down the drain. (You’re washing with tap water, not toilet water, so there’s nothing dirty about it.) Sinkpositive.com sells toilet-top sinks for about $100. It’s also an appliance you can take from home to home.



› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY The easier a compost bucket is to use, the more people will use it. But Compostmodern ’09 isn’t about compost at all — it’s about design. This annual event is a collaboration between the American Institute for Graphic Artists (AIGA) and the Academy of Art University that examines the intersection of design and environmental sustainability.

This weekend’s conference, held at various locations around San Francisco, features talks and slide shows by local designers, art installations, workshops, and demonstration projects proving that brown is the new green.

"I’m interested in helping people get a good grounding in what designing for sustainability means. The reality is that this industry is still so new," Nathan Shedroff wrote on the Compostmodern blog (compostmodern.wordpress.com). Shedroff chairs the Design Strategy MBA program at California College of the Arts, and will discuss sustainability frameworks at the conference.

Local graphic designer Amy Franceschini (futurefarmers.com) presented some of her work at Compostmodern in 2006. Inspired by all things green, she posed a question that only a designer would ask: if earth-bound plants lean toward light naturally, might design liberate plants to move about freely? There were mixed results to her experiment, but the question alone gets at the spirit of the conference: bridging the gap between the possible and the possibly possible by challenging designers to be environmentalists.

Autodesk brings sustainable design into the world of software by incorporating powerful new analytical tools into 3-D modeling programs used in architectural and other design. "Full-on energy analysis used to be really challenging and expensive," said program manager Dawn Danby, a featured speaker at Compostmodern this year. "We’re making software that empowers designers to make a case for sustainability, to make better decisions, decisions that have huge impacts on things like water or energy use. We need to make design a solution, not just a bonus when times are good."

Michael Gelobter, another of this year’s Compostmodern presenters, told the Guardian that the Bay Area’s unique combination of companies, researchers, and activists all living together is what makes it the epicenter of the clean-tech revolution. Even though he’s a climate strategist, Gelobter is optimistic about the future: "We have to own this change, and in the process solve a lot of other problems like wars and financial waste.

"A lot of our relationship with climate change and fossil fuels has to do with the built environment, the designed environment — our cities, buildings, schools. and the way we design our day-to-day interactions with products," Gelobter continued. "All of those include assumptions about energy use, where we get the energy, and the form that energy comes in. And designers are really the front line in redrawing that. They’re the cutting edge of how we make the world different, so they have to be informed about policy and economics, but also [about] people’s day-to-day lives, their lived experience of how change might happen. They have to be able to design to those kind of criteria."

That’s why Gelobter founded Climate Cooler, shifting his work from policy to shopping and "changing the choices consumers have so that they can take action." He insists that cleaning up the economy is good business. "You stop smoking crack, and you suddenly have all this money to spend on things that are a whole lot healthier. That’s true with fossil fuel use and the other things that cause global warming as well."

Gelobter’s latest project will equip Intuit’s popular QuickBooks accounting software with a carbon-calculator. It’s a partial redesign to help small businesses know the impact of their purchasing patterns on global warming, and to "start using that information to make better choices, to save money, save energy, and reduce their [carbon] footprint."

Taking on Herculean problems is not for everyone. But Compostmodern seeks to engage top designers with the task of making the seemingly impossible a little more likely. It’s a goal that is essential to achieving sustainability on a grand scale and using this economic meltdown as an opportunity to redesign our world.


Herbst Theatre, SF

Feb. 21

8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m.


Tailpipe turnaround


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Word that automobile emissions standards may soon improve was good news, but Bay Area leaders and communities are demanding even more to offset the harm that comes from tailpipes.

President Barack Obama last month called for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow California and as many as 13 other states to employ their own emissions restrictions. "Our goal," said Obama at the White House, "is not to further burden an already struggling industry. It is to help America’s automakers prepare for the future."

A review of the request is now underway and manufacturers were reassured they would have enough time to rework their 2011 lines. By then, cars and trucks should have improved efficiency and better mileage, outpacing three-year-old national standards that have been in place since the EPA refused to grant a waiver from the federal Clean Air Act.

Locally, the city’s Transportation Authority is reworking the local Climate Action Plan to emphasize emissions reductions. But the problem is expected to get worse before it gets better. Researchers at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District expect greenhouse gas emissions from transportation to increase dramatically from 42.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide this year to 65.4 million in 2029 under "business as usual conditions."

That may be why Mayor Gavin Newsom and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed released a letter Jan. 23 opposing federal plans for an auto industry bailout unless there are more strings attached to the money and more progressive programs to develop low-emission vehicles regionally. The two mayors called for an auto bailout that would "not divert funds from innovative emerging transportation technologies."

Jan Lundberg, a former oil industry analyst turned activist and a former member of the San Francisco Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force, calls for even bolder steps: "The kinds of amelioration being talked about and offered are woefully inadequate. We should just get rid of car dependency. Most of the pollution involved — into the air, from the car — is not from the tailpipe. It’s from the mining and the manufacturing associated with the car."

The real challenge for local governments is not in adapting their vehicles, but adapting policy to reflect progressive approaches like San Francisco’s "Precautionary Principle," adopted in 2003. The policy puts the burden of proof on advocates of new technology to show it is safe. Debbie Raphael, the Green Building Program Manager with San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, has been pushing for a change in how environmental codes are implemented. "Taxpayers have every right to know the risks," she said. "The burden then falls on industry to study possible negative consequences and to investigate safer alternatives."

Writer and activist Bill McKibben addressed the issue last fall when he spoke at Herbst Theatre, recognizing San Francisco as an environmental leader among cities. "This is clearly a community that is doing so many of the things right that need to be done. One community at a time is a very noble way to proceed. But in the end, it’s only half the battle. We’ve got to get the political movement going that allows us to do this everywhere, not just in the places that already understand it."

Strange bedfellows


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY San Francisco’s bicycle community found itself in the strange position of encouraging Superior Court Judge Peter Busch — someone many cyclists revile for his strict enforcement of a far-reaching injunction against bike projects in the city — to reject a city-sponsored bike safety proposal during a Jan. 22 hearing. It was one more sign of the desperation bicyclists and city officials are feeling over the three-year-old ban on all things bike-related, from new lanes to simple sidewalk racks (see “Stationary biking,” 5/16/07).

Judge Busch denied a city motion asking for the authority to make safety improvements at intersections that have proven dangerous to bicyclists, as well as a specific proposal by the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) to remove the bike lane at the most dangerous of those intersections, on Market Street at Octavia Boulevard, where 15 bicyclists have been hit by cars making illegal right turns onto the freeway since the revamped intersection opened in September 2005.

But the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and other bicyclists opposed the MTA proposal, arguing it would be more dangerous and holding a Jan. 16 rally at the site, which drew several supportive local politicians, including Sen. Mark Leno, Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, and Sups. Ross Mirkarimi, David Campos, and Bevan Dufty. “As people who ride through that intersection every single day, we believe the proposal would have made the intersection more dangerous. So I’m really relieved that the judge saw that,” SFBC director Leah Shahum told us.

She was less pleased with the judge’s refusal to relax the injunction, which stems from a legal challenge to the San Francisco Bicycle Plan. San Francisco resident Rob Anderson and attorney Mary Miles successfully sued the city in June 2006, arguing that the plan was hasty and did not include an environmental impact report (EIR), as required by state law, to determine how the plan would affect traffic, neighborhoods, businesses, and the environment.

“This case has been very discouraging because there are a handful of activists against bicyclists in the city,” City Attorney’s Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey said. “The hearing showed that the city has to go to court any time it wants to improve the streets for bicyclists.”

Although Judge Busch denied the city’s request to remove the bike lane, he hinted that the injunction would probably be lifted this spring with the completion of the Bike Plan’s EIR. “There was a strong message from the judge that he sees the bigger picture about getting the EIR done. It just needs to be complete and fair and accurate. Then the city can get back to work making the streets safer,” Shahum said.

Both Anderson and the SFBC, who usually agree on little, agreed on the judge’s latest ruling. Anderson advocates maintaining streets for cars and pedestrians, while the SFBC works to make roads safer for bicycles and encouraging bicycling as an important transportation option. Shahum urges city officials to rethink their approach to make Market and Octavia safer. “The city really does need to move on to the next steps to make the intersection better,” she said.

Although the number of bicyclists in San Francisco has doubled in recent years in light of volatile gasoline prices, the economic crisis, and greater awareness of global climate change, Anderson continues to argue that bicyclists will always be a minority interest, even in San Francisco.

“We have to make the streets as safe as possible without strangling the rest of the traffic,” Anderson told the Guardian. “Only a small percentage of the population in San Francisco use bicycles as their main mode of transportation. It’s not fair for the bike people to design the streets just to benefit them.”

Dorsey and Deputy City Attorney Audrey Pearson oppose Anderson, who has said bicycling is an inherently dangerous activity that the city shouldn’t be promoting. “As a policy, the city tries to discourage cars in San Francisco,” Dorsey said, referring to the longstanding “transit first” policies.

Now that the public comment period for the Bike Plan’s Draft EIR is over and Judge Busch has ruled to keep the bike lane at Market and Octavia, all parties are looking ahead to spring when the court is expected to lift the injunction on improving bike safety in San Francisco, unleashing nearly 60 new bike projects. That is, unless Anderson and Miles can find a way to stop them.

Transportation bonanza


› steve@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY The first year of President Barack Obama’s term could see the biggest federal investment in transportation projects since the creation of the interstate highway system, so there’s now a mad scramble to determine where — both geographically and in terms of transportation modes — that money will go.

Transportation activists were already geared up for this October’s omnibus transportation bill reauthorization, the first serious chance in four years to alter federal policies and spending priorities. But now that Congress is considering economic stimulus bills as large as $825 billion — including $71 billion to $85 billion in transportation projects — it’s looking like a potentially even more bountiful year.

Many Bay Area groups and agencies have forwarded their wish lists to state and federal policymakers and transportation officials, from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s $500 million in capital projects to the $1.6 billion "Bay Area Conference of Mayors Transit Infrastructure Wish List," which claims it would create 14,197 jobs.

San Francisco has the biggest chunk of that latter proposal at $713.9 million, including such big ticket items as $200 million for the so-called train box in the new Transbay Terminal project (see "Breaking ground," 12/10/08), $275 million for projects associated with Muni’s Transit Effectiveness Project, and $100 million for the Doyle Drive rebuild.

Randy Rentschler, public affairs directors for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, told us that for too long, the federal government has simply deferred transportation decisions to the states.

"Just having a block grant program to states does not assert a federal interest in transportation," he said.

Yet Rentschler acknowledges the difficulty of creating federal transportation mandates. Unlike programs such as carbon capture, which affect large factories, or fuel standards, which affect automakers, making big changes to transportation policy potentially impacts every citizen.

"When you talk about transportation, what you’re really asking for is the participation of 300 million Americans," he said.

Tom Radulovich, director of Livable City and an elected BART board member, is worried about the political dynamics of the stimulus package.

"Stimulus is sort of garbage in, garbage out," Radulovich said, noting that the federal imperative for "shovel-ready projects" that can break ground in a matter of days or weeks means that road projects that have been lined up waiting for money will get priority over more complicated, visionary efforts to create a green infrastructure and better alternatives to the automobile.

Radulovich and other activists have been focused on the quadrennial transportation bill, and on persuading Congress to shift priorities that reflect the current 80 percent of federal transportation dollars that go to automobile projects.

"The danger is Congress will shoot its wad now on all these highway projects and then say they’re out of money," Radulovich said.

Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute and a board member on both the American Public Transit Association and California High-Speed Rail Authority, agrees that a shift in federal priorities is overdue.

"You see a lot more money in the highway and bridge projects than you see for transit," he told the Guardian.

Yet Diridon expressed more hope than Radulovich that Democrats in Washington, DC, particularly Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, are taking the right steps to promote the transformation we need. He said the stimulus bill is a good example.

"Speaker Pelosi has been a real crusader for doing this the right way," Diridon said, noting that she is refusing to allow members to attach earmarks for favored projects; instead she is basing the list of recipients on Department of Transportation criteria.

Quentin Kopp, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, is trying to get more money for the $33 billion first phase of the high-speed rail project that voters approved a $10 billion down payment for in November.

"You don’t want to expect anything. You want to be pleasantly surprised," Kopp said. "I’m not counting on the money, but we will seek several billion dollars on the theory that we can get contracts with people who are threatened or have encountered employment setbacks."

Street fighters


› steve@sfbg.com

StreetsBlog (www.streetsblog.org) isn’t your average blog, but rather a well-funded institution that helped promote and propel a major transformation that has taken place on New York City streets since the site was founded in 2006, sparking rapid and substantial improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians.

In the process, StreetsBlog — which is part of the Livable Streets Network, along with StreetFilms and the StreetsWiki, started by urban cyclist Mark Gordon, founder of the popular file-sharing site LimeWire — developed a loyal following among alternative transportation planners and advocates in cities across the United States.

"There was nothing like it," said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "They put out these inspiring images and really helped people envision better streets."

So when a group of about two dozen of these Bay Area transportation geeks made the trek up to Portland, Ore. last summer for the Towards Carfree Cities International Conference (see "Towards Carfree Cities: wrap-up," Guardian Politics blog), one of their secret goals was to try to lure StreetsBlog to San Francisco.

What began with a long, beer-soaked meeting at a Portland brewpub has turned into substantial new voice in the local media and transportation landscape since StreetsBlog San Francisco (www.sf.streetsblog.org) launched at the start of this year.

"All this really came together in Portland during the Carfree conference," said Aaron Naparstek, executive editor of the three StreetsBlogs (SF, NYC, and Los Angeles) and executive producer of the LivableStreets Network. "The No. 1 reason we decided to open up SF StreetsBlog is because so many people were asking us to do it, particularly from the bike activist community. Most important, we also had a guy with money asking us to do it — [San Francisco bicyclist] Jonathan Weiner … There’s a vibrant activist community that thinks we can be useful and there are people willing to fund the work."

It also dovetailed nicely with the organization’s push to influence the quadrennial federal transportation bill reauthorization that Congress will consider later this year, which environmentalists hope will shift money away from freeway projects. "There was a sense that now is the time to build a nationwide movement," Naparstek said. "The freeway lobby guys are very organized and embedded in all the state [departments of transportation] and it’s tough to counter that. We want to use the Internet to foment a national movement."

StreetsBlog SF has two full-time staffers, editor Bryan Goebel, a San Francisco-based journalist who worked for KCBS) and reporters Matthew Roth, part of the team that started StreetsBlog in New York. StreetsBlog also pays as a contributor longtime local author and activist Chris Carlsson, who was part of the SF crew in Portland.

"I think they have an opportunity to bring close attention to the texture of life on the streets, something print journalism doesn’t do very well," Carlsson said. "It’s about reinhabiting city life."

Shahum said she’s thrilled at the arrival of StreetsBlog, which she says will help local leaders envision a less car-dependent city: "We as advocates are not always so good at helping people visualize what something better looks like."

And that, says Naparstek, is his network’s main strength. "We’ve actually had a lot of success in New York moving these livable streets models forward and we have a lot of best practices to share," he said, noting their network of 175 bloggers in cities around the country and world.

With Mayor Gavin Newsom’s penchant for "best practices"; San Francisco’s experimentation with innovative ideas like market-based parking pricing, congestion fees, Muni reform, and creation of carfree ciclovias; and the imperatives of climate change and the end of the age of oil, activists say this is the ideal time and place the arrival of StreetsBlog.

"There is an interesting convergence of issues that has made it bigger than it might have been," Roth said.

"And in San Francisco, who’s covering these issue besides the Guardian? There is a big need for this," Goebel added. "From a journalists’ point of view, we need to call people on their inconsistencies and not just let leaders govern by press release, which Mayor Gavin Newsom has a tendency to do."

Losing the West


› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Our society can’t continue functioning the way it does. Exploiting the natural abundance of resources in the western United States, without balancing the needs of nature, has lead to the myriad environmental problems outlined in The American West at Risk, a book recently penned by Bay Area–based geologists Richard W. Hazlett, Jane E. Nielson, and Howard G. Wilshire.

A thorough survey of environmental issues related to forestry, water, agriculture, mining, road building, outdoor recreation, waste disposal, military testing, nuclear energy, and warfare, the book was written from the perspectives of scientists, but told in such a way that the science makes the case for preservation by driving home the point that everything the human race depends on comes from nature. Ultimately, the authors stress that the solution is homegrown. "Americans have to start caring about the survival of small communities, their local towns, and their local resources."

We caught up with Nielson and Wilshire by phone to discuss the book in anticipation of their visit to San Francisco this week.

SFBG It often seems like saving the world becomes an emotional or moral stance and less of a scientific one — or that’s how it frequently gets framed by opponents.

JANE E. NIELSON That’s right, and for no reason. Economics have become more important. One of the things we’re trying to say is the environment is the basis for our economic well-being.

SFBG Do you think that if people more fully realize that resources aren’t infinite, thriftiness will become more of the American lifestyle?

JEN It would be very desirable for people to realize that more, to have it taught in schools. How much time we have left to do that, I don’t know. I feel that once people do get an appreciation for the fact that life is going to be leaner, that the soil is really important, things can change very rapidly.

HOWARD G. WILSHIRE My pessimism is borne of the fact that they will have to respond quickly because we are on the brink of serious problems. Climate change is a big one and coping with that — the plans that are being endorsed now and pushed now by politicians and businesspeople — are that we’re going to have to find alternatives to cheap oil to keep on doing what we’re doing.

SFBG In the book you reveal a pattern of public commons being used to benefit a minority, whether its subsidies for big growers, cheap grazing rights, water rights for a handful of a farmers …

HGW It’s across the board.

SFBG How do we break these patterns of privilege, because it’s so ingrained it seems like an institutional problem?

JEN I have to tell you this is something that just sort of grew on us as we wrote the book. We knew about various subsidies, but the immensity of it and the pervasive pattern really only became clear as we progressed through the book.

SFBG It’s interesting that not only is there a pattern of subsidies, but they’re for a very small percentage of people.

JEN The whole history of land ownership in this country was intended to support the small person. The Homestead Act was supposed to give land to individuals, but most people failed at homesteading and there was no provision built in to prevent land from being gobbled up by big landowners.

SFBG So how can we flip this? Some of it is local, but for a lot of it these laws are federal.

HGW We have to take money out of the election system so we can get people free of monetary interest promoting their offices to do something useful. There are people who have the insight and the knowledge to know that we have got to stop this bleeding of our resources through subsidies.

The three authors will be reading and discussing the book Thursday, Jan. 8 at Books Inc. Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness Ave. The event begins at 7 p.m. More information can be found at losingthewest.com.

>>Read the full interview with the authors here

>>Read Amanda Witherell’s full review of the book here

Waning wildlife


› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Changes to ocean and air temperatures, rising sea levels, loss of habitat, scarcity of food, altered precipitation patterns, environmental asynchronicity — these are the concerns of wildlife biologists who are watching the increased effects of climate change on the thousands of plant and animal species that share the earth with people. Overall, global warming threatens a third of existing species, with 50 percent now in general decline due to a variety of human activities.

Bay Area wildlife is already being negatively affected by a warmer world, one that locally manifests in nesting birds roasting to death during heat waves, plummeting fish populations, and starving whales. Those stories were part of "Irreplaceable: Wildlife in a warming world," a recent seminar held at the San Francisco Public Library by the Endangered Species Coalition. Maria Brown, superintendent of Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary — one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, shared a grim account of the Cassin’s auklet.

"This little seabird you maybe never heard of may predict the future of climate change in San Francisco," said Brown.

The auklet spends most of its life far out at sea, and flies inland to breed in burrows on remote islands and coastlines. Invasive grasses have choked many of the prime burrowing spots along the coast, so wildlife biologists have installed bird boxes as an alternative. April, the height of the annual nesting season, was an unusually warm month, with thermometers on the Farallones Islands clocking 90-degree temperatures. The bird boxes turned into ovens. "They literally cooked," said Brown of the breeding auklets. "This is a prediction of what’s to come."

The auklet’s story also shows how species have already been negatively impacted by human activity, even before dramatic climate change was factored into the equation. That’s a point all the speakers drove home.

"We’re dealing with these threats that already exist. Now with climate change we superimpose all these unknowns," said Tamara Williams, a hydrologist for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a 60-mile swath of incredibly diverse land spanning from Tomales Bay to San Mateo that is home to 34 threatened or endangered species — more than any other national park in continental North America. "Those listed species were listed without considering impacts of climate change. We’re dealing with species that were in trouble already."

And how will it affect other species that aren’t listed? Williams gave an example of the coast redwood, which relies on a foggy environment to stave off drought during summer months. Will the coast continue to be as foggy as it’s been in the past? "We wish we could predict what’s going to happen, but we can’t," she said.

Mike Lynes of Golden Gate Audubon said the Bay Area has global significance for birds, but there’s already been a 90 percent loss of its historic wetlands — one of the primary habitats for shorebirds, which are already in a 50 percent decline. Climate change is only going to make the world harder for them, he said as he flashed maps of altered land masses in the event of a one-meter sea level rise — the modest prediction for what will happen by 2100. The maps showed that such a rise will cause wetlands in Richmond, along the Petaluma River, and in Silicon Valley to disappear. Lynes pointed out that the reconfigured coast doesn’t allow room for new wetlands — the coastlines will butt up against already heavily developed urban enclaves for people.

But, he said, expanding and preserving wetlands would benefit birds and humans — wetlands mitigate flooding and are a high-quality CO2 trap.

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, didn’t sound optimistic about preserving one critical wetland — the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta — when he spoke about the collapsed Pacific salmon population.

"We know pretty much what the problems are for the Central Valley salmon. It doesn’t take a blue-ribbon panel like the governor would like to appoint," he said. "We’ve affected most all of its lifestyle, its lifecycle, by blocking off the places where these salmon spawn," rattling off the names of dams and rivers — Shasta, Bryant, American, Feather — that are no longer easily passable for fish returning to lay eggs where they were born.

On top of that, eggs that are successfully laid hatch into fish that then migrate downstream where they encounter the delta, an "estuary beginning to die." There, agricultural runoff, limited freshwater, and powerful pumps all threaten fish survival.

The few salmon that make it out to sea are faced with altered currents, fewer cool water upwellings, lower quantities of food, and literal dead zones where pollution has obliterated the natural diversity of the water.

"We know what has to be done to fix it. What has been done? Absolutely nothing. Now comes global warming. How well are we going to respond now that we have global warming?" asked Grader. "This year there was no fishing for the first time since 1848," bringing the issue back to the basic human need for food, as well.

He urged people to start demanding more from elected leaders, including a stronger Endangered Species Act with a well-funded mandate, and to begin "raising a much higher bar if we expect to have salmon on the planet, humans on the planet, in the future."

At the start of the evening’s presentation, Representative Nancy Pelosi’s aide, Melanie Nutter, delivered a short message from the Speaker of the House calling global warming a moral challenge. Nutter didn’t stay for the presentation, however, and wasn’t there to hear speaker after speaker call out the government for lack of action and, in some cases, inappropriate action.

Tom Dey, a water policy analyst who was seated in the audience, commented that change might come from the top of Barack Obama’s administration, but local officials need to be lobbied. "We have Senator [Dianne] Feinstein and Governor [Arnold] Schwarzenegger, who have written off the delta," he said, bringing up their support for a $9 billion bond to build more dams.

All the speakers urged individual action as well, and Williams said the Interior Department was "committed to doing what we can to reduce our own carbon footprint."

So far, that has been an analysis of carbon emissions throughout the national park system. GGNRA recently approved its climate action plan and is just beginning implementation of three major phases: emissions reduction, education, and adaptation, according to Laura Castellini, an environmental protection specialist. So far, that has meant an energy reduction partnership with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., an integration of climate change into interpretations, and beginning a more focused look at how sea level rise will affect GGNRA lands.

There have been hurdles, too. Castellini said most of the park’s emissions actually come from visitors, so the organization is looking at ways to enhance shuttles to and through parks as well as encouraging alternative transportation to arrive there in the first place. When asked how GGNRA was changing its own driving patterns, she said the agency was having problems getting more fuel-efficient cars. "Right now we get all of our vehicles from the General Services Administration. They have been a little slow in getting us vehicles that get us closer to our goal." Specifically, GSA only offers flex-fuel automobiles that run on ethanol, a plant-based fuel that many environmentalists are criticizing as unsustainable. Furthermore, Castellini said there are no ethanol stations in San Francisco.

Even given the concrete actions the park system is taking, there are still a lot of big unanswered questions, said Castellini. What if Glacier National Park no longer has any glaciers? "What does it mean if our protected areas no longer protect what they were established to?" she asked.

The Irreplaceable campaign, which includes a photo exhibit (closing Dec. 31 at the Main Branch of the SFPL), is traveling the country, ending in Washington, DC, as part of a push for Congress to recognize the gravity of the problem. Mark Rockwell, director of the program, closed the seminar by saying, "The only constant in nature is change. Change is what we’re going to have to become more comfortable with."

That includes human change.



> amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who represents a disproportionately polluted district that is host to the city’s only fossil fuel-burning power plant, has introduced legislation to change the way energy flows into and around the city.

The ordinance collates some past resolutions already affirmed by the Board of Supervisors — to close the Mirant Potrero Power Plant as soon as possible and to request that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission conduct a transmission-only study to update the city’s Electricity Resource Plan (which is currently based on building a new peaker power plant in the city in order to shutter Mirant’s older, more polluting facility).

Maxwell’s legislation further calls on the city to provide 100 percent clean energy by 2040 — a mandate lifted directly from Proposition H, a clean energy and public power act that was voted down in November.

But the three elements of the ordinance, which was co-signed by outgoing Sup. Aaron Peskin, are somewhat lacking.

The clean energy goals outlined by Maxwell only apply to the SFPUC — not to anyone who gets a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. bill — and SFPUC power is already almost 100 percent clean, consisting mostly of Hetch Hetchy hydroelectric, solar, biomass, and a small amount of cogeneration. (Large hydro and cogeneration do not meet the state’s definition of renewable, but they are considered among the greenest kinds of "brown" power.)

Prop. H would have required the city to conduct an energy study, and specifically stated that the option of city-owned and operated power be considered as part of the study. Subject to board and mayoral approval, the city could have public power if it was determined to be the most efficient and economic way to provide 100 percent clean energy to all citizens by 2040.

Neighborhood and environmental activists, including Julian Davis, who ran the Prop. H campaign, Tony Kelly of the Potrero Boosters, and John Rizzo of the Sierra Club, said they weren’t consulted or even clued in that the Maxwell legislation was being introduced. Rizzo called the clean energy goals "window dressing," and said, "It doesn’t accomplish what Prop. H does."

"I was surprised by the Maxwell ordinance," said Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, one of the authors of Prop. H, which Maxwell, Peskin, and six other supervisors endorsed. "We hadn’t learned of it until the day it was introduced. I believe it’s going in the right direction but I’d like to see it more committed to its insistence on public power — not just elements of Prop. H, but public power so that we are able to be clear about what forms of energy independence, clean energy, renewable that the city should administer."

Maxwell’s aide, Jon Lau, said they did reach out to Mirkarimi’s staff, as well as Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office, and the legislation was written broadly so that there was "something here for everybody if you’re interested."

"The ordinance she introduced is sort of agnostic toward public power," he said. "But it could and should be part of the analysis to the extent that we study residential needs in the city. It’s totally relevant to have a public power analysis." He called public power a "flash point," and said, "The whole conversation would be about that."

Rizzo said the legislation doesn’t demand anything of PG&E, in terms of clean energy goals, but Lau said they don’t have the authority to legislate a private company’s energy procurement. "We can’t just dictate goals for PG&E."

The board doesn’t have the authority to close Mirant either — the gas and diesel power plant operates with a Reliability-Must-Run contract and the state’s grid operator, California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), has said Mirant must run or be replaced by some other in-city, instantly available power generation.

The plant also operates with a water permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and though City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Maxwell, and Peskin recently sent a letter urging no renewal of the permit, which expires Dec. 31, the water board seems to be waiting for the plant to close by some other means rather than taking up the issue. "I’m currently reworking the permit reissuance schedule without Potrero because Potrero’s status is really more like ‘to be determined’ at this point," wrote water board staff member Bill Johnson in an e-mail to the Guardian. Because the board hasn’t acted on it, the permit will automatically be extended on Jan. 1, 2009, meaning the plant will be operating indefinitely until the water board makes a final decision or some other way to close it is found.

There’s almost unanimous approval throughout the city that beefing up transmission lines would be better than building a power plant or allowing Mirant to keep operating. Transmission is also one way the city could gain more control of energy resources and potentially save, and even make, some money.

On Dec. 15, Barbara Hale, assistant general manager for power, sent a request to Cal-ISO asking that two new SFPUC transmission proposals be considered as part of the state’s regional planning. They include upping the voltage of existing lines between the Hetch Hetchy dam and Newark, and adding a new line between Newark and Treasure Island, which would allow Hetch Hetchy power to travel exclusively on city-owned lines. The city currently pays PG&E $4 million per year to carry Hetch Hetchy power from Newark into the city — a fee San Francisco has been paying since 1925 when the city, during construction of the transmission lines between Yosemite and the Bay, mysteriously ran out of copper wire just a few miles shy of PG&E’s Newark station.

The new line would run under the bay, using an existing SFPUC water pipeline right-of-way. "This pathway will allow transmission lines to traverse the environmentally sensitive Don Edwards Regional Wildlife Preserve [in Newark] that is likely to be a bottleneck between PG&E’s pivotal Newark substation and the substation serving the Peninsula," the letter states. The SFPUC also predicts some possible cost recovery from Cal-ISO for building the Newark line because it would improve regional reliability. The agency also says it’s exploring partnerships with other municipal utilities for joint ownership.

Changing climate


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GREEN CITY In its final full month in power, the George W. Bush administration has managed to screw up one last chance to take action on the increasingly desperate climate crisis, the latest in a string of diplomatic failures being inherited by the incoming Barack Obama administration.

The UN Climate Change Conferences in Poznan, Poland concluded Dec. 12 after nearly two weeks of negotiations, presentations, and demonstrations. Greenpeace pushed hard for strong action at the conference, even using San Francisco as a staging ground for its message.

Yet what Greenpeace officials initially viewed as a great chance to show a new face of American leadership on global warming instead turned out to be what group spokesperson Daniel Kessler called "a profound disappointment."

Kessler and other representatives from Greenpeace told the Guardian that members of the American delegation refused to agree to any international agreements because they didn’t want to constrain the incoming administration. The indecisive US stance then spread to other industrialized nations and no substantial agreement was reached.

"In Poznan, it seemed like everyone was in a holding pattern waiting for the Obama administration. But it’s just another excuse when what we really need is action," Kessler said.

For Ben Smith, Greenpeace’s global warming national organizer, this is just the most recent strategic move that the administration has made over the past eight years to obstruct any meaningful progress on the environment.

"The reality is, of course, that they’re catering to industry and don’t want to come to an agreement," Smith said. "They’re continuing their efforts to stall any progress."

Much of Greenpeace’s work at the conference has been to work around the US delegation, attempting to show the international community that the Bush administration is in its death throes and out of touch with the country when it comes to dealing with global warming.

On Dec. 6, Greenpeace organized "A Global Day of Action" to send the message that the American people are ready to help save the planet. It staged demonstrations in 25 cities around the country and dozens more around the world. In San Francisco, the organization brought more than 300 volunteers, activists, and community members to Crissy Field to hold a 30-by-50-foot green postcard reading: "Dear World Leaders, We are ready to save the climate — San Francisco. P.S. Yes We Can!"

A helicopter buzzed overhead to capture the image with the Golden Gate Bridge towering in the background. The images and others like it were sent to the Greenpeace delegates in Poland.

During the San Francisco event, Lauren Thorpe, a field organizer with Greenpeace, stood on the back of the flatbed truck that served as the stage and summed up the day’s message. "We really want strong action on global warming and we’re ready for America to take a leadership role on that again," she said.

The atmosphere at the event was hopeful and enthusiastic. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi even stopped by midway through his morning jog, apparently unaware he was scheduled to speak until 20 minutes before. He stood above the crowd in gray sweats and, after catching his breath, delivered a stirring impromptu speech encouraging the audience to hold officials at all levels of government accountable.

"Our federal government is moving at a very glacial pace in order to address the global warming crisis," he said. "And I’m not seeing any evidence that that’s going to turn around soon enough so that we can relax here from a local or municipal perspective."

Though the negotiations in Poland may have fizzled, the outpouring of support from San Francisco and elsewhere has encouraged Greenpeace during this important transition period. Kessler says that Greenpeace will continue to pursue its direct action strategy while working with the Obama administration’s new team.

"There is a lot of hope that he’s going to do the right thing," Smith said.

Lucy Pearce, a campaign leader from the British organization Stop Climate Chaos, urged the Crissy Field crowd to push for bold action on the climate change in the coming year: "We have to keep the pressure on and make sure that we don’t just rest on hope. We’ve actually got to deliver on climate change."

Transforming traffic analysis


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GREEN CITY A court injunction against new bicycle projects in San Francisco (see "Stationary biking," 5/16/07) could get lifted next year, thanks to environmental studies released Nov. 26 and headed to the Board of Supervisors next month. But it’s a subtle, technical change in how city officials analyze traffic impacts that could have a more far-reaching implications.

It’s called Level of Service Reform and it would change the triggering mechanism for when projects need to conduct full-blown environmental impact reports, an expensive and time-consuming requirement that led to the three-year bike project injunction. And LOS reform has been rattling around the city bureaucracy long before the Guardian wrote about it two-and-a-half years ago ("The slow lane," 5/17/06).

"It’s either wonderful that I started working on this in 2002, or it’s embarrassing," Rachel Hiatt of the San Francisco Transportation Authority told a Nov. 19 meeting of TransForm (formerly the Transportation and Land Use Coalition) on the subject.

The California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 requires EIRs for projects with potentially significant environmental impacts, as is the case when the level of service (LOS) at an intersection could be changed. LOS is measured by the amount of time it takes a car to pass through a given area. The time consumed by the car is often referred to as control delay. Measured by grades A through F, control delay per motor vehicle times of up to 30 seconds (E grade) are acceptable in San Francisco.

Designating sections of certain busy streets to accommodate a bike lane would affect the control delay, thereby earning the area a lower LOS grade. Since cars now essentially have priority over alternative forms of transportation, many potential bike lanes have been stranded by the LOS standard.

City officials are working to replace the LOS measure with a new one based on auto trips generated (ATG), using 1 ATG as the threshold for an EIR. Projects that generate no car trips will not be seen as having any environmental impact, thereby moving through the approval process quicker and cheaper.

"LOS needs to be taken out of the picture," Hiatt said.

The argument for LOS replacement is not solely about the need to accommodate other transit modes, but about lowering costs and making government more efficient. Hiatt outlined other problems with the current measure as the failure to accurately gauge environmental impact, failure to reflect the city’s "transit-first" policy priorities, and an inefficient CEQA review process.

Development advisor Mike Yarne of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development said that if the city wants to topple LOS, the Transit Authority has a case to make. "What the TA needs to show is that ATG is a more effective proxy to calculate environmental harm," Yarne said.

The city is also considering instituting a mitigation fee to be paid by project sponsors to compensate for environmental impact. Proceeds from the fee will be used to enhance all existing modes of transit, pedestrian safety, and could even include planting trees.

"The fee will go toward making people move faster," Yarne said.

Yarne admits that it could be a little difficult to make both changes at once. San Francisco will be the first city in California to create a mitigation fee, so other cities are taking notes.

"It would be quite an accomplishment if we could make it happen. It’s never been done," explained Yarne, noting that most cities have come to recognize that CEQA does not work well in urban areas. "The irony of ironies is the stopping of the bike plan."

Last week the TA released a Draft Environmental Impact Report for the San Francisco Bicycle Plan. With almost 900 days since the last new bike lane was constructed, the new bike plan will allow a roughly 75 percent increase to the current network..

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum expressed hope in the potential of the new EIR, slated to be approved this spring, after which the plan will be finalized and the city can go back to court to try to get the injunction lifted.

"The draft EIR is definitely a big step toward completion, but more needs to be done," she said. "The ridiculous exercise of slowing the bike plan down is a great case for why we need environmental review reform."

The coal question


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GREEN CITY Over the past few years, a growing number of environmentalists have called for greatly curtailing the burning of coal, a practice that threatens the health of people and the planet. On Nov. 14-15, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) held protests in San Francisco and more than 50 other cities against Bank of America and Citibank, two of the largest financial backers of coal projects.

RAN cites data showing that coal is responsible for nearly 40 percent of US global warming emissions, and claims in a press release that Citibank has provided financial support to "45 companies that have proposed new coal power plants."

According to RAN, Bank of America is "involved with eight of the US’s top mountain top removal coal-mining operators, which collectively produce more than 250 million tons of coal each year."

Mountain top removal is a process in which explosives are used to gain access to underlying coal, devastating ecosystems and polluting watersheds to extract an energy source that emits far more climate-altering carbon than even other fossil fuels. RAN’s Joshua Kahn Russell cited Bank of America’s $175 million financing of Massey Energy, a coal producer that was sued in 2006 by the US Environmental Protection Agency for more than 4,500 violations of the Clean Water Act. Early this year, Massey agreed to a $20 million settlement rather than pay potential fines of $2.4 billion.

RAN has named Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis the "Fossil Fool of the Year" for his company’s role in coal. But on the bank’s Web site, Lewis disputes the characterization, citing the company’s promotion of hybrid vehicles and its other efforts to combat global warming, which won an award this year from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"Our environment initiatives reflect our commitment to addressing climate change, conserving natural resources and building a sustainable economy — for today, and generations to come," Lewis says on the Web site. Similarly, Citibank officials tout what they say is a $50 billion initiative over the next 10 years to promote renewable energy sources.

As the US limps toward an energy policy that relies less on fossil fuels, coal is the big target for environmentalists. But getting off of it won’t be easy, considering it supplies about a quarter of the nation’s energy and helps fuel the faltering economy.

President-elect Barack Obama has made mixed statements about coal. In an election-season interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he favored a cap-and-trade program that would limit the use of coal and charge new plants "a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted."

Yet he has also repeatedly voiced support for a so-called clean coal technology known as carbon capturing and sequestration (CCS) that could theoretically prevent coal emissions from entering the atmosphere but that many environmentalists believe to be a myth.

Russell said CCS, which involves capturing carbon emissions from the air and placing them deep underground, is still theoretical and may not be as cost-efficient as switching to cleaner energies. If CCS is a viable alternative, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that coal plants with CCS could reduce carbon emissions by 80-90 percent.

RAN organizer Scott Parkin pointed out that even if clean-coal technology works, the "coal still has to come from somewhere," and the process of extracting it has inherent environmental problems. But coal advocates say we need to be realistic about meeting the nation’s energy needs.

Bank of America spokesperson Britney Sheehan told us, "As a nation, 50 percent of electricity comes from coal." Even in California, 32 percent of electricity is derived from coal, according to the California Independent System Operator. Sheehan said the bank is actively funding renewable energy initiatives to help make the transition to cleaner burning fuels and it is making strides to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet many say such incrementalism belies the seriousness of the climate change threat. Dr. James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, was quoted by RAN as saying, "The science is clear: a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, and phase-out of existing coal plants, is essential if we want to preserve creation, the life on our planet, for young people and future generations." 2

Green and black



GREEN CITY The 2008 San Francisco Green Festival, held Nov. 14-16 at the Concourse Exhibition Center, is a well-established environmentalist event that featured more 1,000 vendors and was overseen by 1,600 volunteers, all united in promoting a greener future.

Yet the event’s keynote speaker, Cornel West, along with Van Jones of the Oakland-based Green Jobs for All and San Francisco-based Muslim minister the Rev. Christopher Muhammad, all conveyed an expanded definition of environmentalism that emphasized social justice and concerns specific to African American communities.

The idea behind this fusion of black and green is that our traditional view of environmentalism, with its focus on the health of ecosystems, needs to be expanded to social systems as well. In that context, Muhammad’s long fight against Lennar Corp.’s reckless approach to developing Bayview-Hunters Point (see "Question of intent," 11/28/07), in which his Muhammad University of Islam was exposed to toxic asbestos dust, takes on new dimensions.

As the first speaker of the day Nov. 15, Muhammad’s speech was geared toward local issues of concern. Muhammad continued to shed light on the "environmental racism" taking place in the Bay Area communities of Bayview-Hunters Point, North Richmond, and West Oakland, referring to the injustice as San Francisco’s "dirty little secret." Environmental racism ranges from citing polluting industries in poor communities of color to inequities in who has access to healthy food and preventive medical care.

Muhammed brought to light the issue of San Francisco’s declining middle class and minority populations, citing rising crime rates and housing costs as culprits. He also commended the Green Festival for bringing people together to hear about an expanded scope for environmentalism. "It’s a place where people can come and be informed about issues that impact them that have historically been left out in terms of this whole [green] movement," Muhammed said.

The last scheduled speaker of the day was prominent social critic and Princeton professor Cornel West, author of the new book Hope on a Tightrope (Hay House). Muhammad has worked with West in the past and praised him as a fellow advocate for social justice: "I’ve met with him on a number of occasions and worked with him on various projects. He’s an ally."

West stressed the importance of addressing social justice by saying, "There’s a need to target [environmental racism]. You need a coalition in order to bring hard pressure to bear, so it can become more of a national issue."

In many ways, the people are showing signs of resistance to change, as with the passage of Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage in California, a result he calls "catastrophic." Still, he said, now, after a historic presidential election, is the moment to begin the transition. "It’s the end of an era. Thirty years of a country sleepwalking is over," West proclaimed to the cheering crowd.

He warned everyone not to believe that change will come overnight, reminding the crowd that it is ultimately up to us to push the change that we so desperately crave. "It’s not just about one messianic figure on his way to the White House," West said.

Green energy is the future of this country, West said, and one of the many ways we can foster positive change. The potential to lift up communities of color as part of the transition to new energy sources has been a big focus for Van Jones of Oakland’s Green for All, who spoke Nov. 16 about his new book, The Green Collar Economy (HarperCollins). He said we must "invent and invest our way" out of our current "gray economy" and into the new "green economy."

West also said the American people are still coming to understand the nature of the problems we face. "America has grown old, we’ve grown wealthy, but we have yet to grow up." But he ended his speech on an upbeat note, saying this age of conservation and greater awareness will create what Sly Stone called the "age of everyday people."

This year’s Green Festival exposed attendees to nontraditional environmental problems that pollute our social environment. The take-away from this new focus was that "going green" involves more than just driving a hybrid car and shifting to compact fluorescent lights — it means truly transforming our communities.

Money is power


› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY While the latest public power proposal was soundly defeated at the polls, the apparent failure of a pair of electricity generation initiatives backed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is fueling an existing plan to create more city-owned energy projects.

Proposition H, which would have moved the city toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 and allowed public power to help meet that goal, lost Nov. 4 by more than 20 percentage points. PG&E spent a record-breaking $10.3 million against the measure, or more than $53 per vote as of the Nov. 10 tally.

For that kind of money, said campaign finance expert Bob Stern of the Center for Government Studies, "they could have taken every voter out and bought them an expensive meal." But, he said, that’s a pittance for a company like PG&E. "They knew spending $10 million was going to save them a bunch of money."

Two days after the election, PG&E announced a 9 percent increase in year-to-date profits over last year, boosted partly by a 6 percent rate increase PG&E implemented Oct. 1, which it argued was needed to cover the increased cost of natural gas.

Prop. H would have moved San Francisco away from volatile fossil fuel prices, although the city is still hoping to procure 51 percent of its energy needs from renewables by 2017 through the community choice aggregation (CCA) program.

Meanwhile a plan to retrofit the Mirant Potrero Power Plant is looking shakier since Nov. 4, when the Board of Supervisors tabled legislation that would have authorized the Mayor’s Office and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to negotiate the deal.

Prior Land Use and Economic Development committee hearings showed that retrofitting the plant to run on natural gas instead of diesel may not be as technologically or economically feasible as suggested in a report commissioned by Mirant (see "Power possibilities," Nov. 5).

But a recent report on CCA outlines ways the city may be able to procure the baseload energy demand required by the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) without retrofitting Mirant or building new peak-demand fossil fuel plants (known as "peakers"), as city officials originally proposed.

The report by Local Power, the lead CCA consultant hired by the city, suggests that the SFPUC’s current plan to upgrade natural gas steam boilers in large downtown buildings can be modified to capture waste heat and turn it into energy, a process known as cogeneration.

The city Department of the Environment has already identified 106 MW of potential energy — about the same amount Cal-ISO is requiring the city to have on hand for energy reliability. Although this isn’t renewable energy because it’s capturing wasted gas heat, "it’s really clean, good quality brown power," said Paul Fenn of Local Power, noting that it makes use of something that is currently being wasted.

Local Power’s draft report, which lays the groundwork for what the city needs to do before 2010 to make CCA work, also disputes the conclusions of a tidal power feasibility study conducted for the SFPUC. In July, URS Corp. reported that tidal power in the Golden Gate would cost between 80 cents and $1.40 per kW-hour and only generate a little over 1 MW of power. "We do not consider a tidal power project located in the vicinity of the Golden Gate to be commercially feasible at this time," the report states.

Local Power contends that URS undervalued the potential energy by using computer modeling rather than actual tidal data and overlooked the strongest area for building an underwater turbine. It also failed to account for public financing at a lower interest rate, which would make city-owned tidal power much cheaper.

"We are confident you can get 10 MW," Fenn said. "The whole thing was modeled on PG&E ownership."

Local Power recommended the city get actual tidal data from the best spot and run the numbers again. "The ocean is the ultimate energy resource for San Francisco," said Fenn, who compared the challenge of constructing this kind of infrastructure to the Hoover Dam.

Newsom, who opposed Prop. H but still claims to support CCA, remains committed to tidal power. "Mayor Newsom supports advancing a tidal project at the mouth of the bay," his spokesperson, Joe Arellano, wrote in an e-mail.

The rollout of CCA is expected in 2010, when the city issues a request for proposals from companies interested in building or supplying energy. Several companies have already responded to a request for information. CCA is slated to include a 150 MW wind farm, 31 MW of solar, 103 MW of local distributed generation, and 107 MW of efficiency technologies. Funding would come from $1.2 billion in renewable energy bonds that have already been approved.

Local Power’s report includes concrete actions the city can take, including a plan to finally make Hetch Hetchy power available to citizens, a recommendation that the wind farm be built in the Delta for easy access to the Transbay Cable — a new 400 MW, 59-mile transmission line between Pittsburg and San Francisco that’s scheduled to be completed in 2010 — and urging the city to petition the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for so-called public good charges collected from ratepayers that currently go to PG&E’s energy efficiency programs.

"We’re trying to put ideas on the table for the RFPs," said Fenn, who stressed that the city should make it as easy as possible for CCA to get underway, a goal that will require a lot more cooperation between departments. For example, the report outlines several hindrances to getting renewable energy up and running, from permit hassles to delayed interconnections to PG&E’s grid.

"Where we see problems in the city for permitting and zoning, we can seek to change them now," Fenn said.

That chance may come soon. The Land Use and Economic Development Committee is hearing legislation Nov. 12 to require conditional use permitting for all power plants greater than 10 MW. Though the legislation originally targeted the Mirant plant, the Planning Department, in its review of the draft legislation, suggested that all power plants be subject to the additional review. Sup. Aaron Peskin, who sponsored the legislation with Sup. Sophie Maxwell, suggested the change wasn’t appropriate. "It just means more public process."

But, Fenn said, "To set standards based on pre-CCA era is at this point confusing. Like [Sup.] Ross [Mirkarimi] said, the CCA program should be the unifying principle of energy policy in San Francisco. Integrating all the pieces is indeed the entire secret of making all the parts perform better so that we can achieve the required meet-or-beat-PG&E-rates outcome."

Mirkarimi told us the program could obviate retrofitting Mirant or pursuing the peakers. "CCA still has not been taken seriously enough by the SFPUC or the Newsom administration."

Power possibilities


By Amanda Witherell

› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY San Francisco’s energy future is in flux. On Nov. 4, voters decided the fate of Proposition H, a plan for 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. On the same day, the Board of Supervisors was set to consider a proposal from Mayor Gavin Newsom to retrofit the 32-year-old Mirant Potrero power plant to meet a state mandate for local electricity generation.

The results of both votes occurred after the Guardian deadline, but either way, the city’s energy policy is uncertain, particularly after serious doubts about the viability of the mayor’s proposal were raised at an Oct. 22 Land Use and Economic Development Committee hearing.

The retrofit was hastily developed as an alternative to longstanding plans to replace heavily polluting units of the Mirant plant with new, cleaner, city-owned peaker plants. That plan was derailed after a meeting in May between Newsom and seven Pacific Gas and Electric Co. executives, who were apparently concerned about the city generating its own power.

The Mayor’s office calls the retrofit a "bridge" to a renewable energy future and contends it can be cheaper than and as clean as the city’s peakers. Yet at the hearing, Mike Martin, who’s evaluating the retrofit project for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said no retrofits have ever reached the emissions goals cited in Newsom’s proposal.

Jeff Henderson, senior project manager for Mirant, defended the $80 million price tag for the project (which is about $30 million cheaper than the city’s plan) but also said that they were "giving a price on a project that’s never been done before." Martin said the permits alone would be twice the price stated in a Mirant-commissioned feasibility study.

Chair of the committee Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who represents the district where the plant is sited, cast cost aside, saying that human lives and the lowest possible emissions were more important to her. Her district has the highest incidences of asthma and cancer in the city.

The retrofit would still emit more nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter than the city’s peaker plants but the Mayor’s Office is banking on it operating less, thus emitting less overall. The numbers crunched for the study by CH2M Hill presume Mirant operating about 156 hours a year, though it is permitted for 877 hours. The city has sued the company in the past for exceeding its permitted hours.

When questioned if the 97 percent emissions reduction proposed was possible, Henderson said, "The only thing that leads us to believe that is we had vendors who would say they could meet that under contract."

Maxwell invited three potential vendors to the hearing. All said the industry standard was 90 percent emissions reduction and that it was infeasible, if not technically impossible, to reach 97 percent. To try may even result in a net gain of particulate matter emissions because the plant would need more ammonia catalyst.

But the Mayor’s Office remained confident in the project. "The experts that presented before the committee were all experts attached to the CT project, so I would not consider them independent third-party experts," Newsom’s director of government affairs Nancy Kirshner-Rodriguez told the Guardian.

Bruce Schaller, vice president of Kansas-based power company Sega, said he wouldn’t bid on this job under the current parameters because, "We would be associated with a project that was a failure."

Tom Flagg, president of Equipment Source Company, said the project was "completely illogical and impossible to do." He pointed out that emissions vary widely. "You have surges in emissions levels. Sometimes it’s 94 percent, sometimes it’s 84 percent … A 97 to 98 percent reduction is impossible because in order to maintain that they have 100 percent reduction at times. It’s an average."

The need for new power generation in San Francisco has been pushed by the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), but environmental groups have urged the city to challenge that mandate. Former California Public Utilities Commission president Loretta Lynch, who spoke against the retrofit plan at the hearing, told the Guardian afterward, "The ISO are ideologues, not engineers. They have no basis in fact that we need any peninsula power production."

Supervisors passed a resolution asking the SFPUC to develop a transmission-only plan to meet Cal-ISO’s reliability demands. The SFPUC said it will present something within the next couple of months.

Chickens and the egg


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY The scene along a quiet, dead-end road in Lathrop — just 90 minutes east of San Francisco — is classically pastoral: a cloudless sky, a few small ranch houses scattered among small plots of farmland, a tractor humming in the distance.

But thanks to Olivera Egg Farm and its 700,000 chickens, country life is not all sunshine and butterflies. With a quick turn of the wind, the pleasant breeze suddenly sours to the sickening, fetid stench of ammonia from the nearby "lagoon" — a 16.5-acre cesspool of chicken manure that lies 370 feet from the nearest house.

"It takes your breath away," said Janice Magaoay, who has lived in a house neighboring the egg farm since the early 1970s. Magaoay is one of 10 residents who filed a civil lawsuit against Olivera in US District Court last week. Led by a legal team from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the lawsuit alleges that Olivera has been emitting up to 18 times the lawful amount of toxic ammonia gas without reporting it — a violation that could cost the farm a maximum of $32,500 per day in penalties.

The lawsuit against Olivera — whose owner, Edward Olivera, did not return our calls for comment — is one of a constellation of HSUS-led claims against the egg industry that tie into California’s Proposition 2. If passed, Prop. 2 would ban the use of farm animal confinement methods that do not allow animals to stand up, lie down, turn around, and fully extend their limbs.

Facilities like Olivera, which currently keeps only one of its 12 active hen houses cage-free, would have to thin their flocks significantly, said San Joaquin County Environmental Health Department program coordinator Robert McClellon.

Swarming with seagulls and flies, Olivera’s primary manure lagoon and adjacent overflow pond has a total volume equivalent to nearly 120 Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to company records filed with local environmental regulators. Despite its close proximity to a residential street with kids, the lagoon has no solid fence around it — perhaps because the unbearable stench acts as its own repellent.

Thirty-year resident Larry Yepez, 60, a retired firefighter and plaintiff in the case against Olivera, has passed by the lagoon on his jogging route for many years.

"I used to carry a towel around my face to keep the smell out of my nostrils," Yepez told the Guardian. "There were times when there must have been massive kill-offs because there were carcasses of dead chickens everywhere. It got to a point where I said, ‘I don’t think this is very healthy,’ so I started running away from that area."

Ten-year resident and plaintiff Gloria Avila, 60, often works outside growing produce for farmers markets in San Francisco. On some days, the ammonia is so strong she can barely open her eyes and has trouble breathing.

"It’s very, very bad," she repeats, grimacing, an open palm pressed against her chest.

She is not alone; the plaintiffs allege that their numerous health conditions — upper-respiratory problems, nausea, chest pains, as well as sinus, throat, and eye irritations — could be the result of ammonia exposure.

Nearby, a box of a dark purple fruit sitting on Avila’s porch crawls with a thick blanket of flies — another major issue for Olivera’s neighbors, who say the flies bite.

"We are told that because we live in an agricultural farm community, we have to accept it," Larry Yepez said.

Some local residents feel the odor comes with the territory.

"The egg farm has been there a long time," said Jerry West, a 15-year resident. "If you move out here, you should expect it."

Olivera has contributed $12,000 to support the No on 2 campaign, Californians for Safe Food, which is primarily funded by The United Egg Producers, a trade association of 250-plus of the country’s big egg producers — Olivera among them. The campaign argues that Prop. 2 poses a threat to public health by making eggs less safe, but it declined comment on the lawsuit against Olivera.

"Prop. 2 opponents have as little concern for the neighbors whose lives they are destroying with their pollution as they do for human health and animal welfare," Yes on Prop. 2 campaign manager Jennifer Fearing responds. She describes their claims about food safety as "scare tactics" and "the height of hypocrisy."

Comments, ideas, and submissions for Green City, the Guardian’s weekly environmental column, can be sent to news@sfbg.com.

Greener than thou


> news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Mayor Gavin Newsom has made a high profile push for several new green initiatives in recent weeks, a concerted political move that comes just as he and his political team are aggressively working to subvert a city ballot measure that would make far bigger gains in combating climate change and greening the city’s energy portfolio than anything he’s proposing.

"San Franciscans should be ashamed that they have a mayor who is greenwashing and gay-washing his way to the governor’s mansion," Julian Davis, campaign manager for Proposition H, the Clean Energy Act, told the Guardian.

Newsom opposes Proposition H, which would direct the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to figure out how to provide clean and renewable energy to the city, and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has hired Newsom’s chief political strategist, Eric Jaye, to lead the multimillion dollar campaign to defeat the measure.

Davis said the steady stream of green initiatives from the Mayor’s Office are simply a means to make up for the mayor’s severe deficiency in environmental credibility. "You can’t call yourself a green mayor when here is a genuine green measure and you’re against it," Davis said.

The array of press releases issued from the mayor’s office include a partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative to transform the Civic Center into a green model of sustainability by reducing water and energy use, and installing solar panels as well as living roofs.

Further green city visions include installing solar paneling on 1,500 commercial buildings within one year, and giving building owners rebates of as much as $10,000 as part of the solar rebate program launched in July.

But some supervisors take issue with the direction of the program, which they say would only make solar installation companies become rich people overnight. "There are a lot of flaws in that thing," said Sup. Jake McGoldrick. "It should’ve been steered toward low-income folks, nonprofits, schools — stuff like that."

Sup. Gerardo Sandoval said the mayor’s program would lead to an unequal distribution of wealth with an already small pool of resources — something he is trying to combat with a loan program that would offset the cost of solar installation for residences. "If we don’t help residences, families will be left to their own devices," he said.

Moreover, the mayor has set aside $1 million for the Environmental Service Learning Initiative (ESLI), which would integrate environmental community service into K-12 schools, and hired a Director of Sustainability, with $150,000 salary, to develop curriculum and help the district become more energy efficient and environmentally conscious. And last week the Mayor’s Office promoted rainwater harvesting for the purposes of outdoor irrigation and indoor toilet use, and sent out press releases touting the SFPUC’s Big Blue Bucket eco-fair held Oct. 11 to educate people about this concept.

Brad Johnson, legislative coordinator at the Sierra Club, called on Newsom to do more than use green events for media opportunities, stating that the mayor’s initiatives are "not a truly visionary policy, like Prop. H is a visionary and sweeping policy."

When the Mayor’s Office was contacted about the statements made by the supervisors and the Sierra Club as well as the contradiction in policies, Nathan Ballard, Newsom’s director of communication, replied tersely: "They’re not experts." Attempts to elicit further clarification yielded no reply from Ballard.

But Jared Blumenfeld, director of the San Francisco Environment Department, and interim director of the Recreation and Park Department, provided broader insight to the mayor’s environmental politics, insisting that the green calendar of events is nothing out of the ordinary.

"Every week we do a great number of events around the environment. The pace has been pretty unrelenting for the past year," Blumenfeld told us.

But experienced environmental leaders remain suspicious of the timing and correlation of the mayor’s green photo and media opportunities while he wages an aggressive war against Prop. H.

"I think they’re related, and he’s trying to cover his bases should Prop. H win and he finds himself on the losing side of a major initiative," said John Rizzo, a board member of the Sierra Club.

Connecting the drops


› sarah@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY A controversial proposal to take more water from the Sierra for urban and agricultural uses — and away from environmental and wildlife habitat needs — could be delayed for at least a decade under a proposal now under consideration in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has toyed with these questions in recent years, confronting the reality that its aging water supply system is at risk seismically and predictions that the region faces a shortfall of 30 million gallons per day by 2030.

To address these concerns, SFPUC produced a Water System Improvement Plan in 2002. WSIP included plans to retrofit and rebuild key dams and pipelines. But the $4.4 billion proposal ran into opposition when environmental advocates learned it also contained an option to increase diversions from the Tuolumne River by 25 million gallons per day.

Jennifer Clary, executive director of Clean Water Action, pointed out that 60 percent of the water flow in the Tuolumne River — which is blocked by two dams — has already been diverted for urban and agricultural uses and its historic salmon run has been destroyed.

Peter Drekmeier, Bay Area program director of Tuolumne River Trust, told the Guardian there’s been a 99 percent decline in the river’s salmon population. "We counted 18,000 salmon in 2000, but only 211 in 2007," he told us.

This environmental opposition appears to have led to a change in plan, at least for now.

The San Francisco Planning Department is preparing to publish its final Program Environmental Impact Report on the SFPUC’s plan and SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington announced a Sept. 30 press conference to discuss a regional water supply alternative.

The conference took place after Guardian press time, but SFPUC officials say the supply question won’t get answered until 2018, although seismic projects are getting the green light. As SFPUC director of communications Tony Winnicker explained, seismic proposals can’t start until the EIR is certified, first by the Planning Commission and then by the SFPUC.

"So it made sense to pursue an alternative that allowed those projects to move forward, while giving the agency another decade to answer the supply question," Winnicker said.

"Rather than holding up the ticking time bomb of seismic upgrades, this allows us to certify the EIR and adopt an alternative that takes no more water until 2018."

He said water demand in San Francisco is predicted to decrease, but will be offset by projected growth in the South and East Bay during that time. Winnicker said he hopes the SFPUC can meet that projected demand through increased groundwater conservation, recycling, and desalination.

"But we can’t point to projects on the ground yet," he said. "So what we’re saying is, ‘OK, we’re not going to take anything out of river now and we’ll wait a decade to figure it out — by which time we’ll have better technology, information, and analysis, plus a better understanding of climate change.’<0x2009>"

Drekmeier says the SFPUC’s recommendation is not his first choice. "We believe more water needs to be released to restore the chinook salmon, as well as the steelhead trout, and we’re going to be lobbying [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] for less diversions," Drekmeier said. "But in the spirit of compromise, this gives us more time to do a more detailed estimate of demand projections and the potential for water recycling and allows for the completion of biological studies of the needs of the Tuolumne."

Meanwhile, Clary said the SFPUC recommendation represents progress. "Nobody really knows how much water we need to put into the Tuolumne River," Clary said. "I think ultimately more water will have to go to the environment. But we should strive to get the information we need to be good stewards. This gives us time to prove that the SFPUC doesn’t need more water, and to work with the water agencies and retail customers."

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on the EIR certification Oct. 30 — the same day the SFPUC chooses a WSIP option. As Drekmeier puts it, "Oct. 30 will be the moment of truth."

From parking to parks


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY It’s a typical San Francisco love affair: boy meets boy, they fall in love, and 18 years later, they get married. But not in City Hall, and not in a crowded banquet room with a dance floor and a DJ. Instead they wed in a 9-by-18-foot parking space in front of their home in the Lower Haight. No, they’re not crazy. Just crazy in love — with each other, and with PARK(ing) Day. On Friday, Sept. 19, Jay Bolcik and Michael Borden made both love affairs official.

(PARK)ing Day, a San Francisco–born event now spreading around the world, takes place every September when people transform metered parking spaces into public parks — or in Bolcik and Borden’s case, a marriage locale — for the day, or at least until the meters expire. The point? Event organizers say that more than 70 percent of San Francisco’s downtown area is designated for private parking, and 24,000 metered spaces exist throughout the city. It’s about time we reclaim the streets for the public, clearing more space where folks can gather to chat, make friends, and celebrate community parks. At least this was the thinking behind PARK(ing) Day when Bay Area–based art collective REBAR developed the idea in 2005.

"It was motivated by the spirit of generosity and public service," says director Blaine Merker, thinking back to when the group’s artists stumbled upon a sunny spot that was perfect for a park, but dedicated for a vehicle, in November 2005. They plunked their change into its meter and built a grassy hangout, and as a result expanded the public realm for a whole two hours. "We provided an additional 24,000 square-foot-minutes of public open space that Wednesday afternoon."

The effect was outstanding, and the word about PARK(ing) Day spread to metropolitan areas across the globe. This year thousands of mini-grasslands and lounging areas proliferated in 600 vehicle-inhabited regions worldwide, including first-time participant the Dominican Republic.

San Francisco’s metered spaces were filled with everything from a lemonade stand to a quaint outdoor living room setup, complete with a Scrabble board, a coffee table covered with magazines, and even a dog. "The meter man didn’t know what was going on," says PARK(ing) Day buff Ariane Burwell. She spent the day on a 12-foot hunk of grass she’d purchased at Home Depot and stuffed into a Toyota Camry that morning before settling in Chinatown. Kid-size plastic chairs with the words "have a seat" on them lined her turf. Aware of the going rate for this precious real estate (25¢ for six minutes), some strangers dropped their extra coins into her meter as they passed. One Good Samaritan even went to the bank and brought back an entire roll of quarters.

Since 2005, San Franciscans have honored this unique holiday not only by creating mini–public parks but also by raising awareness about certain societal issues. In 2007, CC Puede, a grassroots coalition dedicated to making Cesar Chavez Street safe, used its PARK(ing) spaces on the corner of Cesar Chavez and Valencia streets to provide free food and health exams.

And this year, in light of the upcoming election, some activists even used their spots as political venues. Bolcik and Borden chose to marry in their PARK(ing) space because — in addition to the fact that City Hall was booked — they think it’s part of a societal evolution that includes acceptance for same-sex marriage, which they hope California voters will affirm in November. Two No on Proposition 8 campaigners stood front and center at the ceremony, and many curious bystanders and media professionals were gathered along the sidewalk, which proved REBAR’s point: (PARK)ing Day has become about more than making an individual statement. It’s about promoting change.

After the ceremony, the two bald, salt-and-pepper-bearded men stood arm in arm in their wedding space and discussed what PARK(ing) Day means to them. Borden’s eyes were glassy with tears. "It’s a great way to bring people together," he said. Later he turned to his new husband and added, "I’m honored to stand here at home, in a city that I love, with my partner of 18 years."

Victorian sensibilities


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY It’s hard to argue with Craig Nikitas when he says, "The greenest building is the one that exists now."

As a senior planner with the San Francisco Planning Department, Nikitas knows that a ton of energy is wasted tearing down the old and erecting the new. Energy embedded in the original materials and construction — which often last a century or longer — is also destroyed. And it all ends up in the dump, replaced by new products that might, if you’re lucky, hold up for a fraction of the lifetime of the old components.

Michael Tornabene is a designer at Page and Turnbull, Inc., a Nob Hill District architecture firm specializing in preserving historic buildings, notably the asbestos-laden Old Mint and the Ferry Building. He said the Bay Area is distinguished by its thousands of gorgeous Victorian, Edwardian, and Craftsman homes, as well as its green sentiment. Restoring old buildings can be tricky because their features aren’t standardized. Even so, their age can also be their best virtue.

"What’s great about sustainable upgrades to an historic home is most of the historic homes we’re dealing with were constructed before a mechanically integrated system was developed," Tornabene said, noting most pre-1950s structures already had nice green features such as passive solar orientation, designed into them rather than being built around unsustainable elements — think air conditioning — that are harder to green.

Where to start? First, pick off what Tom Dufurrena, a principal at Page and Turnbull, calls "all the low-hanging fruit — the easy things that have the least cost and the most benefit." Weather-stripping the doors and those rattling old windows, insuutf8g the attic (40 percent of heat is lost through the roof, he said), and replacing old, inefficient appliances with Energy Star models are the three simplest and best historic home improvements. All are noninvasive and energy conscious, and they don’t require a permit from the city.

Such suggestions were just the beginning of measures photographer Peter Bruce took to make his family’s 117-year-old Upper Haight Victorian more efficient and comfortable. Over a five year period, they knocked their monthly electric bill from $250 to $160 by replacing their refrigerator, installing a dishwasher that recycles heated water, and putting in nearly 100 percent efficient hot water heaters.

But Bruce didn’t ignore the low-tech, remembering to string a clothesline and using curtains as more than mere decoration. "Dark, heavy curtains make a world of difference," he said, explaining that they hung these over north- and east-facing windows to keep the rooms toasty. He put sheer, light-colored curtains over west windows to allow in afternoon warmth.

Curtains or no, windows are the controversial linchpin in any discussion of building preservation and sustainability. "There’s almost the knee-jerk reaction from a sustainability point of view to replace your windows with double-paned windows," Dufurrena said. "On an historic building, if the windows are a historic feature — which they almost inevitably will be — then there’s an issue right there with compromising the integrity of the building."

Old window frames are made from higher-quality materials — in San Franciscan Victorians this often means rare first-growth redwood — than most modern energy-efficient alternatives. The National Trust for Historic Preservation cites studies showing it could take a century or longer for a replacement window, typically made of toxic vinyl, energy-intensive aluminum, or a wood composite, to pay for itself in energy savings.

"The worst thing you can do is take out old wood windows and throw them away and replace them with vinyl," Nikitas said.

He said that when Sup. Aaron Peskin was working on the Green Building Ordinance last year, the big question was how to create incentives encouraging people to reuse historic buildings. They devised a system awarding points toward their mandated green building requirement for retaining historic features, and keeping the windows represents a big chunk of the points.

"It’s about the truth of the building and the preservation ethos," said Cara Bertron, Page and Turnbull’s cultural resources specialist. "Those are really hard things to articulate to people who may see the energy savings as worth it."

For more information, including details on upcoming events on greening historic homes, visit www.aiasf.org and www.builditgreen.org.

The buzz on urban bees


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY One would hardly even notice there was a beehive in the garden behind the Mission District’s Kaliflower Collective, except for the winged traffic shuttling industriously between the four-tiered bee box and the fruit trees flowering just overhead.

It’s not easy to imagine, given the scant handful of visible bees, that as many as 50,000 bees might be contained within the modest hive which, at less than two feet square and about three feet tall, looks as innocuous and unthreatening as a stack of closet organizers. It’s also hard, in this tranquil setting, to fully appreciate the crisis situation of colony collapse disorder (CCD), which has been quietly decimating honeybee populations nationwide since 2006. Some beekeepers report up to 90 percent losses. Since bees are responsible for pollinating a wide variety of urban plants — from fruit trees to garden veggies, from clover to cactus — beekeeping is more than a curious hobby. It’s an essential link in the chain of life as we know it.

The even-keeled behavior of San Francisco’s backyard bees is appreciated by most urban beekeepers. Roger Meier, a Castro District-based beekeeper whose home-produced honey appears in several local markets under the label Mint Hill, admits that despite their proven usefulness in city settings, the idea of kept bees can cause some consternation among the uninitiated. Swarming bees in search of a new hive (such as a recent incident in the Mission reported on SFist.com) is cited as a cause for alarm by nervous neighbors.

"It’s pretty frightening to wake up and find a big swarm of bees in your backyard if you don’t know much about them," Meier says. His neighbors have come to appreciate his honey-making habit over the years, not to mention their own well-pollinated apple trees, which he calls "happy with fruit." That Meier, like most experienced beekeepers, actively maintains his hives to prevent swarming also helps keep potential public relations problems in check.

Since swarms mainly occur when a hive gets overcrowded, Meier and his fellow apiculturists monitor the population growth of each hive and split their broods into empty bee boxes when necessary — a process known as "forced swarming." Despite these precautions, swarms can occur, but people are urged not to panic or reach for the Raid. Instead, the San Francisco Beekeepers Association offers removal referrals on its Web site, www.sfbee.org, and many urban beekeepers are happy to inherit a new brood.

Peter Sinton, president of the association, estimates there to be around 60 active beekeepers in a club with a membership of 171, a number that seems initially low until you consider that most beekeepers run multiple hives. Kept bees can be found across the area in backyards, rooftops, community gardens, the Alemany Farm, and the Crystal Springs watershed. Spreading the bee population over far-flung neighborhoods is one way to ensure the continued survival of diverse flora and means that even if the beekeeper loses one or two hives to infestation, infection, or CCD, there will be some survivors.

It’s not just a passion for pollination that brings nascent beekeepers into the fold. Nancy Ellis, animal exhibit coordinator at the Randall Museum, began her journey into apiculture when she became responsible for the upkeep of the museum’s exhibit hive. Nearly nine years later, she cares for four hives in various locations and bottles her honey harvests under the label Bee Bop. She waxes somewhat rhapsodic on the unique benefits of honey: "It’s bactericidal, like Neosporin," she explains, "and its chemical makeup keeps it from spoiling or getting moldy." Another unique benefit of honey is its reported effect on sufferers of pollen allergies, whom Ellis encourages to take a small dose of locally-produced honey per day to "inoculate" themselves against the allergens present in surrounding flora.

But it’s not just the medicinal that lures folks into apiculture. Suzi Palladino, youth program and compost education manager at the Garden for the Environment, cites her interest in urban sustainability and self-sufficiency as key to her forays into apiculture. Peter Sinton refers to the meditative state his beekeeping encourages.

"Handling bees is like tai chi," he says. "Do it with calm and grace, and bees usually do not get riled up."

Unaffordable nation


› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Bay Area author Michael Pollan opened the first event of Slow Food Nation by pointing out that food prices have risen more than 80 percent in the past three years. "Food has emerged as one of the most important issues," Pollan said from the stage of the Herbst Theatre, where he was discussing "The World Food Crisis" with Indian author and activist Vandana Shiva, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini, and authors Raj Patel and Corby Kummer in front of a sold-out crowd.

"Prices are going up, but wages aren’t," Patel said to Pollan, and the real crisis is in that gap between what people make and what people spend on food — and that includes the people who grow our food.

"The World Food Crisis" was one of several panels held during the three-day Slow Food Nation, the first major event staged in the United States for what has become an international movement focused on the pleasures and politics of eating. San Francisco, a city with a food consciousness that chimes with many tenets of the slow-food movement — and one with a proximity to fertile regions that provide a wide range of local food — seems the perfect host. An oft-repeated phrase at Slow Food events throughout the weekend was that eating healthy is a right, not a privilege.

But how can that sentiment be translated into sustenance? Can the people who grow our food even make a decent living? And how does an event where tickets went for as much as $159 focus on the needs of people who struggle just to get adequate nutrition?

This much is sure: prices may be up, but small farmers aren’t getting rich. "It’s very difficult for many of our farmers," Aliza Wasserman of Community Alliance with Family Farmers told the Guardian.

Jeff Larkey runs Route One Farm in Santa Cruz. He’s been farming for 27 years and rents 65 acres for about $45,000 per year because it’s too expensive to buy the land. In the past he’s worked up to 150 acres, but now, he said, "Going forward is a big question in my mind because the costs of doing business have skyrocketed so much."

Larkey has many long-term workers making wages that vary based on experience, with the bottom rung starting at or slightly above minimum wage. "I’d love to pay them all $20 an hour because that’s what the work is really worth," he said.

A way to solve the problem might be for growers to raise their prices — but many already consider organic, sustainably-grown food as fuel fit only for the well-heeled.

"To eat organic, healthy, local food generally costs more," Pollan admitted in a later talk. "The whole system is canted to support fast food. That’s what we subsidize."

He pointed out that Americans spend only 9.5 percent of their income on food — an all-time and international low — and people need to become more comfortable with paying more so growers and processors can earn fair wages. "We all need to spend some amount more on food."

That’s tough for people who can barely afford food now.

Anya Fernald, director of Slow Food Nation, said the group constantly struggles with the financial issue. Fernald also said proceeds from ticket sales will be used to seed future events and the next course of action, which will be determined by the farmers, food artisans, and nonprofits that participated.

When asked how they intended to get their message out to people who might have been priced out of attending the event, she said the group chose the Civic Center as a way to reach a broad audience. She pointed out that 60 percent of the events were free.

Pollan also said that policy needs to change to make food more accessible, and that’s what the Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture seems to speak to. The document was unveiled in the rotunda of City Hall on the eve of Slow Food Nation and outlines 12 principles that "should frame food and agriculture policy." Included are statements that affordable, nutritious food should be accessible to everyone and it shouldn’t mean exploiting farmers, workers, or natural resources to get it. Roots of Change, which coordinated drafting the declaration, is hoping for 1 million signatures by fall 2009, when they take it to policymakers in Washington, DC.

Reclaiming San Francisco — from cars


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY On Sunday, Aug. 31, the Mayor’s Office and several community groups join forces to bring San Francisco into an international movement to increase physical activity, break down invisible borders, and make scenic space available to all during the city’s first ciclovia.

More than 4.5 miles of streets will be closed to cars that day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for Sunday Streets, the first of two ciclovias scheduled this summer. The idea of the ciclovia — which is Spanish for "cycle way" or "bike path" — was conceived in Bogotá, Colombia, during the mid-1990s and has since spread throughout the world.

The concept is to take existing roads — the province of cars — and turn them into temporary paths for walking, jogging, cycling, and other physical activity.

"I think it really helps us re-imagine our city streets as places of safe, non-auto physical activity," said Wade Crowfoot, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s director of global climate change. "From an environmental perspective, it’s time we re-imagine our space and our streets, and to make streets accessible to everyone."

The route extends from Bayview Opera House, up Illinois Street to the Embarcadero, along the waterfront, and across Washington Street into Chinatown. Five activity pods will feature dance classes, yoga, hopscotch, jump rope, and more, and participants are encouraged to explore as much of the route as they can. The Giants’ stadium will be open to pedestrians and bikers who want to run the bases, and event facilitators say they hope this 4.5-mile stretch will grow into something bigger.

"We hope this is just the beginning, and that it succeeds all over the city," said Andy Thornley, program director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

The man largely credited with starting the ciclovia is Gil Penalosa, who implemented the idea as Bogotá’s commissioner of parks and recreation in 1995. Penalosa now runs a nonprofit called Walk and Bike for Life that promotes the ciclovia and other forms of active living.

San Francisco’s event is modest: Bogotá closes off more than 80 miles of looping streets every Sunday and on holidays. More than 1.5 million people turn out each week, according to the Walk and Bike for Life Web site. Ottawa closes more than 30 miles of space on Sundays from May to September, and events have taken place all over Europe in addition to the American continents.

The ciclovia is also part of the car-free movement, an international effort to promote alternatives to car dependence and automobile-based planning.

Besides saving energy and promoting fitness, event planners at ciclovias in Bogotá noticed the events were causing a cultural shift. The Christian Science Monitor reported in an Aug. 18 article that residents from different neighborhoods began interacting as never before. Indian residents of poorer neighborhoods used to halt at the imaginary dividing lines of the more affluent European neighborhoods, and vice versa, but now people mingle freely.

San Francisco organizers hope to use Sunday Streets to create a similar effect here.

"We deliberately chose the route that connects the Bayview to Chinatown, two communities that are historically disconnected," said Susan King, the event’s organizer. "We want people to go to Hunters Point and Chinatown and see what’s out there, with the hope that people will see things they want to come back to."

King also noted that these two neighborhoods lack adequate open space. "We want people in those communities to experience what people who live adjacent to Golden Gate Park and the Presidio get to experience on a regular basis — an opportunity to exercise and not worry about getting hit by cars," King said.

Another international trend that Sunday Streets continues is the reclaiming of waterfront space. Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, said he recently visited Vancouver and experienced its 28 miles of bicycle and pedestrian paths along the water. Paris also has a ciclovia every summer that closes a major expressway and creates a beachfront and promenade along the Seine.

"[The Embarcadero] — that big, dangerous roadway — cuts the city off from the waterfront," Radulovich said. "We want to think about the possibility of reclaiming the water space more successfully for San Franciscans."

One of the few voices of opposition to Sunday Streets came from a group of Pier 39 merchants who worried about the economic impact.

The Board of Supervisors voted Aug. 5 not to delay the event until an economic impact report had been released, but Crowfoot said traffic impact analyses will be done this weekend so that there will be better understanding of the impact of any future events. But many ciclovias have actually increased business because people are more prone to stop and look in stores when they walk by instead of just driving past them.