Blog » sustainable development
- July 15, 2010BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
[Photo Credit: flickr user Sam Williams]
Earlier this month, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) unanimously adopted new air quality guidelines related to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and particulate matter (PM 2.5) from land use projects. The comprehensive new guidelines, among the most stringent in the nation, address the impacts of air pollutants, as well as recent changes in state and federal air quality. The guidelines also include air quality significance thresholds and mitigation measures local agencies can use when preparing air quality impact analyses under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Some significant changes to the guidelines include:
- Single family housing projects of 56 dwelling units or greater, hotels with more than 83 hotel rooms and general office buildings with more than 53,000 square feet will all be considered to have a significant impact on GHG emissions under CEQA.
- Local governments are encouraged to adopt qualified GHG Reduction Strategies.
- New screening criteria and threshold levels have been set for extremely fine particulate matter emissions and toxic air contaminants. Projects which fall above these new thresholds will be required determine whether the project will result in a significant impact, including evaluation of emissions within a 1,000 foot radius of the proposed project.
Stricter greenhouse gas and particulate matter guidelines are a good thing, right? Not always, say some who argue that the new guidelines may inadvertently lead to more sprawl by making it harder to develop the denser parts of our region. Some worry that the new regulatory obstacles will drive up the costs of future affordable housing, infill, and transit-oriented development (TOD) projects. Developers and cities are concerned that the new guidelines will make compliance with SB 375, the State's law which requires compact development, more difficult.
The guidelines do contain a method for local governments to accelerate the CEQA review process for projects that are infill or transit-oriented. To do this, a city can prepare a GHG Reduction Strategy and have it approved by BAAQMD. Projects or plans consistent with these strategies could then be considered less than significant under CEQA, and therefore exempt from full review. With cities around the region reeling from the budget crisis, and in some cases cutting planning staff, however, resources to develop these strategies are in short supply.
San Francisco has already begun working on a GHG Reduction Strategy, so it is unlikely that the BAAQMD Guidelines will cause significant environmental review process changes for projects in the City; the new air quality standards will likely have more significant impacts on projects and plans in jurisdictions without GHG Reduction Strategies or detailed climate change related policies.
- July 13, 2010BY FABIANA MEACHAM
What are the most pressing issues facing California in the next 15 years and how should we deal with them? If only there were one comprehensive PDF document floating around the internet with all the answers.
Policy wonks across the state will now be thrilled to discover the Public Policy Institute of California's recently released CA2025 report, a "briefing kit" covering California's most important long-term policy issues. Outlining policies on topics ranging from water to transportation to the economy, the report acts as a kind of handbook for every major policy concern confronting the state today. While one might expect an insufferably dense document, the text is actually quite accessible, the graphics clear and informative. Some might crave more detail and in-depth analysis than CA2025 provides, but the report still serves as an excellent primer for the key issues facing the state, and presents compelling arguments for how our policy makers might tackle them.
[Graph courtesy of PPIC CA2025]
- July 12, 2010BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
[Photo Credit: Timothea Tway]
At SPUR we work hard to promote the use of green building and energy efficiency practices. (Did you know the SPUR Urban Center recently achieved a LEED Silver rating? Look for it in our lobby soon!) The City of San Francisco has a comprehensive green building ordinance to address new buildings and large retrofitting projects, however we always love to see more retrofitting of existing buildings in order to further conserve resources.
That's why we're so excited about W San Francisco. Located a few blocks from SPUR in the heart of SOMA, the W Hotel recently received the first LEED certification of an existing building owned by a major hotel chain in the nation. The building is also only the seventh hotel in the country to receive LEED recognition for an existing building.
In order to help achieve LEED certification, the hotel incorporated energy efficient lighting into 70% of its guest rooms, and utilized motion sensors and an HVAC system to save 300kWh of energy annually. The hotel also offers "zero-waste," carbon neutral events as well as meeting experiences for clients featuring local and organic food and beverages. The hotel is even considering incorporating wind turbines on the building's roof in order to further improve energy efficiency, which, if implemented, would be a first for a commercial building in downtown San Francisco.
The City of San Francisco currently has more than 50 LEED certified buildings, many of which are newly constructed. Hopefully this project will bring attention to the many opportunities in the City for green retrofitting and the benefits of improving the energy efficiency of already existing buildings. For more information on this topic, check out this recent report by the Mayor's Task Force on Existing Commercial Buildings.
- April 6, 2010BY ESTHER
In Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development, Joan Fitzgerald, director of the Law, Policy and Society Program at Northeastern University, showcases how some cities have taken the lead in creating policy that is mutually beneficial to both the environment and economic development. Ms. Fitzgerald spoke on this subject and introduced her book at SPUR, this past November 17th.
According to Joan Fitzgerald, it has fallen to cities around the world to embrace the challenge of sustainability, because national governments have failed to come to an agreement on a global policy. The lack of any significant outcome from the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last year serves to underscore the matter: you cannot effect environmental change without addressing the underlying issues of how that change affects disparate groups.
It is not surprising that San Francisco is one of the cities responding to the call to take these economic factors and questions of accessibility into consideration—you can read what SPUR has contributed in our report Critical Cooling: San Francisco can fight global warming through smart changes to local policy.
Fitzgerald agrees that cities are uniquely situated to make a difference due to population density and use of public transportation, to promote and benefit from green economic development in particular. She provides examples of policy from cities that have successfully addressed the interrelated environmental problems of global warming, pollution and energy dependence, with social justice, equity, and job quality in mind as well as policy from cities that have found the process more challenging. Fitzgerald provides a guide to help city and regional planners and policymakers move toward becoming “emerald cities.“
- April 5, 2010BY COLLEEN MCHUGH
SPUR is co-hosting with the AIA a lunchtime lecture on bottom-up sustainability practices in India. “Grass roots green” refers to the design approaches in India and other developing countries, which look to innovatively use traditional common-sense methods, knowledge and approaches to minimize consumption. Speakers Nimish Patel and Parul Zaveri, cofounders of the Indian design firm, Abhikram, will share some of their award winning projects that follow this bottom-up green strategy.
Join us as we learn how sustainable design concepts and practices differ in India:
Friday, April 16, 12:00 - 1:00 pm
AIA San Francisco, 130 Sutter Street, Suite 600
- February 25, 2010BY TESSA
Climate change is a global problem, and the San Francisco Bay Area is especially threatened. Around one thousand miles of shoreline frame the region, so we will be greatly affected by sea level rise and intensified storm activity.
Given our particularly risky situation, the Bay Area is on the forefront of climate change action. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Institute for Local Government have collaborated to release the San Francisco Bay Area Climate Action Portal, a web based tool designed to provide local governments with the resources they need to take action on climate change.
The site provides access to a wide variety of information including climate change policy, science and current news, inventory and statistical information, project examples throughout the Bay Area, and goals already accomplished. The portal also has an interface for climate change communication, linking people together for meetings, events, online discussion forums, list-serves, and blogs.
While attacking climate change may often require extremely site-specific strategies, there are many issues such as transportation that we need to approach as a megaregion. The Climate Web Portal allows Bay Area cities to learn from one another, while also helping local governments discover their own unique needs.
- December 18, 2009BY LAURA TAM, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT POLICY DIRECTOR
A paper this week in what is arguably the world's most prestigious scientific journal, Nature, says that the last time the Earth warmed up as much as it will under climate change, sea levels rose about 8 meters. This means that global sea level rise over the coming decades may be about twice as worse as we thought. When we published two articles in the Urbanist last month on the topic of sea level rise, we reported that sea level rise might possibly be 5-7 m higher in 300 years, and very likely 1.5 m by 2100. (these were the most well-documented worst-case scenario numbers I could find).
This new paper - a great analysis here - says sea level rise is very likely going to rise 20-30 feet (6-9 m) if we hold temperature to about 3.6 degrees F higher than today. We don't know when we'll get these levels. We only know we'll be committed to them even if we somehow manage to slow down climate change.
As of today's proposals in Copenhagen, the temperature in 2100 is going to be 7 degrees F hotter.
- December 16, 2009- posted by Laura
SPUR's analysis of the cost-effectiveness of various options for local government to reduce carbon emissions has gotten around. Our evaluation showing that in San Francisco, a low-interest loan program to finance home energy efficiency retrofits would be more cost-effective than new incentives for renewable energy installations, was featured in an EPA presentation for local governments on how to use stimulus funding. The presentation is accessible on ICLEI's California Region site. And it looks like such a program is actually being proposed in San Francisco, modeled after the wildly-popular Berkeley FIRST.
- November 21, 2009BY BEN LOWE
Study after study has shown that cities prioritize development that lets visitors and residents walk, bicycle, or take public transit to get around, people are healthier and have far less negative impact on the environment. Now, a new study by TransForm entitled Windfall for All demonstrates another benefit to developing livable communities: people who do not use cars to get around spend far less money on transportation than people who do. Citing AAA estimates, the report shows that, on average, it costs $8,097 per year to own, maintain, register, insure, and fuel a vehicle. In all, individuals in the Bay Area spend $34 billion on private transportation, most of which on owning and operating cars.
Especially in current tough economic conditions, finding ways to cut costs is critical, and that includes money spent on transportation. Yet many Bay Area towns and cities have prioritized development that not only encourages auto use, but precludes other ways to travel. As the study asserts, people can only move away from expensive auto use toward more affordable transportation means if cities give them the means to do so by putting housing near transit, ensuring pedestrians and bicyclists can get around safely, and investing in pleasant places that are nicer to be in than to drive past.
- November 16, 2009BY LAURA TAM, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT POLICY DIRECTOR
This Wednesday, join the Alaska Conservation Foundation for an evening with National Geographic photographer James Balog. Mr. Balog, an award wininng photographer for over 25 years, will share his groundbreaking work to capture the reality of climate change by photographing the world’s shrinking glaciers. Through time-lapse footage, Mr. Balog will share his efforts to design equipment, underwrite, and produce one of the world’s most convincing records of climate change. For more information (and stunning photographs), visit www.extremeicesurvey.org. Half of the U.S. coal reserves, by the way, lie in Alaska—making it a very important front line for stopping global climate change.
Event details: Wed, Nov. 18, Fort Mason Officer's Club, 1 Fort Mason, San Francisco
Program (Free, but RSVP required): 6:30-7:30 pm
RSVP: Lorraine Guyer, at firstname.lastname@example.org
, or call (907) 276-1917.