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- November 13, 2012By Laura Tam, Sustainable Development Policy Director
This week, one of the most important pieces of the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act (Assembly Bill 32) goes live: the first-ever quarterly auction of carbon permits under California’s Cap and Trade program is set for Wednesday, November 14. California’s cap and trade program for greenhouse gases is designed to help achieve an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. To learn more about the opportunities and challenges of cap and trade implementation, we hosted a forum at SPUR last week featuring Kate Gordon, director of the energy program at the Center for the Next Generation, Alex Jackson, energy program attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Brad Neff, cap and trade implementation manager at PG&E. Here are some of the insights they shared about what we can expect from cap and trade.
Gordon explained how California’s efforts to implement market mechanisms that would control greenhouse gases fit into a larger regulatory program, which includes not only cap and trade but a low-carbon fuel standard for vehicle fuels and a renewable energy standard for electric utilities. Taken together, she said, California’s approach to greenhouse gas controls is more economy-wide, more far-reaching, more integrated and more visionary than other regional greenhouse gas programs, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in the northeast United States, the Western Climate Initiative and trading programs in the EU, China and Australia.
Carbon trading programs are hard to implement, according to Gordon, because putting a price on carbon affects the economy, and a thoughtful transition is necessary to prevent the loss of jobs, especially if firms move out of state to save the costs of carbon compliance. Some of this week’s auction credits are actually reserved to help prevent this problem in California.
Gordon also discussed how Hurricane Sandy is kick-starting the national conversation about climate change, on both mitigation and adaptation. A price on carbon is even being discussed in Washington, D.C., as a potential part of the national deficit compromise. Some groups are talking about it as a way to raise revenue, others are talking about it being revenue-neutral (an opportunity SPUR discussed years ago in our 2008 paper on green taxes.)
Alex Jackson from NRDC began his portion of the presentation with an overview of how California’s cap and trade program is structured. Although the 13-page-long AB 32 did not describe how the state should achieve the emission reductions it called for, it did authorize market mechanisms and delegate program implementation to the California Air Resources Board (ARB). In 2008, the ARB released a scoping plan identifying the sectors of the economy that contribute to global warming and what policies should be targeted to those sectors to achieve them. Although cap and trade only covers about 20 percent of total emissions at first, Jackson said it was a critical piece of the carbon tool kit for four main reasons:
1. It is one of the only policies that sets a fixed limit on emissions at the source, and by 2018 will cover 85 percent of economy-wide emissions (the program covers only large industrial emitters and the electricity sector at first, but transportation fuels are included in the program later).
2. It is enforceable on individual emitters.
3. It puts a price on carbon, correcting the externality and creating a positive incentive for compliance (saving money).
4. It provides a backstop for the whole scoping plan if other policies and programs underperform.
Jackson commented that in terms of challenges for the program, we might expect to see some lawsuits from those who have a vested interest in seeing lack of success in California as a bellwether for climate policy. It is also a political challenge: Since AB 32 passed seven years ago, we have to undertake renewed efforts to explain to today’s lawmakers why the program is important. He expects renewed opposition from the forces of the status quo as we reach the finish line.
Brad Neff, who manages cap and trade for PG&E, described how the company is preparing for cap and trade, emphasizing that it has always supported such a program. Electricity rates are “decoupled” in California, meaning electric utilities earn a set rate of return, which the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) bases on the utility’s assets that deliver energy — not on how much electricity and gas it sells. For this reason, PG&E believes it is fortunate to operate in a regulated structure that enables the company to be very pro-environment. At 60 percent carbon-free, PG&E’s current electricity mix is one of the cleanest in the nation.
PG&E is covered by several AB 32 programs and regulations, including cap and trade and the Renewable Portfolio Standard. The utility views AB 32 as a positive step forward but wants market stability: PG&E expects its assets to last 20 or 30 years, so it wants clarity into the future about new potential rules and carbon costs. PG&E will get some free allowances under cap and trade, and it wants to give any revenue it earns back to ratepayers, but the CPUC has not made clear yet how this will be done.
In response to questions from SPUR’s audience, we learned that the revenue from the carbon allowance auction is only partially allocated. This is because it’s not clear how much revenue will come in. It is certain that this pool of funding will increase over the years, especially when transportation fuels are included under the cap. It is also certain that all of the revenue goes into ARB’s Air Pollution Control Fund initially and must be spent on implementing AB 32 or reducing air pollution (including greenhouse gases). As well, the California legislature has decided that 25 percent of the revenue must go to providing benefits to disadvantaged communities. For the balance, as directed by the legislature, ARB is going to work with the Department of Finance to come up with three-year investment plans.
I asked if there would be anything exciting to watch for in the media on Wednesday when the auction commences at 10 a.m. Our panelists all agreed: they hope not. Let’s all hope for some evidence of success, and a smooth process, as this critical tool to reducing global warming emissions launches.
- November 12, 2012
Edward A. Chow, M.D., a native San Franciscan, has been addressing health needs, access and disparities for more than four decades. Working with the Chinese Hospital and its physicians, he helped create the Chinese Community Health Plan, the nation’s first culturally competent health plan dedicated to the needs of an Asian community. He has served under five mayors on the San Francisco Health Commission, where he advocated for the rebuilding of its two public hospitals and established neighborhood primary care clinics. He is a founder and leader of numerous organizations, including most recently the National Council of Asian and Pacific Islander Physicians.
- November 12, 2012
Mildred Howard is an acclaimed mixed-media installation artist, activist, teacher, mother and grandmother, born and raised in the Bay Area. The Oakland Museum of California, the de Young Museum, SFMOMA, the San Jose Museum of Art and the Museum of the African Diaspora have all exhibited her work. She has received prestigious grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Joan Mitchell Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Local works includeThree Shades of Blue on Fillmore Street and The Music of Language on Glide Memorial’s family housing building. With an eye toward the built environment and its impact on daily life, Mildred has shaped how we experience the public realm.
Learn about our other 2012 Silver SPUR honorees:
- November 12, 2012
Stephen S. Pearce, D.D., Ph.D., is senior rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco. During his tenure, he started the temple’s hunger justice initiative and founded a long-standing collaboration with San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church. Rabbi Pearce is an active member in the city’s interfaith community, coauthoring Building Wisdom’s House: A Book of Values for Our Time with Bishop William E. Swing and Father John P. Schlegel. Before coming to Congregation Emanu-El, Rabbi Pearce was on faculty for 20 years at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. While on faculty at St. John’s University he earned his Ph.D. in counselor psychology.
- November 12, 2012
John K. Stewart is a pillar in the real estate development and affordable housing communities of the Bay Area. A longtime SPUR board member, he is founder of The John Stewart Company, which has a management portfolio of more than 30,000 units in 400 properties. A key ally of Mayor Newsom in launching HOPE SF, he has been the creative force behind some of the Bay Area’s most complex affordable housing deals, including a transit-oriented mixed-use project adjacent to the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station and North Beach Place, a 341-unit mixed-use HOPE VI project. He has been instrumental in facilitating unique project ownership structures and is committed to the creation and preservation of sound, long-term affordable housing.
Learn about our other 2012 Silver SPUR honorees:
- November 6, 2012By Laura Tam, Sustainable Development Policy Director
Besides making our streets prettier, what does our urban forest of street, park and backyard trees do for us? Trees are good for cities in lots of ways. They significantly increase property values. They provide shade, keeping energy demand in check on hot days and cooling the pedestrian realm. They clean the air, sequester carbon (slowly reducing global warming), provide habitat for birds, make streets more walkable and reduce urban flooding by retaining stormwater: A single tree may intercept and absorb up to 2,400 gallons a year. A recent SPUR report discussed the future climate-adaptive benefits of trees in helping to mitigate urban heat-island effect, the phenomenon where heavily urbanized areas become significantly warmer than nearby areas due to heat-retaining materials like concrete and asphalt. We recommended that cities conduct a tree-canopy census and identify opportunities for better shade-tree coverage in underserved and intensely urbanized areas. (A crowd-sourced map of such trees in San Francisco, calculating their benefits to the city, can be found — and expanded — at urbanforestmap.org. Register your own tree!)
With just 12 percent canopy coverage — the area of ground covered by trees, from a bird’s-eye view — San Francisco is one of the least tree-endowed cities in California and in the United States. San Jose maintains 15 percent canopy coverage, Los Angeles and Oakland have 21 percent coverage, and New York has 23 percent coverage, just above the national average of 22 percent. Green-minded San Franciscans would probably be surprised to learn that our city ranks 21 out of 22 major cities with regard to tree canopy.
Historically of course, San Francisco was almost completely devoid of trees — home to sand dunes and brackish marshes. As the city grew, trees were planted on streets, in backyards and in parks. Today, we have about 670,000 trees in San Francisco on public and private land, of which 109,000 are street trees in the public right of way. These trees are planted, established and maintained by both private property owners and the Department of Public Works (DPW). Generally, larger streets and streets with planted medians are maintained by DPW; others are cared for by adjacent property owners. But our numbers decline every year. Why? Because the mortality rate of urban trees is 3 to 4 percent each year. In San Francisco, this means we lose about 4,000 trees a year. Between the efforts of DPW, which plants about 400 trees a year, Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF), a nonprofit dedicated to tree-planting, which plants about 1,200 trees a year, and homeowners and commercial property owners acting on their own, at most we are planting 2,000 new trees in the city every year. This means we are not even keeping up with the death rate: Our canopy is in decline. Recent budget cuts at DPW have made matters worse. About 24,000 trees currently cared for by DPW are in the process of being relinquished to their adjacent property owners. This means that some property owners will be forced to take on both the maintenance and the liability of having a tree they didn’t plant and might not want.
This puts our urban forest at great risk.
To address this problem, FUF, the San Francisco Planning Department, and DPW recently hired AECOM to study options for a permanent source of funding for tree maintenance. (The financing study and the Planning Department’s initiation of an Urban Forest Plan were recently featured at a SPUR forum.) The study considered what policy and management changes would be needed to reverse the decline of the city’s canopy and recommended a few potential sources for financing even broader public management of street trees, such as a landscape and lighting assessment district or a parcel tax. The study found that a more comprehensive municipal program would provide net benefits to San Francisco residents and that tree-owning property owners would save money annually with a municipal program (since they wouldn’t have to pay for pruning/maintenance, sidewalk repair and legal claims associated with sidewalk falls). Today, DPW spends a significant amount of its time on one-off emergency tree-care requests. A more comprehensive municipal program would enable the city to employ best practices in tree maintenance and pruning, which would save costs by as much as 50 percent through improved efficiencies. A comprehensive municipal program could also expand the city’s urban forest by at least 50 percent, adding thousands of new trees each year.
Supervisor Scott Wiener, long a champion of the urban forest, recently held a hearing at a committee of the Board of Supervisors to begin the conversation around what could be done to sustain our street and park trees in light of the fact that they are not successfully competing for the city’s general fund dollars. I testified on behalf of SPUR that a more sustainable solution is needed, and that we hope to continue the conversation around how to maintain both our street trees and our park trees for the next generation.
Many people at the hearing — representing a broad geographic distribution around the city — mentioned that trees were important to their neighborhood and that they would be willing to tax themselves to pay for trees, as they are a benefit that everyone shares in, not just property owners. Several people urged that we plant lowest-canopied areas first, if we can ramp up planting. One of the most memorable lines was, “Trees are the only urban infrastructure that grows in value over time.”
In 2013, we look forward to participating in more conversations and hearings and advocating to change the trajectory on maintenance to ultimately expand San Francisco’s urban forest in the future.Tags: sustainable development
- November 5, 2012
The Fall 2012 issue of Content magazine highlights SPUR’s recent expansion to San Jose in a terrific profile of our San Jose director, Leah Toeniskoetter. A passionate cyclist and former Peace Corps volunteer with a background in real estate development, Toeniskoetter is pleased with the work that's been accomplished over the past year and is excited for what's ahead. “There are 500,000 people coming to San Jose in the next several decades,” she explains. “SPUR is excited to think deeply about where they will live, work, shop and play.” The city's future, she says, is urban: “We want to live in a walkable, active place with viable alternatives to driving and the ability to live close to work, parks and our basic needs.”
- October 19, 2012By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
Recent years have been filled with experts decrying the sorry state of public finance in California. And with good reason. Three California cities have filed for bankruptcy protection since June. Since 2008, local governments in California have shrunk by nearly 190,000 employees (11.2 percent) and property values over the same period declined statewide by 21.3 percent. Meanwhile, the state budget experienced consecutive annual budget deficits of $60 billion (2009-10), $19.3 billion (2010-11), $26.6 billion (2011-12) and $16.6 billion (2012-13).
What comes next?
The Institute for Government Studies at the University of California at Berkeley convened an impressive panel of experts last month to move that debate forward. Discussions covered more than the magnitude of the problem — although there was plenty to say about that. There was also talk about the factors contributing to the crisis and what we might be able to do about it.
While few disagreed about the overall state of finances in California, panelists spoke of a combination of factors that may have led the state deeper into recession:
· Existing structural challenges have been exposed by the recession. The recession has revealedfundamental imbalances between receipts and expenditures, such as weaknesses in the financing of state and local pension plans and retiree healthcare obligations. These systems were designed to be sustained through continual growth but they had never before been tested by a downturn like the one we’ve recently experienced.
· State actions to balance budgets may have intensified the impact on local governments. Steps taken by the governor and state legislature to stabilize state finances and limit the impacts of the economic downturn — such as the elimination of redevelopment agencies — may have compounded the impacts of the recession on local governments. The elimination of redevelopment agencies was projected to save the state up to $1.7 billion, but it has also left cities without financing for affordable housing or other redevelopment initiatives.
· One-time solutions have been exhausted.With a sustained downturn, the collection of strategies used to weather a short-term recession have long since been used. What is left are much more painful discussions about service reductions, e.g. closure of state parks.
· Competing traditions have left the state paralyzed.State and local governments in California have been constrained by competing traditions: an appetite for generous public services and a citizenry actively engaged in ballot-box planning. Proposition 13, the 1978 measure that capped property assessments, and Proposition 218, which requires voter-approval for new revenues, are significant barriers and have constrained the ability to generate revenues to sustain funding levels.
· Irrational optimism is preventing necessary decisions. Worse than a “perfect storm” of economic factors is the weight of history in how California moves forward. Despite the depth of the recession and the impacts of state and local reductions, there is still an overwhelming belief that the state can grow out of this problem as it has in the past. Nowhere is that belief stronger than with the growing challenge of funding public employee pensions and retiree healthcare, with a projected shortfall of between $200 billion and $500 billion just for state pension funds, depending on the estimate. Unfunded retiree healthcare obligations add an additional $60 billion. There is little agreement about how to mitigate those challenges.
The pension issue is emblematic of the broader paralysis of the state. There is consensus on the existence of the problem, but no agreement whatsoever on just how bad it is or how it should be solved. In spite of critical funding constraints, there is no agreement over whether to raise additional revenue or to reduce benefits. Financial experts appear to agree that state and local pension systems need to revisit how pensions are calculated, but enacting changes for anyone but current employees — the bulk of the current unfunded liability — is an extremely difficult proposition. A few cities have attempted to tackle the task: San Francisco negotiated changes to its system, and both San Diego and San Jose passed reforms at the ballot; Los Angeles is still on the horizon. The pension reform proposal for the State of California, signed into law last month by Governor Brown, leaves the benefits of current employees untouched but requires them to share in the expense of increased benefit costs.
And these are exactly the types of challenges that have driven several California cities into bankruptcy — Mammoth Lakes, Stockton and San Bernardino in 2012 alone. The structural costs of labor, healthcare and pension benefits have in these cases eclipsed the ability of cities to provide core services. In some instances cities are closing recreation centers simply to retain public safety services. We have clearly arrived at a time when we must prioritize services and invest limited resources wisely.
California, both the state and to some extent its cities, is at a crossroads: Either we operate within the constraints of this “new normal” or we come to agreement on solutions that can be jointly sold to legislators and taxpayers. In the past, consistent growth and fleeting downturns have allowed California to in many ways paper over the major challenges and rely on one-time fixes to weather the occasional storm.
It’s clear that time is over.
- October 18, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
San Francisco is known internationally for its celebration of food. The city can boast of top restaurants; nationally acclaimed grocers, bakers and butchers; a thriving fleet of food trucks; and bountiful farmers’ markets. But these food retailers are not distributed equally across the city. While San Franciscans in many neighborhoods can take a short walk or ride and find a greengrocer or supermarket, in some parts of the city, food access is more difficult.
The Department of Public Health has mapped the distribution of existing food retailers as part of its Sustainable Communities Index program. The results show that a number of neighborhoods — including Treasure Island, the Tenderloin, Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley, among others — have limited to no fresh food retail options.
While a full service grocery store is never more than a couple of miles away in a city as dense as San Francisco, the lack of quality, fresh food access within a convenient distance has both quality of life and public health impacts. Week to week, having to travel further for groceries – whether by foot, transit or car – takes up time and money. This travel is an additional cost that few San Franciscans would enjoy, but it’s especially difficult for low-income residents, many of whom live in neighborhoods with the least convenient access to fresh food.
In addition to the quality of life impacts, a neighborhood’s access to fresh food is also strongly connected to the health of the neighborhood. As Policy Link, a national non-profit organization pointed out in its Grocery Gap report, proximity to fresh food is strongly correlated with levels of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases. Though recent articles in the Washington Post and New York Times have questioned how much the introduction of a new food retailer into a neighborhood positively impacts public health, food access advocates have in turn raised questions about the studies that are cited and pointed out that providing fresh food retail outlets is only one part (albeit an important part) of a campaign to improve diet-related public health.
Recognizing the importance of food access, Supervisor Eric Mar introduced legislation on September 25 to better coordinate the city’s efforts on the issue. The ordinance would establish a Healthy Food Retailer Incentives Program housed in the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. On the supply side of the equation, the program would be responsible for coordinating the city’s food access initiatives within a “one-stop shop” that links new or existing small food retail businesses (those less than 20,000 square feet in size) with incentives and technical support ranging from permit expediting and design assistance to grants and loans. The program is also structured to encourage convenience stores and small grocers to reduce the amount of shelf space they dedicate to tobacco and alcohol products. On the demand side, the legislation calls for the new program to pair its support for businesses with community engagement (like that piloted by the Food Guardians and the Southeast Food Access Working Group.)
Promoting healthy food retail has the additional potential benefit of providing economic development. Studies have shown that grocery stores and thriving corner stores can not only provide jobs but can also serve as anchor retailers that lift the fortunes of nearby businesses.
Even with a new coordinated focus from a city agency, addressing food access will not be easy. The changes will take money: retailers investing in new store designs and products, and consumers buying enough fresh food to make it pencil out for the retailer. And gauging the impact will take time. Supervisor Mar’s legislation has energized conversation about what the city can do to better address food access, and SPUR will continue to track the proposal’s development.
- October 10, 2012By Jennifer Warburg
On September 21 SPUR celebrated PARK(ing) Day with an original form of alchemy: transforming asphalt into mini-golf and pizza.
The annual event, celebrated in more than 160 cities, invites the public to reimagine metered parking spots as new types of urban space. The 2012 celebration saw artists, designers and business owners around the world taking to the streets to create everything from temporary hair salons to bicycle repair shops to green space.
This year SPUR’s PARK(ing) Day creations included a parklet featuring lounge chairs and live music — built in partnership with Transform — outside our San Jose office and, in San Francisco, a miniature golf version of Golden Gate Park, complete with Stow Lake, the bison paddock and Ocean Beach. The mini-golf parklet, built over a five-week period by SPUR members Steve Fox and Leslie Crawford, was recognized on sites from Architizer to The Washington Post as a favorite contribution.
PARK(ing) Day happens just once a year, but its effects have been significantly more lasting. In the seven years since the concept first debuted, PARK(ing) Day has become the progenitor of a distinctly San Francisco model of iterative placemaking, using temporary interventions to build momentum for permanent improvements to the public realm. It began in 2005 when the San Francisco-based design studio ReBar reconceived a parking meter as a short-term lease to experiment with public urban space, then invited others to follow suit. The next year there were 47 PARK(ing) Day creations in thirteen cities. And the year after that, hundreds.
As PARK(ing) Day caught on around the world, a bell went off for San Francisco officials and activists accustomed to being constrained by limited resources, a change-resistant public culture and a regulatory review process so punitive that, on small projects, clearance could cost more than construction. Temporary, reversible projects, on the other hand, could be fast-tracked, and impacts studied in situ, all while changing both the fabric of the city and the discourse around it. Parklets in parking spots, plazas in alleys, Sunday street closures, separated bike lanes, retail hubs on vacant lots and urban farms — all have been the fruit of this like-mindedness between artists and policymakers around the benefits of travelling the temporary to permanent continuum.
The impact of this San Francisco model is powerfully on display at the 2012 Venice Architectural Biennale, where the United States pavilion won an honorable mention for its arsenal of DIY, mirco-urbanism projects — models of iterative placemaking that are heir to PARK(ing) Day’s provocative intervention. Not surprising, a significant number of the firms representing the U.S. are from San Francisco.
These developments are very exciting. Temporary interventions invite the community to inhabit and test new spaces and programs and give shape to the permanent solution. But temporary cannot be a substitute for permanent. It cannot become the only option for creating and maintaining public space. The real legacy of the San Francisco model will lie in leveraging these temporary experiments into high-quality public spaces with an enduring civic presence.Tags: community planning