Blog » sustainable development
- October 25, 2011By Laura Tam, Sustainable Development Policy Director
Last week, the Bay Area's Business Council on Climate Change — which SPUR is a part of — released the Green Tenant Toolkit, an online resource for improving the sustainable performance of existing commercial buildings in San Francisco. The toolkit is designed to help commercial tenants, building owners and property managers collaborate to improve the energy efficiency and other sustainability metrics of their buildings. It is divided into three sections:
1. Green leases, including sample leases and key negotiation points in the leasing process;
2. Stakeholder engagement, which defines what the roles can be for owners, tenants and occupants in making buildings more green and outlines best practices in how they can interact and set goals;
3. Check lists, which include questions or metrics for understanding the sustainable performance of an existing building and identifying opportunities for the future. (For example, is electricity sub-metered? Does the building have solar panels?)
The toolkit was inspired by the recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force on Existing Commercial Buildings (PDF), which completed its work and published a report (SPUR was a participant) in 2009. That report found that while San Francisco's green standards for new construction were high, sustainability performance standards and tools were especially needed for existing buildings because they comprise by far the majority of buildings that will be here in the future. Less than 1 percent of the city's buildings are newly constructed each year, which means it would take more than 60 years to “green” even half of San Francisco's building stock through new construction.
The commercial buildings task force proposed a voluntary goal of reducing the energy use in existing commercial buildings 50 percent by 2030, with an average reduction of 2.5 percent per year. The Green Tenant Toolkit is designed to help improve those spaces that are leased and may not be undergoing major renovations in the near future.
SPUR has also examined the challenges of resource efficiency for existing multi-tenant residential buildings, which are responsible for as much of our city's greenhouse gas emissions as commercial buildings. Multi-tenant residential buildings suffer some of the same challenges as multi-tenant office buildings, although leasing terms, capital improvement financing and regulations, among other things, are different.
The Green Tenant Toolkit is intended to evolve based on user feedback, so check it out and provide yours at www.greentenanttoolkit.com.
- October 12, 2011By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager, and Jesse Sleamaker
At three in the morning, a four-block stretch of Jerrold Avenue in the Bayview neighborhood is abuzz with business. The San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, which is busiest during the graveyard shift, is a hidden hub of San Francisco’s fresh food system.
On a recent Friday, fifteen early-rising SPUR members gathered for a walking tour at 8 a.m. — the end of the day for most businesses at the market. Much of the Bay Area excitement around food focuses on either the farms where food is grown or the tables where it is consumed. Our tour of the Wholesale Produce Market gave us an inside look at the infrastructure and people between farm and table. The more than 25 wholesalers and distributors at the market serve as brokers between producers and retailers, balancing the fickle demand of buyers on one hand with a highly variable supply of produce on the other. The businesses that operate at the market provide fresh food throughout the city – to small ethnic restaurants and Michelin-rated ones; to neighborhood grocers like Good Life and Bi-Rite as well as major chains such as Whole Foods, Safeway and Molly Stones. There’s a good chance that the salad you had today passed through the loading docks in Bayview this morning.
And, that’s been true for more than forty years. The Wholesale Produce Market began as an assortment of produce distributors along streets just northwest of the Ferry Building. In the early 1960s, however, the city approved the Golden Gateway Redevelopment Project that includes today’s Embarcadero Centers, forcing the market businesses to move. After years of negotiation, the vendors agreed to move to the market’s current location, which is on city-owned land. Today, the market is in the process of renegotiating its lease with the city so that it can remain and expand in the existing location.
Though the cost of business for the market tenants is higher in San Francisco than in other parts of the Bay Area, many choose to stay in the city. What keeps them in San Francisco? Michael Janis, our guide and the Market’s General Manager, explained that it was a combination of factors. First, the market provides the essential infrastructure of loading docks, warehousing, refrigeration and easy access to highways. But beyond the infrastructure, the market offers added value to its tenants by providing a community of businesses, a mature market with a long-standing customer base and a management structure that works with the businesses.
The Wholesale Produce Market has worked so well as an incubator that some of the businesses have begun to outgrow their space there. Greenleaf, the market’s largest business, is hoping for an expansion. If the market can’t expand to accommodate the growth of businesses like Greenleaf, it may lose them.
The morning’s tour emphasized how infrastructure like the Wholesale Produce Market is essential to the future of our regional food economy. The market provides the region’s farmers with access to buyers while also supporting the growth of food retailers of many sizes. This industrial facility, tucked away in our dense city, is a critical piece of economic infrastructure that would be nearly impossible to recreate in San Francisco today. We’re lucky to have such a thriving market, and we need to ensure that any future food systems policy doesn’t lose sight of the importance of food distribution infrastructure – hidden though it may be.
- September 14, 2011by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
As someone who works on urban agricultural policy, I'm often asked, "Is city-grown food safe?" The question comes from aspiring urban gardeners and concerned eaters alike. And it seems to stem from both a fear of the known and a fear of the unknown.
First, the fear of the known: Common urban contaminants include lead, arsenic and other heavy metals leaked into soil from old paint, leaded gasoline, modern car exhaust and industrial land-use. These metals are responsible for a whole host of maladies. Heavy exposure to lead, for example, can harm the nervous system and result in other developmental disabilities, especially in children.
Here in San Francisco, a recent study of garden soils confirmed the presence of residual lead in many parts of the city. Similar studies have taken place or are in the works in Minnesota, Chicago and Indianapolis. They all show considerable evidence of lead in urban soil.
Though we know it's present, we don't know the best way to gauge the risk of this lead-contaminated soil. The San Francisco Department of Public Health recently issued guidelines warning that any garden soil containing lead at more than 80 parts per million poses a risk to children.Young kids have an unfortunate habit of ingesting and inhaling all sorts of things, so oral or nasal exposure to lead-contaminated soil is a very real potential danger to their health. But the guidance included a side note underscoring just how confused regulatory agencies are about this exposure risk:
Which leads to the fear of the unknown: Neither the EPA nor the San Francisco Department of Public Health can provide clear guidelines regarding the danger of eating food grown in soil with elevated levels of lead. Scientists aren't sure about the uptake of toxins in plants, or how much they can transmit to our stomachs. And there's just as much confusion about the risk of other known toxins besides lead: As the EPA's Brownfield program recently noted, even when we analyze identified pollutants with understood health impacts, we end up with more questions than answers. With so many questions, many people react emotionally to this general fear of the unknown. The thought process goes something like this: "Food grows in dirt. Dirt is dirty. So city dirt must be really dirty."
But should we be more concerned about city-grown food than rural-grown food? I don't think so. First of all, the same highways full of car exhaust that run through our cities also run through our rural areas. And while rural areas don't have the polluting legacy of urban manufacturing industries, they have industrial toxins of their own. Pesticides — including previously-approved-but-now-banned varieties — are prime examples. Another area of concern is biosolids: We routinely take treated sewage from cities and apply it on agricultural fields throughout the country, bringing with it many of the chemicals, including pharmaceuticals, that we flush down our toilets, sinks and other city drains. How much that affects the food we eat is not clear.
Considering all those factors, perhaps we shouldn't assume that rural soil is always safer: Within both urban and rural areas there are some sites that are clean and some that are heavily polluted. Baltimore is considering requiring urban farmers to test their soil; should rural farmers be required to do likewise? Or perhaps the fear of soil toxins in our food supply is greater than the actual risk. Certainly the risk to children who eat soil is different than the risk their parents face from eating vegetables grown in that same soil. What tests should we use to gauge those dangers?
Though I don't have the answers to these questions, I'm heartened when someone asks me about the safety of city-grown food because it shows the true promise of urban agriculture. That promise lies not in the potential to feed ourselves wholly from within our cities, but rather in using the small amount that is grown nearby to connect us with our larger food system. We need to ask more questions of our food supply, both urban and rural. We also need to call on our government agencies, universities and others to help us answer these questions. In the meantime, I'll continue eating food grown in the city.
- August 30, 2011by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
In many neighborhoods in San Francisco, the opening of a new grocery store is notable. But in the Bayview, a new Fresh & Easy store that opened on August 24 filled a full-scale grocery store gap that had persisted for more than 15 years. “It’s all about health, about neighborhood vitality, about jobs, and about fulfilling old promises,” explained Mayor Ed Lee at the opening. “That is what this store represents.”
The store opening, planned since late 2007, marked the success of a partnership between Fresh & Easy and a number of city agencies and advisory groups. In 2007, the Southeast Food Access Working Group, which is supported by the Department of Public Health, released a survey showing widespread support for more grocery options in the Bayview. Responding to this desire, staff at the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (MOEWD) reached out to many established grocery chains in San Francisco, including Safeway, Whole Foods, Andronico’s, Trader Joe’s and others, seeking a company that would open a store in the neighborhood. All of them declined to set up shop, except for Fresh & Easy.
With a lot of recent focus on incentivizing the creation of grocery stores in food deserts through programs such as the federal Healthy Food and Financing Initiative and the California Endowment’s FreshWorks Fund, it’s worth noting that the City of San Francisco did not provide any direct subsidies or loans to Fresh & Easy. Instead, MOEWD helped make the project a reality by assisting the developer in changing its building plan to make space for the grocery store while still adhering to code; helped spearhead a change to the city’s restrictions on alcohol sales in full-scale grocery stores so that the store could offer some alcoholic beverages; and facilitated the availability of federal New Market Tax Credits for Fresh & Easy’s participation in the development of the project. And, as the project moved forward, the Bayview Hunters Point Project Area Committee, which advises the city’s Redevelopment Agency, also provided feedback. This concerted effort by multiple city agencies and groups helped seal the deal for Fresh & Easy.
The store isn’t without controversy. Labor groups are critical of Fresh & Easy’s stance on unions, some neighborhood activists oppose the store’s sale of alcohol, and others argue that the development as a whole should include more affordable housing. Protesters with picket signs joined those who came to the opening to shop for groceries.
But neighbors’ enthusiasm was even more apparent. When Fresh & Easy CEO Tim Mason touted the store’s policy of not stocking food with transfats, “ingredients you can’t pronounce”, and focusing on fresh options – some in the crowd began applauding.
After the speeches, the doors opened to the public. And, for the first time in many years, Bayview residents could walk the aisles of a full-scale grocery store in their neighborhood.
- July 22, 2011by Ben Grant, Public Realm and Urban Design Program Manager
On July 13, the California Coastal Commission unanimously denied a permit application from the City and County of San Francisco for coastal armoring along the Great Highway South of Sloat Boulevard. The application was submitted by the City's Department of Public Works, which is responsible for the protection of city infrastructure, including the Lake Merced Tunnel, a 14-foot diameter sewer pipe under the Great Highway. DPW constructed rock revetments (i.e., linear piles of boulders) on the beach in 1997 and 2010 in response to erosion caused by severe winter storms. The permit would have 1.) retroactively approved the un-permitted 1997 revetment, 2.) made permanent the temporary emergency permit for the 2010 revetment, and 3.) added new armoring, extending revetments and adding tangent pile walls (made from reinforced concrete piles) behind the bluffs.
The surprise ruling, against the recommendation of commission staff, is a significant victory for surfers and environmentalists, who oppose coastal armoring for its impacts on the beach, including the loss of sand and impeded coastal access. After presentations from the DPW staff and project opponents, the commission protested the ad-hoc nature of the city's coastal management and insisted that they would not approve additional armoring until a long-range plan was in place. Members were explicit that they intended to send a message to city officials. The commission did not take up the substance of the city's application, which included an analysis of future risk in three locations, including one where there is an immediate risk of damage.
As the project leader of SPUR's work on Ocean Beach, I provided testimony on the status of the Ocean Beach Master Plan, due out in January. The ruling has significant implications for the plan, which is intended to provide the long-range framework the commission is demanding. By precluding further short-term armoring, the commission has increased pressure on the project to provide an answer, and on the participating agencies to quickly adopt its recommendations. But the short-term picture is left unresolved. The Master Plan is a non-regulatory package of recommendations, which will guide a host of federal, state, and local agencies, each with its own internal planning processes. The recommendations must be translated into distinct and fundable projects and subjected to review under state and federal environmental regulations CEQA, NEPA and the California Coastal Act. All of this will take several years, during which additional storms are likely to occur. Although they did send a clear message in favor of long-range planning, chances are that the commissioners will find themselves facing an emergency armoring permit before they see a long term fix come to fruition.
- July 18, 2011By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
We are what we eat. It’s true for people — but also for cities and regions. The food we consume and the system that produces, distributes and disposes of it are as vital to San Francisco and the Bay Area as our systems for housing, energy, water and governance. Like those other systems — staples of SPUR policy — food is a basic human need and provides a perspective for answering the question, “How do we make our city and region a more livable place?”
SPUR’s new Food Systems and Urban Agriculture program seeks to answer that question through policy that will strengthen both the food system within the city — where food is grown, how it’s sold and how accessible it is— as well as the region’s network of farms and distributors.
San Francisco has recently experienced a surge of interest in reforming its local food system. In just the past two years the mayor issued a groundbreaking Executive Directive on Healthy and Sustainable Food, the Board of Supervisors updated the zoning code to allow for more types of urban agriculture, and the city hosted the first Northern California “slow money” investment conference. SPUR’s program will be working among a strong base of organizations that are active on food issues in the Bay Area. This desire for innovation and change is driven by many factors, including an interest in reducing the ecological footprint of food; improving public health and eradicating “food deserts”; and strengthening communities by supporting local businesses. SPUR's priority will be on policy, especially where food issues intersect with questions of land use, regional planning and economic development.
In our first year, we will focus our attention on four main issues:
1) The use of public land for urban agriculture
2) Reducing regulatory barriers to urban agriculture
3) Farm-to-cafeteria programs and food literacy in schools
4) Creating metrics and baselines for local food consumption to help inform future policy
Along the way we will report back, both here and the Urbanist, on other developments in the field of food policy, ranging from federal incentives for grocery stores in food deserts to state pilot projects funding rooftop agriculture for its role in stormwater management. And we will also host forums (like our May panel on San Francisco’s recent food policy initiatives), walking tours and more.
As we develop our program, I’d like to hear your ideas and feedback. Please send suggestions for potential events, interesting models of food policy in other places or other ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- July 5, 2011By Laura Tam, Sustainable Development Policy Director
How do we know this? By measuring our “ecological footprint,” a measure of natural resource consumption as a function of goods and services purchased. Using natural-resource accounting techniques, the balance of consumption for all countries is precisely measured against the world’s capacity to regenerate those resources. When combined with a mathematical input-output model, calibrated by socioeconomic and demographic data, the analysis can be performed at a wide range of scales: personal, household, factory, company, country, planet.
A few years ago, we invited Oakland-based Global Footprint Network — founded by Mathis Wackernagel, the creator of the environmental footprint concept — to present at a SPUR forum. After the forum, we got to talking about how a San Francisco footprint analysis could broaden the conversation around sustainable urbanism. Global Footprint Network’s staff was interested in bringing its largely international portfolio of footprint analyses closer to home. We put together a research plan and a steering committee, and received seed funding from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation.
The completed footprint study (PDF download) found that the average San Franciscan’s overall footprint was about 6 percent higher than the average American’s. But our average footprint was lower than you might expect since city dwellers generally have larger footprints (due largely to residents’ higher disposable incomes and greater levels of consumption). As you might guess, the categories where we exceeded U.S. averages were consumption of food, alcoholic beverages, restaurants and hotels, and transportation (the latter largely in moving and freight services, and in air travel).
Our work also revealed some universal principles about footprints as they relate to other geographic variables. Some of our analyses compare U.S. city footprints, including San Francisco’s, to urban density and average income to test how these variables affect sustainability. We found that a $1,000 per capita increase in purchases of goods and services correlates with a 0.09 global hectares per capita increase in footprint, while a 100 people per square mile increase in population density is associated with a 0.06 global hectares per capita decrease in footprint. So as a city becomes denser, we reduce our footprint, but as we become wealthier, we increase it. Is there always a tradeoff between quality of life, as measured by wealth, and the ecological footprint? Not necessarily. The pursuit of freedom, good health, fulfilling lives and a high standard of living — in other words, a high Human Development Index, a measure tracked by the United Nations — can accompany a wide range of footprints:
As this Global Footprint Network chart shows, some countries are doing a better job at this than others (hover your mouse over the moving dots to see the country names). Achieving true sustainable development includes both a high level of human development and a low ecological footprint.
In our study, because of data limitations, we had to aggregate results to the entire San Francisco Metropolitan Statistical Area, and not to the city of San Francisco. This was disappointing because we couldn’t determine the footprint outcome of city sustainability measures such as our high recycling rate, green building requirements, climate action plan and high level of transit ridership. It also limited the study in some areas and introduced error, because we had to use national averages rather than regionally specific production factors. For example, it doesn’t make sense that the San Francisco Metropolitan Statistical Area has an above-U.S.-average footprint for energy, water and other utilities. The majority of the water supplied to San Francisco, the Peninsula and the East Bay is delivered by gravity, and our energy utilities — public and private alike — are among the cleanest in the country. California also has much better energy-efficiency performance than the U.S. as a whole, so you would expect our utility footprint to be lower all around.
Our analysis, which includes suggestions of areas to pursue further, goes about as far as an initial footprint study realistically can. But this analysis could be used as a baseline for more issue-specific work. For example, at SPUR we will be delving into the food sustainability question — by far, the largest component of any U.S. footprint analysis — through the work of our new Food Systems and Urban Agriculture program, which launches next month.
- June 16, 2011BY LAURA TAM, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT POLICY DIRECTOR
There’s something in it for everyone to hate and something for everyone to love, but after two years, we are optimistic: We may be very close to a consensus on how to amend the San Francisco Bay Plan with new information about climate change.
Over the last two years, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) has been working on a proposal to amend its guidance document, the Bay Plan, to include new findings and policies related to climate change and sea level rise. BCDC has held countless public hearings and public workshops, amended its draft staff recommendation more than three times, and received thousands of public comments. Last November, SPUR provided specific language suggestions to BCDC, which were widely read and used as the basis of other stakeholders’ comments.
In May, SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf was invited to appear on a panel before the commission at a public workshop. Seated right between the two most vocal and oppositional groups engaged in this process — three people representing the environmental community, and three people representing the building industry — Gabriel suggested that the commission consider both protection of the Bay and good infill development around it as equally important regional benefits. And within the limited areas where it’s possible to site new transit-oriented infill development, he urged, the plan should encourage such projects on a case-by-base basis. This is no overreaching assault on the environment: The Bay Plan already presumes no development in fragile managed wetlands, and BCDC has almost no authority to site or permit new development anywhere else.
Since that meeting, the proposed Bay Plan Amendment has changed again, in ways that SPUR strongly supports. Instead of rewriting an entirely new definition of infill development — a subject of wide disagreement — the new amendment refreshingly removes the definition and replaces it with information about the FOCUS program, which identifies the Bay Area’s regional priority development areas for infill. It also recognizes that BCDC is one of several regional agencies working to align policies around sustainable communities and transit-oriented development. The document now references the California Climate Adaptation Strategy, a guidance document developed by and for state agencies on how to plan for climate change. While mildly controversial in that it has not been legally adopted, the strategy is already being followed by a number of other state agencies and was recently endorsed by the California Ocean Protection Council.
The new amendment also recognizes that we will need to invest vast resources in protecting communities and infrastructure along the shoreline and that we need a regional strategy, so that one city’s levee doesn’t worsen sea level rise for its neighbors. Finally, it is abundantly clear that the proposed amendments are not an expansion of BCDC’s jurisdiction — which is extremely limited.
In the first week of June, I testified to BCDC about our support of this new proposal and shared my optimism that we are very, very close to a final amendment. Alongside an intrepid and persevering BCDC staff, SPUR is hoping to see it adopted in October.
SPUR’s recent report “Climate Change Hits Home” explores what rising sea levels will mean for people, property, infrastructure and fragile Bay wetlands.
- May 9, 2011
On May 4 SPUR released a major report, "Climate Change Hits Home," that lays out what the Bay Area must do to start preparing for the coming effects of climate change. This project, a multi-year effort by a team of top climate scientists and government leaders, represents a turning point for SPUR. We have long worked to stop climate change, but now we are also addressing the reality that some climate change is inevitable, despite our best efforts. Even if we stopped producing greenhouse gases tomorrow, emissions already in the air would continue to warm the atmosphere.
By 2050, we'll have nearly eight times as many dangerously hot days as we did in the 20th century. Sea levels are expected to rise 55 inches by 2100. And we need to start readying our railroads, highways, water supply, public health infrastructure and energy grid for the changes to come. Ours is the first report to map out specific actions that Bay Area governments need to take to protect our systems.
News of the report has appeared on KQED radio, KGO and KRON TV and in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Bay Citizen and the San Francisco Examiner. We hope local government agencies will give our recommendations the same degree of attention.