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Green City

Feed our elders well


› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Conventional wisdom is that it costs more to eat well, but Alameda County Meals on Wheels has found real value in switching from processed foods to the kind of fresh, local, sustainable fare being touted at the upcoming Slow Food Nation conference, which begins Aug. 29 in San Francisco.

Bay Area Community Services (BACS), the nonprofit that manages Meals on Wheels, has been struggling with a perennial budget deficit, rising fuel and food costs, and a waiting list of 200 seniors eager to join the program.

Even though the easy, heat-and-serve method is the national model for feeding large amounts of people cheaply, BACS was finding that trying to supply 1,200 people a day with meals in their homes and at 21 different congregate sites through a contract with a food processing company just wasn’t working.

"Our solution to the problem was a social enterprise kitchen," Jenny Huston told the Guardian. The 20-year veteran chef and educator is director of Culinary Social Enterprise at BACS. She and her boss, executive director Kent Ellsworth, took the program in a new direction. They went "farm to table," meaning they stopped serving frozen food and started serving meals made with fresh meat, dairy, fruits, and vegetables, and they did it by establishing a culinary arts training program with a curriculum based on the day-to-day work of preparing the Meals on Wheels fare from scratch.

"If you have a structural deficit, why are you spending more money on food?" Huston pondered, asking herself the question many critics might raise. "Sure," she said, "processed stuff is much cheaper, but you’re not seeing the full cost."

What is that full cost? That’s a hot topic for the Slow Food Nation forums, such as how far an avocado travels to become guacamole in Maine. Beyond aligning meals with produce that’s locally available, Huston and Ellsworth are attuned to what happens to a community when its most vulnerable populations — children, seniors, and the disabled — stop eating well.

"Good foods are not the privilege of people who have money. It’s the right of everybody," Ellsworth told the Guardian. "When we buy wholesale, local, and fresh, we get a better product for a good price. It’s the right way to do business."

But raw ingredients require more kitchen work. By partnering with a number of organizations, including the Pleasant Valley Adult School and Oakland Adult and Career Education Program, BACS was able to find budding cooks though a free, 12-week job training program.

They also connected with Community Alliance for Family Farms, a network of local growers and distributors who could provide up to 350 pounds of each raw ingredient a day. Just a few months into the new program, a typical Meals on Wheels lunch now includes all local milk, 10 percent local meat, and 19 percent local produce — and it’s made from scratch by workers who are learning enough food preparation skills to qualify for entry-level kitchen jobs.

And they’re doing it for just pennies more a day. "Our food cost has only gone up five cents per meal since we’ve gone farm to table," Huston said. Yet donations since April have increased 25 percent — about $20,000 — meaning that people who were once asked to give a dollar or two for their lunches are voluntarily giving more for better food.

Though the Meals on Wheels budget gap hasn’t disappeared, Huston likens it to the first few months of any business, when turning a profit is elusive. They’re hoping to expand catering services and market the meals to other day and residential programs.

At the Aug. 14 graduation dinner, Ellsworth announced that a foundation had approved a $200,000 program investment loan to purchase new equipment, remodel their kitchen, and grow the school. It was welcome news for the first class of five cooks. Reflecting on the experience, Geri Haas said, "It was really nice going there, knowing I was relied upon to provide fresh food for our elders."

Orlando De’Aguero, another graduate, announced that he got a job with a local organic food preparation company, eliciting cheers from the gathering of friends, family, and fellow classmates. He said, "I wouldn’t have traded the three months I had here for anything at a culinary school."

Sun protection failures


› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Have you ever spent a day at the beach, dutifully slathering yourself with sunscreen — only to return home with the unmistakable prickle of a sunburn?

It’s probably because your sunscreen isn’t doing what it claims, according to a recent analysis conducted by the Washington, DC–based Environmental Working Group. The nonpartisan, nonprofit group known for watchdogging consumer products studied 952 sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher and discovered that 80 percent contain harmful chemicals and didn’t really protect skin from the most damaging rays of the sun.

And, the report charged, the three top selling sunscreen companies — Coppertone, Banana Boat, and Neutrogena — produce some of the most toxic and useless products. Even ones you might find on the shelves of your health food store, like Alba organic lavender sunscreen, contain oxybenzone, which allegedly disrupts hormones.

Although there is no definitive science on the effects of oxybenzone, studies have shown that "mothers with high levels of oxybenzone in their systems were more likely to have low birth weight baby girls," said Rebecca Sutton, a staff scientist with a PhD in environmental chemistry who works for the Oakland office of EWG.

Julie Lux, a spokesperson for Coppertone, said the company’s products are reviewed by independent scientists and dermatologists and said she’s "concerned that reports like the one released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) will inappropriately discourage consumers from protecting themselves from the sun."

Ariel Kern, a spokesperson for Sun Pharmaceuticals, said the company "stands behind the safety and efficacy of Banana Boat products" and Iris Grossman, a spokesperson for Neutrogena, said that company’s products have been patented and tested.

A sunscreen’s SPF indicates protection from the short-wave UVB rays that cause sunburn, but it’s the long-wave ultraviolet radiation (UVA) that is more directly linked to cancer. Even so, protecting against UVA radiation isn’t currently required. Furthermore, nearly 50 percent of the products tested by EWG deteriorated in the sun, "raising questions about whether these products last as long as the label says," read the report.

The Food and Drug Administration has the authority to regulate sunscreens, but the agency’s standards have been a 30-year work in progress and are relatively limited. Despite a congressional mandate to update the regs by May 2006, the FDA is just now entering the latter stages of its rulemaking, spokesperson Rita Chappelle told us.

Currently the agency is proposing more thorough labeling protocols, including a new four-star system for UVA protection. Additionally, sunscreens manufacturers will not be allowed to say that their products are waterproof, and the upper threshold of SPF will rise from 30 to 50+.

In an attempt to light a fire under the FDA, Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) have introduced the Sunscreen Labeling Protection Act of 2008, which would require finalized sunscreen safety standards within 180 days.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal released a statement supporting the legislation. "The FDA has failed to implement proposed sunscreen labeling rules that would bar false claims about all-day protection, waterproof, broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection, and SPF over 50," he wrote.

Claims on the label are also a factor in the potential danger of sunscreens. "With claims like ‘all day protection’ people don’t reapply," Sutton said.

Though EWG’s analysis (which can be found at www.cosmeticdatabase.com was criticized as "junk science" by one doctor cited in a New York Times report, the group stands by its work. "We use industry standard methods, so it’s hard for criticism to stand," Sutton said.

EWG’s ratings were based on three factors: UVB protection, which SPF indicates; UVA protection, which blocks the more harmful rays; and overall stability of the ingredients. The group recommends that sunbathers search for products with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are less readily absorbed by the skin and provide more of a physical barrier between users and the sun. While these minerals may be safe on your skin, they’re not so great in your lungs. So give the spray and powder versions a pass, and beware products that have been reduced to nanoparticle size.

And, of course, spend more time in the shade.

Clean Energy Act makes ballot


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY The San Francisco Clean Energy Act isn’t the only charter amendment on the November ballot, but it’s already shaping up to be the political lightning rod of this fall’s election.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. sent out mailers opposing the measure even before the Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 on July 22 to place it on the Nov. 4 ballot. Mayor Gavin Newsom also announced his opposition to the act moments after Assemblymember Mark Leno, former San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager Susan Leal, and a cadre of progressive supervisors announced their support for it on the steps of City Hall.

Authored by Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and Aaron Peskin, the Clean Energy Act requires San Francisco to fulfill 51 percent of its electricity needs through renewable sources by 2017. That requirement rises to 75 percent by 2030, and to 100 percent, “or the greatest amount technologically feasible or practicable,” by 2040.

The SF Clean Energy Act also mandates that a feasibility study be undertaken to look at the best way to provide clean, green energy, which could lead to PG&E losing its stranglehold on energy if the study finds public power to be the best option.

Explaining the importance of mandating a feasibility study, Mirkarimi said, “Otherwise PG&E has a monopoly here until the planet dies.”

Supporters say it is important for San Francisco to set up a model that others can follow. “As goes San Francisco, so goes the state of California, and so goes the nation,” Peskin said at the July 22 rally, just before the Board voted to place the act on the ballot. “This is a time when people can change the destiny of the planet.”

Moments after that rally ended, Mayor Newsom took a minute to explain his opposition.

“We have other things we should be focusing on,” Newsom told reporters at a press conference at the War Memorial Building to announce housing bonds for veterans. “Let’s call it what it is. It’s a power takeover of PG&E,” he said.

But the elected officials and myriad organizations who showed up at City Hall to support the Clean Energy Act say that public vs. private power is not the main issue.

“The public power considerations have been drafted in a thoughtful and reasonable way,” Leno told the crowd. “It would involve study after study after study, and testimony from experts.”

Leno noted that 42 million Americans have public power, and if San Francisco did turn to public power, it would be embracing something as American as mom and apple pie. “Unlike their private power company counterparts, public power systems serve only one constituency: their customers,” Leno said.

Sup. Gerardo Sandoval opined that government is better able to assume renewable energy risks. “The private industry is not going to take that risk,” Sandoval said. “It’s always going to take the cheap way out, which is fossil fuels.

Others warned the audience not to be swayed by PG&E’s anti–Clean Energy campaign, which Newsom’s chief political consultant Eric Jaye is working on.

“This is not some crazy takeover scheme,” Leal said. “It’s about protecting the environment and the rights of San Franciscans and their rate payers.”

The Clean Energy Act has been endorsed by the Sierra Club, San Francisco Tomorrow, ACORN, the San Francisco Green Party, the League of Young Voters, Green Action for Health and Environmental Justice, the San Francisco Green Party, and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Mark Sanchez, president of the San Francisco Board of Education and a supervisorial candidate in District 9, described showing “An Inconvenient Truth” to the eighth-grade science class he teaches. “What can I say to my kids — we don’t have the policies in place to mitigate the damage they see?”

The Sierra Club’s John Rizzo noted, “This act insures that San Francisco is at the center of this economy. Not in Japan, China, or Germany. It will be here.”

Aliza Wasserman of the League of Young Voters stated that “PG&E is not investing $1 in renewable energy beyond state mandates, and they lobby against measures to raise those mandates.”

Opening the corridor


› news@sfbg.com

San Francisco is a dangerous town for butterflies. Xerces blue, a species that once thrived in the city’s dunes, suffered a catastrophic demise in 1941, the first butterfly extinction in the United States caused by urban development.

In the years since, local butterflies haven’t fared much better. According to lepidopterist Liam O’Brien, 24 of 58 local species have been wiped out in regional extinctions caused mainly by habitat destruction. Another three or four, he said, will likely be gone within the next five years.

The green hairstreak is one of these on-the-brink butterflies. Boasting brilliantly verdant wings, the nickel-sized hairstreak lives only in the Inner Sunset’s Golden Gate Heights neighborhood and at Battery Crosby in the Presidio. Survival of the species depends on linking two populations on Rocky Outcrop (14th Ave. and Noriega) and Hawk Hill (14th Ave. and Rivera).

Separated by just five blocks — less than a mile but enough concrete to be the edge of the earth for smaller butterflies — the two hilltop populations are islands whose fluttery inhabitants have become genetically threatened by full sibling inbreeding.

Female hairstreaks rely on one of two native plants, coast buckwheat and deer weed — both of which once grew abundantly on natural dunes — as sites for their eggs. As O’Brien told the Guardian, "The females disperse, and they just disperse into oblivion if they don’t have the host plant to keep it going."

The Green Hairstreak Project is O’Brien’s plan to build a botanical bridge. "We could keep this butterfly alive in the city if we just totally bombard that area with these two plants," he said, adding that starters are being grown in preparation for October planting.

The project is a program of Nature in the City, an organization devoted to the ecological stewardship of San Francisco. Founding Director Peter Brastow said the city is full of "reservoirs of indigenous biodiversity," and believes that the whole urban landscape is a potential habitat. "The other piece of the puzzle," he said, "is connecting up wildlands via corridors."

O’Brien is considering various corridor-constructing strategies, from knocking on doors and giving buckwheat and deer weed plants to residents (he’s mapped potentially usable front yards) to professional dune restoration. During this past hairstreak season, between mid-March and the end of May, he led walks to introduce future stewards to the resident butterfly.

"Literally, can we please just put this plant in your front yard? It’s not complicated," O’Brien assured would-be-hosts, adding that he would like San Francisco to be celebrated for what it saved, not just for a species it destroyed. "Here’s a butterfly that flew at the same time Xerces did. Are we going to step up and do something?"

O’Brien’s hairstreak haven is not the only corridor being mapped out. A few neighborhoods east, artist Amber Hasselbring is building a series of native plant plots that zigzag along Mission District sidewalks. "Think about looking down from Dolores Park," she said, "and seeing this whole thing just unfolding in front of you so the park does not have a border anymore, [but] just flows into the next one."

At Mission Playground on 19th Street and Linda, Hasselbring explained her Mission Greenbelt Project, also a Nature in the City program. From her initial, mammoth vision to "daylight" the buried Mission Creek, she wondered instead about connecting the spaces, and people, that are already part of the community. "The Mission is such an incredible hotspot for culture," she said, "and then we have all these natural areas."

The urban wildlife corridor would meander from Dolores Park to Franklin Square at 17th Street and Bryant, a route based on both existing garden-able spaces — among them Alioto Mini Park (16th Street and Capp) and John O’Connell High School (18th Street and Harrison) — and potentially receptive businesses, such as Project Artaud Theater and KQED’s studios.

Hasselbring is eager to remove sections of unused sidewalk and transform them into sidewalk gardens. Mohammed Nuru, deputy director of operations for the Department of Public Works, told us that the city tries to make the permitting process as simple as possible to encourage citizen-built "green highways." He said it generally takes about six weeks, depending on the area’s status and the planting plan. In the two years it’s been available, more than 200 people have applied.

"We strongly support the greening of the city and the removal of asphalt," he said. "The city has a lot of vacant lots that at one time were planned to be streets, but because the city is so hilly, they never happened. Those are huge opportunities also for becoming green spaces."

In May, Hasselbring and 50 volunteers, organized by the Recreation and Park Department, established 200 individual plants in the three-foot-wide border around Mission Playground. Now, a habitat garden of 13 different species thrives where previously only Rugosa roses and ficus trees grew.

Dylan Hayes, a landscape ecologist and neighbor of this first site, selected the native plants for their ability to foster local fauna: creeping manzanita for wintering hummingbirds, pink flowering current for berry-loving thrushes, sticky monkey flower for bumblebees, and so on.

"It’s like the Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come," Hayes said, mantra-like. "People are battling about what it means to be a ‘green city.’ But if you want a green city, you need to simply invite nature in."

Red ink stains green rhetoric


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Environmentalists are pondering the state’s seemingly schizophrenic approach to fighting climate change after a recent state report encouraging increased use of mass transit came out at the same time that the governor’s budget proposal denies the state’s public transportation fund more than $1 billion.

The California Air Resource Board’s June 26 Draft Scoping Plan to combat global warming, released pursuant to Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, is at least the second major report this year to recommend expanding public transit. But the governor’s latest spending plan redirects that sizeable chunk of money — gasoline tax revenue that voters who approved Prop. 42 in 2002 directed toward transportation projects and agencies — to help reduce the state’s $17 billion budget deficit.

"There’s a lot of misallocation of resources going on," said Tom Radulovich, executive director of the San Francisco nonprofit Livable Cities. "The governor on the one hand wants to say, ‘You should all ride mass transit.’ But on the other hand, he is taking away [transit] support from the state budget."

The governor’s press secretary, Aaron McLear, said the budget proposal spares transit from cuts faced by other programs during these tough economic times.

"Funding for public transportation stays level in the governor’s budget proposal. That’s in the face of a $17 billion deficit. The fact that it remains level is better than a lot of cuts we’ve had to make," McLear said. "We wish we could increase it, because it certainly is something the governor believes in. But again, the state is facing a $17 billion shortfall. We can only spend the money that we have. There will have to be some tough decisions to be made."

The CARB plan calls for California to lead by example by encouraging state employees to take advantage of public transportation during their commutes. It notes that transportation accounts for 38 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, most of which comes from cars and trucks, and that curbing these emissions is critical to reaching California’s goal of reducing total emissions by 30 percent over the next 12 years.

"Overall I think this is headed in the right direction. For better or worse, this really does put California ahead of any other state if we fully implement this plan. Of course, having a good plan does not guarantee that it will be implemented, but this is a very serious attempt," said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, of the state’s global warming plan.

Yet he also said that reaching the plan’s ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gases means people will have to drive less and use transit more, and that local governments will need to stop approving urban sprawl projects.

"The easy answer that most Americans would rather have is to keep driving just as much as always, but have alternative fuels. And that just is not going to work. AB 32 has a major land use change component. Is it enough? No, it is not. But it is at least an acknowledgment of what we have to do," Metcalf said. "Overall I’m pretty impressed, but they’re not proposing enough land use change and they’re not proposing transit funding increases. They are still unwilling to face facts about the role of the automobile and climate change."

Yet instead of increasing funds for mass transit, the governor has redirected billions of public transportation dollars into the general fund, maintaining status quo transit funding in the face of increased gasoline prices and the new climate change mandate. At the same time, billions of dollars have been allocated to highway expansion programs, exacerbating the global warming problem.

"Anybody’s budget should be a reflection of their values, whether it’s an individual or an agency," said Carli Paine, transportation program director for the Transportation and Land Use Coalition. "The state is saying, ‘We value public transportation as a climate friendly choice.’ Yet when it comes to expressing those values in the budget, we say, ‘It doesn’t matter that much,’ so we’re actually undermining those original statements."

The governor’s revised state budget allocated $306 million to the State Transit Assistance Program, the state’s source of funding for mass transit operating costs such as maintenance, drivers, fuel, and mechanics.

This is the same amount that was allocated last year, even though transit ridership is the highest it has been in more than 50 years, according to a June report by the American Public Transportation Association. And factor in that crude oil is about $140 per barrel now compared to about $73 per barrel this time in 2007, according to the Energy Information Administration, a federal agency. "The budget is kicking transit in the teeth when it needs it [money] the most," Radulovich said.

The $306 million allocated to the State Transit Assistance Program comes from funds generated by Prop. 42, the voter-approved gasoline tax measure. But Paine said the STAP should also be entitled to what is called "spillover" money. Spillover refers to additional funds generated when the price of gas rises faster than inflation on other goods, leading to unusually high revenue from the tax.

The governor’s budget predicts $1.77 billion in spillover for the 2008–09 fiscal year, but he decided to put the money toward shrinking the deficit instead of funding public transportation. The current fiscal year was the first time since the proposition passed that the spillover did not go toward public transportation.

Radulovich said he believes the state is hesitant to fund mass transit — even though it recognizes the importance of reducing the number of cars on the road — because building more roads and freeways leads to more expansion and urban sprawl.

"Sprawl makes a lot of people a lot of money," he said, including oil companies, car companies, homebuilders, construction firms, and trucking companies. "These are political questions, not policy questions. The policy answers in many ways are very clear. The question is whether there is the political will to deal with it, and that’s what we’re going to find out."

Radulovich said this reality is why many California business groups support outward expansion and put pressure on the government to fund highways over mass transit. The Bay Area Council, for example, pushed aggressively for highway expansion during the last budget cycle.

Paine said she believes political pressure also comes from structural flaws in the state’s budget system.

"It’s the legacy of Prop. 13, which really froze the income our state received from [property] taxes," she said. "Public entities that are committed to social services, such as education, are still receiving property taxes at levels that are decades behind what they used to be." This puts a strain on the state’s general fund, and money has to be diverted from the mass transit account to relieve the burden generated by California’s low income tax levels, Paine explained.

Paine said a new budget proposal has been submitted to the California legislature that would restore hundreds of millions of dollars to the mass transit account for the 2008-09 fiscal year by generating additional revenue for the general fund. She said that since 2000, more than $3 billion of mass transit money has been redirected to the general fund, and the number will exceed $4 billion if the governor’s current proposal goes through.

"This isn’t just a problem this year — it’s a chronic problem. And public transportation is chronically being leaned on for relief," she said. "It’s just not a sustainable system."


Carli Paine of the Transportation and Land Use Coalition explained the finer points of California’s complicated system for funding — or not funding — improvements to the public transit system. Transit’s main account is called the State Transit Assistance Program. This money is flexible, but is mostly used for transit operations (maintenance, operations, fuel, mechanics, drivers, and so forth). Sometimes, though, it is used for capital projects (such as buying new tracks or replacement cars).

The STAP is the largest portion of the public transportation account, and the funding is critical. As Paine put it, "If you can’t even operate the system that you have, it doesn’t help much to have money to lay new tracks." The STAP is therefore often the focus of discussions about transit funding.

Prop. 42, which directs California’s gas tax to transportation projects, funds the STAP, although not all Prop. 42 money goes there. For example, 25 percent of Prop. 42 revenue goes to a special account for transit capital projects.

Prop. 1B is another big source of transit funding. It is the 2006 measure that allowed California to sell $19.9 billion worth of bonds to fund transportation programs. Only about $4 billion of that was allocated to public transportation, with the lion’s share of the money going toward new freeway projects.

This is where things get a little complicated.

California originally had a sales tax on all goods except gasoline. In the 1970s, voters passed Prop. 42, which decided that it would be more equitable to reduce the sales tax rate by a fraction of a percentage point, but expand the sales tax to include gasoline.

This was expected to be revenue-neutral for the state, so it wouldn’t cost people more. That was true unless gas prices rose quicker than the cost of all goods, which it eventually did.

Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan argued that it was important to return the extra revenue to public transportation because when gas prices rise, more people use public transit. As a result, this "spillover" has been set aside for transit expansion.

Last year was the first year in which the spillover was diverted to the general fund instead of being given to the STAP. It was redirected to help close the state deficit, and the 2008–09 budget proposes doing the same thing this fiscal year. (Janna Brancolini)

Man with a plan


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Environmental groups have voiced cautious optimism about the California Air Resources Board’s new draft plan for fulfilling the legislative mandate of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. It relies primarily on greater conservation and efficiency, and a push for new technology.

But skeptics await the forthcoming details behind the plan’s vague outlines and openly worry that the complex "cap and trade" system for selling the right to pollute, an approach favored by industry executives, could be counterproductive. Many experts say we need a more radical reevaluation of the current system, such as that proposed by California’s S. David Freeman in his book, Winning Our Energy Independence: An Energy Insider Shows How (Gibbs Smith, 2007).

Freeman has advised presidents and governors on energy policy, run the Tennessee Valley Authority and major municipal utility districts, and recently activated a fleet of all-electric vehicles as head of the commission overseeing the Port of Los Angeles.

His book lays out a plan to phase out Big Coal, Big Oil, and nuclear (which he dubs "the Three Poisons") over 30 years while meeting the needs of our high-energy society by implementing renewable technologies that already exist: sun, wind, and renewably generated hydrogen, supplemented by small hydroelectric, geothermal, and certain biofuels.

"[I]t is entirely practical and feasible to get all our energy from renewable resources and to do so with today’s technology," Freeman writes, contradicting energy industry spin that beginning the switch would take decades. Footnoted calculations and renewable resource maps show that renewables will cost the public less, with supply "over twice as large as what we may need," if used efficiently.

The transition he proposes could eliminate many of the physical, economic, and political risks of our current unsustainable oil addiction, but only if environmentally concerned Americans — which, he posits, are a majority — close ranks and demand a national renewable energy policy that started immediately.

Freeman’s plan also relies heavily on conservation: it recommends federal government-mandated efficiency programs for utilities, auto companies, manufacturers of energy-using equipment, and homebuilders to offset rising consumer demand. Increasing fuel mileage standards by 1 mpg per year for 24 years (to 48 mpg), for example, would push automakers to steadily improve their products.

His second step: retire aging, highly polluting coal and waste-generating nuclear plants, outlaw new ones, and phase in renewable power-generating alternatives using sun, wind, geothermal, biomass, and municipal waste (going from 9 percent renewable now to 60 percent in three decades, at five-year intervals). Forest, agricultural, and municipal waste are preferable to food-based ethanol.

Freeman encourages consumers to get vocal with manufacturers and demand flex-fuel and plug-in hybrid cars (with batteries you can recharge at home) and, ultimately, all-electric cars. Rechargeable types require less gasoline, freeing us from reliance on foreign oil, a militaristic foreign policy, and habitat destruction at home. An excess-profits tax can supply consumer and manufacturer incentives to speed production within a decade.

Because green cars mean more demand for electricity, Freeman looks beyond new thin-film solar rooftop panels, calling on the federal government to develop "Big Solar": desert installations capable of generating 500 MW of power (the largest US solar farm now generates 16). Such a facility could fuel the energy-intensive electrolysis process needed to free clean-burning hydrogen from water (to replace gasoline), which can then be piped and stored.

Sure, this kind of approach will be expensive. But it would be attainable when looked at against the high cost of oil wars and steadily rising gas prices; habitat and health benefits further tip the scales.

To supplement lulls in sun and wind, the "cleanest of the fossil fuels — natural gas plants — should be allowed to continue to generate power … to assure reliability during hours when the renewables are not available," Freeman writes.

Freeman incites a people-power surge to usher in the big transition: "A favorite trick of the energy establishment is to say our problems are so big that we have to try everything, which means drilling where oil companies want to drill, strip mining coal, and building prohibitively costly, high-risk, toxic nuclear reactors.

Freeman said we need that same strong commitment to transition away from the Three Poisons, because "coal, oil, and nuclear cause the problems while renewables are the solution."

Free solar power?


› sarah@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY San Francisco’s new solar incentive program just might make the conversion to green power almost free to city residents when combined with other state and federal programs, some of which expire at the end of this year.

This is an unlikely city for such a dynamic, as we reported a couple months ago (see "Dark days," 04/16/08), given our small lot sizes, high costs, and the fact that we have about twice as many renters as homeowners. The solar program also hit some political snags.

Promoted since December 2007 by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Assessor/Recorder Phil Ting, the Solar Energy Incentive program has been struggling to get Board of Supervisors approval since January when Sups. Chris Daly, Jake McGoldrick, Ross Mirkarimi, and Aaron Peskin objected to the use of public money to fund the program, which will subsidize solar installations on private homes and businesses.

These San Francisco Public Utilities Commission funds were intended to expand publicly owned power projects such as solar panel installation on city property. But as the SFPUC’s Barbara Hale explained to the Guardian, new laws prevent cities from qualifying for state rebates if they convert municipally owned buildings to solar, making those conversions a comparatively losing financial equation.

So on June 10, the board approved Newsom’s program in an 8-3 vote, with Mirkarimi lending his support after he secured funding for a complementary $1.5 million, one-year solar pilot program targeted at nonprofits and low-income families. The San Francisco Solar Energy Incentive program will provide $3 million in solar rebates annually for 10 years.

As Mirkarimi aide Rick Galbreath told the Guardian, "Nonprofits can’t always move as fast as the private sector, and solar advocates, who have been pushing other programs since December, have already got things in the pipeline."

Some of those other programs combine with the new city one in interesting ways. "What if solar were free? Then everyone would install it, right?" was the question posed by Tom Price, whom we profiled in January (see "Solar man," 01/02/08) for founding Black Rock Solar, which does large public interest solar projects using volunteer labor.

Now Price thinks the free solar power that he’s been able to leverage for schools and hospitals just might be available to the average San Franciscan. "This program inadvertently could make solar in San Francisco the cheapest it’s ever been," Price told us. "At least for a short window of time."

Under the city’s program, solar rebates begin at $3,000 for homeowners — and rise in $1,000 increments to a maximum of $6,000 if residents use local installers, hire city-trained workers, and live in city-designated environmental justice districts. For private businesses, the rebate cap is set at $10,000. But that amount can rise if combined with the state and federal incentives that expire at the end of the year.

"I’m one of three tenants. Each of us has an electrical meter, each of us is eligible for a $5,000 rebate under the city’s program," said Price, who rents on Potrero Hill and hopes to pull off an almost no-cost conversion with his landlord.

Price estimates the solar conversation will cost about $15,000 per tenant. So, if two conversions are done (there’s only space for two conversions on most of the city’s Edwardian and Victorian homes), Price’s landlord can subtract two $5,000 cash rebates, plus the Pacific Gas and Electric Co.–administered California solar incentive, plus a $2,000 federal tax credit.

Price said landlords can also take advantage of a 30 percent investment tax credit on top of a 60 percent tax deduction that Dave Llorens of Next Energy found buried deep within the economic stimulus package signed by President George W. Bush earlier this year. Landlords can then arrange to sell cheap, renewable power to their tenants.

"What if I sign an agreement with my landlord to pay $50 per month for the right to have access to his solar system?" Price said. "So now the money that would have been going to PG&E goes to the landlord."

And it’s clean, free power, rather than PG&E’s expensive power generated largely from nuclear and fossil fuel sources.

"This makes San Francisco the first place a tenant and a landlord can really work together to make solar power affordable," Price said. "And that in turn will help drive adoption of renewable energy."

Environmental shake up


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Nothing mobilizes community action like a natural disaster. When the big one hits San Francisco, everyone from the city’s Neighborhood Emergency Response Teams to informal groups of resourceful and community-minded individuals will fly into action to tend the wounded, free the trapped, feed the hungry, and rebuild the community.

When the situation calls for it, San Franciscans have demonstrated over and over again a remarkable capacity for selfless and almost superhuman action, from the earthquakes of 1906 and 1989 to last year’s outpouring of support for the cleanup effort after last year’s big oil tanker spill in the bay.

So why aren’t we bringing that same resolve and community resourcefulness to global problems like climate change, rapid depletion of natural resources, persistent poverty and warfare, declining biological diversity, and the myriad threats to public health? That’s the question being posed at a groundbreaking grassroots event this weekend in Golden Gate Park.

The Big ONE Convergence 2008, scheduled June 21 and 22 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., is sponsored by The Big ONE movement, which formed in the wake of San Francisco’s World Environment Day in 2005. The group was inspired by the idea of "the big one," or a massive earthquake, because the goal of the movement is to affect everyone in much the same way that a natural disaster of that size would.

"We emphasized the tectonic idea because tectonic shifts are big," said Sudeep Rao, an event organizer. "We need to make big changes. It can’t just be about light bulbs and shorter showers. We can’t think that’s all we need to know."

Members of The Big ONE have been meeting on a monthly basis and discussing sustainability ideas since 2006. Their home base is a Web site called www.beautifulcommunities.org that is organized into various "neighborhoods." The groups examine issues such as health, housing, social justice, economic justice, energy, and sustainability.

The Big ONE movement is just one part of Beautiful Communities, and this weekend’s convergence includes a massive potluck in between learning how to do everything from building a solar oven to teaming up with a local organic farmer to deliver fresh food to schools.

Event co-chair Tori Jacobs said there are more than 7,500 nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area, 3,800 of which deal with sustainability issues. One goal of the convergence is to bring these groups together so they can collaborate.

"So much work is being duplicated, and our efforts need to be collaborated," she said. "The only way to do that is to get to know each other and to dialogue about how we can help each other."

Jacobs said there will be hundreds of nonprofits at the convergence and the intention is to have them all meet, coordinate, and move forward together. There will be break-out sessions from 5 to 6:30 p.m. both days, allowing the general public to meet and brainstorm ideas about community on Saturday, and giving representatives of the nonprofits a chance to meet with one another on Sunday.

"The one thing [The Big ONE participants] said is, ‘Let’s make this event the starting point,’<0x2009>" Jacobs said.

To act on the ideas generated at the convergence, the Peaceful World Foundation has agreed to let participants use its headquarters in San Francisco as a weekly meeting place to hold revolving town hall meetings and gatherings. Rao said the event is about bringing like-minded people together.

"We’ve lost that sense of collective empathy and urgency about what needs to be done," Rao said. "We are inspired, and we want to help others be inspired. We believe in Dr. Martin Luther King’s assertion that the tranquilizing drug of gradualism is unacceptable."

Rao said relying on the commercial and governmental systems to solve pressing global problems through science and technology is a leap of faith that the people shouldn’t be willing to make.

"They do have a large role solving our problems," Rae said, but without collective and individual efforts to bring about change, leverage skills, and pressure governments, the will to take big steps just won’t be there. That requires a convergence like The BIG One.

"Everyone I have spoken with has resonated on that aspect," he said. "They say, ‘Yeah, I want to go and meet individuals face-to-face and build that trust.’<0x2009>" *

Newsom’s power play


› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Mayor Gavin Newsom finally outlined what he calls a "more promising way forward than the current proposal" of building two publicly owned power plants in San Francisco.

The way forward: retrofit three existing diesel turbines at the Mirant-Potrero Power Plant, while simultaneously shutting down Mirant’s most polluting smokestack, Unit 3.

Newsom wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors just before a June 3 hearing on the power plants, describing a May 23 meeting that he convened with SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, California Independent System Operator President Yakout Mansour, California Public Utilities Commission Chair Mike Peevey, Mirant CEO Ed Muller, and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. CEO Bill Morrow.

"In the meeting, we vetted the possibility of retrofitting the diesel turbines [currently owned and operated by Mirant] and asked each stakeholder to give us the necessary commitments to advance this alternative," Newsom wrote. The board then voted to shelve the power plant plan until July 15 so the retrofit option can be vetted.

Most significant, Newsom’s meeting with top dogs at energy companies, who stand to lose a lot from San Francisco owning its own power source — and the resulting correspondence elicited a new response from Cal-ISO, the state’s power grid operator, about exactly how much electricity generation San Francisco needs.

For the first time, Cal-ISO said it will allow Mirant’s Unit 3 to close as early as 2010, when the 400-MW Transbay Cable comes online, saying that the city no longer needs to install a combustion turbine peaker plant at the airport.

Sup. Sophie Maxwell expressed frustration that the questions she, her staff, and other stakeholders have been asking for the past several years are suddenly getting different answers. "I think we’re seeing a big movement by Cal-ISO. This is huge. Before, we asked all these questions, [but] they weren’t saying what they’re saying now," she told the Guardian after the hearing.

When asked why she thought this was happening now, she simply pointed to PG&E. "Who stands to benefit from us not generating our own power? Who sent out all that stuff?" she asked, referring to the flyers depicting filthy power plants that PG&E has been mailing to residents in an effort to drum up public sentiment against the city’s plan to build peakers. "Have they been concerned about what’s clean, about our people?"

Some environmental activists are hailing the change as a triumph. "David has just moved Goliath, but we need to keep pushing," said Josh Arce of Brightline Defense, which sued to stop the city’s plan to build the two power plants. He said his organization’s goal is ultimately to have no fossil fuel plants in the city. But when asked about the retrofit alternative, he said, "We don’t support it; we don’t not support it."

Cal-ISO has insisted that San Francisco needs 150 MW of electricity to stave off blackouts. This grid reliability is currently provided by Mirant-Potrero, but the plant’s Unit 3 is the greatest stationary source of pollution in the city. Bayview residents, who have borne a disproportionate share of the city’s industrial pollution, have been agitating for more than seven years to close the plant. Much of the leadership has come from Maxwell, who represents the district and has championed the plan to replace the older Mirant units with four new ones owned and operated by the city.

That vision was integrated into San Francisco’s 2004 Energy Action Plan, which Cal-ISO has used as a guiding document for the city’s energy future. The plan outlines a way to close Mirant by installing four CTs and 200 MW of replacement power. "Cal-ISO has consistently said in writing, in verbal instructions, and at meetings, that the CTs are the only specific project that was sufficient to remove the RMR [reliability must-run contract] from Mirant," said SFPUC spokesperson Tony Winnicker.

As San Francisco’s energy plans have evolved over recent years, SFPUC staff have been instructed at numerous public hearings in front of the Board of Supervisors to ask Cal-ISO if all four CTs are still necessary. Letters obtained by the Guardian show Cal-ISO has never said the airport CT isn’t necessary until now. When asked why, Cal-ISO spokesperson Stephanie McCorkle said, "The questions are not the same. That’s why the answers are different."

When pushed for more details on what’s different, she said, "We feel the introduction of the Mirant retrofit fundamentally changes our approach to the fourth peaker. I think it’s the megawatts. It’s basically the retrofit that changes the picture."

Mirant’s peakers currently put out 156 MW, an amount that may be reduced by retrofitting. The city’s three peakers would produce 150 MW. Winnicker couldn’t explain why the story is changing, telling us, "We’re really deferring to the leadership of the mayor and the board because they’ve been able to get a really different view from Cal-ISO than we’ve been able to get."

"We’ve always said we’re open to alternatives," McCorkle said. "We can only evaluate what’s presented to us and the Mirant retrofit was only presented in mid-May." Opponents of the peaker plan say the new position indicates SFPUC officials haven’t been pushing Cal-ISO hard enough or asking the right questions.

"The city hasn’t done its due diligence insisting on different configurations of the peakers," Sup. Ross Mirkarimi told us. "What we’re learning now we could have learned two years ago." He went on to add, "With the abundant paper trail, one can only surmise or conclude there may have been a presupposed bias on the part of the PUC to the answers expected from Cal-ISO."

The SFPUC has been instructed by the mayor’s office to determine if Mirant retrofit diesels would be as clean as the city’s CTs. Until that can be proved, some are withholding support.

"I haven’t seen any information that a Mirant retrofit is as clean as the peakers," City Attorney Dennis Herrera told the Guardian. "From my perspective, I want the most environmentally clean solution."

To that end, some would like to see a formal presentation to Cal-ISO of a "transmission-only" alternative, which would outline a number of line upgrades and efficiencies that would obviate the need for any in-city power plants. Sup. Maxwell introduced a resolution urging the SFPUC to put such a proposal before Cal-ISO and to enact strict criteria for any alternative to the city’s CTs.

"We need to remember that Mirant was a bad actor. Mirant is not to be trusted," Maxwell said. "We sued them and we won our suit," she added, citing litigation brought by the city against the private company for operating the power plants in excess of its permitted hours and for market manipulation during the 2001-02 energy crisis.

Maxwell’s legislation, cosigned by six other supervisors, lays those concerns out and cautions, "In view of this history, the city should be cautious and vigilant in taking any steps that expand the operation of Mirant’s facilities in San Francisco."

The legislation also reminds policymakers that San Francisco’s Electricity Resource Plan identifies eight specific goals — one of which is to "increase local control over energy resources." It goes on to say, "City ownership of electric generating supplies can reduce the risk of market power abuses and enable the city to mandate the use of cleaner fuels when feasible or to close down any such generation when it is no longer needed."

Maxwell’s resolution also outlines a series of conditions that any alternative to the city’s peakers would have to meet. The alternative would have to be as clean or cleaner than the city peakers, have the same comprehensive community benefits package that was attached to the city’s peaker plan, have no impact on the bay’s water, and only be run for reliability needs.

The City Attorney’s Office said these criteria are not set in stone — it’s a resolution and therefore requires some level of enforcement or action. Mirkarimi, who signed on to the resolution, is still uncomfortable with it as it stands, saying it should include discussion of the city’s new community choice aggregation (CCA) plan for creating renewable public power projects.

Some environmentalists cautioned that the transmission-only approach still leaves too much control in the hands of others. "We shouldn’t let PG&E be the ones to solve this problem," said Eric Brooks, a Green Party rep and founder of Community Choice Energy Alliance. He’s urging city officials to put all the city’s energy intentions — from the CCA plan for 51 percent renewables by 2017 to an exploration of city-funded transmission upgrades — into a presentation for Cal-ISO.

Brooks noted a conspicuous absence from the May 23 meeting with the mayor: "CCA and environmentalists weren’t at the table, as usual."

Growing up


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Arguments about urban sprawl and the need to drastically improve transit services at the Transbay Terminal are driving plans for massive new skyscrapers in the SoMa District. Although the project is still in its initial phase, as many as seven towers — some higher than the Transamerica Pyramid — would surround the centerpiece Transbay Tower.

At an April 30 public hearing on the project at Golden Gate University, about 150 people, mostly developers and architects, voiced their opinions as they listened to the city’s updates on the proposal. For the most part, the business community audience wanted buildings as high as possible and felt that even the city’s most ambitious proposal, to build a Transbay Tower more than 1,200 feet high — almost twice the height of One Rincon Hill — was insufficient.

"I support raising the heights. By increasing density, we’re taking better care of our environment," Rincon Hill resident Jamie Whitaker told the room.

The original plan called for a 550-foot Transbay Tower, but the city wants to double its height to ensure sufficient funds for the Transit Center, the Caltrain extension, and other infrastructure improvements. The project’s environmental impact report will study three height options: 850, 1,000, and 1,200 feet. The addition of a couple of hundred feet would raise revenue from about $150 million to between $310 million and $410 million, according to the San Francisco Planning Department.

Although increasing the height of the planned office buildings will bring in more money for other improvements, the increased density comes with transit and quality of life costs. Some worry that the higher population will create an unlivable space.

"Mission Street is turning into a canyon," Jennifer Clary, president of the urban environmental group SF Tomorrow, told the Guardian. "Already there are virtually no parks in this side of the city. They’re creating a demand for more open space, but they’re not fulfilling it."

Although a new park will extend about 11 acres on the roof of the Transbay Terminal, some existing open spaces may be in jeopardy. If the Transbay Tower is higher than 1,000 feet, it will cast a shadow for part of the day over Justin Herman Plaza and possibly Portsmouth Square.

Even though Proposition K, which passed in 1984, states that new buildings cannot cast shadows on public parks, the city’s planning department has the ability to waive that rule. "The law says no new ‘significant’ shadows, so it’s really a judgment call and can be interpreted in a variety of ways," Joshua Switzky, project manager for the San Francisco Planning Department told the Guardian.

For example, the city allowed the Asian Art Museum, remodeled in 2003, to cast a small shadow over Civic Center Plaza. "Shadow impacts can be precisely calculated, and we’re working to mitigate the impact on parks," Switzky said.

In addition to thoughts on how to keep parks sunny, several ideas to ease congestion were introduced at the meeting, including changing one-way streets, restricting terminal access to public vehicles, installing more bike lanes, and increasing curb width.

According to a 2004 Planning Department study, 70 percent of downtown workers commute using public transit, 17 percent drive, and the rest walk or bike. Sufficient funding has yet to be secured to connect Caltrain tracks to the Transbay Terminal, instead of its present end at 4th and King streets. Either way, the planning department hopes to increase commuters using transit by 6 percent, according to the April 2008 Transit Center District Plan.

"Right now all we have is a huge skyscraper for a bus terminal, and it’s not clear if the city will invest the extra money from taller buildings to improve transit," Clary told us.

The planning department estimates it will need an additional $1.9 billion to connect Caltrain, and if it doesn’t reach that goal, SoMa may be inundated by even more cars since there will be no direct commute route from the Peninsula to the new Transbay Terminal offices. In November, California voters will decide on a $10 billion bond measure to create a high-speed rail line linking Los Angeles to San Francisco at the new Transbay Terminal, the centerpiece of the planned project.

The next public meeting will be held at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Thursday, May 8 at 5:30 p.m.

Greening away poverty


› news@sfbg.com

If the flow of venture capital is any indication, the new green economy is not just coming, it’s about to boom. There’s good reason to be excited about capitalists pouring money into saving the planet. But is it really the panacea that true believers say it is?

The idea behind "social uplift environmentalism" is that the new green economy is strong enough to lift people out of poverty. The argument: millions of "green-collar jobs" — defined as living-wage, career-track jobs that contribute directly to improving or enhancing environmental quality — will be created as the need for green energy, transportation, and manufacturing infrastructure grows.

If green is the new black, eco-populism is the new environmentalism.

But the pesky realists out there question whether the private sector will work quickly or efficiently enough to solve crises as massive as global warming. And many Bay Area activists say they have good reason to be wary of green solutions to problems like inner-city poverty.

In early April, the San Francisco–based Center for Political Education (CPE) brought in prominent environmental and social justice activists to discuss some of these issues. One of the primary concerns about turning blue collars green has to do with doubts about job training programs, which don’t have a great track record.

"People are getting trained for nothing — for an old economy, for jobs that don’t exist," activist Oscar Grande of People Organizing for Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER) told the Guardian.

At the gathering Ian Kim, director of the Green Collar Jobs program at Oakland’s Ella Baker Center, agreed that there have been major problems in job training programs but said that this shouldn’t doom future programs to failure. "Workforce development has been on a starvation diet for the last 10 to 15 years," he said at the CPE event. "It’s easy to do job training really badly. But when done well, it can work."

In a conversation with the Guardian, Jennifer Lin, research director for the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, cited Solar Richmond as an example of a small but successful green-jobs program. Lin also acknowledged that it took a while for the first 18 trainees to find employment in solar panel installation.

Another hot topic at the CPE event concerned land use — a scorching topic in our housing-strapped city. Grande said one of the struggles PODER has taken on in the Mission District is preserving industrial lands, the breadbasket for low-income communities. San Francisco’s industrial base has eroded due to factors such as offshoring jobs and dotcom-era condo developments in areas formerly zoned for industry, he said.

One of the biggest questions raised at the CPE event concerned the limits of green capitalism: can an environmental solution be successful if it doesn’t challenge the constant-growth philosophy that created the problem?

"There is a lot of feel-good energy being put in by politicians about this really good [green jobs] program. But they’re not addressing how incredibly enormous the challenges are and the kinds of shifts — like getting all of us out of cars, providing local foods that don’t have to be shipped from thousands of miles away — that need to happen," the CPE’s Fernando Martí told the Guardian.

Kim says that while the climate crisis allows us to critique capitalism in a way that has not been possible for decades, he acknowledges that the work the Ella Baker Center is doing is within a constant-growth framework.

"While it’s important in the radical left to have conversations about capitalism and powering down, that’s not where we’re starting out with green jobs," Kim told the CPE audience.

Mateo Nube, training director for the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project, suggested that both short- and long-term goals are important. "We need to build an infrastructure for the transition. We need to rebuild our food production systems in a way that actually takes care of everybody and is sustainable. From that vantage point, the idea of green jobs and a New Deal makes a lot of sense. But in that process, we have to incorporate an understanding that a constant-growth model is suicide."

PETA vs. Gore


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Al Gore’s 2006 Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth invigorated the global warming debate, and the environmental movement owes him a great deal of appreciation. After all, they don’t just give away the Nobel Peace Prize like samples of teriyaki chicken at Costco.

Yet some activists point to a gaping hole in Gore’s strategy to prevent climate change through lifestyle change: where’s the meat? For more than a year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has hassled Gore to set an example by not eating animal flesh, and more important, to use his group, the Alliance for Climate Protection, to explain that vegetarianism is an important tactic in the fight against global warming.

PETA has the facts to back up its case. In 2006, the United Nations released a 400-page report concluding that global greenhouse gas emissions — which include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen dioxide, among others — from livestock production surpass emissions from all cars and trucks combined. That same year, the University of Chicago released a study saying that converting to an entirely plant-based diet lessens one’s own ecological footprint about 40 percent more than switching from an average American car to a Toyota Prius.

Of course, changing to a hybrid doesn’t prevent anyone from getting to where they want to go — which, for most people, includes the butcher shop.

Last March, PETA began its campaign with a polite invitation asking Gore to try meatless fried chicken. When it received no response, the campaign turned to tougher tactics. The animal advocacy group created a billboard depicting a chubby caricature of Gore munching on a drumstick, alongside the words "Too chicken to go vegetarian? Meat is the No. 1 cause of global warming." PETA has been buying space for the ad near the sites of Gore’s speaking engagements, and periodically sends letters asking him to address the issue.

Perhaps the issue strikes too close to home. Gore spent much of his childhood on his father’s cattle ranch in Carthage, Tenn. At his father’s memorial service in 1998, Gore remembered the ranch as a positive influence as a young boy. He explained how he learned to "clear three acres of heavily wooded forest with a double-bladed axe" and "deliver a newborn calf when its mother was having trouble."

Yet PETA notes that the clearing of forests has left 30 percent of the earth’s dry surface dedicated to livestock production, and that cattle farts and manure alone are responsible for more greenhouse emissions than cars.

According to the Alliance for Climate Protection, it’s not Gore’s responsibility to address the issue: "There are a lot of top 10 lists about personal behavior, about people monitoring their own involvement," said group spokesperson Brian Hardwick. "We recognize that there are many causes to climate change and causes of global warming. But we don’t think it’s our job to hone in on every detail."

Meat appears to be a glaring omission on the group’s Web site, which includes lengthy lists of ways people can help prevent global warming, including everything from keeping car tires full to changing incandescent light bulbs to energy-saving compact fluorescents. But the group doesn’t suggest anything drastic. They don’t ask people to stop driving; rather, they ask people to drive less by carpooling or walking. Neither do they ask people to stop using central heating at home; instead they ask people to remember to not run the heating when they’re gone.

Hardwick says this moderate approach is about building a movement, and indeed, they now claim 1.1 million supporters. "Our movement is designed to be inviting to people of all walks of life," he said. "Our emphasis in our campaign is that we want people to join together and demand solutions from our leaders."

PETA, which typically takes a vegan-or-nothing approach, has recognized the Alliance for Climate Protection’s strategy and isn’t asking the group to adopt an anti-meat stance. According to spokesperson Nicole Matthews, PETA would be content with a recommendation to eat less meat.

"If people reduce or eliminate their meat consumption, of course it would help reduce that household’s emissions — and certainly [help] the aggregate change as well," Hardwick admits. But, he was quick to add, "Eating less meat is good; changing laws is better."

The 100-yard diet


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Locavorism — the practice of eating only or mostly food raised with a 100-mile distance — has been a hot trend the past couple of years. It’s a concept that makes a lot of sense — even organic food grown hundred or thousands of miles away can hardly be considered sustainable once you figure in the resources used to ship it.

But a committed breed of urban farmers is challenging even the 100-mile definition of local food. These folks are cultivating their own cornucopia in their backyards and community garden plots, pruning their own fruit trees, raising their own chickens….

Hold on a minute. Chickens? In the city?

It’s true. Not only is it possible to raise your own small brood (four or less) in San Francisco, but it’s less labor intensive and materially more rewarding than caring for your household pets. Do you need to take a chicken out for walks? No. Does your Chihuahua lay eggs? No.

And you can expect to reap more than just eggs from your new feathered friends. As Walter Parenteau of the Panhandle puts it, "Chickens fill an important spot in the cycle of a sustainable backyard." From their nitrogen-rich manure (an excellent catalyst for compost) to their enthusiasm for pest control, chickens earn their keep — even without the dozen eggs a week you’ll get from each pair of first-year layers.

A major issue for raising chickens in your backyard is space. In San Francisco, the city’s Department of Public Health requires that chicken coops be situated at least 20 feet from all buildings — which rules out keeping chickens on your patio or in your living room. Chickens also need space to thrive in: their run should ideally provide a minimum of four square feet per chicken and include a predator-proof covering of chicken wire or nonmetallic "poultry netting," which also will prevent escapees (contrary to popular belief, chickens can fly, albeit clumsily and infrequently).

A fully enclosed chicken coop built of sturdier materials — plywood or bamboo — is also necessary. Interior nesting boxes should be about one square big foot — just large enough for one chicken. For cleanliness and insulation, a thick layer of straw or hay should be scattered over all the surfaces and changed every couple of months. The old, excrement-laden material can then be composted immediately.

The other main consideration for urban chickens is protection from predators.

"We never saw raccoons in our garden until they discovered we had chickens," says Walter, a San Francisco chicken farmer. "But when they did, we saw them in there every night for three weeks." The unwelcome visitors’ persistence finally paid off when the coop was left unlocked, and the coons made off with one of two hens.

Brian W., who raised chickens for 10 years in the Bayview District, also cites hawks as a major threat to chickens living in uncovered runs, and says that rats are attracted to unclean or unsupervised coops.

"You have to think hard about how you’re going to shelter your chickens from predators," agrees Paul Glowaski, who teaches workshops on raising urban poultry at SF’s Garden for the Environment. "You might need to get creative with your space."

These considerations aside, city-dwelling chicken farmers remain overwhelmingly positive about their experiences. Inexpensive to feed (kitchen scraps, garden snails, and cracked corn play the biggest dietary roles) and content, for the most part, with entertaining themselves, backyard birds provide a gentle gateway experience for novices to animal husbandry. They offer benefits to the ecology of their environment, and help restore a connection to the food production chain. Chickens are the missing link to perfecting what Novella Carpenter of Oakland calls "the 100-yard diet." Even as a hobby, raising chickens can impart an irresistible element of eco-chic to their respective owners.

"At the end of the day, you get to be the ‘guy with chickens in his backyard,’ " Walter says. "And that can be a lot of fun."

Ditching the paper cup


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Statistics show that Americans drink more than 400 million cups of coffee a day. While most buy the average Starbucks and Folgers blends, a growing number of consumers are beginning to care more about what’s in their cup and where it comes from.

I work part-time at Coffee to the People in the Haight, which specializes in high quality, Fair Trade products, and I often field questions from customers about the origin and certification of the shop’s java. But no one ever asks about the flush capacity of our toilets, or the environmental impact of our cleaning products, or whether all of our appliances meet Energy Star standards.

In the past, if they’d asked about such things, I would have told them that the toilet ran constantly, the petroleum-based dish soap we used probably killed fish in the Bay, and that the two refrigerators behind the counter had been around since before I was born.

It’s not that the owners never cared about having a greener business — they just couldn’t afford to pay attention. Stocking gourmet coffee and tea is costly, not to mention the astronomical rent and power bills they have to pay every month.

That’s where the Green Café Network comes in.

Environmental educator Kirstin Henninger founded the nonprofit collective a year ago to help its members achieve higher standards of environmental stewardship. So far, the network is composed of 10 cafés, including Coffee to the People. Owners meet periodically to discuss and share business strategies. Recently they went in together to purchase compostable to-go containers. They hope to do the same with eco-friendly cleaning supplies in the near future.

Henninger, 39, originally wanted to open a green coffee shop of her own. After surveying shop owners on their business practices, however, she saw a better way to make a difference. Many owners told her they had the desire to be more environmentally responsible, but not the know-how, staff, or money to put anything into action. So Henninger decided to do something to help them.

"Instead of me opening one more café, I realized a way I could have much more of an impact," she told the Guardian. "I saw potential to actually support a new movement toward a green economy, and that was much more possible by affecting multiple cafés instead of my one café."

Henninger said she chose to focus on neighborhood coffeehouses because they are often the center of close-knit communities. "By the process of cafés becoming green businesses, we aim to educate everyone in the mix," she said. "The owners, staff, customers, neighbors, other local businesses — this is a necessary part of the process of supporting a local, green economy." She also offers consulting to any business, coffee shop or not, that requests it.

Joining the group didn’t make Coffee to the People’s toilet stop running, but we are at least heading in the right direction. Henninger acknowledged that while customers notice changes in the products they pay for, other aspects of a green business go unappreciated. The ultimate goal for cafés in the group is to become certified green businesses (all Bay Area counties have a green business program). But the certification process can be misleading. Most localities only require that a business conform to five out of 20 guidelines, and once the placard is placed in the window, the motivation to complete the next 15 steps can tend to flag. Henninger hopes the members of her network, by working together and helping each other, will be as green as they can be.

"We need people striving to make the extra effort because it’s the right thing to do," she said. "I think that’s the challenge of the entire environmental movement."

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

Discounts that do good


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Coupon books don’t tend to be of much use to green-minded consumers or businesses. They’re usually just chock full of special offers from fast food restaurants and wasteful chain stores. That’s why former credit auditors Anne Fisher Vollen and Sheryl Cohen started the Green Zebra Savings Guide. They wanted to use the good old-fashioned clip-outs to draw customers to, and educate them about, environmentally conscious companies.

"It is our hope that discounts will give Green Zebra users incentive to try out a new green alternative to a traditional product or service," Vollen told the Guardian. "Then if it lives up to their expectations, [we hope] they will continue to patronize that business even without the discount."

First published in San Francisco in 2007, Green Zebra promotes bargains for enterprises such as green retailers, bike shops, and independent bookstores. It also offers useful educational tips on topics such as greening your home, purchasing eco-friendly beauty products, and creating a zero-waste lunch. To make it into the book, companies have to meet two of the following criteria: they must offer a discount on a green product or service, run their business in a sustainable manner, be locally owned, and/or contribute significantly to the community.

This past year, Vollen and Cohen expanded the guide to include separate editions for Marin County and the peninsula. Helping people buy from Bay Area businesses rather than larger chains is a critical aspect of Green Zebra’s mission. By promoting independent, locally owned firms, Vollen said, "We are not only strengthening the local economy but also helping preserve the uniqueness of San Francisco, rather then contributing to the strip-mallization that has become so rampant in the US."

Vollen understands that living in modern day America makes it hard, if not impossible, to reform everything about our lives. But she hopes Green Zebra will encourage people to start with small steps, inspired by issues they’re passionate about. The mother of two and MBA graduate told us her own personal passion of late has been finding ways to eliminate water bottle waste. "Less than 10 percent of bottles get recycled, and it’s a petroleum product," she said.

The guide’s mode of production also embodies the spirit of doing what we can to minimize our impact on the planet. Each edition, Vollen said, is printed on "100 percent recycled fiber, 98 percent postconsumer waste paper, processed chlorine-free." In addition, Green Zebra offsets its carbon emissions by helping to fund a methane digester at a family farm. The digester not only takes climate-warming methane out of the atmosphere, it turns the gases into renewable electricity. Another way Vollen and Cohen hope to lead by example is by donating roughly 50 percent of the guide’s proceeds to charity. A portion of this year’s profits went to the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance, an organization that teaches children eco-friendly gardening, architecture, and design skills.

Most Green Zebra sales are through public and private school fundraisers, but copies of the guide are available for purchase online at www.thegreenzebra.org.

Muni’s makeover


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY San Francisco’s streets are some of the most congested in the nation, our gasoline prices are reaching record highs, and parking is both scarce and expensive (particularly given the rising cost of parking tickets). But most drivers still haven’t been willing to switch to public transit, something that Muni officials hope to change with the help of a highly anticipated study that’s just been released.

The Transit Effectiveness Program (TEP) is a systemic proposal to make Muni faster and more attractive, mostly by focusing resources on the busiest routes. The study kicks off what could be a transformative year for the Municipal Transportation Agency, which got another $26 million annually through the passage of Proposition A in November 2007 and has been struggling for years to meet its on-time performance goals and win back lost riders.

It has been over two decades since Muni had its last major overhaul. The TEP boasts "hundreds of changes" in the works, from larger buses to route additions. The current draft of the proposal reflects 18 months of data collection on rider trends and community input. Officials found residents citywide were most concerned with reliability in the system.

"We have some schedules that are up to 10 minutes short of how long the line actually takes," said Julie Kirschbaum, program manager of the TEP. "We also need to reduce the number of breakdowns. We need more mechanics."

Data also showed 75 percent of Muni passengers board in the system’s 15 busiest corridors, which include the 49 Mission/Van Ness, 38 Geary, and 30 Stockton routes. TEP calls for increasing service on these corridors by 14 percent and cutting wait times to five minutes or less.

The study also proposed new routes to better reflect changing growth patterns and travel needs. For the first time, a bus would directly connect Potrero Hill with downtown. A new "downtown circulator" would loop Market Street on Columbus, Polk, and Folsom streets, replacing the 19 Polk and 12 Folsom. Some proposals would increase service between neighborhoods in the western and southern parts of the city as well as create better connections to BART and Caltrain for those who commute to or from the city.

University students and employees could also benefit from the TEP, as increased service to destinations such as San Francisco State University and University of San Francisco were high priorities for the project team. In order to maximize resources, some routes could be scaled back or removed, potentially making the walk to the bus stop a few blocks longer for some city residents. For example, in the Mission District, there is a proposal to fold the existing routes on Folsom and Bryant into a faster, higher-capacity route on Harrison. A proposal to end the 56 Rutland route would leave Visitation Valley even more isolated.

Once the TEP’s environmental impact report is complete sometime next year, there will be public hearings before the MTA board decides which recommendations to adopt. The Board of Supervisors could ultimately vote to overrule controversial route changes.

The TEP is one of many high profile green initiatives Mayor Gavin Newsom has rolled out, from a solar panel initiative he introduced with Assessor Phil Ting to the controversial appointment of Wade Crowfoot as the director of climate protection initiatives, whose salary is paid with MTA funds.

"The best thing we can do is get people out of single occupancy vehicles…. This mode shift is my primary goal," Crowfoot said at a Feb. 27 public information workshop, one of many planned throughout the coming months to educate and receive feedback from residents on the TEP.

Yet like many of Newsom’s splashier initiatives, the plan lacks clear funding sources and commitments. "There’s a whole capital piece to the TEP that’s been missing the whole time," Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and a member of the TEP’s policy advisory board, told us. "Without this capital element, TEP won’t happen."

Many of the proposals could be covered by reallocating operational costs, yet some expensive projects remain without a clear source of financing. Despite the price tag, Radulovich said ambitious investments now could more than pay for themselves in the long run: "If you’re smart about how you spend money, you can use capital money to save money in operating costs down the line."

Building green in SF


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Wind turbines and solar panels may soon sprout on San Francisco rooftops as the city considers rival plans to implement mandatory green design standards for new residential and commercial buildings.

One ordinance proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Green Building Task Force would require new commercial construction of more than 5,000 square feet, residential buildings above 75 feet, and renovations to buildings of more than 25,000 square feet to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certified by 2012, the second-highest designation.

The U.S. Green Building Council developed the point-based LEED system based on numerous green factors. The lowest green standard is LEED Certified, followed by Silver, Gold, and Putf8um. The new Academy of Sciences building, with the country’s largest living roof, is LEED Putf8um.

Newsom’s legislation would start off by mandating requiring only the lowest standard, LEED Certified, which requires 26 points, and gradually move to LEED Gold by 2012. But Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin has introduced an ordinance that would require the same buildings to immediately earn LEED Gold certification.

According to the LEED system, most existing buildings already have between 18 to 22 points, so Newsom’s proposed goal should be fairly easily attainable. A bike rack outside a building qualifies for 1 point. Proximity to mass transit gains another point, and Muni runs within two blocks of 90 percent of all San Francisco residences, according to the Municipal Transportation Agency.

At a green building standards workshop Feb. 20 at the San Francisco Green Party’s office, about 20 people voiced their concerns with the ordinances in front of three city commissioners.

"We need to correct the language to include all buildings," said panelist Patricia Gerber, a member of the city’s Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force. The San Francisco Office of Economic Analysis last year concluded both proposed ordinances would impact only 38 percent of the construction industry. "We should look to Europe for inspiration," Gerber recommended. "They have much stricter standards."

Some European nations started mandatory green construction in the mid-’90s, but critics say the United States has lagged.

"There are no minimum requirements on windows, insulation, and leaks," Gerber told the Guardian, describing the proposed ordinances. "LEED is a joke."

But Mark Westlund, spokesman for the Department of the Environment, defended Newsom’s longer LEED certification timeline. "We want to develop a green building plan that business can work with," he told us.

The Green Building Task Force claims that businesses need time to adjust to the higher costs associated with green materials, such as EnergyStar windows, can reduce heating costs by 30 to 40 percent. "They’re expensive because they’re used on a small scale. The minute they require it, it will become cheaper," John Rizzo, Green Party member and City College Trustee, told the audience. "It would be great if this could be done on a statewide level."

Panelists noted that green buildings save money in energy costs over the long run. Another criticism raised at the workshop was the Newsom plan’s loopholes. "Even if a project is approved green, it might not end up green," Gerber told us. If a construction company runs out of money for example, it can ask the planning director to waive LEED certification.

In addition, the event attendees questioned the credibility of the mayor’s Green Building Task Force, which does not include any environmentalists. Rather, it is composed of developers, financiers, architects, and engineers.

"We feel it represents a good variety of industry people, and so far we haven’t received any negative responses on the ordinance," Mark Palmer, San Francisco’s green building coordinator, told us.

Smaller residential buildings in San Francisco will not require LEED certification, but could be required to follow a GreenPoint scorecard developed by Berkeley nonprofit Build It Green.

Newsom’s ordinance will be presented March 19 at the Building Inspection Commission, which has already forwarded Peskin’s measure to he Board of Supervisors’ Land Use Committee. According to Peskin’s office, the two ordinances will likely be combined once supervisors decide which standard to seek.

Money grows on trees


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY A lone fisher casts his line off the wooden dock of Candlestick Point, his favorite spot and one at risk of closure from state budget cuts.

"The tide is too low today to catch anything, but supposedly there’s halibut now after the rain," Ernesto Perez told the Guardian as he walked back to his car empty-handed, hoping to return later.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office has proposed closing 48 of the 278 state parks by July 2009 because of a projected $14.5 billion state deficit. A big chunk of that shortfall is from the car tax Schwarzenegger repealed when he took office, triggering threats to schools, parks, and social welfare programs.

The parks with the lowest revenue or highest maintenance costs were placed on the closure list. Nine Bay Area parks could be affected, ranging from the small Candlestick Point to Henry W. Coe State Park near San Jose, the largest in Northern California.

Although the state could save $13.3 million if the parks close, the governor hasn’t calculated how much would be lost in tax revenue from the businesses these parks sustain, nor does he seem interested in the intrinsic loss of valued public assets.

"Look at how important Hearst Castle is to the central coast’s economy," Roy Stearns, spokesperson for California State Parks, told the Guardian.

The agency was asked to reduce its 2008–09 budget by about 10 percent, achieved mostly through layoffs and closing parks. Rangers will provide rudimentary maintenance of the closed parks, mostly monitoring illegal campers and fires. The state does not know how much money it would need to reopen the parks or when such funds might become available.

"In essence the state is abandoning the parks," Barbara Hill, vice president of the California State Parks Foundation, told the Guardian. She fears poaching, arson, and illegal dumping will proliferate. "How will they be able to properly secure the borders?" she asked.

The CSPF, a nonprofit that helps to preserve state parks, recently secured $17 million to restore tidal marshes in Candlestick Point. If implemented, the project would create the largest contiguous wetland in the city. The plan is now on hold, forcing the area into further decay.

Nature lovers are not the only ones concerned about the state parks’ cuts. If the 48 parks do close, the expected 6.5 million person drop in visitors will certainly impact the revenues of cities, counties, and the state. According to the California Division of Tourism, 73 percent of visitors come to the state for leisure purposes, and each county earns about $1.5 billion per year from tourism.

"It’s a shame to close Candlestick. I don’t know how it will affect my business," Andy Hung, owner of 88 Fishing Tackle on San Bruno, told the Guardian. "Even now there aren’t enough public piers to fish from." If Candlestick closes, Hung believes fishers will migrate somewhere else.

Across the bay in Benicia, people are worried. The city’s main attraction, the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park, is on the parks closure list. "It’s our most significant building, and we’re lobbying so the final budget cut won’t include it," Amalia Lorentz, Benicia’s economic development manager, told the Guardian.

A 2001 study by the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo found that visitors to Morro Bay State Park contributed $15 million to the local economy over two years and were responsible for the creation of 364 jobs. Benicia has almost three times the population of Morro Bay. Although the Morro Bay park will remain open under the budget cut, eight other parks in the area will close.

Officials say they doubt higher entrance fees are the solution to saving the parks. "We’ve raised fees three times in the last seven years. They’re the highest in the nation, and we don’t want to price people out," Stearns said. Funds to the state park system have been slashed consistently since the 1980s, and parks have been relying more on entrance fees than state funding. Because of a 233 percent increase in day fees in the past six years, California park attendance has dropped by about nine million people, according to state park officials.

Several organizations, including the CSPF, are collecting signatures and donations to encourage Schwarzenegger and the legislature not to sacrifice California’s parks to political expediency.

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



› molly@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY You may be the greenest, most permacultured locavore with a heart made of hemp. You tend your community garden on dates, travel only by biodiesel bus, and make your Christmas gifts from recycled materials rather than contribute to our culture’s overconsumption of resources. But chances are you haven’t thought about how your sex habits are affecting the planet — not to mention your partner. And what better time to think about it than the week of Valentine’s Day, the date when couples feel entitled to sex and singles are saddest about not having any? (Or is that the other way around?… But I digress.)

`Thing is, your favorite dildo may be releasing deadly toxins into the environment. Your discarded butt plug, so small and cute and seemingly innocent, may spend several centuries in a landfill before it degrades — if it ever does. Your vibrator could be the reason for someone else’s unnaturally tiny penis. Really.

The issue with sex toys — one of the more recent industries to be examined through a green lens — is twofold: disposal and toxicity.

The first is the easier, less contentious, and somewhat more obvious issue. Since we’re talking about a variety of objects often made of plastic, PVC, rubber, electronics, and other nonbiodegradable materials, it makes sense that concern has been raised about where sex toys end up and what happens to them when they get there. Just like water bottles and discarded train sets, sex toys made from these materials seem destined to last longer on the earth than any of us will — causing more pain in the long term than pleasure in the short term.

The second issue is whether sex toys are safe for humans, both those who use them and those who may be exposed to them through the environment. The concern here is phthalates, a variety of chemicals most commonly used to soften hard plastics but also found in cosmetics, food wraps, and a number of other ubiquitous consumer goods — and until recently, often used in plastic-based sex toys. There has been substantial research suggesting that phthalates — chemicals not naturally occurring in the human body — are present in 90 percent of Americans’ bodies. Furthermore, scientists believe phthalates can have a detrimental effect on male reproductive development.

"Severe interference can involve incomplete development of the penis, undescended testicles, decreased testosterone levels," Tracey Woodruff, director of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at the University of California at San Francisco, told the Guardian. "There can be lifelong consequences."

Are there counterarguments to all of these worries? Sure. For starters, there’s always the issue of how green to go. Should you worry more about your rubber dildo — which you may keep for 10 years — than about your plastic shower curtain, which you’ll throw in the landfill in three months? Or is this just the latest ecofriendly phase our culture (and media) is going through? And as for phthalates, there are lots of different kinds — and no one is exactly sure what they do or how they do it.

But if you’re anything like Coyote Days, buyer for Good Vibrations, you’ll figure safe is better than sorry. Days said the major sex toy retailer has decided to phase out products containing phthalates, just in case it turns out the chemicals really are as bad as scientists suspect. In particular, Days suggested replacement with silicone varieties, if you can afford them.

And if you’re worried about how well a sex toy will biodegrade, you can always opt for a metal, wood, or glass variety.

In fact, if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can check out the P Aqua from Love Piece, a dildo made from seaweed and water that, while solid at room temperature, can be boiled to oblivion for Earth-friendly disposal. (Though the company asks you to notify it if the dildo has a sour odor. Ew.)

As for Good Vibrations’ future inventory? Day said, "We’re not quite at the seaweed and water level yet." Me either. But I’m hoping for a sushi restaurant tie-in when this thing gets big. Buy one California roll-in-the-hay, get one seaweed sex toy free? I like it.

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

Climate change teach-in


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY For Van Jones, going green is not just about buying a Prius, putting a solar panel on a vacation home, or purchasing groceries at Whole Foods, which he calls Whole Paycheck. It’s also about training former gangsters in green-collar jobs, equitably distributing toxic waste sites, and bringing organic produce into urban ghettos.

According to the Oakland activist, who cofounded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (see "Redefining Radicalism," 9/19/06), there is a serious social injustice on the horizon, and the fight against it may just be the next great political movement in the United States.

Speaking Jan. 30 at San Francisco State University’s teach-in on climate change, Jones called on students to be the next great generation by recognizing that the environmental crisis presents the biggest opportunity for poor people and minorities since the New Deal. Today it seems such grandiose statements calling an entire generation to action tend to lack an inspired audience. However, no one could deny Jones was onto something big after the packed crowd in Jack Adams Hall erupted in an ovation after his challenge to students to make history by addressing poverty and the environment together.

Green pathways out of poverty was just one topic discussed during the SFSU segment of "Focus the Nation" — billed as the nation’s largest-ever teach-in, with more than 1,500 schools and universities participating. The nationally coordinated event aimed to create one day of focused discussion on global warming solutions for the US. Throughout the day expert panels at SFSU discussed green efforts in their respective fields with an underlying message of public involvement.

Keynote speaker Michael Glantz of the National Center for Atmospheric Research jumped on the generational bandwagon, predicting the 21st century would be remembered as the climate century. However, Glantz stressed public pressure would be crucial, as lessons learned about the environment are generally not used during policy making. He cited detailed studies conducted in the early 1970s of melting arctic sea ice due to anthropogenic causes.

When asked how he would reply to arguments that humans aren’t causing climate change, Glantz noted the success of the environmental movement in marginalizing these beliefs: "I don’t think we need to spend time now dealing with the skeptics when Exxon and Shell are worried about global warming."

Faculty from the SFSU geography and geosciences departments presented new trends in climate change data and modeling, focusing on predictions for California. The panel reported the state’s average temperature is on the rise. Even with the best estimates for halting global warming, the Sierra Mountains are expected to lose 40 percent of their snowpack over the next 100 years. Agricultural production and quality in the Central Valley are also expected to decline, as some plants will not get the chill period they need.

Geography professor Andrew Oliphant worked with students to create a carbon footprint calculator for attendees to use throughout the day. Oliphant said the calculator was tailor-made specifically for the event so attendees could analyze their daily habits.

Students were also present throughout the event to answer questions on an informative poster display. The posters depicted breakdowns of greenhouse gases, rising sea levels in the Bay Area, and the formation of acid rain.

Erin Rodgers, an environmental advocate with the California Union of Concerned Scientists, discussed green policies at the state level. Rodgers focused on California’s groundbreaking initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a cut of about 30 percent from current levels.

Experts have established detailed plans on how to reach the target reduction, with a large focus on transportation, although the California Air Resources Board has yet to embrace a comprehensive plan that will get anywhere close to the goals it is charged with meeting.

Cal Broomhead, climate programs manager at the San Francisco Department of the Environment, spoke on local green efforts. He praised the city for keeping the same levels of greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 and its continued use of the "Fab 3" composting and recycling program.

Broomhead also stressed the importance of furthering environmental education efforts: "Through education we can get people to adopt pro-green technologies and behaviors. Once you have the last remaining stragglers, then you can require them to participate through law."

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

From fryers to fuel


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY At Ar Roi Thai in Nob Hill, about 75 gallons of oil are left over every month from the creation of the restaurant’s deep-fried cuisine, according to manager Theresa Shotiveyaratana. But instead of dumping it, the business donates its gunk to the newly established SFGreasecycle, which converts it into biodiesel that is now used to power San Francisco city vehicles such as Muni buses and fire engines.

As of Dec. 31, 2007, the city completed a yearlong project proposed in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Biodiesel Initiative, which called for all 1,600 municipal vehicles to run exclusively on B20, a mixture of 20 percent pure biodiesel and 80 percent traditional petroleum diesel. The blend is compatible with most modern-day diesel engines and reduces carbon monoxide emissions by 12 percent and the particulate matter found in smog by 20 percent.

But most of that biodiesel hasn’t been generated locally: the city is halfway through its three-year master fuel contract with San Francisco Petroleum, which gets the stuff from soybean oil produced in the Midwest.

"It’s really not enough that a city looks at using biofuels to offset fossil fuels," said Karri Ving, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s biofuels coordinator and one of SFGreasecycle’s three staff members. "We don’t want to go from one environmentally disastrous fuel to another. We want less shipping miles from the middle of the country."

That’s where SFGreasecycle, a $1.3 million program put into action by the SFPUC last month, comes in. It picks up used fats, oils, and grease (known in the program as FOG) at no charge from wherever people are willing to spare them. The list currently comprises mostly eateries, from chains like Baja Fresh and locals like Ar Roi, but also households, high schools, a synagogue, and museums such as the de Young.

About 170 restaurants have signed up so far, allowing the organization to collect an average of 5,000 gallons of so-called yellow grease — or what comes straight from the frying pan — per month. Furthermore, its efforts are a way of keeping congealed grease out of sewer pipes, which costs the city roughly $3.5 million in cleanup efforts per year, according to the SFPUC.

Ving said the organization has even loftier goals in mind. By the beginning of 2010 it aims to collect 100,000 gallons of grease per month. That’s about 20 percent of the five to six million gallons of diesel that the Department of the Environment estimates the municipal fleet burns per year.

Mark Westlund, the spokesperson for the Department of the Environment, said using the grease as a replacement for the imported fuel is a real possibility as they have "an almost one-to-one conversion rate."

SFGreasecycle uses four biodiesel treatment plants in the Bay Area to convert the grease to usable fuel. And sticking with its zero-waste goals, it donates the small amount of unusable, low-quality grease to the plants, which convert it into methane, which in turn powers these facilities.

Eric Bowen, chair of the city’s Biodiesel Access Task Force, shares Ving’s sentiment that "not all biodiesel is created equal," he told us. The task force is working with the Board of Supervisors to expand the local sources of biodiesel when the fuel contract expires in 18 months and to look into building a production facility in the city, where none currently exist.

The United States Department of Energy estimates that biodiesel contains roughly 8 percent less energy per gallon than petroleum diesel, although that translates into only about a 1 percent difference in mileage and performance.

Bowen said using biodiesel is a win-win situation since it acts as a natural solvent to clean fuel filters. And "the improved lubricity extends the vehicle life," he said. But before they use biodiesel for the first time, diesel tanks must be cleaned out, which the Fire Department found costs $2,000 to $3,000 per tank.

SFGreasecycle also complements the city’s Climate Action Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. "The goal is not just to make San Francisco sustainable," Ving told us, "but to develop a program that can be implemented by other municipalities."

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

Life of the party


› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Amid the much-hyped speculation about whom Democratic and Republican party voters will choose as their respective presidential nominees this year, California members of the Green Party will vote for their representative Feb. 5.

Candidates Jared Ball, Kent Hesplay, Jesse Johnson Jr., Cynthia McKinney, and Kat Swift met for their only planned debate Jan. 13 at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, addressing a near-capacity crowd and laying out platforms that are decidedly more aggressive in tackling environmental and social problems than any proposed by the major-party candidates.

The candidates echoed one another on plans for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and shifting funding from the Pentagon into domestic programs for education, health care, and jobs. All professed grave concern about the environment, with Johnson calling the coal-mining method of mountaintop removal "ground zero for climate change."

By the end of the debate, Ball, a Baltimore hip-hop artist and professor in communications studies, fully endorsed McKinney, a former Democratic congressperson from Georgia. He emphasized that his greatest desire was for a strong national movement of people of all races, places, and income levels to continue what he called "incomplete revolutions" in the civil, labor, and women’s rights movements.

McKinney received the longest, most sustained standing ovation of the evening when she said, "Please unite the party. We can’t do it divided." She said the Greens represent the best hope of bringing together the large percentage of the country that’s spurned membership in both the Democratic and Republican parties. "I’ve never seen anything like I’ve seen in the Green Party," she said. "Please come together."

Also on hand — not participating in the debate but taking questions afterward — was Ralph Nader, a presidential candidate in 1996, 2000, and 2004, who hasn’t yet ruled out another run this year. Some Greens and other high-profile figures are urging him not to run and expressing concern that he’s become a polarizing figure who could hurt the party. Nader addressed the issue of party unity by saying, "I have very little to offer about how to unite the Green Party internally."

But he told the Guardian that if powerful institutional forces collude to limit his or the Green Party nominee’s access to the ballot, as he charges they did in 2004, he might run to highlight the need for greater political participation, saying, "I’ll be deciding within the next month." Nader has sued the Democratic Party, the John Kerry–John Edwards campaign, the Service Employees International Union, and a number of law firms and political action committees for allegedly conspiring to prevent him from running for president in 2004.

"Ballot access is a major civil liberties issue," Nader said. "Without voters’ rights, candidates’ rights don’t mean anything."

Yet the five announced candidates and Green Party activists on hand all seemed ready to rally around a new nominee for 2008, even as questions remain about whether the party should pool its energy and resources for national races or focus on state and municipal elections. Greens represent less than 3 percent of San Francisco’s registered voters and are outnumbered by Republicans four to one. Statewide, Greens amount to less than 1 percent. However, nearly 20 percent of California voters and 30 percent in San Francisco decline to state any party affiliation.

"I’m not sure yet that running a presidential candidate helps to grow the party, based on the experiences of the last several presidential attempts, especially in contrast to us focusing on races that can be won locally," Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, a Green who helped found the party in California, told the Guardian outside the debate. When asked if a national Green Party candidate trickles down attention and funding to the grassroots races, he said, "The theory is that it does. There isn’t any concrete evidence that it has coattails."

Since the Nader runs, Greens are wary of being tagged as presidential spoilers, but when that question was posed to this year’s prospects, they denied that it accurately portrays the voting landscape. As McKinney said, "When you’ve got a million black people who go to the polls … and nobody counts their votes … then don’t you dare call the Green Party spoilers."

Editors note: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that Ralph Nader was the Green Party candidate for president in 2004. Nader ran as an independent. The Greens nominated David Cobb.

Money for parks


› sarah@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY A broad coalition of politicians and activists is supporting Proposition A, the $185 million parks bond on the February ballot, with the rare unanimous support of the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom.

But just how big an impact can this bond, which requires 66 percent voter approval, make? The city has spent the $110 million bond that voters approved in 2000 to repair parks and recreation centers, and an independent 2007 analysis identified $1.7 billion in backlogged park needs.

"This is one of an ongoing series of measures that we need to do every five or so years," board president Aaron Peskin told the Guardian.

The bond allocates $117.4 million for repairs and renovations of 12 neighborhood parks that were selected, Recreation and Park Department director Yomi Agunbiade told us, according to seismic and physical safety needs and usage levels.

The bond also earmarks $11.4 million to replace and repair freestanding restrooms. Noting that his department added 35 custodians in the last budget cycle, Agunbiade said, "So when we fix a bathroom, we’ll have staff to keep it open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week."

Some aren’t keen on the bond’s inclusion of $33.5 million for Port of San Francisco land projects, including the Blue Greenway, a continuous walkway from Heron’s Head Park to Pier 43. San Francisco Community College trustee and Sierra Club member John Rizzo supports the measure but raised concerns about projects on Port land, particularly improvements at Fisherman’s Wharf.

But Peskin sees the Port lands inclusion as overdue: "For the first time there’s the recognition that the Port should not be treated as a stand-alone enterprise that has to do everything itself." As for the improvements around Pier 43, which is in his district, Peskin said, "Fisherman’s Wharf, like Union Square, is one of those geese that lay the golden egg" in terms of revenue from tourism.

The bond also earmarks $8 million for improvements to playing fields. Agunbiade said many fields are in terrible shape and in desperate need of work, "but this bond only affects about 7 percent of the city’s park land."

Some Potrero Hill neighbors are sounding environmental alarms about plans to install artificial turf at their local recreation center, but Agunbiade said there are also environmental benefits to turf, including decreased water and pesticide use.

Arthur Feinstein of the Sierra Club and San Francisco Tomorrow told us he strongly supports Prop. A, largely because it earmarks $5 million for trail restoration.

"The evidence is not in on the ill effects of artificial turf," Feinstein said, "but its ability to be in constant use frees up land for other uses, such as trail reconstruction, which makes a huge difference not just for native species and plants but people too, who need nature, especially in densely urban areas."

Isabel Wade, executive director of the Neighborhood Parks Council, says her nonprofit supports Prop. A, and she cited its inclusion of $5 million for an Opportunity Fund from which all neighborhoods can apply for matching funds for small park projects.

"A lot of little parks are not on the list because the capital costs of seismic repairs are so great, so how do you even get a bench or a toilet? Why not leverage money?" Wade said, observing that in-kind contributions, sweat equity, and noncity funds can be matched by the Opportunity Fund.

The bond includes $4 million for park forestry, along with $185,000 to do bond audits. This last item didn’t quell the objections of the San Francisco Taxpayers Union, a small group of conservative real estate interests that filed the sole opposition argument to Prop. A, courtesy of Barbara Meskunas, former legislative aide of suspended supervisor Ed Jew.

"Prop. A is a jobs program disguised as a parks bond," Meskunas wrote, also arguing the 2000 park bond money wasn’t properly spent. "The Parks Dept. needs new management, not new tax money."

But Peskin said this opposition from conservatives is unsurprising: "The Taxpayers Union opposes every tax and bond. They have never wanted to pay their fair share."

Learn what the measure would do for the eastern waterfront by bicycling the Blue Greenway on Jan. 13 with Prop. A supporters starting at 10 a.m. at Heron’s Head Park on Hunters Point and finishing at noon at Fisherman’s Wharf. For more info, call (415) 240-4150.

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

Solar man


› steve@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Two years ago Tom Price called me from the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. We didn’t know each other, but he’d read some of my articles about Burning Man, including "Epilogue as Prologue" (10/4/2005), which culminated my seven-part series by looking at how burners were projecting their culture, skills, and ethos into the outside world.

The most obvious example I used was the group that went straight from Burning Man 2005 to Mississippi to help clean up after Hurricane Katrina, which hit during the event. "If that isn’t applying our ethos, I don’t know what is," Burning Man founder Larry Harvey said in my article. "The very skills needed to survive at Burning Man are the skills needed to respond to a disaster."

Price had been a little busy mucking out flood-damaged homes and rebuilding a Buddhist temple in Biloxi, Miss., but the he’d called home for the past five months had finally gotten an Internet connection, and he’d just found my article. "Dude, we’re still here," he told me excitedly by phone. "It’s happening just like you wrote. We’re doing it."

As I started to learn, Price was an accomplished idealist for whom "doing it" means working to save the world. In college in Utah he spent a year in a shanty he erected in the main college square urging the university to disinvest in apartheid South Africa, and his removal led to a court case that expanded free speech rights. He worked as a journalist chronicling threats to the indigenous Kalahari tribes in Botswana and as an environmental activist and lobbyist in Washington DC, where he eventually became the main contract lobbyist for Burning Man, an event he loves.

In Mississippi he turned an encampment of do-gooder burners into an organization he dubbed Burners Without Borders. Price spoke so passionately and eloquently about what they were doing that I just had to go, working with them (as both journalist and laborer) for a week and writing a Guardian cover story about the experience ("From Here to Katrina," 2/22/06).

It was a project and a moment that seemed to capture both the scale of the environmental problems facing this country and the enormous potential of motivated individuals to creatively deal with them.

From there Burners Without Borders went on to create a program that recycles the huge amount of wood used by the more than 40,000 people who now attend Burning Man every year, donating it to Habitat for Humanity for the construction of low-income homes. And the group has sent contingents to do cleanup work after floods in the Pacific Northwest and cleanup and reconstruction in Pisco, Peru, after the massive earthquake there in 2007.

Price became the first environmental director for Burning Man, reflecting its Green Man theme last year.

One of the most notable projects to grow from that endeavor finally came into full bloom Dec. 18, 2007, when a 90-kilowatt solar array — some of which was used to power the eponymous Man at last year’s event — was placed in the town of Gerlach, Nev., as a donation to the Washoe County School District.

It will give the school free, clean power for the next 25 years, saving the district about $20,000 annually — money that can surely be put to better use than paying for fossil fuels.

The project was a joint venture between venture capital firm MMA Renewable Ventures (which put up the money), Sierra Pacific Power (which offered a substantial rebate for the project), and the Price-led burners who donated their labor.

"MMA put up the money, and the rebate from the utility paid back almost all of it, with the difference made up by Burning Man and its volunteers," Price said.

Price said 10 volunteers — including Eli Lyon, Matt Deluge, and Richard Scott, who were in Pearlington, Miss., with us — worked eight hours per day for 51 days to do the work that made the project pencil out.

Matt Cheney, CEO of MMA Renewable Ventures and a resident of Potrero Hill, said he approached people he knew at Burning Man a year ago, wanting to help the event’s new green goals. "One of the simplest ways to do it was to green up the Man with solar," he said.

Price helped guide the project past the anticorporate sentiments of burners. "A lot of people were afraid that Green Man would spell the end of Burning Man because there was corporate participation," Price said.

Instead, this creative partnership has become a model for the future and a job for Price, who is now executive director of the new nonprofit Black Rock Solar, which aims to replicate the Gerlach project at schools, hospitals, and other public institutions in Nevada and other states.

"We’re taking fiscal capital and social capital and combining them in a way that’s really never been done before," Price said.

John Hargrove, who runs the rebate program for Sierra Pacific Power, agrees the burners have created an entirely new model.

"They’re able to do installations that wouldn’t get done otherwise," Hargrove told the Guardian. "Clearly, they are donating a tremendous value to the project. The Burning Man, Black Rock Solar people are very unique. They’re not in it to make money."

Yet the model they’ve created allows capitalists to make money, albeit at lower returns, by tapping into a universal sense of goodwill and a desire to save the planet.

"We call this not-for-profit work. We’re operating on metrics where we don’t have to make our typical returns," Cheney said, noting that the price points for this project were about 25 percent lower than for a typical big solar project. And he thinks the undeniable public benefits of projects like this will attract more support from powerful players in the public and private sectors.

"It was the right moment in time to do something like this," Cheney said. "It’s one of those good ideas that happened at the right time and has taken on a life of its own."



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