Assorted Links

Berkeley, San Francisco, and Oakland have a proportionally higher stock of older housing than many East Coast and Midwestern cities that were founded and developed much earlier — places such as Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, Hartford, Conn., Savannah, Ga., and Washington, D.C.

Stormwater from areas around the nine-county Bay Area contribute more toxic pollution to San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun bays than the rivers carrying agricultural runoff from the Valley.

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New! Announcing “Events” and “Webinars” Pages

We are working hard to build both a resource and a community here at Zero Resource.

To further build the community, we have launched an “Upcoming Bay Area Events” page to feature local events and speakers.

And because this is an online community, we have launched a “Webinars” page to feature interesting online presentations.

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You can navigate to the Events and Webinars pages through links in the right-hand column.

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Please send along interesting events and webinars to anna AT zeroresource DOT com. We will post those that we think will interest our readers.

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City Rankings – Energy, Walkability, and Transit

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This Friday’s links highlight a few examples of city rankings…

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has released a list of 22 American cities named “2010 Smarter Cities” for their investment in green power, energy efficiency measures and conservation – Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Santa Cruz are the Northern California cities that made the list and have profiles on the NRDC website.

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Walk Score has ranked 2,508 neighborhoods in the largest 40 U.S. cities to help you find walkable neighborhoods – San Francisco is ranked #1!

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The 2006 American Community Survey measured the percentage of commuters who take public transit, as opposed to walking, driving, riding a bicycle, or other ways of getting to work. In the top 50 are the Bay Area cities of San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, and Concord.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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New Recycling Center for El Cerrito Residents

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photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The City of El Cerrito is calling upon residents to attend several public meetings in anticipation of the opening of a new recycling center, including discussion of the planning, use and design of the facility. The second of these public meetings will be taking place Thursday, August 26 at the El Cerrito City Hall from 7 to 9 p.m. The third and final public meeting will take place on  Tuesday, September 14 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Read background information on the new recycling facility project here. For more information about the meetings and environmental programs in El Cerrito, visit the City of El Cerrito’s Environmental Services Division here.

The meetings will take place in the El Cerrito City Hall Council Chambers, 10890 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito.

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Houses – Small, Reused, and Prefab

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A number of interesting house-related tidbits came my way this week, and I wanted to share a few favorites…

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NPR featured a story (with photos!) about incredibly tiny Japanese houses designed to fit on slivers of land. Every function and element has to be carefully considered.

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Mother Earth News featured a story about how some folks are reusing round, metal grain bins (also called grain silos) as houses. One architect, Mark Clipsham, specializes in putting one bin inside another (with a crane) and then filling the space with foam insulation to improve thermal performance – there are photos of his work here.

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And Treehugger featured a story about Michelle Kaufmann’s new “Zero” series of prefabricated homes. Her company is based in the Bay Area. Her website goes into more detail about the homes, and lists the “lessons learned” from her previous ventures into prefab, which are incorporated into this venture:

  1. Minimize button up work / maximize what is done off-site
  2. Have a system that can offer both efficiencies with repetition in module types, but designed to offer a great variety of overall configurations so each home can be uniquely composed for the specific site conditions and client goals.
  3. Use materials and systems that have been researched and tested for the optimal balance of beauty, longevity, sustainability and cost
  4. Maximize efficiencies in dimensions of materials by designing to construction and shipping “sweet spots” to reduce waste and costs

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NRDC Report on Climate Change, Water and Risk

Image: NRDC

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has released a study, conducted on their behalf by Tetra Tech, which examined the effects of climate change on probable future water supply and demand in the United States. One of the main findings of the study is that one-third of the U.S. counties (> 1,100 counties) will likely face water shortages by 2050.

The full report is available as a PDF here.

The Water Supply Sustainbility Index developed by Tetra Tech for the report can be viewed interactively in Google Earth – a link to the data can be found on the NRDC’s website here. You can also turn on and off markers for which counties are top producers of different crops to get a sense of the potential impact of the water shortages. It looks like this (the green dots indicate that the county is one of the top 100 counties for producing vegetables):

The NRDC also released a one-page overview of water shortage risk and crop value in at-risk counties by state (as a PDF here). According to the overview of California’s risk due to climate change:

Percent of CA counties at risk of water shortages: 83%

Total number of CA counties at risk: 48

Total number of CA counties at extreme risk: 19

Total number of CA counties at high risk: 17

Total number of CA counties at moderate risk: 12

The value of all the crops being producing in at-risk CA counties (in $1,000s): $21,585,354

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Bay Area Public Meeting to Set SB375 Targets

Photographer: Manfred Werner Tsui at de.wikipedia.org

Passed in 2008, SB 375 is the nation’s first law to link greenhouse gas emissions with urban sprawl.  The thrust of AB 375 is to require not only emissions reduction targets, but also to require land use planning strategies and interagency collaboration in the process. In practice, this requires each region in the state to adopt a Sustainable Communities Strategy, or SCS, that is in line with regional emissions targets set by regional Air Resource Boards.

As SB 375 moves foward in its implementation, the time has come this August for the ARBs to annouce their emissions targets.

The California Air Resources Board has been holding workshops throughout California this month to accept public comment on the draft regional targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from cars and light trucks.  The public comments will be taken into consideration before the Metro Planning Organizations (MPOs) announce their proposed targets in August. On Wednesday, July 21, the Bay Area gets to put in its two cents. The meeting information is as follows:

July 21, 2010     10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m

Caltrans Oakland Building, Auditorium, 111 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA 94612

For those unable to attend, the meeting will be webcast.

For more information on Senate Bill 375, see Urban Land Institute’s Summary and Key Findings report here, and the Governor’s Office factsheet here.

A list of all of the California ARB meetings in July can be found here.

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San Francisco’s Smart Water Meters

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                                                                                          water supply leak, Free Foto.com

San Francisco began to roll out its new ‘smart’ water meters to city residences this month. The new devices can accurately track water usage in real-time and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) plans to make personal water use data available to customers online. Other benefits include the streamlining of operations- meters communicate wirelessly, eliminating the need for house-to-house readings- and the early detection of system leaks and unusual usage surges.

The SFPUC will replace over 175,000 meters beginning with 5,000 this spring/summer,with an estimated install completion for the full number by 2012. The expectation is that the new meters will be able to assist individual and system-wide conservation efforts, increase response time for problems, and allow for a more accurate and refined fee structure.

California, as a drought-prone state, can stand to benefit greatly from increased water use data collection. As it stands today, water use is not uniformly tracked in all homes and businesses, nor is there any correlation between regional water scarcity and water service rates. While agriculture, industry and conveyance also play leading roles in the general water picture in the state, having accurate home and commercial usage data is a step forward, and can only be a benefit in creating sound management policies for this precious and scarce resource.

Current Events – AC Transit Cuts, part 2

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Here is an update on the ongoing cuts to AC Transit service that I first reported on last week:

AC Transit is in trouble. Dire financial straits have forced the agency to consider enacting additional service cuts and the possible declaration of a fiscal emergency. Already adjusting to the 7 percent service cuts that went into effect at the end of March of this year, August is likely to bring an additional 8 percent less service, with more cuts in the pipeline if new funding sources are not found.

On May 26th, AC Transit held two public hearings, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to solicit comments on three possible scenarios that could be rolled out in August.

Proposal one is to operate only trunk and major corridor services on the weekends;

Proposal two is to modify All Nighter and late-night services;

Proposal three is to distribute the reductions across all weekday, late-night and weekend services.

However, it is unlikely that any one scenario will be enacted in full, but rather some sort of amalgamation of the proposed cuts.

I attended the 6 p.m. public hearing and tensions were running high among those who came to speak out against the cuts. Time and again, concerned residents spoke of their fears about losing accessible transit. Many stated that they could not afford cars, or were seniors or disabled and could not walk or bike as an alternative. Some had moved to their residences specifically because they were accessible to bus routes- routes that are threatened under the new scenarios, either by reduction of service resulting in unreasonable wait times, or loss of service areas altogether.

While some expressed frustration with the board of directors, in truth these are deep and painful cuts that nobody wants to make and that will result in the continued erosion of the ridership base, further driving down revenues.

What can we, as informed and concerned citizens, do to try to recover the essential functions of the public service on which so many depend? we need to speak up if we want to keep our transit systems intact (or expanded). Transit is often at the bottom of the list because public outcry is greater on other issues; perhaps transit is seen as so fundamental that we take it as a given. What AC Transit is showing us, is that publicly funded transit is far from a given.

Contact your State Senator.

Editorial – AC Transit Service Cuts

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*AC Transit is considering options for another 8% of service cuts (effective in August) to meet its budget. Public hearings and comment sessions on the new cuts will be held this Wednesday, May 26, 2p.m. and 6p.m. at 1600 Franklin Street in Oakland. We will be reporting on the new cuts next week.

 

Regular riders aware by now that several AC Transit lines underwent tweaks to schedules and routes at the end of March, most notably the split of the 51 line to “51A” and “51B” lines that terminate at the RockRidge BART station. Regular riders are also aware that public transit in the Bay Area has seen fare increases across the board in the past year. However, what many riders may not know is that most transit agencies only receive a fraction of their operating costs from cash fares. AC Transit for example, recoups less than 20 percent of its budget from cash fares. So, while it is true that fare rates have seen increases while services have declined, they do not even begin to touch the transit giant’s bottom line.

AC Transit’s pared down route system that went into effect at the end of March this year is just one manifestation of structural changes and deep cuts within the system. The statewide budget crisis has resulted in the loss of significant funding, mainly from State Transit Assistance (STA) grants. AC Transit’s baseline budget for FY 08/09 clocked in at $327 million and was on course to increase; Due to restructuring the FY 09/10 budget will be stripped back to $313.9 million and FY 10/11 is budgeted for $308.9 million.

In any very large organization there must be fat to be cut, and efficiency gains to be had. But why the withdrawal of millions of dollars of funding for public transit at a time when many are forced to scale back economically and possibly even give up their cars? AC Transit- and public transportation in the Bay Area in general- are not alone; major spending cuts for transit can be seen all across the country.

While giving up a car may be great for the planet, it can be a major liability for folks trying to stay mobile in areas of poor transit connectivity. Further, with extended wait times, curtailed hours and pared down routes, public transit may not win many converts-even among those who would like an alternative to driving. It was reported in the San Jose Mercury News that Bay Area public transit lost an estimated seven percent of its ridership within the past year, and the nation is not far behind with a six percent overall drop in public transit usage. This is the classic chicken and egg scenario: if ridership is down as the economy stagnates, funding will be down; If funding is down, service will be down; If service is down, ridership will be down, and so on. How we will restructure this ailing system remains to be seen.