Author: Richard Davis

ABAG launches energy evaluation tool for climate action planning

From the Association of Bay Area Governments, November 19, 2020

“The tool, developed by the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA, in partnership with BayREN [the Bay Area Regional Energy Network], visualizes one of the largest sets of disaggregated building energy data available in the nation. It uses a large database of PG&E account-level electricity and natural gas consumption linked spatially to building characteristics and sociodemographic data. The Energy Atlas was developed to assist local governments with climate action planning and to delve into how energy is being used in their jurisdictions.

“The tool can help answer questions such as:

  • What types of buildings have the highest energy intensity per square foot?
  • How does energy consumption vary spatially, by population density, by income level, or by industry?
  • How does energy consumption compare between [sic] Single Family homes in different parts of the region?

The Bay Area Energy Atlas will also be a great tool to help guide local policy on reducing energy consumption and will allow any interested community members to interact with the data.”

Read the original press release here. (~1 min.)

Access the Bay Area Energy Atlas here. A one-hour presentation by the developers, located at the bottom of the page, describes potential applications in a local government setting.

Return to Northern News here.

Audit slams California for wasting billions in bonds

By Jennifer Wadsworth, San Jose Inside, November 19, 2020

“In a report released earlier this week, State Auditor Elaine Howle cites a particularly egregious instance in which one agency squandered $2.7 billion in bonds that could have funded thousands of below-market-rate homes.

“‘The state does not currently have a sound, well-coordinated strategy or plan for how to most effectively use its financial resources to support affordable housing,’ the audit reads. And the agencies in charge of addressing the issue have no ‘clear plan describing how or where its billions of dollars for housing will have the most impact.’

“One of the most alarming findings in the audit involves the state’s Debt Limit Allocation Committee, which works with three other agencies to issue loans, tax credits, and bonds to affordable housing developers.

“From 2015 to 2017, however, Howle found that the committee let $2.7 billion in tax-exempt federal bond revenue simply evaporate. The debt allocation agency, a subsidiary of the State Treasurer’s Office, then tried to cover its tracks.

“The committee came under new leadership once California Treasurer Fiona Ma took office in 2019 — two years after the bonds expired. Since then, Ma has reportedly instituted a policy of redirecting leftover bond funds to other uses.”

In the audit report, Howle suggests a number of solutions for the state’s multifamily housing development process, such as creating a new workgroup to steer funding to multifamily housing projects from the debt limit committee and its tax-credit-reviewing counterpart.

Read the full article here. (~5 min.)

Related: After meeting on November 19, California’s Debt Limit Allocation Committee, which controls the allotment of bonds, voted to allocate all $600 million of private activity bonds formerly awarded to Fortress Investment Group’s Las Vegas tourist train to affordable housing needs. Read Romy Varghese’s coverage of the decision in Bloomberg here. (~1.5 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

Norman Foster says Covid-19 won’t change our cities

By Tom Ravenscroft, DeZeen, October 13, 2020

“The coronavirus pandemic will not fundamentally change cities, but could lead to more sustainable buildings, a ‘renaissance’ for urban farming, and a ‘new future’ for monorails, says Norman Foster.

“ ‘Is Covid-19 going to change our cities?’ asked the founder of London-studio Foster + Partners. ‘It might seem so now, but in the wider arc of history, the answer is no. It has merely accelerated trends of change that were already apparent before the pandemic.’

  • ‘The Great Fire, 1666, created building codes that led to fireproof brick construction.’
  • ‘The Cholera Epidemic of the mid-nineteenth century cleaned up the Thames from an open sewer and was the birth of modern sanitization.’
  • ‘Then Tuberculosis struck and helped birth the modern movement in architecture — big windows, sunlight, terraces, white, and clean.’

“ ‘But every one of those consequences — fireproof construction, sewers, green parks, modernism — would have happened anyway, and not just in London but in cities around the world, because cities learn from each other.’

“‘The cumulative effect of these many trends are transforming city centers and local neighborhoods, making them quieter, cleaner, safer, healthier, more friendly, walkable, bikeable and, if the opportunity is grasped, greener,’ he said. ‘The last major pandemic in 1918-20 … heralded the social and cultural revolution of the 1920s, with big public gathering spaces, department stores, cinemas, and stadia.’

“The architect concluded that the current crisis could lead to cities being improved to become more appealing to live in and more resilient to future health issues. ‘The pandemic is a tragic event, we have all lost loved ones, and for the moment the virus continues,’ he said. ‘But stepping back, I am confident that cities will prove their resilience and appeal — they will bounce back stronger and better as a consequence.’”

Read the full article here.

Return to the November Northern News here.

What do Oakland, Vilnius, and Rotterdam have in common?

By Derek Robertson, The Guardian, October 12, 2020

“Rotterdam’s Witte de Withstraat was a car-choked thoroughfare. Today, cars are banned after 4pm, locals stroll down the middle of the road, and special wooden terraces have taken the place of parking spaces. ‘They give the extra space we need right now. And they’ve been decorated in a very attractive way — there’s a completely different energy to the area now,’ a local café owner said.

“The reallocation of urban space has become one of Covid-19’s most tangible effects on the built environment. Cities are being forced to innovate, and the car is bearing the brunt.

“[Cities] are introducing ideas that challenge decades of orthodoxy in urban planning and design.

  • “Oakland, California, has converted many neighborhood streets into pop-up ‘slow streets,’ closed to car traffic.
  • “London mayor Sadiq Khan, introduced Streetspace for London, including temporary cycle lanes and wider pavements.
  • “In Paris, the plan is for 650 new kilometers of pop-up ‘corona cycleways,’ and the removal of 72 percent of on-street parking.
  • “Even Vilnius, Lithuania, with its typically cool, rainy summers, made an effort to turn public streets into an open-air cafe.

“Parking spaces have proved the perfect way to reclaim the required land. Many people are working remotely, and inner cities have had huge drops in visitor numbers. American cities have been particularly aggressive in this regard.

  • “Portland, Oregon, was one of the first to seize on parking spaces with its Come Thru Market. The initiative connects black and minority ethnic farmers with customers through local parking lots in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
  • “Las Vegas has erected tented shelters and ‘cooling centres’ in unused parking lots for homeless people to take refuge and access services.
  • “And China has recently accelerated plans for a huge, car-free district in Shenzen, ‘designed for and about people.’”

Read the full article here.

Return to the November Northern News here.

Google presents bold vision for downtown San Jose campus

By Victoria Song, Gizmodo, October 9, 2020

“In newly released renders, Google highlighted some early-stage illustrations for a few of the key concept areas. For example, ‘The Gateway’ is meant to be a 0.75-acre open space that integrates the San Jose Water Company Building and surrounding residential neighborhoods. The idea is for it to be a ‘flexible plaza for temporary pop-up programming and events,’ and include amenities like an amphitheater that’s also open for public use.

“The campus itself aims to be a ‘20-minute city’, as in you can walk most of the city within 20 minutes. Along that vein, Google says it aims for roughly 65 percent of the campus to be accessible via walking, cycling, public transit, or carpool to discourage single-car use. As for greenery, Google says the campus will include at least 10 parks as well as several trails.

“While a majority of the project will be dedicated to office space, Google also plans to include up to 5,900 dwelling units, a 300-room hotel, and 500,000 gross square feet dedicated for ‘active uses’ (i.e., retail, restaurants, nonprofits, etc.).

“It remains to be seen how the local San José community feels about it. Giant tech companies and their walled-off campuses have, after all, played a significant role in gentrifying Silicon Valley and the California housing crisis.”

Read the full article here. (~3 min.)

Return to the November Northern News here.

Executive order directs California to conserve land, coasts

By Alexei Koseff, The San Francisco Chronicle, October 7, 2020

“Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order on October 7 setting a target to conserve 30 percent of the state’s land and coastal waters by 2030 — joining dozens of nations in a global pact to preserve biodiversity and prevent species loss.

“California would need to conserve another 8.4 million acres over the next decade to meet the goal Newsom set.

“Newsom’s order also directs his administration to take steps to streamline approval of land restoration projects, protect native plants and animals from invasive species, and reinvigorate the population of pollinating insects in California.

“Most significantly, several agencies will develop policies to capture more carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the state’s natural and working lands such as forests, rangeland, farms, wetlands and coasts. These strategies, intended to help California reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2045, could include planting cover crops, restoring wetlands, managing forests more actively to reduce wildfire risk, and planting trees and creating parks in urban areas.

“ ‘It’s not about a scarcity mindset. It’s not about taking something away,’ Governor Newsom said. ‘It’s about an inclusive, abundant mindset.’”

Read the full article here. (~3 min.)

Return to the November Northern News here.

New research: British Columbia shelter system tests homeless stipend

By Bridgette Watson, CBC News, October 7, 2020

The New Leaf project is a joint study started in 2018 by Foundations for Social Change, a Vancouver-based charitable organization, and the University of British Columbia. After giving homeless Lower Mainland residents cash payments of $7,500, researchers checked on them over the course of a year to see how they were faring.

“All 115 participants, ranging in age between 19 and 64, had been homeless for at least six months and were not struggling with serious substance use or mental health issues. About half were chosen at random to be given cash while the other half were a control group.

“Not only did those who received the money spend fewer days homeless than those in the control group, they had also moved into stable housing after an average of three months, compared to those in the control group, who took an average of five months.”

Many participants who received the stipend were food-secure after one month and were able to budget their stipend effectively for the year.

“Claire Williams, CEO of Foundations for Social Change, a charitable organization, said it costs, on average, $55,000 annually for social and health services for one homeless individual. According to study data, the project saved the shelter system approximately $8,100 per person for a total of roughly $405,000 over one year for all 50.”

Read the full article here. (~2 min.)

Return to the November Northern News here.

Four Bay Area counties fail equity requirement for reopening

By Fiona Kelliher and Nico Savidge, The Mercury News, October 6, 2020

“California added its ‘equity metric’ last week to the list of criteria counties must meet before they can advance through the color-coded tiers created to guide the reopening of shuttered businesses and activities.”

Counties that fail the state’s equity requirement, “must promise to direct more resources toward testing and contact tracing in coronavirus hotspots.”

“On Tuesday, Oct. 6, data showed San Francisco, Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Sonoma counties were among 12 statewide whose coronavirus infection rates were particularly high in those neighborhoods and did not meet the requirement. All others in the Bay Area, including Alameda and Santa Clara counties, met the benchmark.

“The metric is California’s most aggressive move yet to try to address the global pandemic’s disparate impact on its Black, Latinx, and Pacific Islander residents. Although Latinx people make up less than 40 percent of California’s population, they account for more than 60 percent of coronavirus cases and nearly half of deaths, according to the California Department of Public Health.

“San Mateo County officials, who last week praised the new metric even as they predicted they might fail to meet it, said they have worked to expand testing, improve contact tracing, and provide financial support for housing or food to help people stay isolated. The county’s most at-risk areas include parts of Redwood City, San Mateo, and East Palo Alto.”

Read the full article here. (~ 4 min.)

Return to the November Northern News here.

Pandemic and wildfires challenge California’s economy

By Conor Dougherty, The New York Times, October 5, 2020

“Businesses shuttered by the pandemic are slowly reopening, but technology complexes are quiet, their workers carrying on from home indefinitely. The smoke-filled skies had started to clear, but new fires have arrived in a fierce wildfire season that shows the intensifying effects of climate change.

“If California is to continue leading the nation’s economy deep into the future, its leaders and residents will have to rethink where and how the state grows.

“Superficially, the forecasts for California are no better or worse than the nation’s, with some sectors, like tourism, badly hurt and others, like technology, barely touched. But between climate change and remote work, the state is facing questions that uniquely cut to the core of its economic identity.

“Despite the diversity of California’s vast economy, there is near-universal agreement on one barrier to growth: the exorbitant cost of housing. 

“Economists and planners have long counseled that the best way to relieve this pressure is to build more housing near the coastal job centers, but California has continued to sprawl, a pattern that has undermined the state’s own emission-reduction goals by encouraging longer commutes, while placing more homes in fire zones. In 2010, the last year with available data, nearly a third of California housing was in the so-called wildland-urban interface, where wildfire risk is greatest, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

“In a season of perpetual fires and apocalyptic orange skies, and with home prices only continuing to rise, it seems open to question whether the state can get much bigger. But even in the age of climate change, some economists project that growth will find a way.

Read the full article here. (~6 min.)

RELATED: In Bay Nature, Hayley Davis describes ecological damage and recovery efforts in Bay Area parks due to recent lightning-ignited fires. (~10 min. read)

RELATED: Millions of Americans have already been displaced by climate change. Samantha Harrington writes about climate migration in Yale Climate Connections. (~6 min. read)

Floodgates in Venice work in first major test

By Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times, October 3, 2020

A network of 78 floodgates barricading three inlets protected Venice from high tides that would have flooded about half the city’s streets if the gates had not been raised.

“Designed some four decades ago to help save Venice from flooding, the mobile barrier system was delayed by cost overruns, corruption, and opposition from environmental and conservation groups.

“Alberto Scotti, the engineer who designed the floodgates, said the floodgates had been designed to defend the city ‘even in anomalous situations,’ and even with high tides reaching nearly 10 feet.

“While supporters of the project welcomed October 3rd’s test as a major victory, some pointed out that the floodgates won’t fully solve the growing threat posed by climate change.

“ ‘With climate change, there’s a chance that the floodgates could be employed 150-180 days a year, becoming an almost fixed barrier and severing the lagoon’s relation to the sea,’ said Cristiano Gasparetto, an architect and former provincial official who has long opposed the project.

“ ‘If the lagoon is cut off from the sea for long periods, it dies, because the natural exchange of waters stops, and all of its organic life risks decaying,’ he said.

“ ‘If the lagoon dies, Venice dies,’ he added.”

Read the full article here. (~3 min.)

RELATED: A short video from the BBC shows Venice’s mobile flood barriers being tested in 2013 during an earlier stage of construction.

Return to the November Northern News here.