sustainable communities

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

Here are your wEEkly updates:

Peer-to-Peer Requests

Triple-Bottom-Line Accounting
A local government agency has requested information on cities and counties that practice triple-bottom-line or sustainable accounting. If your city or county has implemented triple-bottom-line accounting, or if you have any related resources, please let me know and I will get you in contact with this agency.

News and Opportunities

California Approves First US Energy Efficiency Standards for Computers
The new standards, approved by California's Energy Commission, requires most computers to draw less power while idle. Laptops are only required to see a slight reduction in power draw since they're already designed to be energy efficient. But only 6% of desktops currently meet the commission's standards. On average, noncompliant desktops will have to reduce their idle power draw by about 30% by 2019 and by about 50% by 2021, the commission says.

An Update on California's Distributed Energy Leadership
In a unanimous decision yesterday, California regulators created a new financial incentive pilot that encourages utilities to invest in DERs instead of more expensive traditional grid investments.

Microgrids Continue to Progress - With Some Bumps in the Road
Microgrids increasingly are being seen as a hedge against grid failure and as a way to more efficiently harness renewable resources. However, there is uncertainty for the future of microgrids as they grow at different rates in different areas and with potential decreases in research and development with the new Administration.
NYC Hospitals Reduce Energy Use by 10%
Transitioning to LEDs, solar panels, upgrading air handling units, replacing boilers, and steam trap replacement have been the common projects that enabled hospitals to reduce energy use.

RFP: Sustainable Communities Planning Grant and Incentives Program: Best Practices Pilot
The Strategic Growth Council in partnership with the Office of Planning and Research is soliciting proposals for an effort to support local land use planning related to climate and the State's statutory planning priorities. The program funding in the amount of $250,000 will be available for applicants to apply for up to $50,000. These grants will support the development and/or implementation of a specific portion of a land use plan, land protection or management practice, or development project. Proposals due January 11, 2017.

Job Opportunity: Energy and Water Coordinator, County of San Luis Obispo
The County of San Luis Obispo Department of Public Works is seeking an innovative and experienced individual who is committed to work as part of a team in delivering a broad range of energy-related projects at County facilities. The position covers a wide range of duties, such as energy monitoring and reporting to researching and implementing program/projects in the County's EnergyWise Plan. Applications due December 29, 2016.
Click the Calendar link to view all upcoming events.

1/25-1/26 (Sacramento) California Climate Change Symposium 2017
This forum aims to share cutting-edge research addressing the impacts of climate change on the state to inform the state's strategies and policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to develop programs to safeguard California from a changing climate. Early-bird registration ends today, December 16th.

2/2/17 (St. Louis, MO) New Partners for Smart Growth Conference
Early-bird registration has been extended to December 16th  for the 2017 New Partners for Smart Growth Conference. This conference is the nation's largest smart growth and sustainability event and has been named one of 12 conferences not to miss by Planetizen. Early Bird registration ends today, December 16th.

3/16-3/19 (Yosemite National Park) Yosemite Policymakers Conference
Join mayors, city council members, county supervisors, city managers, and high-level department heads for the 26th Annual Yosemite Policymakers Conference. This popular conference always features a timely and inspirational program designed to provide the tools and support policymakers need to implement innovative solutions to address society's most pressing challenges. This year's conference will be no different with its focus on sustaining our progress and protecting the American dream.

5/5/17 (Long Beach) The Business of Local Energy Symposium 2017
The Center for Climate Protection along with the Local Government Commission and the Local Government Sustainable Energy Coalition is offering their third Business of Clean Energy Symposium to convene government, business, and community leaders to accelerate California's shift to a clean energy economy and to exchange ideas about Community Choice Energy programs. Save the date - registration will open in January.

Resources and Reports

2017 Building Intelligence Predictions
Podcast on building intelligence to accelerate savings, equity growth, occupant satisfaction and the arrival of smart, connected cities in 2017.

Re-Assessment of Net Energy Production and GHG Emissions Avoidance After 40 Years of Photovoltaics Development
This report shows strong downward trends of environmental impact of photovoltaic production, following the experience of curve law, and shows a break-even between the cumulative disadvantages and benefits of photovoltaics, for both energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, occurs between 1997 and 2018 depending on photovoltaic performance and model uncertainties.

The Benefits of Solar + Storage for Commercial and Public Buildings
A combined solar + storage system can firm and smooth the energy used onsite, reducing demand charge risk due to solar intermittency, and results in more reliable reduction of energy and demand charge-related electricity expenses. Additionally, a combined solution can enhance the resilience of a building's power supply, a key consideration for critical facilities in the face of increasingly common power outages in some areas.

The Challenge of Decarbonizing the U.S. Power Sector: Encouraging Innovation and Aligning Stakeholder Interests
This working paper describes current U.S. power sector trends and relevant environmental goals, ways that technology innovation could proceed or be interrupted, and three emerging low- and zero-carbon technologies generally considered leading options for meeting the decarbonization challenges. It concludes with ideas from a range of experts to meet GHG reduction goals and accelerate innovation to advance low-carbon generation.


And that's all for this week! 

A Public Market in Downtown Fresno

Hurrah!!! Hurrah!!!
A Public Market in Fresno…

Imagine a public market in downtown Fresno. A place where your senses come alive, where local foods such as the aroma of fresh ground coffee mingles with Jamaican jerk chicken and spicy greens sizzling in a pot. The scent of artisan baked hot bread fresh from the oven interlaced with sweet potato pie cooling on the counter. The sounds of blues or jazz heard in the distance from a street musician in the public area. Visiting Fresno’s public market would be a feast for all senses, a place to experience familiar taste from the homeland of your ancestors, a place to experiment with new flavors that animate your taste buds with the tang of new and exciting palates.

I close my eyes and envision a fiesta of color, scents and exciting products. I can’t help but to have a smile on my face when I think of this. Well, my wishing may be over soon. On Wednesday January 9th, from 10 – 12 noon, (CA Raisin Marketing Board Room, 2445 Capitol St. in Civic Center Sq) public market expert Ted Spitzer will be in town to talk with the City about public markets and the steps to create one. This visit could be the first step in preparing a feasibility study that will enable the financing and development of the Fresno Public Market. (City of Fresno, Elliott Balch)

I have been dreaming about this for years now and it is finally in the planning stage. I for one am very excited about the possibility of having a centralize location to get all my produce, specialty cheese and meats, and to find those hard to find ethnic items that I love so much.

If we add up the GHG saving from a lesser number of trips to the various farmers markets and supermarkets around town, otherwise known as vehicle miles traveled, there is a considerable advantage. With the cost savings in fuel and energy savings from a centralized location, I for one vote a earsplitting YES!

Aside from my personal excitement, there are many benefits from a public market in Fresno. Those benefits include building local economies, job creation, social mixes, arts and cultures, health and nutrition and last but not least environmental protection. For this blog I will focus on the environmental protection aspect of public markets especially one located in Fresno’s downtown area. We have to consider the fact that a public market will use existing infrastructure, historic preservation and encourages recycling. It would also lend to health and nutrition for our local community as the access to quality fresh, local healthful foods along with organic foods would be available 7-days a week at a set location without having to wonder, “Oh, its Tuesday…where is there a farmers market today?” I’m excited thinking that Fresno could have a place that would house small farmer sales, preserve green space, while allowing the public to meet the producer.

Fresno is such a diverse, vital and culturally rich community; ripe to embrace diverse foods and culture ready to reflect its community’s character and heritage while meeting its everyday shopping needs – especially for fresh foods. Public market shoppers are not only there for the fresh foods, they go for the experience. Shoppers go to public markets for fundamentally social reasons – to meet a friend, to people watch, to enjoy the street musicians, to mix with people who are different from themselves.  They go to immerse themselves in a vibrant, pulsing, colorful place that is exciting and fun. They go to public markets for free flu shots or the ethnic festival or to show their kids where food really comes from. It also gives Fresno a venue for public awareness campaigns such as energy conservation. Shameless plug…

Photo Credit:

Sick of traffic? Try peddling an e-bike

Plan to leave downtown San Francisco in a car at rush hour?

Forget about it. Drivers are instantly locked in a metallic struggle pumping out CO2 while inching toward the Highway 101 on ramp.

A solution may be to pick up a bike. Maybe a 2012 Kalkhoff Sahel Pro S11 electric bike. A little pricey, but definitely more maneuverable.

In the United Kingdom, sales of the rather pricey bike are picking up as gas prices push the $10 per gallon mark.

"The big petrol price hike is happening right now and the phones are much busier than we would expect this early in the year," said an official of UK-based via web chat. And is it a trend? "Too early to tell, but the signs are good."

Battling traffic

Commuters' battles with traffic congestion can shave years off their lives. Many stagger their drive time. Arrive early, leave early. They figure out a drill. Seattle to New York City, it's all the same.

However, change is coming with higher fuel prices and a cultural shift. No longer does everyone want to live in far-flung suburbia. The allure of a cookie-cutter home on a street named Willow Brook Lane and surrounded by a stone wall and electronically controlled black metal gates is growing a bit stale to the younger generation.

There's growing demand for homes closer to work, shops and mass transportation. Home builders, redevelopers and even some urban planners are beginning to see opportunity, fueling a growing sustainable communities movement.

Sustainable living

The voices for rethinking urban living are growing stronger. For instance, even the American Society of Landscape Architects says urban development should be guided by a sustainable planning that promotes interconnected green space, multi-modal transportation systems and mixed-use development. In other words, it should be people friendly.

New York City entrepreneur Mark Gorton is a big proponent of getting more bikes and fewer cars on the road. Controlling traffic and improving the quality of urban living is the goal of his Rethinking the Automobile project. Gorton, whose credits include forming almost a half dozen investment firms and other ventures, says what's good for a person -- a safe, slow and not very directional environment -- is not what's good for a car.

And mixing the two has created urban environments that cater to cars and trucks and "hostile for people," he says.

Bike riding open to new riders

So, should you buy a bike? The question until now has been generally "No." But that could change with the advent of technology that allows a relatively out-of-shape person on the aforementioned Kalkhoff to blast up to 40 miles on a charge on a electric-powered bike.

50cycles Ltd., which markets the Kalkhoff in England, explains it this way in a recent statement: "Unpowered bikes are great if you're super fit, in no big hurry or relaxed about wearing acres of day-glo Lycra. Electric bikes encouraging a new and broader range of cyclists to take to the roads."

Nicely put. I've commuted via bike. Not bad but getting to work covered in a sheen of sweat doesn't necessarily blend with the necktie.

Here's a testimonial also provided by

Mike Sandford bought his Kalkhoff Agattu electric bike to continue riding into his 70s. The official of the London Marathon modified the bicycle to precisely measure the course distance before last year's race. "It is perfect for this," Mike says, "because it flattens the hills and overcomes the wind. I no longer get tired and very slow as I did in my 60s."
There you have it.

E-bike players increase

German-made Kalkhoff is hardly the only one in the game. The company markets the bikes in this country through the Portland, Ore.-based Kalkhoff USA. The Sahel costs a little south of $3,500, about the price of a really nice road bike or about 35 times the price a meth head would charge on the streets. But his are stolen.

I digress.

Another is Currie Technologies, a Chatsworth, Calif.-based developer and distributor of electric-powered bikes and scooters marketed under the IZIP and eZip brands.

And there is Optibike, a company that engineer and tri-athlete Jim Turner started out of his Boulder, Colo. garage. His vision, according to Optibike's website: "Make the world's best electric bicycle, with no compromises in quality, performance or style." Price for the Commuter is $5,995 and a range of 20 miles.

Truly, another e-biking offers another option. But it's one that may evolve into a successful sector in the already burgeoning battery-powered market. Cars are coming online rapidly, either as full-on electric, hybrid or plug-in hybrid. The jury's still out, but gas prices certainly have people thinking about alternatives.

Other stories of interest:
People can adjust to friendlier streets, fewer cars
Coda ships first car; electric vehicle news accelerates

People can adjust to friendlier streets, fewer cars

If getting automobiles to emit fewer noxious pollutants clears the air and improves the health and well being of the American public, then reducing the number of vehicles overall would make it even better.

Controlling traffic and improving the quality of urban living is the goal of New York City entrepreneur Mark Gorton's Rethinking the Automobile project. Gorton, whose credits include forming almost a half dozen investment firms and other ventures, says what's good for a person -- a safe, slow and not very directional environment -- is not what's good for a car.

And mixing the two has created urban environments that cater to cars and trucks and "hostile for people," he says.

To highlight the car-vs.-people disparity and increase discussion of planning and policy alternatives, Gorton's nonprofit OpenPlans launched a campaign fronted by the Henson-created character Zozo to "protect the spirit and message of Dr. Seuss' acclaimed book 'The Lorax' from crass commercialization."

The medium sends the wrong message

The effort takes aim at a commercial by Mazda promoting its Skyactiv technology engines. Skyactiv, Mazda says, improves performance and reduces emissions through greater compression ratio, improved exhaust and custom piston design. Mazda teamed with Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment on the "Seuss-ified" advertising campaign tied to the release of the animated Lorax movie.

At one point, the ad says Mazda is "Truffula Tree friendly."

That didn't sit well with some. "Theodor Seuss Geisel wouldn't have liked this," comments woodsprout on the youtube post. Other posts call it "drivel" and "disgraceful."

The Lorax makes a pitch

OpenPlans and Zozo are encouraging people to sign a petition urging Mazda and Universal to stop running the ads. "This advertising campaign goes directly against the message and spirit of The Lorax," says Zozo, in prepared remarks. "The Lorax speaks for the trees, not the SUVees!"

The Lorax remains neutral on issue of reducing cars, but he is considered one of the first environmentalists and often is a child's first encounter with the concept of treating nature with respect and tolerance. The character was one of the first non-hippy greenies I encountered as a kid and gave some of the goofy rules my mother espoused some credibility. At least for awhile.

Retiring the Volvo

Mom decided when the Volvo died that cars were costly polluting machines that we could do without. Mom was a trust-fund baby, who embraced the environmental/back-to-nature movement with her entire being. When, sometime in the deep Fairbanks winter of 1971 the mechanic retired our 1964 Volvo Amazon station wagon, we had to hitchhike.

That continued until I started making money and purchasing my own cars. While I can never shake my sincere dislike of hitchhiking, spending all that time on foot gives me an appreciation for Gorton's concept of rethinking urban design and transportation systems. I can also attest that cars are great. I love them. There's nothing worse than walking miles in the middle of nowhere wishing you were anywhere else.

But, certainly, I know what it's like to be a pedestrian. More people ought to get the chance, although I don't encourage ever hitchhiking from Seattle to San Francisco with much of it on Highway 1. Ugh.

Europe is paying attention

I got to bum a bit around Europe in my teens. It was with my perennially adolescent closeted Jewish father, but he was paying. We spent nearly all of one summer on foot. When a bus line ended before our destination, we walked. Once we hoofed it more than 14 miles to an obscure Czech cave and slept in a tiny hotel you'd never find in a car.

The Eastern European cities and towns we visited were designed for foot travelers. We could have been vagabonds chasing down religious sites in the 1300s. Gorton applauds efforts in places like Zurich, Berlin and Copenhagen where policy makers have made pedestrians a priority.

And it's not that difficult. In Old Town Clovis, Calif. where I live, the community comes alive during festivals and every Friday when city officials close Pollaski Avenue. Fridays in summertime is reserved for a farmers' market, street fair and assorted events. It's packed and a great place to rub shoulders with a lot of sweaty Californians, especially when it's 100 degrees or more.

Streetfilms shows how the other half lives

OpenSource's Streetfilms team chronicles benefits of pedestrian, bike and mass transit friendly urban planning across the globe. Some of its most startling mini documentaries show how people have adapted in Bogata, Columbia to Ciclovía, a program that for seven hours every Sunday opens 70 miles of city streets to nothing but biking, walking and general public recreation.

"Two million Colombians use Ciclovía to exercise, de-stress and connect with their neighbors," OpenSource says.

Streetfilms' work is credited with helping inspire Summer Streets in New York City, which during three weekends in August, turns Park Avenue carless, allowing free flow of bikes and people.

Congestion indicates a bad transportation system

OpenSource, which defines itself as a team of 60 transit nerds, journalists and engineers, builds open-source software and offers technical assistance to public agencies on such subjects. It's looking for different approaches to urban living, one not so car-centric.

The approach resembles the sustainable cities movement, which is taking Europe by storm. Hamburg's HafenCity project, which has taken docks and old industrial land in the heart of the German city, epitomizes the trend.

The massive redevelopment project is being engineered to transform 387 acres on the Elbe River into the most energy efficient residential, business and arts sector in the city. Design is compact yet has open space, encouraging living, working and entertainment. The emphasis on sustainable design and its goal to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent in 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 helped Hamburg win the European Commission's European Green Capital Award for 2011.

Sustainability is people friendly

The American Society of Landscape Architects says urban development should be guided by a sustainable planning that promotes interconnected green space, multi-modal transportation systems and mixed-use development. Or that it should be people friendly.

Rethinking the Auto with Mark Gorton from ReThink TheAuto on Vimeo.

Gorton says we've learned a lot about living with the automobile. He says New York City streets reflect its influence with narrower sidewalks, more dangerous crossings and a "damaged human living environment." He says relatively simple policy changes can transform communities.

"People will adjust," Gorton says.

So along with emissions reductions from the average American vehicle, wouldn't it be something to have cities that encouraged mixed-use, pedestrian friendly zones? Certainly pollution would suffer, and the air would improve.

What's not to like?

For those interested in seeing "Dr. Suess' The Lorax," here's a review by David Edelstein for

Taking a carbon-reduction cue from Europe's greenest city

Hamburg is the world's most beautiful city.

Or at least that's what my friend and former co-worker Alex Schwenkenberg would say followed by, "Take a look." And he'd pull up several shots of the Germanic cityscape.

Whatever its standings in the looks department, Hamburg, which has a population of about 1.8 million, does have an attribute few question. It stands as one of the world's greenest cities and offers an example of how other cities could improve their carbon footprint and livability.

Many U.S. cities have taken up the green challenge -- from California to Texas and up in Maine. It involves embracing arcane concepts like sustainability, energy efficiency and benchmarking greenhouse gas production. But solutions are relatively simple and noncontroversial.

Urban centers draw young people

Young people are the key. They're the next generation of real estate buyers and leaders, and they're increasingly looking to settle in urban centers rather than the suburbia preferred by their parents, says Michael Freedman, urban planner, futurist and founding partner at San Francisco-based Freedman, Tung + Sasaki. They want work close to home and socialize. They don't want to spend 10 percent to 20 percent of their waking hours stuck in traffic.

And they want greener vistas, cleaner air and a better overall environment.

Hamburg's leaders caught the sustainable bug sometime after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The city aims to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent in 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. It's just wrapping up a year as Europe's greenest city, a designation that passes to Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. The European Green Capital award is issued by the European Commission as a means to get cities to inspire each other and share best practices, "while at the same time engaging in friendly competition."

Hamburg's CO2 savings

Energy-saving measures by 810 Hamburg businesses keep about 219,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually and the amount of energy expended on heating facilities "has dropped by 40 percent compared with 1990, causing a 45 percent reduction in CO2 emissions," according to city officials.

The city also is encouraging sustainable practices and development. Its HafenCity project, which has taken docks and old industrial land in the heart of Hamburg, epitomizes the trend. The massive redevelopment project is being engineered to transform 387 acres on the Elbe River into the most energy efficient residential, business and arts sector in the city. Design is compact yet has open space, encouraging living, working and entertainment.

Hamburg is hardly the Lone Ranger in green-minded redevelopment. Yet, others struggle. Oakland's been trying to jump start the project to revamp the 330-acre old Oakland Army Base for the past decade. Other cities, including Fresno, have been trying to redevelop their urban centers for decades. Some have been successful. Some haven't.

Sustainable makes cents

As the American Society of Landscape Architects says: "Urban development should be guided by a sustainable planning and management vision that promotes interconnected green space, a multi-modal transportation system, and mixed-use development."

In other words, people have to like it, and they'll like it better if it's sustainable.

Amory Lovins at the Rocky Mountain Institute says going sustainable and green actually saves money and provides economic benefits. He calls it "synergistic bundling."

San Antonio's Mission Verde

San Antonio has embraced the concept, launching it's Mission Verde Sustainability Plan  to create jobs through green technology and infrastructure. "Saving energy saves money," the plan says. "Renewable energy creates economic self‐reliance."

It will be interesting to see how San Antonio does in the heart of Texas oil country. The city says it wants to set an example for others to follow.

In the next several months, my organization will be working with a handful of San Joaquin Valley cities to create energy action plans with realistic goals that actually save energy and money and reduce green house gases. The scale will be nowhere near Hamburg's or San Antonio's, but it may save some jobs just by replacing inefficient lighting and doing other more inventive stuff like adding solar and fuel cells to city buildings.

Guiding sustainable projects

A friend of mine at a small Valley community who has been working with me implementing energy efficiency stimulus grants for the past year or so just landed a job in the Bay Area. She'll be guiding a city's climate plan and making a difference.

A little here and there. Like European Commission says, Europe is an urban community and must make changes to become more sustainable. California and 49 other states must do the same.

And I believe it will happen. A little at a time.

Photo: Hamburg's Alster Lake

Rethinking urban design can save energy & reduce congestion

Director Robert Zemeckis chose for a quaint town square shadowed by a massive clock tower his iconic DeLorean-powered-by-lightning scene in "Back to the Future."

Such squares give residents the impression of community, allow them to mingle and experience common culture. For the past 70 years, however, that town center has been shoved aside and is experienced undamaged only in communities that have remained relatively intact and development free. Some in New England come to mind.

Now that's beginning to change as designers embrace concepts more familiar to those of the past.

Most cities, Fresno, Calif. especially, have seen their historic town centers marginalized by sprawl and pockets of massive outward-bound commercial construction. In Fresno, the city moved north. Some of its deserted streets in downtown would make great post-apocalyptic movie sets.

Seattle and San Francisco found ways to beat the trend, focusing inward while still experiencing an explosion of suburbia. But their successes are overshadowed by a majority of U.S. cities and towns, whose residents learned to accept longer commutes, parking battles and frustrations that come with congestion.

Michael Freedman, urban planner and founding partner at San Francisco-based Freedman, Tung + Sasaki, spoke of such sprawl and its beginnings at the Smart Valley Places kick-off convention at the Radisson Hotel in Fresno. Then he tore off the veil. Smart Valley Places is a partnership of cities, organizations and regional groups to promote sustainable development in the San Joaquin Valley.

"The market has shifted," Freedman says.

Young people increasingly are gravitating to urban environments, settings made popular on sit-coms like "Seinfeld," "Friends" and "How I Met Your Mother." They don't want the cookie-cutter neighborhood, which almost served as the evil villain in "Edward Scissorhands."

Somehow, Freedman says, developers missed this shift in demand that started in the 1990s, continuing to plunk subdivision after subdivision ever farther from city centers and work places, forcing commuters to endure longer drives, use more energy and spend more money.

Reversing that design mentality would save energy, reduce commutes and cost less. Energy savings alone would be a huge boon. Fewer vehicle miles traveled means huge reductions to greenhouse gas and emissions production.

Freedman gives a history lesson in community design in his presentation, explaining that our current system for designing cities arose from mechanization, industrialization and the assembly-line mentality of the early 20th Century, when Henry Ford pioneered profits by separating tasks and creating worker specialties.

The idea to separate housing, recreation, work and transport caught global fire after the appearance the Athens Charter, a treatise on urban planning by Swiss architect Le Corbusier. It was based on ideas reached by the Fourth Congress of the International Congress of Modern Architects, which took place in 1932 "mostly aboard a passenger boat which steamed from Marseilles, France, to Athens, Greece, and back again," according to clio-online.

"We embraced this," Freedman says. "This was cool. This was modern."

Subdivisions were separated by incomes. "We had business parks," he says. "We had shopping centers, separated by function with miles and miles of pavement ... with miles and miles of utilities."

The current system has fallen apart. Freedman cites Emerging Trends in Real Estate by Price WaterhouseCoopers, which says, "Homeowners slowly will accept that they can live comfortably and more affordably in smaller houses or apartments and gain economies from driving less."

The annual report also says infill areas, or vacant lots, and cities with active neighborhoods and "urbanizing suburban nodes" will become more desirable among aging, baby boomers and their children. "At the same time, fringe suburban subdivisions — long car rides from work, shopping, and recreation amenities — lose some appeal."

Innovation, Freedman says, is the answer and new design must incorporate cluster and density, synergy and mix and public places. Of course, he says, that's exactly the opposite of most existing zoning regulations. "It's a time of tremendous opportunity but also tremendous anxiety," he says.

Photo: "Back to the Future" cake by snoboogie on Flickr.

Valley Receives $4 million Regional Planning Grant

A regional effort led by the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley has landed a $4 million Sustainable Communities federal grant to develop smart-growth principles in the eight-county region.

The Partnership worked with representatives of all eight San Joaquin Valley counties to apply for a Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant from Housing and Urban Development. The Valley's proposal, called Smart Valley Places, was one of 45 applications totaling nearly $100 million approved nationwide - and was one of only two awarded in California. It also was the largest award in California.

Fourteen cities within the eight counties cooperated with California State University, Fresno; the Regional Policy Council (which consists of councils of government for all eight counties); and several non-profit organizations to develop a regional plan for smart growth in the Valley.

The HUD Sustainable Communities program will support regional efforts across the country that connect housing with good jobs, high-quality schools and transportation.

"Regions that embrace sustainable housing communities will have a built-in competitive edge in attracting jobs and private investment," said Shaun Donovan, secretary of HUD. "Rather than sticking to the old Washington playback of dictating how communities can invest their grants, HUD's application process encouraged creative, locally focused thinking."

The grants are part of a President Obama plan that brings together several federal agencies to help local communities create better housing, more efficient and reliable transportation and reinforce existing investment, according to this press release from HUD.

The Valley plan was approved despite strong competition. "The response to this program was huge. We were inundated with applications from every state and two territories - from central cities to rural areas and tribal governments," said Shelley Poticha, director of HUD's new office of Sustainable Housing and Communities.

The other award in California was $1.5 million to Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

Parking Garage Takes The Green

More cities and businesses are turning garages and carports into generators of solar power. This 11-story parking garage in Chicago takes that a major step forward. It has to be one of the coolest green projects in the country.

Introducing Greenway Self-Park. It features an array of vertical wind turbines on its southwest corner to make the most of the Windy City's namesake features. It has plug-ins for electric cars, a cistern rain-water collection system and services by companies that allow people who don't have vehicles to share one when they need wheels.

The developers are pursuing LEED certification. Read all about it here at Clean Fleet Report, where reporter John Addison also praises the sustainability efforts of Chicago city leaders. The lakeside city receives high rankings by SustainLane.

An industry blog, Concrete Products, also has information.
(Photo by

UC Merced Student Lives Sustainable Life

University of California, Merced, is California's newest college campus - and is well on its way to being the greenest. In fact, the campus, which is in the center of the ag-rich San Joaquin Valley, lists environmental awareness as a key value.

Which is where Diane Franklin, a junior, comes in. Sustainability, as this story on the UC Merced Web site states, is her passion.

Franklin was the team manager for the Alliance to Save Energy's (ASE) Green Campus Program at UC Merced as well as the Associated Students at UC Merced commissioner of sustainability.

Students such as Franklin are helping raise the profile of UC Merced, which is becoming an integral player in the effort to make the San Joaquin Valley more green and sustainable.

7 Smarter - AKA "Greenest" - Cities in California

Seven municipalities in California - none of them in the San Joaquin Valley, where summer temperatures run into triple digits and residential power bills can reach four digits - have some of the best energy polices in the country, according to a recent ranking.

The Natural Resources Defense Council calls them "smarter" cities because they invested n green power, energy efficiency and conservation. Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Santa Clarita, all in the Golden State of California, made the list.

Here's why they did:

  • Long Beach: instituted first greenhouse gas emissions inventory in 2009 and founding member of The Climate Registry, an organization working toward greenhouse gas reduction and climate reporting;

  • Huntington Beach: Lots of green power, low per-capita energy consumption and policies to encourage energy generation;

  • Santa Clarita: Cutting usage of electricity by 1 million kilowatts and natural gas therms by 9,000 for a total savings of more than one million pounds of pollutants per year;

  • Oakland: Creation of Green Jobs Corps, which trains low-income residents in solar installation, energy-efficiency retrofits and green building;

  • San Francisco: Exploring the use of a wave farm;

  • Berkeley: Financing solar installation through a Sustainable Energy Funding District;

  • Santa Cruz: A green building program and Climate Action Teams, where groups of friends and neighbors calculate carbon dioxide missions of their actions.

All these cities should be commended for their efforts, but my favorite is Reno, a popular gambling resort in Nevada, not far from the border. It is more than 2,000 lights in its trademark 'Biggest Little City" arch with the LED variety and installed wind turbines atop City Hall.

I sure would like to city a San Joaquin Valley city on that list in the next few years.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

(Photo of Reno City Hall)

Self-Sustaining City Generate Excess Electricity

Some clean-energy advocates think Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley - with its ample sunshine, expanse of flat land, lots of farm and animal waste, super-high power bills (mine nearly equaled my house payment last month) and proximity to transmission lines - has all the ingredients to become energy self sufficient.

Which brings to mind this article I read on Huffington Post. There is a neighborhood in Germany that produces four times the energy it uses, in part through thoughtful planning and careful placement of rooftop solar arrays.

It's not only net zero. It's net positive. Read about it here.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

Sustainable Cities efforts may get a boost from bill

A federal bill that would provide additional financial clout to an effort to promote sustainable development, cut greenhouse gas emissions and revitalize downtown districts across the country has passed a major hurdle in the U.S. Senate.

The Senate Banking Committee passed the Livable Communities Act, or S. 1619, on Tuesday by a vote of 12 to 10 along party lines. The measure, which was sponsored by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. and chairman of the committee, has been recommended for consideration by the Senate as a whole.

“The needs of our citizens are evolving, and the way we plan for the future must evolve as well. This legislation is a significant step in that evolution,” Dodd said at a hearing Tuesday.

“This legislation provides for planning and capital grants so that regions can coordinate transportation, housing, and community development policies to reduce traffic congestion, generate economic growth, create and preserve affordable housing, and meet environmental and energy goals."

The bill is meant promote sustainable development and enable communities to cut traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption, protect farmland and green spaces, revitalize existing Main Streets and urban centers, spur economic development and create more affordable housing. Proponents say it would improve coordination between housing, community development, transportation, energy and environmental policies to help create better places to live, work and raise families.

Rollie Smith, field office director of U.S. Housing & Urban Development in Fresno, said the measure is the authorization bill for the Sustainable Communities Initiative, which is a cooperative effort between his agency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Smith, who also is a board member of the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, said grant money has been appropriated in the HUD budget for this year and next year. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of this year provided $150 million for cities to "improve regional planning efforts."

Smith said Smart Valley Places, a 15-city compact under the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, and individual cities, such as Firebaugh, are applying for the grants, due by Aug. 23. Small Valley Places also will be working through member cities' councils of government with smaller cities.

Dodd said workers across the nation are living farther away from their jobs and commuting longer distances and ever more crowded roadways strains infrastructure. He said farmland and open spaces are disappearing, and the impact on the environment from the large numbers of cars on the road is adding significantly to the problems of oil dependence and climate change.

“With our population expected to grow by over 150 million people between 2000 and 2050, it is clear that our current path is unsustainable," Dodd said. "The Livable Communities Act before us represents a comprehensive and flexible approach to the diverse issues facing communities."

Photo: Courtesy