Wednesday, November 28, 2012

EPA Recognizes Seven Communities for Smart Growth Achievement (including one in the Bay Area and one in LA County)

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recognized seven communities with its 2012 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement. The Smart Growth awards are given for creative, sustainable initiatives that better protect the health and the environment of our communities while also strengthening local economies.

The 2012 award winners are being recognized in four categories: Overall Excellence in Smart Growth, Equitable Development, Main Street or Corridor Revitalization, and Programs and Policies. This year’s winners and honorable mentions were selected from 47 applicants from 25 states. The winning entries were chosen based on their effectiveness in creating sustainable communities; fostering equitable development among public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders; and serving as national models for environmentally and economically sustainable development.  Specific initiatives include improving transportation choices, developing green, energy-efficient buildings and communities, and providing community members with access to job training, health and wellness education, and other services.

The 2012 winners are:

Overall Excellence - Winner
BLVD Transformation Project, Lancaster, California

The redesign of Lancaster Boulevard helped transform downtown Lancaster into a thriving residential and commercial district through investments in new streetscape design, public facilities, affordable homes, and local businesses. Completed after eight months of construction, the project demonstrates how redesigning a corridor guided by a strategic vision can spark new life in a community. The project has generated almost $300 million in economic output and nearly 2,000 jobs.

Equitable Development - Winner
Mariposa District, Denver, Colorado

The redevelopment of Denver’s historic and ethnically diverse La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood is turning an economically challenged area into a vibrant, transit-accessible, district. The community’s master plan preserves affordable housing while adding energy-efficient middle-income and market-rate homes. Because of extensive community engagement, development will include actions to improve the health of residents, reduce pollution, and control stormwater runoff.

Main Street or Corridor Revitalization - Winner
The Cooperative Building, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Brattleboro Food Co-op, the town’s only downtown food store, made a commitment to remain at its downtown location by constructing an innovative, four-story green building on Main Street with a grocery store, commercial space, offices, and affordable apartments. The Main Street location provides healthy food, new jobs, and housing within walkable distances of downtown businesses and public transit.

Programs and Policies - Winner
Destination Portsmouth, Portsmouth, Virginia

The city of Portsmouth revised its comprehensive plan and undertook a broad review of its development and land use regulations. As a result, Destination Portsmouth prepared a package of new plans, zoning ordinances, and other development policies in collaboration with community stakeholders. The overhaul of the city’s codes encourages development in targeted growth areas and helps businesses to locate in the city while also protecting the character of Portsmouth’s historic neighborhoods.

Equitable Development - Honorable Mention
Northwest Gardens, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Through safer streets, job training and education programs, and high-quality, affordable homes, the once struggling Northwest Gardens neighborhood is rapidly becoming a model for economic, environmental, and social sustainability. The redesigned neighborhood offers a range of energy-efficient, affordable housing choices and is one of the first communities in the nation to receive LEED for Neighborhood Development certification. A local housing authority program also provides disadvantaged youths with construction training as they complete their GEDs.

Main Street or Corridor Revitalization - Honorable Mention
Larkin District, Buffalo, New York

Community organizations and a local developer partnered with the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning to help revitalize the Larkin District, an old manufacturing district located one mile from downtown Buffalo. Architectural students worked with the developer and the city to create a master plan for an urban village that now features new office space, restaurants, apartments, parks, and plazas. New sidewalks, lighting, crosswalks, bicycle lanes, and bus shelters reduce pollution from vehicles by making walking, biking, and public transit more appealing.

Programs and Policies - Honorable Mention
Bay Area Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Fund, San Francisco, California

The Bay Area Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Fund is providing loans for developers to build affordable homes near public transportation. At this point, the fund has provided loans for a 153-unit high-rise for low-income families located two blocks from a major transit station, and for a 64-unit building for seniors close to a light rail station that will provide free transit passes for all residents.

More information:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

July 15-17 2011 "Carmageddon" Immediately Improves Air Quality 83%

An eye-opening glimpse of what the future could be like if we can move away from combustion engines
Matt Stevens, Los Angeles Times, September 28, 2012

Los Angeles shut down a 10-mile stretch of one of its busiest highways, the 405, for a weekend in July 2011. Drivers stayed away in dramatic numbers – not only from the 405, but also throughout the entire region.

Last Friday, Suzanne Paulson and Yifang Zhu of UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability released their research on air pollutants measured during "Carmageddon 2011".

Air quality near the closed 10-mile portion of the 405 freeway reached levels 83% better than typical weekends. Elsewhere in West Los Angeles, the improvement was equally dramatic. Air quality improved by 75% in parts of West Los Angeles and in Santa Monica, and by 25% throughout the entire region, suggesting that large numbers of residents stayed off the road in those areas as well.

The researchers found that particulate matter dropped significantly within minutes of the road closure (accordingly, it ramped back up the moment traffic resumed). There's little heavy industry around this stretch of the 405 freeway, underscoring that changes in transportation policy or vehicle technology could yield significant air quality improvements.

Read the complete article here, and another take here.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Bikes on BART

BART releases bike pilot survey results

A rider survey about BART’s commute period bike pilot, when blackout restrictions were lifted on five Fridays in August, found varied results.

Riders responding to the survey were equally split on what to do: 37% wanted to keep the blackouts; 37% wanted to end them; and 25% favored reducing the blackout periods to one hour from two. Other data from the survey suggest similarly divided feelings.

90% of respondents aware of the pilot who rode during the commute reported they did not personally experience any problems related to it. (Of the 10% who did experience problems, the most commonly cited problems were bikes blocking aisles, doorways and seats; bikes entering crowded trains; and bikes running into or brushing up against people.)

Asked how lifting the blackout affected their BART trip, 17% said it made their trip worse. (9% said it made their trip better, and 74% said it had little or no effect.).

The public will have an opportunity to discuss the results when the BART Bicycle Task Force has a meeting on Monday, Oct. 1, at 6 pm.

Additional details available on the BART website.

Treasure Island Radioactive Waste Investigation Expands into Yards and Homes

Treasure Island Health Study Planned
Matt Smith, Bay Citizen, September 26, 2012

Navy contractors have been searching for and removing low-level radioactive waste at the former Treasure Island Naval Station since 2003, the legacy of an atomic warfare school and a warship repair yard.

But recently, the Navy has had to broaden its efforts after state health officials said military contractors had misidentified and mishandled potential radioactive waste sites.

Officials with the Navy and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control assured residents that they would have suffered no health effects from radioactive material. 

Steve Woods, a radiation specialist with the state Department of Public Health, offered a slightly different message. He said that even though findings so far do not suggest there is a health risk, more studies are warranted.  San Francisco health officer Tomás Aragón said his agency may step into the breach by collecting available health information about Treasure Island residents.

Read the complete article here, and the Bay Citizen's coverage of Treasure Island here.

The Social Cost of Carbon

Joanna M. Foster, NY Times, September 18, 2012

In 2010, 12 government agencies working in conjunction with economists, lawyers, and scientists, agreed to develop a common standard for the social cost of carbon. The reason was that, in calculating the costs and benefits of pending policies and regulations, the Department of Transportation was assuming that a ton of emitted carbon dioxide imposed a $2 cost on society while the Environmental Protection Agency plugged 10 times that amount into its equations.

Instead, they decided that all agencies would use the same baseline of $21 per ton as the standard in monetizing the social costs of the seven-plus billion tons of carbon generated by US power plants, vehicles, and factories each year.

But a new paper published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences concludes that the costs of carbon pollution and related climate change are vastly greater — possibly two to 12 times as much. The authors argue that the federal government is not adequately taking into account the impacts of climate change on future generations.

At the heart of this debate is a disagreement about how to apply an economic concept known as the discount rate. Simply put, the discount rate is based on how much it is worth to us now to prevent that future damage. The governmental agency group looked at discount rates of 2.5, 3, and 5 percent, ultimately settling on 3 percent and putting the cost of one ton of carbon at $21. But the new study opts for discount rates of 1, 1.5, and 2 percent, ultimately putting the cost of one ton of carbon at anywhere from $55 to $266.

Read the complete article here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Vulnerability & Adaptation to Climate Change in California

The California Natural Resources Agency and the California Energy Commission have jointly released "Our Changing Climate 2012", the State’s third major assessment on climate change.  This report highlights California's specific vulnerabilities, few of which will be a surprise to anyone:
  • The state’s electricity system is more vulnerable than was previously understood.
  • The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is sinking, putting levees at growing risk.
  • Wind and waves, in addition to faster rising seas, will worsen coastal flooding.
  • Animals and plants need connected “migration corridors” to allow them to move to more suitable habitats to avoid serious impacts.
  • Native freshwater fish are particularly threatened by climate change.
  • Minority and low-income communities face the greatest risks from climate change.
The report maintains that there are effective ways to prepare for and manage climate change risks, but local governments face many barriers to adapting to climate change.

Read the complete report here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stop Traffic Before It Starts

Found via the Daily Good...

Christian Brüggemann, 25, and two of his friends, all of them students at universities in Germany, have created a Windows Phone app called Greenway that aims to prevent traffic jams and get you from Point A to B in the shortest amount of time.

While existing mapping apps such as Waze and Google Maps show their users traffic jams and hazards and offer alternate routes, Greenway hopes to prevent backups from occurring in the first place by using software to predict where drivers are heading. The approach is part of a broader trend that has, for example, seen some insurers offer rates tailored to a person's driving habits—after tracking their movements via a GPS unit attached to the car.

The Greenway app, which is being tested by dozens of smartphone users around Munich, Germany, has already gained some recognition by clinching an environmental sustainability award (and a $10,000 prize) at Microsoft's annual Imagine Cup student technology competition in July. The Greenway group is now trying to secure funding to bring its app to iPhone and Android smartphone users.

Read the complete story here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Improper Waste Management Sends Three to Hospital

Three men were hospitalized after encountering five barrels of hazardous materials that were illegally disposed in a dumpster.

Prosecutors are seeking cleanup costs and up to $200,000 in fines from Pellarin Construction Group, according to a lawsuit filed in San Mateo County Superior Court on Monday.

Two Recology garbage men and their supervisor were exposed to a gas composed of ammonia and hydrochloric acid after the containers exploded when they were compacted in their truck.  They suffered eye pain, breathing difficulties, and extreme coughing attacks.

Read the complete story here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Green Roof Trend

An interesting article popped up via LinkedIn today about the green roof trend. From the Engineering News Record:

'Green roofs are gaining acceptance in dozens of countries, joining other forms of green infrastructure that are being used to mitigate environmental problems of urban centers.
For example, vegetated roofs “are very good at managing stormwater. Most extensively planted green roofs will hold the first inch of rainfall and slow any additional rainfall, thus reducing peak flows and lowering the stress on combined sewer overflows,” says Steven Peck, founder and president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (CRHC).
The group is a professional association with both corporate and individual members, ranging from large manufacturers to contractors, nurseries, landscape architects, structural engineers, roofing consultants and horticulturalists. "Stormwater management has been a driver [of green roof construction] in the U.S.," adds Peck.
"The Environmental Protection Agency is working on rulemaking for municipal separate stormwater sewer systems (MS4s). It's very clear there is going to be a very significant green infrastructure component (green roofs and green streets)," says Nancy Somerville, executive vice president of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Many cities throughout the U.S. and Europe have green-roof mandates or incentives in place. Stuttgart, Germany, requires green roofs on all new flat-roofed industrial buildings. In 2007, Pittsburgh enacted an law establishing stormwater volume reduction standards for properties greater than 10,000 sq ft, including on-site retention of the first inch of rainfall through any combination of infiltration, evapotranspiration and rainwater harvesting. Portland, Ore., requires new city-owned buildings and existing buildings in need of a roof replacement to install a green roof on at least 70% of the roof area.
Green Roofs for Healthy Cities' annual survey of its corporate members found that the green roof industry in the U.S. and Canada increased 115% between 2010 and 2011. The annual growth rate is derived by averaging the square footage of green roofs installed by a representative sample of corporate members.
"Increasing numbers of building owners in the public and private sectors are recognizing they can design, build and maintain green roofs profitably with a good return on investment," says Peck.
"Green roofs have a higher cost up front, but the payback over time is significant, not just in energy savings. It's protecting your roof membrane—you can skip one or two or three roof replacement cycles," says Somerville.'

The full article from ENR can be found here. Check out more great photos of the largest green roof projects in the world:

It's an encouraging trend to see cities across the US, including Oakland, promoting urban greening strategies to mitigate serious environmental issues, including the urban heat island effect and waterway contamination from stormwater runoff. Cities may never be carbon sinks, but green roofs are just one example of the many creative ways urban areas are becoming more climate conscious and aesthetically pleasing places to live.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Port of Oakland Challenges: Competition and Labor Relations

Despite funding victories, challenges remain
Andrew Ross, San Francisco Chronicle, July 10, 2012

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood toured the Oakland Army Base this week, bringing news of a $15 million grant for the $1 billion redevelopment project scheduled to break ground next year. An $80 million rail yard expansion at the former Oakland Army Base is the first phase of the redevelopment project to transform the base into a state-of-the-art logistics center managing cargo flow at the Port.

The redevelopment project has been in the works for 15 years. Late last month, the Oakland City Council managed to save the $242 million in funding the state had threatened to cut off. A regional tax measure would provide an additional $275 million for further infrastructure improvements, including an overpass to separate rail and truck traffic near the port, if voters give their approval on November's ballot.

In addition to its money woes, the Port needs the cooperation of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021. Union members rejected a negotiated contract offer last month and there could be a strike at any time. Like many labor-management disputes, this one revolves around increased health and pension contributions, in part to help fill a huge unfunded pension liability.

Labor disputes could shift business through the new Panama Canal -- scheduled to open in 2014 -- and to east coast ports. The canal's business plan "explicitly assumes that a lot of the trade between Asia and America's east and Gulf coasts will be diverted from California's ports to the canal," the Economist magazine reported in January. The Oakland Army Base rail yard project is slated to begin during the fall of 2013 and be completed in 2015.

Oakland has its advantages, however. It can handle many of the larger containers that other U.S. ports cannot, including the massive, 1,200-foot-long MSC Fabiola, which recently passed through the Port in March. Also, the Port's main business is exports, including food and wine. It's often called "the last port of call leaving America for the Far East," said Jock O'Connell, an international trade analyst at Beacon Economics.

Read the complete article here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Happy Earth Day from Northgate!

On Saturday, April 21st, Northgate participated in “Volunteer for Oakland Earth Day”, an event that brought volunteers to locations throughout Oakland to green-up and clean-up the city. Our team worked in The Gardens at Lake Merritt, a seven-acre collection of themed gardens located in the heart of Lakeside Park. The team helped weed, move rocks and soil, and perform other tasks to help further beautify the gardens.

As an added bonus, Northgate’s Molly Ammons and Anya Starovoytov brought their Girls on the Run team to participate in the cleanup. Girls on the Run is a non-profit prevention program that encourages preteen girls to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through running. In addition to Northgate’s financial support of the team, Molly and Anya also donate their time and coach the girls one afternoon a week and every Saturday morning.

Saturday was a true example of our commitment to all aspects of sustainability.

Happy Earth Day!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Rising Tide Lifts All...Homes?

Rising Sea Levels Seen as Threat to Coastal U.S.
Justin Gillis, New York Times, March 13, 2012

About 3.7 million Americans live within a few feet of high tide and risk being hit by more frequent coastal flooding in coming decades because of the sea level rise caused by global warming, according to new research. The research was led by Dr. Benjamin H. Strauss for the nonprofit organization Climate Central, of Princeton, N.J., which conducts original climate research and also informs the public about the work of other scientists.

Florida is by far the most vulnerable, but Louisiana, California, New York and New Jersey are also particularly vulnerable, researchers found, and virtually the entire American coastline is at some degree of risk.

Estimated from a new tidal data set from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the new research calculates that in the lower 48 states, 3.7 million people—one percent of the nation's population—live within one meter of the mean high tide level. Land below that tide line is expected to be permanently inundated someday, possibly as early as 2100, except in places where extensive fortifications are built to hold back the sea. And under current coastal policies, the population and the value of property at risk in that zone are expected to continue rising.

Only in a handful of places have modest steps been taken to prepare. New York City is one: Pumps at some sewage stations have been raised to higher elevations, and the city government has undertaken extensive planning. But the city—including substantial sections of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island—remains vulnerable, as do large parts of Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey.

Read the complete article here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What Doesn't Stay in Vegas? Sprawl.

In honor of Landsat 5's 28th birthday on March 1st, the video below shows how Las Vegas has gone through a massive growth spurt. The outward expansion of the city is shown in a false-color time lapse of data from all the Landsat satellites.

These images were created using reflected light from the near-infrared, red and green portions of the electromagnetic spectrum (Landsat 5 TM bands 4,3,2 and Landsat 1-3 MSS bands 4,2,1). The large red areas are actually green space, mostly golf courses and city parks. You might notice that the images become a lot sharper around 1984 when new instrument designs greatly increased their sensitivity.

Landsat data have been instrumental to our increased understanding of forest fires, storm damage, agricultural trends, and urban growth. Studies using Landsat data have helped land managers keep track of the pace of urbanization in locations around the world.

The next Landsat satellite, now known as LDCM and later as Landsat 8 is scheduled for a launch in January 2013.

International Women's Day

Thursday is the 101st International Women's Day. Eighty-five percent of countries have improved conditions for women over the past six years, according to the World Economic Forum, but in economic and political terms there is still a long way to go. Empowering and educating girls and women and fully leveraging their talent and leadership in the global economy, politics, and society are fundamental elements of the new models required to tackle the current economic challenges and to build sustainable growth.

Equality and empowerment for women is embraced more today than any other time in world history. In the global push for gender equality in everything from business to politics, education to health, Europe has made the greatest strides to close the so-called gender gap. The World Economic Forum, a nonprofit organization known for its annual economic summit in Davos Switzerland has been publishing an annual Global Gender Gap Report since 2006 that ranks countries by their gender performance.

The index examines the gap between men and women in 135 countries in four fundamental categories: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. The majority of the data reported come from various non-government organizations such as the International Labor Organization, United Nations Development Program and the World Health Organization. A short summary of the report results follows.

Greatest equality between men and women: Iceland tops the list for gender equality, with Norway, Finland and Sweden rounding out the top four best countries. The Nordic countries and their Western European neighbors account for 13 of the top 20 countries with the greatest gender parity in the world. The US ranks 17th, behind South Africa, Lesotho, and the Philippines. Pakistan, Chad, and Yemen rank at the bottom.

Best country for a woman to be a mother: Norway has the lowest risks of maternal mortality – one in 7,600 – and provides skilled help at nearly all births. The worst is Afghanistan.

Best country for female literacy: Literacy rates among women in Lesotho exceed those of men, with 95 percent of women able to read and write, compared with 83 percent of men.  The US shows no gap in educational attainment, with very high levels of literacy for both women and men.

Best country for female leadership: Thailand has the greatest percentage of women in senior management, while Sri Lanka has the greatest percentage of governmental leaders. In the political empowerment subindex, the US ranks 39th out of 135.  In addition, wage inequality in the US remains high, placing us 68th in the world on this variable.

Best country for a woman to go to college: Qatar has six women enrolled in tertiary education for every man.  In Norway, Sweden and Iceland there are over 1.5 women for every man enrolled in tertiary education, and in Finland and Denmark women also make up the majority of those in tertiary education

Best country for a woman to live a long life: Japanese women have the highest life expectancy on the planet.  Regionally, North America holds the top spot for health and survival.

Read the full report here.  The Independent also provides a summary.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Environmental Costs of Cigarettes

I saw a very effective public service announcement the other night on television, sponsored by TobaccoFreeCA.  The ad did not focus on the health consequences of smoking, but rather the emphasis was on environmental costs of the habit.

Here are a few alarming facts*:
  • In 2005, an estimated 135 million pounds of cigarette butts were dumped into the U.S. environment
  • Butts are the most common toxic waste, are the number one item found on California highways and account for 34% of all waste captured in the state
  • Butts never completely decompose, and the toxic chemicals are a threat to aquatic ecosystems, and
  • It is estimated that one tree is used to produce only 300 cigarettes. 
Smoking is of course a very personal choice. It is worth thinking, however, of some of the incidental impacts of the activity.

To view the ad, entitled "Thrown Away", click here.

*Reference sources can be found here.