March 31, 2009 – Volume 12, Issue 4
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


Saluting Local Government

Yosemite is one of my special places; a great setting for a conference of local government officials on sustainable communities. This past week I gained even greater respect for the power and demands of local government. Amidst Yosemite's magnificent granite walls, with full-bodied mountain air and nighttime's uncanny silence, it was a privilege to be among the most environmentally progressive of California's mayors and councilmembers, refreshingly dark green. They have long advocated sustainability. They saw the light, worked hard, persisted; their time has come.

Yosemite puts humanity in perspective. Brave men and women climb the faces of Half Dome and El Capitan; the rest of us marvel at the scale of the rock. Climate change does not threaten the planet, we were reminded, it does indeed threaten humanity. Like the Valley walls, the mission is huge.

Ahwahnee is the grand lodge and annual home of the Local Government Commission's conference, and for which its Ahwahnee Principles on sustainability are named. In an inspirational setting, among a choir of dedicated believers, aspirations are defined and strategies are devised. Successes are shared and relished.

While presidential elections steal the show, and Governors seem less mortal than others, local governments collectively provide both the rudder and profound change. Not always clean and easy, council sessions are marked by public comment, late-night, and often contention between the forces of development and the fiduciary responsibilities of nurture and leadership. Week after week, decisions are made, right or wrong, the wheels of local government continue.

Hats off for the officials who take the time to run our communities. Those in Yosemite demonstrate patience for the system and passion to stretch and pull agendae. Local officials spend countless hours as our representatives. Easy to criticize? You bet. Easy to emulate? Not.

In the rarified air of Yosemite, as the winter snow melts and gives way to the first signs of spring, the Local Government Commission gathering was rejuvenating. We're building a green energy economy in real time. Let's map out means for sustainability to create a higher quality of life, without gross taxation of land, air, and water resources.

Palm Desert's AB 811 Program

Councilmember Jim Ferguson from the City of Palm Desert does not fit the Ahwahnee norm, that is, he's a Republication with very conservative, even libertarian beliefs. He doesn't much believe in social engineering. One conference leader joked with Ferguson that he was, "from the dark side." So he was doubly welcome, and his story doubly refreshing. All he's wanted to do is lower consumer bills by helping them invest in energy efficiency.

For Jim Ferguson, it's a pretty simple story. Energy costs a lot, maybe more than paying for his kids' college education. He's worked with Southern California Edison, and appreciates the rebates, but he saw that consumers - like himself - lack the upfront cost for balance of system, be it a new central air conditioning system or solar system.

In short, Ferguson came up with a plan - and later a successful bill - that enables California cities and counties to help their property owners invest in energy efficiency fixtures and renewable energy systems. Cities and counties can help by putting up the upfront costs of the upgrades. Palm Desert promoted AB 811, a bill signed as an urgency measure by the Governor in July of 2008. It enables cities to lend money and to collect payments on the property tax bills over time. EcoMotion was hired by the city along with attorneys Richards, Watson, Gershon and Del Rio financial Advisors to design and prepare for implementation.

Since August, and under the capable auspices of its Office of Energy Management, Palm Desert has loaned $7.5 million to property owners for a wide variety of measures, from high efficiency air conditioners to photovoltaic systems. Over 200 property owners have borrowed funds for up to 20 years at 7%. The program doesn't cost the state or city, it supports utility efficiency and solar goals, and it helps local jurisdictions achieve their energy and climate protection commitments.

For more information, sign up for the Palm Desert AB 811 Conference hosted by EcoMotion. When? June 12, 2009. Where? UCR Palm Desert. For more information please visit EcoMotion..

Heading Down Valley

A get-away it had been. Inspired at elevation.

The original and magnificent Apollo mission began in 1961. The mission was to put a man on the moon; America invested about $3.5 billion a year in a $600 billion economy, equivalent to $75 billion today. The result was mission accomplished. In the current stimulus funding, there's $100 billion devoted to the green economy.

"When is enough, enough in our consumptive society?" Most experts agree that if widely deployed, technology will allow us to return to 1990 CO2 levels by 2020. But what about deeper reductions? How will we reach the 80% reduction target by 2050 when people still want bigger homes? "Won't this have to come from a change in attitudes?" When is enough, enough? This forced a moment of reflection.

Not too long ago, we didn't get a new car every two years, and we didn't go out to dinner two times a week. New cars were special; now they're routine. We've been bombarded by 24/7 commercial marketing, and it has had a huge impact on everything we do. Can you and/or the planet afford it? We'll certainly need recalibrations.

So we head down valley, back to our jobs. For city leaders, a return to a tough time of budget cuts. Some cities are forced to cut bus routes. Can't stimulus funds be used for operations? Participants were clear that their current mission is not just being shovel-ready, but preparing for a carbon-constrained world. We're moving - like it or not; ready or not - to a low-carbon society, and local governments are leading the way.

Special Yosemite Edition
Celebrating Yosemite!

"For tens of thousands of years, humans have not changed, and have been changed by, this place we call Yosemite." It is Mother Nature's version of shock and awe, known as "the Incomparable Valley." Places like Inspiration Point and Glacier Point speak to its grandeur. There's something about Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass.

Yosemite Valley was inhabited by the Ahwahneechee tribe until the mid-1800s. For thousands of years, an ancient group of Miwok inhabited a grassy area on the north side of the valley floor. They called the area "Ah-wha-nee," or "place of the gaping mouth." Near the current Ahwahnee Hotel, there are mortar holes in rocks where villagers ground acorns into a mash for porridge.

The discovery of gold brought an end to this. "As fortune-seekers pushed deeper into the valley, altercations occurred. When a frustrated group of Indians attacked a trading post in the Merced River Canyon, its owner James Savage successfully appealed to the new governor of California to allow him to assemble a battalion to track them down."

In 1851, the Mariposa Battalion - described as a loose-knit vigilante group -- entered Yosemite to remove the Ahwahneechee. According to the Park Service, "A violent disruption ensued that displaced the native population." Thinking that the tribesmen called themselves "the Yosemites," the battalion named the valley Yosemite in tribute.

In 1864, President Lincoln signed a bill granting Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoias to the State of California. John Muir sparked the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890. (Yellowstone National Park was the nation's first park, signed into law by President Ulysses Grant in 1872. The National Park Service was formed in 1916, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson.)

In 1907, construction of the Yosemite Valley Railroad connected Merced with the El Portal entrance to Yosemite. This ushered in an era of writers, artists and photographers. Rustic hotels and camp site were augmented a variety of lodgings, up to the style and charm of the elegant and iconic Ahwahnee Hotel.

Yosemite is 747,956 acres in size, 1,169 square miles, about the size of Rhode Island. In 2007, the Park had 3.6 million visitors; 91% were American and 89% from California. In 2007, there were 238 search and rescue operations, 420 motor vehicle accidents, 3,101 Ranger citations, and 14, 636 warnings. The park has 800 miles of trails, 20 miles of paved bike paths, 1,504 camp sites, 2,753 summer employees, and a $26.6 million annual budget.

Local Government Commission

The Local Government Commission (LGC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership organization that provides inspiration, technical assistance and networking to California's local elected officials and other dedicated community leaders who are working to create healthy, walk-able, and resource-efficient communities.

The Local Government Commission was initially part of the Governor's Office of Planning and Research (OPR). LGC's work is carried out in non-profit form. Its mission is to assist local governments in establishing and nurturing the key elements of livable communities:

A healthier human and natural environment
A more sustainable economy
An actively engaged populace, and
An equitable society

Today, LGC facilitates workshops and conferences, publishes guidebooks, and provides expert assistance for local government members. LGC sends e-mail alerts on state and national grant opportunities. Its Ahwahnee Principles on Economic Development, Water, and most recently Climate Change are for member use in their communities.

Click here to visit the official website of the Local Government Commission.

Building Livable Communities

Building livable communities at best is capitalizing on the urgent transformation from climate-threatening carbon ways, to a higher, sustainable lifestyle. These were the resonating themes of the conference. I met a zero waste consultant. Imagine improving human health through community design. Higher density can increase walking, biking, and transit access to services - cafes, groceries, pharmacies, etc. - and provide community spirit.

Introductions revealed a rich array of successes, from energy savings, to green building, affordable housing, drought resistant landscaping, "slip lanes" for busy thoroughfares. Rohnert Park remodeled a commercial building for its "new" LEED-certified City Hall. Ventura SOAR stands for Savings Open Spaces and Agricultural Resources. It focuses on "orderly growth," creating downtown corridors and relieving height restrictions to allow three-story buildings.

The City of Richmond played a key role in renovating the Ford Point Building along the waterfront. Built in 1930 as the West Coast's largest automobile assembly plant, it now houses SunPower Solar systems and Vetrazzo, a 1996 Berkeley start-up that makes high-end counter tops of recycled glass.

Santa Barbara boasts the largest electric bus fleet in the nation. Its council member spoke about public health and its connections to livable cities. Obesity, diabetes, asthma and other respiratory diseases, and cardiovascular disease are linked to our physical environment. Santa Barbara is focused on "community wellness," inspired through walk-ability, recreation and exercise opportunities, and safe communities for biking.

Every local jurisdiction has unique challenges building livable and sustainable communities: Del Mar has a population of 4,500; its race track attracts two million visitors each season. Santa Monica swells from less than 100,000 to a half million on a good beach day. The City of Richmond has a Chevron oil refinery that dominates its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In sessions at Yosemite, these were addressed with equally strong compassion and suggestion.

California's Energy Predicament

California is proud of its efficiency gains, and the gains were put in perspective. Growth in per capita electricity use has been kept flat. But with population increases, California's consumption has grown 1.2% per year, with 1.6% growth in peak demand.

Plug load is the fastest growing residential use. Flat screen TVs now consume 1% of all electricity in California, more than all University of California and California State University campuses combined.

California continues to import 22% of its electricity, and it's predominantly "dirty coal" responsible for 65% of the electricity sector's greenhouse gas emissions.

Twenty five percent of the State's GHGs come from buildings. California has 13 million existing homes, builds about 119,000 in a normal year. New housing is responsible for 0.15% of GHGs.

The State's 2007 Energy Policy Report calls for all new homes to be "net zero energy" in 2020, the same for commercial buildings by 2030.

Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006: AB 32

California is indeed the bell-weather state, ahead of the pack. Assembly Bill 32 passed in 2006, the Global Warming Solutions Act, calls for sweeping change: AB 32 calls for returning CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 (about a 25% reduction). Executive Order extended this to be 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. This will require "near carbon-neutral electricity."

The legislature left AB 32's implementation to the California Air Resource Board (CARB). Its executive director was in Yosemite to clarify CARB's approach and local requirements. He began with a macro view: He sees California shifting from a fossil fuel to an energy independent society, basically in real-time.

All eyes are on California. When CARB posted its draft rules (Scoping Plan) on its website in June of 2008, there were 90,000 downloads on the first day. The Scoping Study's first mandates begin in 2012 when major emitters will be subject to a cap of emissions.

The caps will cover 85% of all emissions. Cap and trade is attractive given the certainty of fixed limits. Its pricing and trading system is now the subject of a two-year rulemaking with the Western Climate Initiative of seven other states and four Canadian provinces to account for regional leakage.

SB 375 and Jerry Brown

"In order to reach California's greenhouse gas goals, we must rethink how we design our communities." This is stated on the Governor's fact sheet on SB 375, the "anti-sprawl bill" that in some way is using CO2 as a club. Many others are simply uncertain of its implications.

The Mayor of Pleasanton told her story of being called by Attorney General Jerry Brown. "Hi Jennifer, this is Jerry Brown." Mayor Jennifer Hosterman got the call because of her General Plan's failure to adequately address SB 375. Her city only has 1,500 new home sites available, and has plans for commercial developments for 40,000 workers.

This disproportion would increase vehicle miles travelled (VMT) and greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Attorney General's office, Pleasanton was in violation of SB 375 that requires cities to have plans for stemming emissions in new developments, and to address cities' in-fill policies in particular. "We're working it out," said Mayor Hosterman.

A representative of the Attorney General's office provided a sense of the enforcement strategy. The Attorney General certainly does not want to enter into lawsuits with locally elected officials. It does, however, review every California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) complaint. It's looking for particularly egregious cases of statewide significance. Of the 40 - 50 comment letters that it has provided to city general plan updates, it has only sued once, San Bernardino County.

The AG publishes information on its web site to encourage cities and counties to proactively address the requirements of SB 375 and AB 32, including a 30-page list of mitigation measures. The site will soon post a FAQ to help cities fully understand SB 375 requirements to attain compliance.

Click Here to visit the California Attorney General website.

Marin Clean Energy

Marin County is pushing forward with a bold initiative called Marin Clean Energy. Using the authority vested in local jurisdictions for "Community Choice Aggregation" by AB 117, Marin County is forming a venture to buy and sell green power to its members.

Marin's market research found that 70% of residents are willing to pay a premium for green power. MCE will offer two forms of green power: a "light green" renewable mix that it expects to be at rate parity in a few years (ie. at the same prices as conventional utility power). A "darker" variety is expected to be cheaper than grid power in about seven years.

When analyzing carbon dioxide reduction strategies, Marin found that car sharing, bus services, solar panels, and efficiency programs "pale in comparison" to the carbon mitigation impact of a green electricity mix. Through MCE, Marin expects to cut its CO2 emissions by 350,000 tons a year.

MCE will initially rely on power traders to buy its green power, later generating power locally through methane digestion, on and offshore wind, tidal power, solar, and geothermal. A study of the County's solar municipal and commercial potential showed 220 MW of capacity. The County has a 240 MW demand.

Silicon Valley Leadership Group

Silicon Valley Leadership Group was founded by David Packard of Hewlett Packard. It was the only business group that supported AB 32 and SB 375. SLVG recognizes the fact that to attain and maintain a high quality of life for its workers and suppliers - good transit, schools, services, etc. - it needs to invest in the local infrastructure.

SVLG's director spoke in Yosemite. He noted that its mission is, "to make the communities we live in better, not bitter." His organization's spirit is one of building cooperation. Why not focus 80% of the time on the 80% of things that people agree on, rather than spending the majority of the time on the 20% of what we disagree on?

SVLG has had impressive results. Pacific Gas and Electric Company provided detailed audits of member facilities, then provided special partnership incentives, resulting in dramatic uptake. For several years and seeing the value of "the cool factor," SVLG has sponsored a "Celebrity/CEO Bike to Work Day." SVLG wants Silicon Valley to become Solar Valley.

SVLG has also been promoting plug-in hybrids, initially commissioning a local conversion shop to demonstrate the technology's popular appeal. The group has also been promoting a 16-mile extension to the 104 mile Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), as well as high speed rail. It would take as little as 2.38 hours from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and only 2.09 hours from San Jose.