Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Let’s build resilient communities, not just sea walls"

2014-05-28 by Susan Silber []:
Susan Silber is the co-coordinator for the Community Resilience Challenge-East Bay [], working alongside Daily Acts Sustainable Contra Costa, the Victory Garden Foundation and Bay Localize to promote community resilience. She is a long-time environmental educator and community organizer, and also works with the Green Schools Initiative, working to reduce waste and promote sustainability with Berkeley Unified schools.
As we cope with the latest gloomy news about climate change — from flooding in Serbia to Antarctica’s irreversible melting to Congress’s continued inaction and denial that climate change is even happening — a new buzz word is popping up in the halls of environmental organizations and The White House alike: resilience. In the context of managing the risks and impacts of climate change, “resilience” implies that cities and communities must develop strategies to cope with the increasingly detrimental effects of drought, natural disasters, shifting climate zones, and rising sea levels.  In short, resilience is the ability to bounce back from catastrophe.
The White House’s new Climate Adaptation and Resilience Task Force recommended a number of actions that cities and states could take to adapt to a changing climate, from building sea walls to creating resilient hospitals. While necessary, many of these strategies are top-down and expensive approaches that will take years to implement.
Furthermore, this narrow interpretation of resilience indicates a shift in resources and political will away from mitigating climate change toward simply adapting to its adverse effects. While we know that many impacts of climate change are inevitable – in fact, we’re already feeling them – every effort must be made to continue reducing our carbon footprint. “Bouncing back” to the business-as-usual approach that got us into this mess into the first place is irresponsible, a “band-aid” solution to a much deeper systemic crisis.
The missing piece in this conversation is what citizens can do immediately to make our lives and communities more resilient. Many politicians do not recognize the power of individuals who both understand the implications of a climate disruptive future and are empowered to take action into our own hands. But a growing number of empowered citizens are rising to what is arguably humanity’s greatest challenge by getting their hands dirty and taking practical action to simultaneously reduce their carbon footprint and create a buffer against the harsh realities of daily life in a climate-changed world.  The Community Resilience Challenge is one indication of the power of this sort of small scale action.
Throughout the month of May, the Community Resilience Challenge has been mobilizing thousands of individuals and groups across the East Bay and beyond to build a more resilient region through coordinated local action. Founded by Petaluma-based Daily Acts five years ago and brought to the  East Bay by a collaboration of local non-profits, the Challenge engages individuals, schools, organizations, municipalities and businesses to implement  practical solutions  that will create a more healthy, just and resilient future. It is organized under four themes (Save Water, Grow Food, Conserve Energy, and Build Community), and participants commit to undertaking specific actions or participating in group projects that fall under each theme.
Suggested actions range from the simple and free – think unplugging electronics and installing a clothesline – to the more complex, like installing a greywater system or planting a community garden. We are already halfway to our goal of collecting 3,000 individual pledges in the East Bay, and in Sonoma County Daily Acts has already collected 4,500 pledges.
The Challenge is an extraordinary community effort, reflecting the immense potential of grassroots groups, municipalities and businesses alike to tackle climate change. The City of Berkeley and Transition Berkeley collaborated to plant 120 drought tolerant plants with the help of 40 volunteers on a Saturday. Urban agriculture pioneers Urban Tilth promoted its Saturday Work Party as an opportunity for community members to help build a local food system. Emergency preparedness neighborhood volunteers discussed the nexus between their efforts and building neighborhood resilience through climate action. In East Oakland, community members will get together with DIG Cooperative to help an elderly neighbor with her garden. Up north, Daily Acts is transforming the lawn surrounding Sebastopol’s City Hall into an edible garden for the public to enjoy – and eat from. And through Transition US, a national network of community resilience groups, many more actions are catalyzing communities from Arizona to Wisconsin to Washington, DC.
Such small, low-tech community projects might not hold the sexy allure of massive renewable energy or high-tech infrastructure projects. Consequently, community efforts are severely underfunded and undervalued by municipalities and larger environmental organizations alike. This is a mistake that must be addressed. Grassroots citizen-led projects provide a plethora of personal and community benefits that go far beyond the project itself. Improving neighborhood safety by engaging community members in positive projects? Check. Addressing the obesity crisis and income disparity by providing easy access to fruits and vegetables in public spaces? Check. Saving water as California’s drought becomes more severe? Check.
So as we turn our attention to building resilience in our communities, let us not forget the power of these grassroots community projects.  Please join me in supporting the Community Resilience Challenge.  Plant a garden – in your yard, your neighbor’s yard, or in a public space. Install a compost bin. Help a school plant fruit trees. Together these small actions can make our communities truly resilient.
There are two Community Resilience Challenge events on May 31: A California Hotel Garden Work Day from 10-3pm, and Greywater Action will host a workshop on how to build a Laundry to Landscape greywater system at a residential home. For full information on the Challenge and its events, visit East Bay Resilience Challenge online [].

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"The Added Value of Local Food Hubs"

2014-05-22 by Julie Cohen for UCSB News []:
Santa Barbara CA -
Locally grown and chemical-free produce are labeled at the salad bar in De La Guerra dining commons. Image courtesy Spencer Bruttig.

As the largest purchaser of wholesale produce in Santa Barbara County, UC Santa Barbara's residential dining services provided the perfect avenue for a pilot project incorporating local pesticide-free or certified organic produce into an institutional setting.
The idea was conceived almost 10 years ago, when a group of students approached environmental studies professor David Cleveland about becoming a faculty adviser for student-led sustainable living classes. The group wanted to explore how to bring more local organic food in the dining halls. In 2010 Cleveland and a group of student researchers began documenting the process, which led to the publication of a paper in the Journal of Rural Studies.
A confluence of factors helped to support the project, including a UC-wide initiative to purchase local produce. At the same time, Santa Barbara County farmers were in need of an alternative local food hub to wholesale their produce to local institutional users. Farmer Direct Produce (FDP) - now Harvest Santa Barbara - filled that gap by serving as the wholesale link between farmers and UCSB and other outlets.
Residential dining services at UCSB provide about 10,000 meals a day - 2.5 million meals a year - so the task could have been daunting. Instead, the organizers started small, adding five or six local and organic items to the salad bar. Scaling up slowly turned out to be key to the project's success.
"One of the conclusions of the paper is that it is an iterative process," Cleveland said. "You always have to begin where you are; you can't make a total radical transformation. You figure out how to gradually move in the direction you want to go and then make incremental changes."
While local food systems have increased in popularity in recent years, the majority of the food system is still dominated by large-scale national and global networks.
"The entire food system is oriented toward large players and oriented to maximize their profit, not maximize environmental benefit or social benefit or nutritional benefit or community benefit," Cleveland said.
The challenge for FDP and UCSB was to create a viable operation for all parties involved, which meant moving beyond the profit-dominated mentality of the mainstream food system.
Personal relationships built on trust turned out to be important elements. FDP's Wesley Sleight and Anna Breaux knew the farmers whose crops they purchased; the pair also developed a good working relationship with Terry Thomas, systems analyst with residential dining services, and Bonnie Crouse, assistant director of residential services, both now retired from UCSB. There was commitment on both sides to reach the same goal: scaling up the amount of locally grown pesticide-free or organic produce used in UCSB dining halls.
"It's often not possible to maximize social, environmental and economic sustainability at the same time," Cleveland explained.
"There are tradeoffs, conflicts. The 'triple bottom line' in mainstream business really means that economic goals are first and they'll work on the other ones as long as it increases their profit. The UCSB-FDP collaboration turned that upside down because it was viewed as a community project in which all of the parties valued the nonmonetary benefits of their work as much as or more than the financial benefits."
Initially, students had minor concerns because the organic produce often didn't look the same as its conventional counterparts in grocery stores. Education was key. The concerns diminished once the students began to understand the benefits of choosing seasonal, locally grown produce.
Dining hall chefs also had to be educated so they would embrace ordering from FDP and understand the worth of the extra effort involved in using local produce. Despite these learning curves, by 2010 - five years into the project - UCSB was buying 100,000 pounds of produce from FDP. In 2012, FDP was sold and renamed Harvest Santa Barbara.
"We're always striving to increase the amount of sustainable produce we purchase, and having that relationship with Harvest Santa Barbara and supporting our community is wonderful," said Danielle Kemp, residential dining services' dietitian, "because without them we wouldn't be able to purchase from local farmers. Because of Harvest Santa Barbara, our student interns have formed relationships with local farmers and are able to bring back what they learn from farmers to educate their peers. These relationships and education for students are key."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"PG&E, Ed Lee and the SFPUC v. clean energy"

by Ann Garrison for KPFA Evening News, May 11, 2014 []:
KPFA Evening News Anchor Anthony Fest: This weekend was the conference on Dirty Energy and Clean Solutions. That conference opened in San Francisco at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Friday. ​Ironically, the conference in San Francisco came at the same time that San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee proposed to cut the entire $19 million dollar budget that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors had set aside to create a renewable power option for city residents looking for an alternative to PG&E power. KPFA’s Ann Garrison is in the studio with this live report on the distance between renewable power technologies and the political will to implement them.

KPFA/Ann Garrison: San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos said he feels reasonably confident that the board’s Budget Committee will restore the CleanPowerSF funds before the full board votes on the budget, but he also says he wonders whether Mayor Ed Lee would have proposed the clean power funding cut if he didn’t believe that he could strike enough political deals to get his way with the board.

John Avalos: Supervisor Scott Wiener really wants streetlights. And I wonder if the mayor has talked with Supervisor Wiener to get his support to swipe the funds by offering him solar streetlights. And I’ve heard that another supervisor – I’m not sure who – is really pushing the Go Solar program and may be subject to changing his support for CleanPowerSF for GoSolar.
And then, just randomly, there’s all kinds of things in the budget or projects that the mayor can support or take away, based on supervisors’ votes.

KPFA: Even if the funds were restored, the mayor and the Public Utilities commissioners could once again stall and refuse to implement the clean power program, as they have for the past two years, ever since the board passed it with an 8 to 3 supermajority, which meant that Mayor Lee could not veto it. The Public Utilities commissioners’ prior obstruction finally stirred Supervisor Avalos to propose a board ordinance to study the feasibility of joining Marin Clean Energy, as the City of Richmond did two years ago.

John Avalos: We’re trying every means possible to offer clean power to San Francisco residents, even going to Marin possibly, if we have to do that.

KPFA: San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, a former supervisor and longtime renewable power advocate, said that Marin Clean Energy is a non-profit electricity buying community that has been extraordinarily successful, far more successful than even its adherents had imagined, and that it’s an example of how efficient regional renewable power can be.

Ross Mirkarimi: Since San Francisco has now been dwarfed in clean energy by its own politics, I think good measures stand to investigate what a regional CCA (Community Choice Aggregation) would look like by hooking up with Marin. So if you have this network of municipalities, I think it shows the creativity amid the political roadblocks.
The good news about this kind of structure is that it’s considered a not-for-profit structure. That’s one of the things that appealed to me the most, that even if you have a company like Shell or others, the overhead still must be addressed, but the dividends that are created must by law be reinvested back into the infrastructure of the clean energy system or into the rate decrease. And so, you can imagine that there will be that start-up cost. That’s natural for any new business, as well as a municipal utility.
But the payoff has already come much sooner for Marin, where they’re registering a profit that’s being reinvested back in their system. They never anticipated that that payoff was going to come so soon. So for us not to study the feasibility and the mechanisms that have now induced a much more positive than expected story, literally a bridge away, is absolutely absurd.

KPFA/Ann Garrison: PG&E produces only 19 percent of its power from renewable sources, despite a state mandate that required them to be producing at least 20 percent with renewables by 2010.
In Berkeley, for Pacifica, KPFA Radio, I’m Ann Garrison.

(Photo: San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos speaks at a clean power rally.)

(Photo: Pacific Gas & Electric was the lead sponsor of the 2014 Conference of Mayors in Sacramento in April. Next year the Conference of Mayors will be held in San Francisco. The third mayor from left is San Francisco’s Ed Lee.)

(Photo: San Francisco Sheriff and former Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi addresses a CleanPowerSF rally outside San Francisco City Hall. Hunters Point activist Espanola Jackson stands beside him.)

Monday, May 5, 2014

"Smart Growth" planning for residential development

"Encouraging smart growth"
2009-06-11 by Robert Selna from "San Francisco Chronicle" []

The Bay Area could serve as a national model for environmental sustainability by creating new jobs and housing on underused and blighted land while cutting carbon emissions, according to a Greenbelt Alliance initiative announced Wednesday.
The Grow Smart Bay Area campaign is not only intended to push the smart-growth philosophy that has been around for decades - reducing sprawl by creating new, dense development near public transit - but also to provide clear strategies for communities to use when planning growth in the years and decades to come.
In that vein, the Alliance, an Oakland organization focused on regional growth issues, said there are approximately 40,000 sites in Bay Area cities and towns that could accommodate new development. The parcels have vacant lots, parking lots or generally are not economically vital, but often exist on transit corridors in places such as Oakland, Concord and Hayward.
The group identified 100 "priority" development sites that could best handle growth. These should be the areas for future housing and commercial development, rather than farmland, forests and other open space, according to the group's executive director, Jeremy Madsen.
"The Bay Area could create a model metropolis," Madsen said, speaking to about 220 people and a panel of experts at a downtown San Francisco high-rise with sweeping views of the Bay Area. "The region should be more livable and sustainable than it is today. We should focus on development where jobs, amenities and transportation already exist."
Madsen said the nine-county Bay Area's population is expected to grow from 7 million to 9 million by 2035 and to add 1.7 million jobs, but many local governments have not planned ways to handle the growth. At the same time, California recently has approved innovative legislation in an effort to reduce global warming.
One bill calls for cutting back the state's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Another is designed to encourage metropolitan planning agencies to reduce the distances residents must drive. It also provides financial incentives for local governments that embrace smart growth and develop transportation plans that take automobiles off roadways.
Madsen noted that while many cities already have embraced smart-growth policies, they could take their efforts even further. He outlined the following strategies for planners and government officials to push smart-growth development:
-- Increase the density of new development, design streets for pedestrians and cyclists and reduce parking.
-- Bring residents into the planning process so that they support smart-growth concepts.
-- Create urban growth boundaries and other limits on sprawl.
-- Invest in infrastructure that supports growth in cities and towns, such as transportation and parks.
The panel assembled Wednesday said the Bay Area is primed for urban infill growth because there are opportunities for development within cities, and studies indicate that aging Baby Boomers and younger generations want to live in dense, urban environments. However, the economic model for such development also must exist, they said.
"One question is, will people really be coming here for jobs in the next few years and will the jobs really be here?" said Jim Wunderman, the chief executive officer of the Bay Area Council, a business advocacy group.
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, also a panelist, said that San Jose grew by 500,000 residents in the past 30 years with urban, infill development and would need to do that again in the next 30 years, while continuing to attract creative and talented people with other options.