Machesna Wilderness hike
Photo by Gary Felsman
The state Attorney General's office and the Local Government Commission hosted the all-day workshop "CEQA and Climate Change" on August 7, 2008, at the Fess Parker Resort in Santa Barbara, attended by planners and regulators from San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties; and by designers, architects and engineers from throughout the state.
They came to get the latest word on the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other regulations now being formulated to deal with the impacts of global climate change.
The legal bottom line: Local agencies must assess whether a proposed project's greenhouse gas emissions are individually or cumulatively significant. If significant, that impact must be mitigated by any feasible means. Planners preparing environmental project reviews "can't just talk about impacts and make no determination," said Sydney Coatsworth of EDAW, a San Francisco environmental consulting firm.
The other bottom line: State funding will be going to communities with high-quality, low-impact development.
Deputy Attorney General Ken Alex noted that 90 percent of the Sierra snowpack will be gone by the end of the century if we continue to produce greenhouse gas emissions at our present rate. Against that backdrop and all it implies, there was good news: The state has now given cities and counties the authority to pass bonds to pay for the up front costs of installing residential solar power.
Alex commended the Sierra Club's "Cool Cities" program, which has been in the forefront of the national movement for local action against global warming, securing commitments from more than 800 cities to the principles of the U.S. Mayors Agreement on Climate Change, promising to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. This echoes the goal of the Kyoto Agreement, and "so far [these cities] are ahead of pretty much everywhere else" in the effort to achieve that goal, he said.
Anthony Eggert of the California Air Resources Board delivered the sobering statistic that Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) could wipe out the gains from all such efforts. We are driving more, and longer distances, at a rate of twice the population growth. The good news: "Smart mixed-use development" has been shown to reduce VMT by up to 50 percent.
"People commute 200 miles because the roads have been built that allow them to do that," said David Sargent of the architectural firm Moule & Polyzoides. "People respond to the environment they're given. We need to focus on moving people, not cars."
Eggert said that all rules to implement the state's landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, AB 32, will be in place by January 2012, and meanwhile early adoption is strongly recommended. He predicted that AB 32 will serve as a model for regional, federal, and international green house gas reduction plans encouraging the production of clean energy and improving public health. See: www.climatechange.ca.gov
Alex noted that "some cities are [reducing emissions] just because they realized they can save money. Fine!" Eggert confirmed that the Sacramento Council of Governments initiated their climate action plant because they realize that the long-range plan means a reduction in their annual energy costs.
Doug Henton of Collaborative Economics underlined the economic case for cutting carbon emissions, pointing out that since 1970, improving energy efficiency has lowered California 's per capita energy use to the point that we now spend half of what Texas spends on energy as a percentage of GDP. "That's a savings of $25 billion due to energy efficiency," he said. California is now the primary recipient in the nation of venture capital investment, due primarily to an influx of alternative energy generators. A rapid increase in the pace of change triggered by AB 32 can reduce emissions and grow the economy. For more on the California Green Innovation Index, see: www.next10.org
Gary Cook of ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability, observing "You can't manage what you can't measure," invited all to join the organization. The international association of local governments and national and regional local government organizations provides region-specific software and technical assistance to aid local governments in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
Case studies: Green Paso
The conference wrapped up with a series of case studies of projects underway that will meet and beat the requirements of AB 32 and CEQA, incorporating the necessary innovations in community energy, water recycling, waste water treatment, transportation and design.
Sargent of Moule & Polyzoides presented his Central Paso Robles Design Team's master plan to make Paso Robles a model of pedestrian-friendly smart growth.
"Compact growth," he noted, "does not imply high-rises or uniform density, but higher average blended density."
Sargent was excited to note that Paso once had a street car system, and can again. "We're pretty sure the tracks are still under Spring Street," he said. There's a reason why streetcars, along with homes that take advantage of natural heating and cooling and are located close to jobs and city services, are relics of another age, one we need to rediscover: "These houses were built in a time when people didn't have the wherewithal to be stupid," he said.
"We built our way into this mess," Sargent concluded. "There are a lot of lessons we're going to have to re-learn, or perish."
Kirstie Moore, Sustainability Project Manager for Codding Enterprises, presented the plans for Sonoma Mountain Village, based on policies of no new water allocations, equity and fair trade, local, sustainable food (one such policy: lease preferences will be given to restaurants that serve local organic food), and the establishment of job incubators for sustainable local businesses. See: www.sonomamountainvillage.com .
Site design donated by Gary Felsman