PUBLIC PRESS ISSUE 11
LEGISLATIVE PUSH TO RAISE WAGES
An effort is gaining momentum in Sacramento to set a $9.25 statewide pay floor, but it would still lag behind San Francisco’s minimum wage PAGE B1
CALIFORNIA’S CAP-AND-TRADE EXPERIMENT
CARBON OFFSETS COULD LET POLLUTERS OFF THE HOOK
Clear-cut a forest. Plant some trees. Cash in. PAGE A3
IN FIGHT AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE, STATE STRUGGLES TO CUT GREENHOUSE GASES
MORE PEOPLE + MORE CARS = LESS POLLUTION?
It’s all in how planners count it — and how it gets sold to the public PAGE A3
A SPECIAL REPORTING PROJECT BY THE PUBLIC PRESS, WITH EARTH ISLAND JOURNAL & BAY NATURE. PAGES A3-A8
TRANSPORT FUEL LOBBYING WINS BIG
Concerted effort has changed rules PAGE A4
ENERGY CONTRACTS HARD TO MANAGE
Pollution may be shuffled to other states PAGE A4
CARBON CREDITS HELP SEAL LAND DEAL
19,000 acres in Sonoma County spared PAGE A6
POWER PLANT WOULD BURY CARBON
Foes fear effects of other air pollutants PAGE A6
ALSO: CALIFORNIA CAP-AND-TRADE, THE BOARD GAME: MAKE A PROFIT BY MONOPOLIZING THE CARBON MARKET PAGE A8
A HOMELESS BILL OF RIGHTS CLEARED AN EARLY HURDLE IN THE STATE CAPITOL BUT IS NOW ON HOLD OVER COST CONCERNS. PAGE B1
FOR THOUSANDS LIVING IN SINGLEROOM-OCCUPANCY HOTELS IN SAN FRANCISCO, OPTIONS ARE LIMITED FOR MAKING HEALTHY MEALS. PAGE B2 <SRO RESIDENT FRANK CRONEY USES SOME CREATIVE METHODS TO WHIP UP NUTRITIOUS REPASTS. PAGE B2
PUBLIC MEDIA PARTNERS IN THIS ISSUE READ MORE ON PAGE A2
<THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE IS SHELLING OUT $320,000 FOR A NEW DATABASE TO TRACK OFFENDERS AND THE PRODUCTIVITY OF PROSECUTORS. PAGE B3
THOUSANDS OF BAY AREA HOMEOWNERS ARE FIGHTING TO SAVE THEIR HOMES FROM A FLAWED FORECLOSURE SYSTEM. PAGE B5
^DESPITE LOWERED EXPECTATIONS, OFFICIALS STILL SAY AMERICA’S CUP WILL BRING JOBS TO SAN FRANCISCO. PAGE B5 ^ALL 10 S.F. POLICE DISTRICT STATIONS ARE NOW LGBT SAFE ZONES. PAGE B3 LAND SCHEDULED TO BE DEVELOPED ON TREASURE ISLAND HAS HIGHER AMOUNTS OF A NUCLEAR BYPRODUCT THAN PREVIOUSLY DISCLOSED. PAGE B4
THERE IS NEW HOPE FOR FRESH AND HEALTHY FARE IN THE ‘FOOD DESERT’ OF THE BAYVIEW-HUNTERS POINT NEIGHBORHOOD. PAGE B6 THE GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS WANT TO MOVE FROM OAKLAND TO THE S.F. WATERFRONT — IS IT A BOON OR BOONDOGGLE? PAGE B6
^DURING THE DRY SEASON, VOLUNTEER FIRE WATCHERS TAKE TO OUTPOSTS HIGH ABOVE SAN FRANCISCO BAY. PAGE B7 ALAMO SQUARE IS KNOWN FOR PHOTOGENIC HOUSES — BUT A MAJOR PROBLEM GURGLES BENEATH ITS NAMESAKE PARK. PAGE B8 THE PRESIDIO’S NEW RULES RESTRICTING DOG WALKERS ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR SOME ENVIRONMENTALISTS. PAGE B8 THE PUBLIC PRESS CROSSWORD. PAGE B8
S F P P
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San Francisco Public Press, Summer 2013 || ABOUT US | CLIMATE | CIVICS | ECONOMY | GREEN || sfpublicpress.org || A3
A regional anti-sprawl plan would limit total tailpipe emissions growth to 9 percent by 2035. Vehicles crowding the Bay Bridge toll plaza and other congested traffic spots release millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. Noah Berger // Public Press
Planners Claim Reduction in Car Pollution, But Details Show Overall Increase
Inscrutable “per capita” and “business as usual” comparisons hide rise in total greenhouse gases
ay Area planning officials say efforts to encourage dense development will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. But what they rarely mention publicly is that their goal, a 15 percent per capita reduction of carbon dioxide from cars and light trucks by 2035, actually represents an overall emissions increase. Essentially, it’s a math trick: The per capita figure hides a predicted regional population growth of 28 percent. That means total passenger Story: vehicle emissions regionwide would Angela Hart actually rise by 9.1 percent — an indi// Public Press cation that regional planning is not helping California’s efforts to become a model in combating climate change. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the decision by state regulators to present greenhouse gas emissions on a per-person basis instead of overall contradicts the spirit of his signature climate bill, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008. Steinberg said the law was supposed to help reduce carbon emissions by getting people out of their cars. It requires regional agencies to develop ways to limit suburban sprawl and expand public transit in compact transit villages and the urban centers of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. “The per capita approach is something that we’re going to have to look at,” Steinberg said. “Ultimately the imperative is to improve the climate and reduce greenhouse gases.” But he did say better regional planning would at least slow the growth of emissions and improve quality of life. Steinberg’s bill was intended to complement Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s vaunted 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, which calls on the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all sources to 1990 levels by 2020, and more in future decades. Plan Bay Area, the first of 18 regional strategies to help local governments implement climate-friendly “smart growth,” or high-density development close to transit lines, will be finalized in July. Ezra Rapport, executive director of the Association of Bay Area Governments, acknowledged that the plan “is not going to reduce emissions” overall. “But we’re trying to make sure that growth occurs in neighborhoods that have good access to transportation,” he said. “That way we’re part of the solution that reduces greenhouse gas emissions in the future.”
HOW STATE REGULATORS USE MATH TRICKS TO MAKE YOU THINK CARS WILL EMIT LESS Plan Bay Area is finishing the first of 18 regional plans promoting dense urban developments, discouraging automobiles and encouraging public transit and walking. Assuming the nine-county population grows to 9 million by 2035, total carbon emissions from cars and light trucks will increase. Total vehicle emissions for the state will also increase, but officials say it could have been even worse.
Across California: Gauging success against “business as usual” emissions
Bay Area: Measuring “per capita” instead of overall change in emissions
State air regulators say a 2008 law will result in a reduction from what they think emissions would otherwise have been ...
State air regulators say Plan Bay Area will result in a reduction in emissions “per capita” ...
Million metric tons CO2 or equivalent per year
Pounds CO2 or equivalent per weekday
2035 “business as usual” (projection):
2005 per capita (measured):
2035 emissions (goal):
2035 per capita (goal):
But independent experts point out that the change will still represent an increase from what emissions actually were ...
20.8 17.7 -15%
But independent experts point out that the change will still represent an increase in regional emissions overall ...
Million metric tons CO2 or equivalent per year
Million metric tons CO2 or equivalent per year
2005 emissions (measured):
2005 emissions (measured):
2035 emissions (goal):
2035 emissions (goal):
Source: California Air Resources Board
CONSENSUS CALCULATIONS In settling on the per capita metric, state air-quality officials acknowledged that it would not yield as farreaching results as they originally hoped for, but that more aggressive goals might not be achievable with curstory continued on page A7
CLIMATE: California’s Cap-and-Trade Experiment The impacts of global warming are becoming increasingly apparent. By last summer, U.S. temperatures broke daily records more than 40,000 times. Some of the worst effects will be felt locally. Experts predict the San Francisco Bay could rise five feet by 2100, swamping half the Financial District. Exasperated by the lack of international political action, regional efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions are becoming vital. California’s cap-and-trade market, launched last year, promises major reductions. This project was made possible by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Collaborators include Earth Island Journal, Bay Nature Magazine and the CAGE Lab at UC Berkeley. For more on this project see: sfpublicpress.org/climatechange
Sierra Pacific Industries plans to offer carbon credits on California’s new cap-and-trade market, saying it will improve land management. Tuolumne County ecologist John Buckley says replacing forestland with tree farms does more harm than good. Ian Umeda // Public Press
Market for Hard-to-Verify Carbon Offsets Could Let Industry Pollute as Usual Timber, dairy and chemical companies line up to sell credits to biggest emitters
ne hot day this spring John Buckley scrambled up a dusty slope of a patch of deforested land in the middle of California’s Stanislaus National Forest in the Sierra Nevada, five miles west of Yosemite National Park, and surveyed the bleak landscape: 20 acres of blackened tree stumps and the shriveled remains of undergrowth. On neighboring ridges, similar brown expanses dotted the green forest canopy. “This,” he said, spreading his Story: arms wide, “is resource manageMaureen ment.” Nandini Mitra The denuded clearing is on a // Earth Island Journal tract of private forestland owned by timber giant Sierra Pacific And Industries that is close to being Michael Stoll approved as a sort of carbon bank // Public Press under California’s new cap-andtrade scheme. It will soon grow into a plantation of mostly Douglas fir, ponderosa pine and cedar. Based on calculations of how much carbon the new and old trees in this forest area will remove from the atmosphere, the timber giant will soon be able to sell carbon credits, which regulators call “offsets,” to the largest California polluters so they can compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions. Looking to make a profit from their environmental practices, companies in forestry and other industries are rushing to meet the demand. Buckley, an environmental activist from Tuolumne County, is dismayed that projects like these — that involve clearing out old, diverse forests and replanting the area with a handful of quick-growing timber varieties — are being considered as a means to enable California industries to emit more pollutants into the air. Many environmentalists say that because it is notoriously difficult to prove that such projects actually reduce the state’s overall carbon footprint, California should proceed slowly in approving a vast expansion of the cap-and-trade market. The plan is to start the Compliance Offset Program this summer. Sellers include some of the largest forestland owners in the U.S., dairy farms and companies that neutralize greenhouse effect-producing refrigerants. The program might also expand to other activities, such as methane capture from mining and rice farming. Proponents say that by providing incentives to voluntarily reduce emissions and use new technology, the offset program could help California meet its legal requirement, set in 2006, to reduce its carbon footprint from all sources by about 16 percent by 2020, and even more in later years. But critics call offsets a loophole that could undermine an effective cap-and-trade system. They say pledges of reductions that are not required by law ofstory continued on page A5
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California’s Hunger for Low-Carbon Power Could Hurt Other States State’s cap-and-trade regulations could just shuffle dirty energy contracts to neighbors
alifornia’s effort to ensure that the state receives low carbon electricity could end up increasing greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere in the country, thanks to a practice known as contract reshuffling. Under California’s cap-and-trade program, which established a carbon trading market last November, electric utilities, corporations, cities, universities and other entities need to lower their emissions or buy pollution “allowances” to acStory: Lisa Weinzimer count for their emissions. and Ambika Importing low-carbon electricity Kandasamy from out-of-state suppliers of renew// Public Press able sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower is one way California’s electric utilities can decrease their carbon emissions. But importing electricity under cap-and-trade presents complications, as it is difficult to distinguish the electrons delivered to California’s grid. While power plant owners here need to report emissions from the point of combustion, California lacks jurisdiction to impose that regulation beyond state boundaries. These loopholes could lead to resource or contract reshuffling — in which suppliers aim to lower their carbon allowance costs by delivering lower carbon electricity to California, and sending higher emitting power to other states. “California cannot, under the U.S. Constitution, regulate firms in other states,” said Robert Stavins, director of Harvard University’s Environmental Economics Program. “It’s virtually impossible to prevent this contract reshuffling,” he said. According to the California Energy Commission’s data from 2011, California imported 30 percent of its electricity from the Pacific Northwest and Southwest. The balance came from natural-gas fired plants, renewable resources and other sources based in the state. The California Air Resources Board, the agency responsible for overseeing the cap-and-trade program, is still figuring out how to deal with this issue. The agency said it would place criminal sanctions on importers who practiced resource shuffling, but had to retreat after a commissioner with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission warned that the disruption to California’s electricity market would have “major negative impacts on the economy of the West.” The agency now allows out-of state electricity suppliers to sell both “specified” and “unspecified” power. Unspecified means power that is not traced to its source. Regulators essentially assign estimates of the carbon content of “unspecified” electricity coming to California’s grid. Kevin Poloncarz, a California attorney who represents large out-of-state suppliers, said the Air Resources Board set the emissions benchmark or estimate too low for unspecified power. As a result it could lead to “phantom reductions” if suppliers label power as unspecified to minimize costs for carbon allowances, he said. Last August, Philip Moeller, commissioner with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown expressing concerns about resource reshuffling provisions in the cap-and-trade program. “Specifically, by failing to clearly define “resource shuffling” but nevertheless prohibiting it, and by requiring energy importers to affirm, under penalty of perjury, that they have not engaged in resource shuffling, the ARB is creating uncertainty and great concern among entities that sell into California,” he wrote. Moeller said that if there is a very tight supply of electricity in California this summer, out-of-state suppliers might be less willing to sell electricity to the state because of resource reshuffling and other factors. “You could have a real mess on your hands in California that spills over to the entire western market,” Moeller said. In response to Moeller, the Air Resources Board suspended resource shuffling enforcement provisions until June 2014. The agency is evaluating the need for the provisions, agency spokesman Stanley Young said. In an effort to clarify its definition of reshuffling activities, the agency identified 13 examples of transactions that do not constitute shuffling, and two that do. CARB said it will incorporate these revisions into regulation this year, then enforce the amended rule. The list of transactions that do not constitute resource shuffling include electricity deliveries that are needed to replace power resources that are no longer available, replacing expired contracts and early termination of contracts. The agency used broad language to identify resource shuffling activities. The transactions happen when out-of-state suppliers intentionally replace electricity generated at a high emission plant and sell it in-state to cut carbon allowance costs. Such transactions also occur when these suppliers sell power to another company who then sell a mix of power to California, regulators said. James Bushnell, associate professor of economics at the University of California at Davis said that by clarifying its definitions of reshuffling — or at least defining actions that it would not consider to be reshuffling — the agency has cleared up uncertainty about potential penalties suppliers could face. “In that sense the recent developments will technically reduce reshuffling, but more by calling it something else than by eliminating the behavior,” Bushnell said. Attorney Poloncarz said out-of-state electricity suppliers are concerned that the Air Resources Board may cause confusion in the market by changing shuffling rules yet again before adopting and enforcing them. If suppliers are worried that the power contracts they sign may be prohibited later under cap-and-trade, they could decide not to take the risk of selling to California in spite of any premium they could get from selling clean power to the state, he said. While resource shuffling could reduce the overall effectiveness of cap-and-trade, it “doesn’t rise to the level of underlying the basics of the program,” said Tim O’Connor, director of California Climate and Energy Initiative at the Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental organization. The nascent market also sets the stage for a much larger cap-and-trade program, when other states follow California’s lead, O’Connor said.
Airline jet fuel is exempt from the state’s cap-and-trade market. The industry asserted that federal laws trumped California’s. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Jseita.
Years of Lobbying Helped Transportation Fuels Industry Win Exemptions From California’s Climate Rules Letters from business groups show years of special pleading to avoid cap-and-trade
or four years oil companies, airlines and ground transportation industry groups have petitioned California for exemptions from the state’s cap-and-trade greenhouse gas market, saying consumers would take the hit through higher prices at the pump and in stores. And in court they are still arguing that the state lacks the regulatory authority to compel participation. To a degree, they Story: have succeeded. A Ambika constant stream of Kandasamy and policy papers, letters Barbara Grady to state agencies and // Public Press lawsuits preceded exemptions from state greenhouse gas restrictions potentially worth millions of dollars. Officials at the California Air Resources Board say they have listened carefully to business concerns since they began drafting the complex rules governing the cap-and-trade program in 2009. But some critics say that allowing industry to influence the regulations after the program started could itself cause economic volatility. The transportation fuels industry won a two-year delay in its participation in cap-and-trade. In 2010 companies and industry associations argued that entering the program by 2012 would hurt the economy and penalize consumers. A panel of experts in 2007 recommended transportation fuels be included on schedule to “encourage owners of conventional fuel cars to make more socially efficient decisions as to how much to drive.” Ultimately, though, regulators approved the delay, citing the lack of accurate pollution data from transportation fuels producers. Compliance is set to begin in 2015, just five years before the program’s reduction targets are supposed to be met. Jet fuel comprises 3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But airlines argued that they should not be covered under California capand-trade, writing in 2010 that federal aviation laws precluded states from regulating aircraft fuel. The Air Resources Board never brought the airline industry into the program. Now the trucking industry is reviving arguments that challenge the regulations head-on. In a lawsuit filed against the state in April, the industry asks to invalidate the entire cap-and-trade system, alleging it was a tax passed improperly without the required two-thirds vote in the Legislature. Many industries are motivated to avoid participating in cap-and-trade. From an estimated $2 billion this year, California’s carbon market is forecast to grow to $10 billion by 2016, according to Point Carbon, a division of Thomson Reuters. The transportation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions are 38 percent of the total. Some analysts predict the price of an “allowance” to pollute could soar to $70 per metric ton of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas equivalent by next decade. Mary D. Nichols, chair of the Air Resources Board, said her staff pays attention to business concerns because they realize that a poorly planned carbontrading scheme could wreak havoc in the state’s still struggling economy. The agency has enormous leeway to change the rules as the program rolls out. “We are now looking at some further amendments to the program, further refinements,” Nichols said. “We want to make sure we are being sensitive to any
possible run-up in prices of allowances.” While pushback on regulation abounds, “our greatest challenge is the transportation sector,” she said. The cap-and-trade program, a key piece of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, limits total carbon emissions from large-scale polluters in California, including refineries, cement plants and utilities that yearly emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide or the equivalent in methane, refrigerants and other gases. The goal of the law is to reduce carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020, and further in the decades to come. If regulated companies cannot or choose not to lower emissions to capped levels, they can purchase “allowances” in quarterly online auctions or directly from other polluters that can lower their emissions by reducing production or turning to new technologies. They can also buy “offsets,” which send money to environmental projects around the country that reduce or absorb greenhouse gases. GAS SHOCKS POSSIBLE Some market analysts say it is not the cap-and-trade program itself, but rather the sustained lobbying by the transportation fuels industry that could disrupt California’s economy and its ability to regulate pollution equitably and efficiently.
Western States director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy and research group based in Cambridge, Mass., disputed the argument that California refineries would lose their competitive edge to those in other states by participating in cap-and-trade. She said the industry is undergoing a major consolidation, which could lead to closures of refineries, but that process is not being driven by greenhouse gas restrictions. TRUCKERS REBEL Two trucking industry groups, the American Trucking Associations and the California Trucking Association, said in correspondence with regulators that complying with cap-and-trade would increase the cost of diesel fuel, so the costs of all consumer goods moved by truck, from televisions to green beans, would rise as well. The industry has been building the case for exemption for years. In a letter to the Air Resources Board in January 2010, the American Trucking Association cited one industry prediction that complying with cap-and-trade would raise the cost of diesel by as much as 88 cents per gallon. “Cap-and-trade will not only increase the price of diesel fuel, it also will increase the volatility of diesel prices,” wrote Michael Tunnell, the association’s director of environmental affairs. He added that truckers would have no incentive to consume less diesel. “Trucking is not a discretionary consumer of fuel,” he wrote. In an interview, Tunnell reiterated that transportation fuels should not be part of cap-and-trade. He said commercial truckers operate on thin margins, typically 2 to 4 percent, so cap-and-trade would threaten their business model. The association argues that California should instead push for moderate national fuel economy standards.
The oil industry lobby claims climate rules would add $5 billion to its costs: “It means we’ll either make fuel at a much increased cost, or refineries will stop making fuel.” “The continued lobbying from a number of oil companies to change the cap-and-trade provisions for 2015 and after could also bring sudden shifts in supply and demand outlook,” said Emilie Mazzacurati, managing director of Four Twenty Seven, a climate consulting firm in Berkeley. The Air Resources Board said in June that there were no plans to modify the rules of cap- and-trade to bestow additional advantages on transportation companies. Still, some fuel producers warn that they will leave the state rather than comply with new restrictions. In addition to cap-and-trade, they object to another provision of the state’s climate rules governing requirements for low-carbon fuels, which they argue would be too costly. Guy Bjerke, manager of the Bay Area region of the Western States Petroleum Association, a trade group in Sacramento, said that complying with climate regulations would add $5 billion to oil industry costs. “It means we’ll either make fuel at a much increased cost, or refineries will stop making fuel,” he said. The Boston Consulting Group estimated for the association that the cost of producing gasoline and diesel would rise between 49 and 69 cents per gallon if producers had to purchase carbon allowances through cap-and-trade for emissions beyond their industry’s cap. Not everyone endorses Big Oil’s predictions. Adrienne Alvord, California and
PROMISING START Just a few months after its November launch, California’s cap-and-trade program appears to be functioning as planned. The Air Resources Board has held three quarterly digital auctions to give companies an opportunity to purchase allowances. On May 16, 14,522,048 metric tons of carbon were traded. A single allowance went for $14, up from $10.09 in November. There is also a market for allowances extending to 2016, indicating that businesses are thinking ahead about their emissions. Analysts, environmentalists and academics say rising prices indicate that polluters and other traders trust that the cap-and-trade program will continue to operate as planned. Dan Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, said the auction results — plus an array of other state climate change rules — lend assurance that cap-and-trade will survive challenges, and emissions will start to fall. California has a “dense network of thoughtful rules on energy and climate,” he said, including the low-carbon fuel standard and land-use regulation designed to reduce vehicle emissions by promoting transit-oriented development. That means cap-and-trade “is reinforced
in ways that should keep the sector on pace to emissions reductions.” AIRLINES, REFINERIES PROFIT The airline industry has employed several arguments to try to exempt jet fuel from regulation. In a January 2010 letter to the Air Resources Board, Kevin Welsh, then the environmental affairs regulatory manager at the Air Transport Association of America (now known as Airlines for America) cited a provision of the Clean Air Act that prohibits states from enforcing emissions standards different from those set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The correspondence files also show that some oil corporations demanded transportation fuels be left out of the carbon market entirely. “Do not include transportation fuels in the cap and trade program,” wrote Stephen D. Burns, who was manager of California Government Affairs at Chevron, in a 2010 letter to the agency. He wrote that carbon emissions from transportation fuels should be regulated in other ways, to “drive innovative fuel technology and ensure reliable supplies” for customers. The Western States Petroleum Association said in a letter that it opposed the “acceleration” of including fuels in cap-and-trade, from 2015 back to 2012. The Air Resources Board “must first analyze the potential impacts, especially the economic impacts” before developing such regulations. In its own correspondence with regulators, British Petroleum echoed that position. Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board, said the agency decided to wait until 2015 to bring transportation fuels under the cap-and-trade program because regulators wanted to collect more data on emissions levels at their production facilities. “We need a certain number of years of mandatory reporting data,” he said. “And we also need to know how much they’re emitting in the air, so we know where they fit under the cap.” LAWSUITS TAKE AIM Oil producers and transportation industry associations are not relying on letters alone to press their case. In April, the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a case in California Superior Court charging that cap-and-trade violates the California Constitution because the state receives revenue from selling some allowances. That suit — filed on behalf of Morning Star Packing Company, Dalton Trucking, the California Construction Trucking Association and other companies in the farming and logging industries — argues that taxes can only be imposed by a two-thirds vote in the Legislature. It mirrors a similar filing by the California Chamber of Commerce on the eve of the cap-and-trade launch in November. Both cases will be tried in a combined hearing on Aug. 28 in state Superior Court in Sacramento, according to court documents. Chevron and the Western States Petroleum Association filed a lawsuit in 2011 challenging the state’s low-carbon fuel standard, considered an essential complementary regulation. A U.S. district judge in Fresno ruled in December of that year that California’s regulation for lowering the carbon content of fuel was unconstitutional because the attempt to regulate commerce across state borders discriminated against non-California companies. The Air Resources Board appealed and is awaiting a decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
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Environmentalists say offsets could grow to more than 200 million tons of carbon dioxide per year story continued from page A3
ten cannot be considered real, since companies might have made them anyway without the extra money from selling offsets. Left unchecked, the critics warn, poorly measured offsets could lead to an overall increase in California’s emissions. Depending on the future price of offsets, the addition of these credits from around the country and possibly abroad could swamp the existing regulated emissions market. Independent environmental economists now estimate that offsets could grow to more than 200 million tons of carbon dioxide or the equivalent in other greenhouse gases — representing at least 50 percent of the program. And under certain supply-anddemand conditions, state trading rules could allow offsets to cover 100 percent of the reductions required under cap-and-trade. In those circumstances, no power plant, cement factory or refinery would have to cut its emissions to comply with the carbon cap. Offsets “create the illusion that we are doing something to mitigate climate change,” said Kathleen McAfee, a professor of international relations at San Francisco State University, who studies global markets for environmental services. Instead, she said, the government should impose strict regulations on fossil fuel extraction and invest in renewable energy technology. Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, the main state agency writing regulations to fight global warming, argued that carbon reductions can take many forms and should not be limited to one accounting method. He said several other regulatory programs in the state also aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions
whether the offsets are valid. The use of offsets is also associated with unintended consequences such as increases in other pollutants locally, loss of biodiversity in timber plantations and reduced incentives to invest in local mitigation technologies. That is why some scientists and environmental advocates say cap-andtrade should not incorporate offsets. “The integrity of the offsets is the integrity of the cap-and-trade program, because of how strongly the program is relying on them,” said Brian Nowicki, California climate policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group headquartered in Tucson, Ariz.
Earth Foundation filed an appeal on May 24. A hearing date has not been set. State officials say that they have developed stringent standards for additionality, and that offsets are subject to continuous monitoring. If the state finds flawed credits, they will be invalidated. “There are third-party verifiers who have been certified by us and there are more of them being trained,” said Air Resources Board spokesman Clegern, adding that independent experts will do on-site inspections. “If ARB finds malfeasance by any party that developed or verified the offset,” he said, the state “can take enforcement action on that party.”
LARGER THAN THEY SEEM
Offsets preapproved for California’s cap-and-trade program are thus far restricted to U.S.-based projects in four sectors — industrial forestry, urban forestry, dairy digesters and destruction of ozone-depleting substances. The Air Resources Board has developed elaborate protocols for each. The first round of credits, totaling 6 million metric tons of carbon from 45 offset projects, are expected to go on sale after a final staff review, according to a Reuters Point Carbon analysis. The board is considering adding offsets from other domestic sectors, such as methane capture from rice plantations and mines. It will expand the program internationally, linking up with Quebec’s offset program in 2014. It is also considering including offsets from a controversial program called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, or REDD, that offers carbon credits for preserving forests and plantations in Mexico, Colombia and other developing countries.
Steven Cliff, manager of the cap-andtrade program at the Air Resources Board, said it was “premature” to make assumptions about the scope of the offsets program. Offsets, he said, “can account for a pretty high portion of overall reductions. But under the most likely scenario, offsets would cover no more than 41 percent of the reductions.” Cliff based his assessment on a 2011 white paper by Adam Diamant, an energy and environment analyst at the nonpartisan, nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute. More recent assessments by Diamant and at least one other independent researcher, Barbara Haya, a fellow at the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, show that offsets could represent a big chunk of the allowed emissions from industry — anywhere from 53 percent to 224 percent of required carbon reductions, measured cumulatively through the year 2020. Diamant said the range of projections is so wide because the calculations depend on several variables. The first is the overall cap. The state plans to block off a small portion of credits each year to ensure a steady price for allowances. This reduces California’s emissions limit. But if demand for allowances is high, the state will release reserves starting at $40 per metric ton. Other complementary state policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gases might further reduce emissions. These include energy efficiency, mandates on electric companies to produce renewable energy, and the low-carbon fuel standard for vehicles. That would ease the reductions requirements under cap-and-trade. If reserve allowances were untouched and complementary policies achieved their targets, total allowed offsets could add up to more than twice the reductions needed to make cap-and-trade work. Achieving reductions from complementary programs achieves the same overall environmental goals, Diamant said. “So it’s not like nothing is happening.” But critics say that if industries can buy offsets to meet all their reductions requirements in the program’s first eight years, technological innovation could stagnate. They say it also deprives California of the environmental, economic and public health benefits that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promised when the global warming law was passed in 2006. “The more offsets you allow to be used,” said Nowicki of the Center for Biological Diversity, “the more you put the program at risk.”
“The worst case would be that the project gets carbon credits in a year that they should actually show a carbon deficit if they had fully accounted for the soil carbon emissions.” cover many of the same sectors regulated by cap-and-trade. “Frankly, as long as the emissions are reduced we are achieving our goals,” Clegern said. “Whether that’s done with offsets, whether that’s done with allowances, whether that’s done with reductions, there obviously would have to be some reduction in there to achieve this.” BILLIONS OF DOLLARS The cap-and-trade program, which went into effect in January, covers about 80 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, those emitted by the biggest electricity, industrial and fuel facilities. It sets an annual limit on total emissions that California’s largest polluters can release. The total supply of pollution allowances falls each year, helping the state reach emissions targets established by the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The offsets program allows regulated industries to use offsets to cover up to 8 percent of their carbon emissions. But analysts say that based on the rules, that figure could exceed the reductions required statewide for the entire cap-and-trade program. That means offsets — until now offered mostly as voluntary credits to companies hoping to burnish their green image — could soon become a major part of California’s lucrative mandatory program. Experts estimate that the higher price for California’s state-issued carbon allowances, currently more than $14 per metric ton, make the use of cheaper offsets, projected to bring costs down to about $10, especially attractive. If California industries do require at least 200 million offsets over the next eight years it would make them worth more than $2 billion on the market. The high financial stakes make accurate measurement of offsets a key concern. Cap-and-trade sets carbon allowance targets based on gases detected from smokestacks at the state’s 350 largest polluting companies at about 600 facilities. By contrast, offsets are calculated as comparisons with predicted future “business-as-usual” levels of pollution. This modeling requires teams of scientists and economists to anticipate choices that companies would have made had the offset payments not been available. And as any economist will admit, predicting the future is hard. Even when emissions cuts are proved to prevent the business-asusual growth scenario, the exact amount of carbon dioxide stored or released comes with great scientific uncertainty. Supporters of offsets concede that it is hard to verify
One obvious benefit of offsets for polluters is lower-cost mitigation. Since global warming can be addressed by reducing greenhouse gases anywhere, offsets proponents say innovative projects out of state or in other countries can achieve reductions more cheaply. “You want to make the program as cost-effective as possible to reduce the economic burden of the program for California consumers,” said Gary Gero, president of Climate Action Reserve, a Los Angeles-based organization that helped California design the four offset protocols and one of two groups screening companies seeking California credits. He said offsets offer businesses now outside cap-and-trade an incentive to curb emissions through innovation. Critics say this reasoning ignores myriad uncertainties that beset offsets, including measurement, verification and environmental justice concerns. The conundrum facing climate offsets policy is the debate over “additionality” — whether emissions reductions would have been made anyway. Carbon-saving technologies include installing methane-capture devices at large dairy farms or keeping trees standing for 100 years instead of 50. But there is no counterfactual world against which to measure which reductions are real. In many instances they must accept offset developers at their word. Economist David Roland-Holst at the University of California, Berkeley, said background changes in consumer demand for products and services with a lower carbon footprint make additionality difficult to determine. “Rising energy prices and a rapidly increasing public desire for environmental quality will drive emerging markets toward pollution mitigation,” he wrote in a recent paper on sustainable economics. But Roland-Holst notes that relying on offsets also produces “unwelcome secondary effects.” If industries meet the majority of their cap-and-trade requirements through out-of-state offsets, local air pollution in California’s industrial areas would worsen. In June 2012, two environmental groups, Citizens Climate Lobby and Our Children’s Earth Foundation, sued the state. They said offsets “credit emission reductions that would occur or have already occurred without the incentive of offset credit payments,” resulting in “false accounting of progress.” They sought a court order prohibiting offsets trading. But a San Francisco Superior Court judge rejected the petition in January, saying the judiciary could not rewrite the statute. Our Children’s
FOREST OR TREE FARM? The risk is most evident in the case of forest offsets, which market analysts predict is the sector where the bulk of California offsets will be generated. “Forestry offers the greatest opportunity, but it is also by far the most complicated and challenging offset protocol,” said Belinda Morris, California director of the American Carbon Registry, another agency certifying offsets for the state. Environmentalists say the state’s forest protocol, which rewards carbon sequestration through reforestation, forest management and avoided conversion of forests to other uses, contains several fundamental flaws. The rules do not account for “critical carbon pools” on the forest floor. It also inadequately accounts for soil carbon released during logging, said Nowicki of the Center for Biological Diversity. The protocol only accounts for soil disturbance through “deep ripping, furrowing or plowing” on more than 25 percent of a project area, which can cover several thousand acres. The U.S. Department of Energy’s guidelines for voluntary greenhouse gas reporting estimates that one acre of typical California mixedconifer forest contains 60 percent more carbon collectively stored in soil (19.2 tons), litter and duff (12.6 tons), down deadwood (2.6 tons), understory (0.9 tons) and standing deadwood (2.5 tons) than in live trees (25.4 tons). Nowicki said even conservative estimates like these show that if logging takes place on smaller parcels,
company’s influence in framing the forestry protocol was completely aboveboard: “It was an open and public process, and there were many diverse groups involved. We just participated in the process like anyone else in the public would.” Rajinder Sahota, the Air Resources Board’s offsets policy manager, dismissed criticisms that carbon accounting was imprecise and that the standards for additionality were lacking. “With an approved forest project you can have situations where you are able to harvest within a geographical boundary and also sequester carbon at the same time,” Sahota said. WILDLIFE VS. CARBON Land owned by Sierra Pacific Industries in the Stanislaus National Forest was recently clear-cut. Timber companies say planting new trees sequesters about as much carbon as the woodland that preceded it. Environmentalists disagree. Ian Umeda // Public Press soil disturbance could dramatically change the overall carbon storage capacity of the area: “The worst case would be that the project gets carbon credits in a year that they should actually show a carbon deficit if they had fully accounted for the soil carbon emissions.” California’s forest protocol is also the first in the world to credit durable wood products, including building materials and furniture, that lock carbon out of the atmosphere for a long time. The Air Resources Board says objections to state rules are premature because none of the proposed offsets have yet been approved for the market. LOBBYING REWARDS That the forest protocol allows timber companies to sell offsets by replanting trees in areas they clearcut is among the most controversial of the state rules. This is called “even-aged management” — a stand of trees all planted at the same time, for future harvesting. Landowners may clear-cut up to 40 acres at once, as long as they show that tree growth elsewhere in the project area stores more carbon than is lost. But environmental groups contend that making even-aged management more profitable undermines less damaging alternative carbon storage options. Clear-cutting degrades forest ecosystems, water quality and wildlife diversity, scientists say. Initial drafts of the forest protocol disallowed clear-cutting. But around 2007, the timber industry began to seek more favorable rules.
Some of the most aggressive lobbying came from Sierra Pacific Industries, California’s wealthiest timber company and largest private landowner. It made sure to regularly attend offset rule-making workshops hosted by Climate Action Reserve. The company, which owns nearly 1.9 million acres of timberland in California and Washington, has long sparred with environmentalists who oppose its clear-cutting practices. A recent report by the Center for Investigative Reporting found that between 2007 and 2008 Sierra Pacific Industries hired a Sacramento lobbying firm, California Strategies, for $37,500, to present its case. In September 2007, the company sent a letter to the Air Resources Board requesting rule changes to permit even-aged management and storage of carbon in wood products. The board accepted most of the recommendations. But the decision to include clear-cutting led to a schism among environmentalists. Nearly 50 groups, including the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Action Network and Buckley’s Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, urged the Air Resources Board to exclude offsets for clear-cutting. But other big green groups, such as the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Pacific Land Trust supported the idea. “It’s a sticky situation, but it’s probably the best way to get landowners to follow better forest management practices,” said Paul Mason, vice president of policy and incentives at the Pacific Land Trust. Mark Pawlicki, director of corporate affairs and sustainability at Sierra Pacific Industries, said the
Sierra Pacific Industries is now preparing four offset project areas on its land totaling 80,000 acres for approval by the Air Resources Board. This includes the clear-cut area near Yosemite that Buckley surveyed. The company owns about 130,000 acres of forestland in the area. Viewed from an airplane, its land resembles a patchwork quilt of green forests and brown clear-cut land that stretches for miles. Pawlicki said improved land management practices in the project areas would remove an additional 5.6 million tons of carbon from the air over 40 years. That would yield the Redding-based company $56 million at current offset prices. For Buckley, who finds clear signals of climate change in the Sierra Nevada’s rapidly receding snow line, this is worrisome news. “It is not the loss of a 20-acre block of forest that hurts any particular species, because most wildlife can move to another area when bulldozers and chainsaws destroy a block of forests,” he said. Aggressive logging and replanting, he explained, leads to “a loss of the biggest trees — most of the oaks, dogwoods, maples and alders, and most of the plant diversity. It wipes out blocks of habitat, one after another, that are important shelter and food sources for wildlife species that depend upon mature shady forest conditions.” Heavy logging has been associated with the disappearance of the American marten and Pacific fisher from that corner of the Sierra Nevada, and has affected populations of the spotted owl, the northern goshawk, the pileated woodpecker and the northern flying squirrel. “To somehow claim that this will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have no impact on the environment,” Buckley said, “is ridiculous.”
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Carbon Storage Could Aid Climate, but at What Cost?
Power plant near Bakersfield would gasify coal and inject carbon dioxide underground — using it to extract oil
plan to build a power plant in Southern California that buries its carbon dioxide underground could help the industry meet California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. But local concerns about health effects of other air pollutants could tarnish the project’s environmental claims. The Hydrogen Energy California project near Bakersfield would gasify coal and petroleum coke instead of burning the materials. It would inject most of the carbon dioxide produced in the process into oil wells instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. At an estimated cost of $3.15 billion, Story: Lisa Weinzimer the project would be California’s first // Public Press such commercial-size facility, and among the largest in the nation. State and federal regulators are betting that a range of new technologies could help pave the way for California to meet its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The plant would produce 80 percent less greenhouse gas than would a similarly sized traditional coal-fired plant, according to the company behind the proposal, Massachusetts-based SCS Energy. The U.S. Department of Energy, as part of its research and development of “clean coal,” awarded the project a $408 million grant in September 2009. “If Hydrogen Energy California shows that this technology is successful, the Department of Energy can deploy it elsewhere,” said Chris Davis, a site planner at the California Energy Commission. He said federal officials are looking for many ways to control coal emissions across the country. But community groups in Kern County fear that the facility will add toxic air and ground contaminants to a region already struggling with high pollution levels. They question whether the developers are being honest about how clean the operation will be locally and globally. The process that the plant project would use, called “gasification,” could produce hydrogen to fuel a roughly 300-megawatt power plant. It would also produce carbon dioxide gas, roughly 90
percent of which would be sent to the nearby Elk Hills Oil Field for injection underground for “enhanced oil recovery,” the project developers said. Oil giant Occidental Petroleum Corporation owns the oilfield. In addition, SCS Energy said the project would produce about 1 million tons of low-carbon fertilizer a year. Gasification converts carbon-based materials, such as coal and petroleum, into carbon monoxide and hydrogen by partial oxidation at high temperatures. The resulting product is called synthesis gas, or syngas. SCS Energy said the syngas would be cleaned and mixed with steam to separate out carbon dioxide and nonpolluting hydrogen fuel. Tim O’Connor, director of the Climate Policy Initiative at the Environmental Defense Fund, said large-scale carbon capture and sequestration could be crucial for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, California must bring emissions down to 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80 percent by 2050. It is the nation’s first economy-wide cap-andtrade system. Under its new carbon market, California plans to reduce the total emissions allowed from most industries, meaning the price of carbon would presumably increase as pollution reductions become harder to achieve. The complex carbon accounting now taking shape in the state has anticipated the new technology, so even the carbon injected underground eventually will have a price. Officials say the carbon market will send a “price signal” to businesses using these new technologies so that there is no net increase in carbon emissions. Gasification and injection processes would essentially force carbon underground only to extract it in another form — oil. But the regulations do not “give a free ride to oil coming out of the ground,” O’Connor said. Under California’s cap-and-trade regulations, SCS Energy would need to buy allowances for the roughly 2.6 million tons of carbon dioxide a year captured at the facility and supplied for enhanced oil recovery. Occidental Petroleum would need to purchase allowances for the oil
extracted from the ground through the process. Although carbon capture and sequestration is not needed to meet short-term reduction goals, O’Connor said, “as a state, as a nation, as a planet that’s in a climate crisis, it likely has to be part of the mix, in order to facilitate reductions across the world.” But California regulators will approve carbon sequestration facilities only if protocols are established to monitor and verify that the carbon is captured and permanently stored underground, and verify how much was injected, O’Connor said. NEIGHBORS SKEPTICAL The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is home to more than 10 percent of California’s population but accounts for 13 percent of the state’s most concerning air pollution, according to the American Lung Association. The hot weather, bordering mountains and periods of stagnant air trap pollutants. “Criteria pollutants,” including ozone, lead and carbon monoxide, are most often byproducts of fossil fuels or industrial processes. The pollutants are linked with smog, acid rain and other health problems. Underscoring the area’s problems, the California Environmental Protection Agency released an analysis in April showing that the San Joaquin Valley contains close to one-third of the state’s communities most burdened by pollutants. In 2012, Bakersfield was identified as the city with the third-highest level of ozone pollution in the United States. Visalia, Fresno and Hanford also crowded the top of the list. SCS Energy’s plans to deliver coal to the power project by train, truck or a combination of both has raised the concerns of neighbors of the project. Tom Franz, president of the Association of Irritated Residents, said communities could be exposed to coal that spills on railway tracks before reaching the project. Franz said trains for many years delivered coal to
small coal-fired plants in Bakersfield, Shafter and other communities near the project site. From the railway tracks, one can now “walk 50 feet anywhere in Kern Country where trains traveled and pick up pieces of coal,” he said. “And the coal we don’t pick up has already weathered down to dust and been blown away.” The toxic coal dust can go in any direction and can end up on neighbors’ doorsteps, he added. Chris Romanini, a farmer who is part of a group called Concerned Neighbors of Hydrogen Energy California, expressed similar concerns. She said local farmers are concerned that their crops could be exposed to toxic emissions if an industrial accident occurred. Romanini said SCS Energy has ignored requests to place an air monitor in a school about two miles downwind from the proposed project. SCS Energy’s Tiffany Rau defended Hydrogen Energy California’s clean credentials. The plant’s emissions would be equivalent to or less than those of a modern natural gas-fired power plant, Rau said. SCS Energy does not have a buyer lined up for its electricity, but it is in discussions with the state's big three utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric, Rau said. Rau said the developers expect the facility to come online in 2018, following approvals by regulatory agencies, and construction. Those agencies include the California Energy Commission, the Department of Energy and the California Public Utilities Commission. Regarding the potential problem of fuel spillage during transport, Rau said SCS Energy would address the issue before construction. “We will take measures to ensure that coal is not dropping out of the rail cars,” she said. “It’s not our intent to have coal falling out of rail cars."
Big-Time Preservation, Thanks to Carbon Credits 19,000-acre area in Sonoma County spared from vineyard and housing development
he ink is drying on the largest land conservation deal in Sonoma County history, and local preservationists say the promise of income from “offset” credits for absorbing atmospheric carbon helped seal the deal. It will cost $24.5 million to permanently protect the 19,000acre Preservation Ranch from a long-threatened vineyard and Story: Dan estate conversion Rademacher process. It’s actu// Bay Nature ally just one part of a vast expanse of 58,000 acres of contiguous preserved land encompassing huge parts of both the Gualala and Garcia River watersheds. The nonprofit that bought these lands says carbon credits were the key to funding the substantial costs that come along with managing such large tracts. The group’s best estimate is that the credits will yield “several hundred thousand dollars” in annual income, based on similar deals on other parcels. In buying already-cut timberlands, the Virginia-based nonprofit Conservation Fund has become the secondlargest holder of credits in the Climate Action Reserve, one of two international registries for projects likely to become part of California’s new carbon emissions cap-and-trade program. For Chris Kelly, the fund’s California program director, the Preservation Ranch deal caps more than a decade of work that began when North Coast timber companies seemed likely to start selling off their lands. “We were coming to the end of this decades-long trend of depletion,” Kelly said. But after timber companies had consolidated ownership of huge areas and logged them out, the trend seemed to be toward creating ever-smaller parcels. Bad as clearcutting had been, fragmentation could have been worse. “When we started doing this in 2003, there was one 58,000-acre parcel, a 28-mile stretch of forest lands in one owner,” he said. But as lands got chopped up, it increased the urgency of preservation. Kelly’s organization was able to purchase the northernmost 24,000 acres, the Garcia River forest. But the southern portion, Preservation Ranch, was slated for development into vineyards and estates on as many as 60 parcels. “The very scenario we proposed to stop was now unfolding before our eyes,” Kelly said. “Now in 2013, we will have reassembled that original 58,000-acre parcel over the course of a decade. Carbon offsets have played a significant role in that, as have voter-approved bond funds.” FINDING THE MONEY In some respects, this is a typical conservation deal writ large: A complex ballet of funds had to come together from the Coastal Conservancy ($10 million), the Sonoma County Agriculture and Open Space Preservation District ($4 million),
whether forest offsets will really lock in improved forest practices for the long term and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. “There are tremendous variation, conflict of interests and uncertainty involved in the claims and activities that sequester carbon or avert greenhouse gas emissions and thus generate credits,” Kathleen McAfee, an international relations professor at San Francisco State University, wrote in an email. Kelly speculated that few traditional forest landowners in California would want to deal with the commitments required. “To enter into a forest-based carbon offset project requires the owner of the land to make a 100-year commitment to protect that carbon they are sequestering,” he said. And because California’s key global warming law only covers emissions through 2020, “there might be only seven years of carbon sales. It’s so uncertain that a private landowner is not going to make that commitment yet. As a nonprofit, we are morally committed to the long term. That’s why we bought these lands — to keep them from getting subdivided and converted. That’s our mission.” STILL EXPLORING
Western pond turtles live on the Wheatfield Fork of the Gualala River, above, just downstream from Preservation Ranch. Many native species thrive in the second-growth forest. Photos courtesy of Peter Baye.
the Sonoma Land Trust ($1 million) and the Conservation Fund ($9 million). (The Santa Rosa Press Democrat examined the politics of the deal. See: http://sfpr.es/preservationranch.) That buys the land. But then there’s the question of how to manage such huge parcels, with dozens or hundreds of culverts, eroding logging roads and other major maintenance costs. “Most of land conservation these days is taking an already-fragmented landscape and trying to put it together,” Kelly said. “In this case, the challenge wasn’t how to put it together, but how do you even think
of conserving at this scale?” At Preservation Ranch and its sister watersheds to the north, the Conservation Fund aims to pay for ongoing management with a combination of carbon credits and what Kelly calls “light-touch forestry.” The carbon offset credits are the key to Kelly’s model and will make up some 90 percent of the revenue off the land for the near future. (After several decades of timber growth, there will be more revenue from selective harvesting.) Kelly said he did not have precise revenue projections yet, but anticipated carbon credit revenues of hundreds of thousand dollars per year.
According to a case study the Conservation Fund commissioned on another project, it expects to generate about $7 million in credits over 10 years. But that 16,000-acre tract, in the Big River and Salmon Creek forests, is much more productive, with larger trees. The uncertainty about the productivity of California timberland is a big problem not just for carbon credits, but in helping to determine how much can sustainably be harvested. “One of the risks and one of the reasons we have been acquiring forests in Northern California is that the redwood forests have been intensely managed for the last 70 years at a pace faster than the forest grows,” Kelly said. “The forest now is so depleted of commercial timber that there’s very little value as timber, so what do you do? Maybe you sell the parcels, maybe you convert it to vineyards, which was the [proposal] at Preservation Ranch.” The deal was even promoted as a way to preserve some forestland, while converting other tracts to vineyards. To some critics, it looked like the developers wanted to get credit for leaving trees on hillsides so steep they couldn’t be used anyway. Kelly said the carbon market offered a different path: “Carbon offsets allow us to be very patient
and essentially wind back the clock to the way these forests were in the middle of the 20th century. Over time, we could harvest much more closely to the annual growth, but the carbon offsets let us take a break. That’s the idea and that’s what’s allowed us to manage these large tracts and improve conditions not only for terrestrial species but also for aquatic species.” CLOSE TO HOME There has been significant controversy about whether the state should accept forest-based credits, with much debate revolving around whether credits for projects in other countries — currently the focus is on Chiapas, Mexico, and Acre, Brazil — should be exchanged for the right to pollute here. “People want a sense of proximity of the solution to the problem you’re trying to mitigate,” Kelly said. “Our projects are in a highly regulated state, and in the state that is going to administer the regulations, and we’re not locking up the forest, and we’re doing timber management and watershed restoration, so there will be jobs. And, though they’re not in East L.A., at least our forests are proximate to the problem we’re trying to address.” There is also the uncertainty of
One of the Bay Area’s foremost ecologists, Peter Baye, happens to live just a few miles from Preservation Ranch, in the tiny hamlet of Annapolis. He has fought the Preservation Ranch vineyard conversion from the beginning, on behalf of the Friends of the Gualala River. “There’s a lot of diversity in the watershed,” Baye said, “and it’s also mostly private, so there’s been very little exploration. When they started doing surveys for Preservation Ranch, they were finding mountain lion dens and salamanders they weren’t identifying, sightings of fishers and elk not confirmed. It’s been scarcely explored. The only modern surveys that have been done were done for this project.” And even though the land was severely affected by clear-cutting in the 1950s and 1960s, it seems to be recovering remarkably well, Baye said, especially compared with the Russian River next door. Here, there was never much agriculture. Creeks stripped of cover by logging are once again shaded, which make them better fish habitat. And the streams are steep and fast, so they flush sediment quickly. Things look pretty good now, but Baye stressed that there is much more to learn about the forest. “This came out of the timber harvest era that didn’t have surveys,” he said. “It really is a jump from the 19th century to 2013 in terms of what we know about the landscape. I just know what’s around the edges and up the streams. It’s pretty amazing.”
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California’s Biggest Polluters California’s cap-and-trade program requires the largest emitters of greenhouse gases to pay to pollute. Each metric ton of carbon dioxide (or other greenhouse gas equivalent) requires an “allowance,” with the total supply (the “cap”) falling each year. The idea is that the rising carbon prices spur facilities to reduce emissions to save money. Last November, an allowance cost $10.09. In May of this year, the price rose to $14. These maps show the largest emitters. The bigger the dot, the more CO2 or other greenhouse gas the facility emits. Locations are approximate. Emissions data from the California Air Resource Board are from the most comprehensive list available, published in 2010. The agency breaks down facilities into eight sectors:
Devil in the details of Bay Area planners’ emissions predictions Cartography: Darin Jensen & Mike Jones // Public Press
story continued from page B3
rent levels of government funding, local zoning laws, existing land ownership patterns and expectations for economic growth. In May 2009, a 19-member panel of volunteer stakeholders convened a roundtable meeting at the headquarters of the California Environmental Protection Agency in Sacramento to review the rules, as the law required. At the table were local elected officials and planners, private groups including the powerful pro-industry Bay Area Council, and transportation and environmental organizations including the Natural Resources Defense Council. After nine months of sometimes heated negotiations, the panel unanimously agreed to let regulators track greenhouse gas reductions from cars and light trucks across California using one of two “relative” measures instead of gauging total annual emissions. The other relative measure they considered for regional emissions reporting was to assess progress against hypothetical “business as usual” scenarios — what economists think might have happened over the next 20 years without the policy. That measure, also called the “baseline” projection, is what the California Air Resources Board uses most often in public outreach to claim that pollution from vehicles and light trucks will decline. What they often neglect to say is that total emissions will rise compared with actual, measured emissions. For the state, that means a big difference: comparing the 2035 goal with economists’ businessas-usual estimate, emissions will fall by 9.9 percent. But compared with the actual emissions in 2005, before the climate legislation was passed, emissions will have risen 18.2 percent by 2035. Yet it is the regional “per capita” figures and statewide comparisons with “business as usual” that get repeated year after year in news stories. Both methodologies make it hard to measure progress against the total reductions required by the Global Warming Solutions Act, which uses absolute emissions targets. Allowing emissions to grow in the transportation sector presents a challenge to the state’s overall climate change goals. Other strategies — energy efficiency, alternative fuels, changes in automobile engines and the cap-and-trade carbon market — will have to make steeper cuts to make up the difference. Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board who works on climate change issues, acknowledged that despite the per capita reductions, the Sustainable Communities Strategy will not prevent an increase in total carbon emissions from passenger vehicles through 2035. “In some parts of the state, greenhouse gases will go up, but you have to look at how much they would go up if it were business as usual, without this law,” Clegern said. “Increases might be 18 percent, but it would have been 40 or 50 percent without the program.” Overall transportation accounts for about 38 percent of statewide emissions, with cars and light trucks making up a smaller slice of the overall pie — 9.5 percent. Clegern said the possible carbon savings from passenger vehicles represented a small “sliver” of the state’s reduction goals. According to the latest Air Resources Board figures, that would be 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, out of the total 126 million goal. He noted that the per capita standard allows each part of the state to use uniform measures of progress. Planners from across the state’s 18 regions are looking to the 166-page Plan Bay Area’s goals and methods to set their own policies.
Research: Noah Arroyo // Public Press
California Emissions Hotspots
220 facilities Highest concentration is in Orange and Los Angeles counties. Total Carbon Emissions: 44,620,904 metric tons
Petroleum Refineries 8 facilities Highest concentration is in Contra Costa, Solano and Los Angeles counties. Total Carbon Emissions: 12,023,809 metric tons
144 facilities Includes miscellaneous facilities, from apparel manufacturing to biotechnology research and development. Roughly 25 percent produce food or beverage products. Total Carbon Emissions: 11,530,464 metric tons
Cogeneration Facilities 60 facilities Producing both heat and electricity. Total Carbon Emissions: 10,434,187 metric tons
Oil & Gas Production 42 facilities Highest concentration is in Kern County. Total Carbon Emissions: 10,399,758 metric tons
BAY AREA INSERT
General Stationary Combustion
Cement Plants 60 facilities Highest concentration is in San Bernardino and Kern counties. Total Carbon Emissions: 5,625,902 metric tons
Hydrogen Plants 7 facilities Highest concentration is in Contra Costa and Los Angeles counties. Total Carbon Emissions: 2,867,721 metric tons
METRIC TONS OF CARBON EMISSIONS Less than 50,000
27 facilities Colleges and universities, water treatment and irrigation facilities, scientific research and development, and miscellaneous industries. In the Bay Area, this includes almost exclusively water and sewage treatment. Total Carbon Emissions: 259,312 metric tons
50K-100K 100K-200K 200K-400K 400K-800K 800K-1.6 Million More than 1.6 Million
Bay Area Emissions by Type
METRIC TONS OF CARBON EMISSIONS Less than 50,000 50K-100K 100K-200K
800K-1.6 Million More than 1.6 Million
TYPES OF FACILITIES Electricity Generation Petroleum Refineries General Stationary Combustion Cogeneration Facilities Cement Plants Hydrogen Plants Other
Some environmental advocates who participated in the meetings said that persuading business and government leaders to limit the growth of emissions at all was a step forward. Officials emphasized that regional plans must be reevaluated every four years, so the metric can be revisited. “The most important point is that these are real, meaningful targets,” said Amanda Eaken, deputy director of the Sustainable Communities, Energy and Transportation Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This was the first time that the state has done anything like this. We’re realizing that the greenhouse gas reduction we can achieve is probably greater than we’d originally thought.” The stakeholders at the 2009 meeting in Sacramento agreed
that with state population expected to grow by 12.8 million people between 2005 and 2035, overall emissions would have to grow substantially. The Bay Area alone is expected to grow by 2.1 million, to a total of 9 million. State air officials said setting absolute carbon reduction targets could deter economic growth. It should be possible to design cities that can still develop while fighting vehicle emissions, said Daniel Sperling, a member of the Air Resources Board and director of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. “We decided that the best metric to measure reductions was per capita because it would not penalize growth,” Sperling said. “Emissions are going to be lower than what they’d otherwise be. It’s a starting point that puts the state on the right trajectory to create a policy framework that’s never existed before.” A final draft of Plan Bay Area was expected to be released in mid-July. A March draft of the plan uses the term “per capita” liberally. The Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the two agencies leading the process, have published dozens of press releases and newspaper opinion pieces citing the 15 percent per capita goal. But the popular understanding of the plan seems murky — often the “per capita” caveat gets dropped. In late May, a San Jose Mercury News op-ed by local environmental and civic activists stated incorrectly: “this regional transportation and land-use plan must reduce greenhouse gases 15 percent by 2035.” UNDER-FUNDED PLANS Elisa Barbour, a planning doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, said the problem with Plan Bay Area is that the lack of financial incentives for cities makes the policy weak. Each city controls its own development, so incentives must be available for cities to concentrate development in compact, walkable and transit-friendly neighborhoods. And the regional agencies need the authority to mandate standards for things like environmentally friendly zoning laws, she argued. The 2008 law that set the process in motion, Barbour said, “calls for a more efficient land use and transportation pattern to reduce greenhouse gases. But it’s not clear that the process is actually on track to achieving those goals.” Plan Bay Area sets aside money for cities to help developers build new housing and jobs near BART, Caltrain and local transit lines. “The focus of the plan is transportation and land use, so it’s fair to say that it is a very modest bill in terms of climate change,” said Rebecca Long, a legislative analyst at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. According to the plan, Bay Area cities and counties will receive $800 million in grant funding through 2016 from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Sixty of the region’s 101 cities and all nine counties have applied and are developing 169 “priority development areas,” where growth is supposed to concentrate. Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said the dissolution of all 400 state redevelopment agencies and recent federal transportation cuts have “crippled” his agency, so there is little money or political power to fully carry out the plan. The agency distributes toll, gas tax and other revenues for transportation projects. “What the law did was require us to adopt a strategy,” Heminger said. “We’ve done that.” Steinberg’s office said the 2008 law must be strengthened. Without real teeth, the senator said, the effort to redesign cities to encourage people to drive less could fail. “Climate change was not only important, it was crucial,” Steinberg said. “We were able to make the transportation and land-use part successful because we had the added element of climate change in the mix.” Regional planners project that the Bay Area will need 660,000 additional homes and 1.1 million more jobs to support the anticipated population growth. Kip Lipper, Steinberg’s chief policy adviser for energy, natural resources and the environment, said more important than reducing greenhouse gases in California is developing effective land use planning that actually works. Steinberg said local governments could do a better job of setting bolder goals. “The work is never done,” he said.
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Make Money, Save the Planet Rules of the Game
Is it possible to maximize your individual profits while reducing overall pollution? That’s the billiondollar game California has now started.
Each player claims an industry and gets 10 free smokestacks that can be distributed on any of the player’s three properties. The spaces on the board are already owned by players and can’t be bought or sold. Each player starts with $1,000. Players roll the dice to move clockwise around the board.
from landfills, etc.) Trees cost the same as smokestacks, but they don’t yield profit. Instead, a tree allows players to keep one smokestack for one turn as they pass Go (when they relinquish the tree). Trees are purchased for the same price the last smokestack was sold for at the most recent auction. That money goes to the middle of the board, with the funds going to out-of-state environmental projects.
Each player gets 10 free smokestacks (each representing one gagillion tons of carbon dioxide) that can go on any property he or she owns. After passing Go, the player must relinquish a smokestack. At auction (see below) all players can buy more smokestacks. When another player lands on a property with a smokestack, the visitor (the consumer) pays the producer. Profit is higher if smokestacks are on the property because in some circumstances it does pay to pollute. Profit on properties start at $10 even without smokestacks. For each additional smokestack, give the property owner another $10 in profit.
When a player lands on a research & development square, he or she has the opportunity to purchase a lightbulb piece, representing “innovation.” A lightbulb allows a facility owner to make the same profit that a smokestack would bring, but unlike smokestacks it never disappears when players pass Go. Lightbulbs costs $20 apiece and yield a profit of $10 each time another player lands on a space where one is placed.
The goal for California industries is to work collectively to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. They do this by trading “allowances” to emit carbon — and hopefully making a profit along the way. California has decided to cut greenhouse gases back to 1990 levels by 2020. In part, that will be done through market mechanisms. Every year the cap on Design & carbon will go down, so businesses will have to choose whether to pollute less Illustration: or buy allowances to pollute from another player. Historically, more emissions Anna Vignet // Public Press mean more production and more profit. But now, the state has rewritten the rules … In this game your die-cast piece will embody one of the top eight polluting industries in California. As you go around the board, you will have to decide whether to buy pollution (smokestacks), innovation (lightbulbs) or carbon “offset” credits (trees) on the market. Unlike in other board games simulating capitalist accumulation, each player already owns 10 free carbon allowances (smokestacks), but loses one every time he or she passes Go. By the end of five trips around the board, the 80 smokestacks will have been cut in half — not counting trees, which are counted as negative smokestacks. When smokestacks (allowances) minus trees (offsets) equals 40, the pollution target is reached, and the game is over. You win if you have the most money by the time the statewide carbon cap is reached.
Trees (“Offsets”) A player can buy trees only when landing on an “offset” square. (Offsets are certified environmental projects anywhere in the country that can demonstrate absorption of CO2 in forests, reduction of methane release
Auctions Four auction squares are spaced evenly around the board to represent the winter, spring, summer and fall sales of carbon allowances. Players can buy and sell smokestacks from one another. Each player declares how many smokestacks he or she wants to buy. Whoever bids highest sets the going price, and everyone must buy or sell the number of smokestacks they offer or request at that price.
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SUMMER 2013 || ABOUT US | CLIMATE | CIVICS | ECONOMY | GREEN || B1
California Should Follow San Francisco’s Lead and Raise Minimum Wage, Says Lawmaker Assemblyman Luis Alejo wants $9.25 hourly rate by 2016
an Francisco’s record of raising the minimum wage 10 years ago without crashing the local economy proves that California can do the same, said a leading labor policy reformer in the Legislature. Assemblyman Luis Alejo’s plan to raise the state minimum wage to $9.25 an hour by 2016 draws heavily on the experience of San Francisco, which in 2003 created a local minimum wage pegged to inflation. Now at $10.55 an hour, it is the highest of any major American city, and higher than the federal rate or that of any other state. Since President Obama used this year’s State of the Union address to promote his plan to raise the federal minimum wage, Story: economists, business groups and Alex labor advocates have been debating Kekauoha // Public Press the economic effects of such a move, and have come to starkly different conclusions. In San Francisco, while unemployment has risen, it has done so more slowly than elsewhere across the state, where employers are allowed to pay their workers less. But as a reporting project by the Public Press found in the spring edition, just having a law on the books does not guarantee that all employers actually pay legal wages. One survey of three other major cities found that 3.9 percent of workers were illegally paid below the local minimum wage. All things being equal that would mean roughly 39,000 of San Francisco’s 1 million workers were underpaid. In the last three years, the city’s labor standards enforcement infrastructure has won back wages for about 3,000 workers. But Alejo, a Democrat from Watsonville representing the 30th Assembly District, said the city was nonetheless seen as a leader among California communities, because it got the conversation started about guaranteeing higher pay at the low end. “Other cities are seeing what happened in San Francisco and they’re working to raise their local wages,” Alejo said. If it passes and Gov. Jerry Brown signs it, Assembly Bill 10 would be the first state minimum wage increase since 2008. Usually the state raises it every three to four years, Alejo noted, but since the recession started, “it’s been frozen at $8.” At a committee hearing on the bill in late April, Alejo said his mother-in-law, who earns the minimum wage, inspired him to pursue the issue. “Instead of advancing and being rewarded for her many years of hard work, her sacrifice and dedication, she is kept at the minimum wage level even after 20 years of hard work for the same employer,” Alejo said. Alejo and his allies say the bill is necessary because lowwage workers are grappling with rising costs for gas and rent, while earnings remain stagnant. If approved, AB 10 would increase the minimum wage from the current $8 to $9.25 over three years, and then peg it to inflation. This is the third time Alejo has introduced the bill — the previous two years it died in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. But Alejo said the prospects were looking better for passage in 2013 and implementation early next year. “If it doesn’t get done at the federal level, you’re going to see state-by-state efforts,” Alejo said. Maine, Hawaii and New York have all taken similar steps in recent months. On May 8, the Minnesota Senate voted to raise the $7.25 minimum wage by 50 cents over two years, a move that would benefit about 200,000 workers. But many business groups say raising California’s minimum wage would be a mistake. They say raising the cost of labor for retailers, restaurants, service businesses and other industries could delay an economic recovery. Organizations opposing the bill include the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Restaurant Association, and the National Federation of Independent Busi-
San Francisco worker Mauricio Lozano, above, is paid the minimum wage for employees in San Francisco, which is currently $10.55 an hour, the highest of any major American city. Watsonville Assemblyman Luis Alejo, left, wants to raise the California minimum wage to $9.25 an hour by 2016. Photo above by Tearsa Joy Hammock // Public Press. Photo at left courtesy of Assemblyman Luis Alejo.
ness. The federation says it advocates for 350,000 small business owners, including 22,000 in California and 224 in San Francisco. The group’s executive director, John Kabateck, said the bill’s supporters have good intentions but ignore the unintended consequences for business owners, such as the pressure the policy would create to also raise wages for workers making more than minimum wage. “There’s a perception that a small-business owner can produce extra money for minimum wage employees,” Kabateck said. “But small-business owners have to make a choice: either raise prices or pare back benefits and shifts.” Supporters of a minimum wage hike say that low-wage workers, with more income, recycle that wealth into the economy, generating more revenue for businesses. But
Kabateck said he doubted the effect was discernible. The bottom line for an owner, he said, is the ability to grow a business unencumbered. He said prosperous businesses tend to raise wages: “The more you stress their ability to hire and be successful, the less you are going to see minimum wage employees growing in a small business or finding work.” Other opponents of the reform measure said they agreed with the need to increase workers’ income, but disagreed on the methods. California Restaurant Association spokeswoman Angelica Pappas said inflation adjustment would be impractical. “An increase is definitely in the cards,” Pappas said. “But pegging it to the consumer index doesn’t work well for the restaurant industry.” This is a particularly bad time to increase labor costs because of additional pressures facing the industry from policies such as national and state health care reform. “We would rather have this debate every few years, based on economic indicators of the time, like employment and job growth, versus putting it on an upward elevator to increase it every year,” she said. “It could spell disaster.” But Alejo has studied up on economic arguments supporting his side. He cites research showing little adverse affects on business. One 2010 study by economists from the University of California, the University of Massachusetts and the University of North Carolina found that the 17 states, plus Washington, D.C., that have minimum wages higher than the federal, did not experience slower job growth than would otherwise be expected. UC Berkeley economist Michael Reich found that increasing the minimum wage actually helped employers hire people. (See a discussion of the issue in the spring
edition of the Public Press — http://sfpr.es/econ-minwage.) Miranda Dietz, a research data analyst who works with Reich, said that minimum wages do not reduce employment. “They aid employers with recruitment and retention of their workforce,” Dietz said, “so minimum wages kill job vacancies, not jobs.”
“An increase is definitely in the cards. But pegging it to the consumer index doesn’t work well for the restaurant industry.” Alejo’s latest version made its way through the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee and has again reached the Appropriations Committee. Alejo acknowledges the long path the bill must take, but he remains optimistic that he can earn low-wage workers a small boost next January to $8.25. It would rise to $8.75 in 2015 and to $9.25 in 2016, and would be adjusted to inflation every year after that. For more coverage on San Francisco’s uphill battle to enforce its own minimum wage, see the spring 2013 edition cover story, online at sfpublicpress.org/minimumwage.
State Homeless Bill of Rights Put on Hold Until Next Year Concern over costs delay legislation after clearing first hurdle
A San Francisco police officer argues with Kenny Laurence about lying down on the steps in front of the San Francisco Public Library in 2010.
“homeless bill of rights” in California must wait until next year for a vote in the full Assembly after clearing its first hurdle. Advocates say the change would protect homeless people from local enforcement of socalled “quality of life” laws, and specify homeless people as deserving of protection in the state’s antidiscrimination statutes. In May, the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee approved Story: the legislation, AB 5. But the T.J. Johnston Appropriations Committee put // Public Press the bill on hold until January Photo: 2014. Nina Frazier Assemblyman Tom Am// Public Press miano, D-San Francisco, said in a statement that his bill was suspended largely because of the costs of setting up new infrastructure and enforcing the new rules. But he vowed to negotiate with advocates and opponents through the rest of this year to protect the legal rights of homeless people. The Appropriations Committee said the bill would cost around $300 million, mostly for state public health officials to build and operate hygiene centers with showers and bathrooms. The bill would bar discriminating against homeless people while they seek or maintain tax-funded benefits. It would also assert a right to be in public places, safeguard personal property, guarantee use of public facilities, protect confidentiality of medical records and provide legal representation in low-level criminal proceedings, not just those that rise to the level of misdemeanors. The bill’s main purpose is to challenge local
ordinances that deem sitting on sidewalks or loitering to be infractions, which homeless advocates say are disproportionately enforced on low-income people. Since Ammiano introduced it last December, the bill has been amended to delay enforcement of local laws unless yearlong welfare benefits are provided, and benchmarks for unemployment rates and waitlists for public housing are met. Savings provided by supportive services, includ-
“Think we have a street behavior problem now? Just wait until this passes.” ing housing and medical care, would offset the enforcement costs, Ammiano said. According to estimates from the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, the state spends between $310 million and $1.7 billion on issuing citations, trying and incarcerating homeless people who are unable to pay tickets. A pilot study in Los Angeles also found that California spends $605 per person monthly in supportive housing, while it spends $2,897 on services to those who remain without housing. But these economic arguments are not swaying opponents of the measure. Assemblyman
Donald Wagner, R-Irvine, said that if the bill were enacted, cities would shoulder the costs without reimbursement from the counties. He also said he fears municipalities would be vulnerable to legal challenges from those receiving citations. “Plaintiffs’ class action lawyers will have marvelous new opportunities to sue public agencies and pocket millions of taxpayer dollars for themselves,” Wagner said. “Not a dollar necessarily will go to providing new homes for the homeless.” San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener said the bill would enable homeless people to disrupt public areas with their presence. “Our local laws against forming encampments, passing out and blocking sidewalks, and otherwise monopolizing public spaces would be wiped off the books,” he said. “Think we have a street behavior problem now? Just wait until this passes.” Business alliances have also come out against the bill. Opponents include the San Francisco Travel Association, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and the state and city Chamber of Commerce groups. In addition, 60 cities, including San Jose, have declared their opposition. California would be the third state to have a homeless bill of rights if it passes, after Rhode Island and Illinois. The final deadline for passage in the Legislature is in September 2014. Advocates for the homeless said they would lobby to pass the legislation. “By January, we will be strong enough to not have to ask for their support — we can demand it,” said Paul Boden, executive director of the San Francisco-based Western Regional Advocacy Project.
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Eating Right in Single-Room-Occupancy Hotels Residents have limited options for preparing healthy meals
or the most part, 74-year-old Purita Canada gets her daily meals from the Chinese restaurants around Sixth Street. The retired schoolteacher from the Philippines lives alone at the Rose Hotel, never learned much about cooking and likes seeing others when she goes out. She does, however, appreciate the limited facilities at the South of Market residential hotel where she has lived for almost a decade. She has a rice cooker and microwave in her room, and a communal kitchen on the Story: hotel’s bottom floor that Eric Louie enables her to have hot // Central City soup before heading to Extra mass in the mornings. For most residents of Photo: Mark Doneza Tenderloin and South of // Central City Market area single-roomExtra occupancy hotels, options for a home-cooked meal are limited. In their rooms, they might have a microwave, rice maker or crock pot. Hot plates, toaster ovens and electrical skillets are generally prohibited, though many residents break the rules. Some renovated SROs have a full range in the community kitchen residents all share. A few SROs have a mini-kitchen in each room. Mercy Housing’s Arlington Hotel, in its recent major renovation that reduced it from 173 to 154 units, put kitchenettes and bathrooms in every one. John Elberling, CEO of TODCO, a prominent nonprofit South of Market developer, said TODCO put two-burner stovetops and sinks in each room as part of its recently completed Isabel Hotel renovation. TODCO similarly equipped Bayanihan House when it reopened in 1999. But microwaving is probably the most popular way to prepare meals in SROs. Elberling notes that many residents live alone and find it easier to make other arrangements than to use the communal amenities. In a report by advocacy groups to the Department of Aging and Adult Services and the Board of Supervisors’ Single Room Occupancy Taskforce last summer, only a third of the SRO residents who responded to the survey said they had access to a kitchen. A fraction said they had limited access, but more than half said they had none at all. As a result, 20 percent of the 151 respondents said they often skipped a meal. Josh Vining, an organizer with the Mission SRO Collaborative who worked on the survey with the Tenderloin and Chinatown SRO Collaboratives, believes the numbers would be more woeful if they’d been able to poll more residents of hotels that do not get public funding — which are less likely to have a kitchen than the nonprofit SROs. Only a third of respondents in the survey lived in proprietary hotels. “The majority of them do not have any,” said Vining. He also said it varies by neighborhood, with communal kitchens less likely in the Mission and Tenderloin than Chinatown. Clarisa Ferguson, 36, knows what it’s like to not have a kitchen. An admitted late-night snacker, she has lived in numerous private hotels since becoming intermittently homeless in 2004. “It’s hell,” said Ferguson. She is on disability and going to school. “You can’t eat your regular food like you want to.” Now living at The Rose, she likes using the community kitchen a lot, even if it means going in late at night to work around others’ schedules. “I’ll come in when no one else is here,” she said. Many others are not as accommodating. Ironically, Sumiyata Monoarfa, who makes a large monthly meal for her fellow residents at
Preparing a Meal in an SRO Can Save a Life Rose Hotel resident makes do despite many cooking and culinary challenges
Rose Hotel resident Franklin Croney changed his eating habits and dropped from 521 pounds to 387 pounds. He uses an infrared oven to prepare meals in his room.
the Dalt, doesn’t use the community kitchen much. The stove has only four burners, and the kitchen is often crowded, she said. “For my regular meals, I usually eat out,” said Monoarfa, a former self-employed paralegal and tax expert who is disabled. She takes medication for cholesterol, high blood pressure and other issues, which means she needs to eat on a regular schedule. Monoarfa said she is allowed to use the kitchen after its midnight closing time to make the group meals, which take several days to prepare. She said many Tenderloin SROs don’t have their own kitchen, and often companions of Dalt residents will drop by so they can eat together. Adrienne Markworth, executive director of the nonprofit Leah’s Pantry, said communal kitchens are common. Cooking is personal, and residents may not be used to the different spices, smells and methods of others in the shared space, she said. There is also the need to store the food and cooking equipment. Some kitchens are equipped, but securing personal items so they don’t get stolen might require carrying them back and forth. “We find they’re not used a lot,” she said. Leah’s Pantry offers SRO residents nutrition workshops using rice makers, crock pots and microwaves. Recipes often are for soups or stews, using items from the San Francisco
Food Bank and other food distributions for the needy. The recipes also are designed to reduce effort, for instance, suggesting cooking a chicken whole, making it easier to break apart for storing leftovers. After a pilot program last fall, Leah’s Pantry plans to give out 200 kitchen kits this year, including cutting boards and utensils funded
“It’s hell. You can’t eat your regular food like you want to.” through the city’s Human Services Agency. Emily Dore, senior program coordinator at Leah’s Pantry, recently led the first of six weekly classes at The Rose in the hotel’s communal kitchen. Participants tasted a variety of citrus and had discussions that included their health goals, such as breaking habits like deep-fried takeout and late-night snacking. She then brought out packs of instant noodles — the staple of cheap eats — that were given away by the Food Bank that day. She showed the residents how to add cabbage, celery, onions, mushrooms and green bell
peppers. Another tip was to cut the seasoning packet, which contains a lot of salt, to make it healthier. “We’re thinking, ‘of course, people are going to eat it,’” Dore said of the packaged noodles. “We don’t want it to go to waste.” Attendance at the Pantry’s initial class in January at the 76-unit Rose was sparse, only about a handful. Others passed through the room to pick up sweet potatoes and other items the Food Bank dropped off earlier that day. Those that were there were eager to participate. One was Franklin Croney, 58, a former money management case manager who weighed 521 pounds when he became homeless in 2007. He moved into The Rose several months later, but couldn’t shake the depression that caused him to gain weight until he needed a wheelchair to get around. A few years ago, with the help of others, he decided to lose the weight. He’s lost more than 130 pounds, and is no longer in a wheelchair. Croney doesn’t use The Rose’s kitchen; he says it’s not convenient. He is very proud of the infrared oven he bought after the hotel caught him with a skillet he wasn’t supposed to have. Croney said preparing his own food cheaply is important for him to continue losing weight. “I don’t have to worry about going to the store for fast food anymore.”
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Members of the George Washington High School Band gather at Fifth and Market streets to march in the Greek Cultural Parade on April 4. Jason Winshell // Public Press. For more of this photo series see www.jasonwinshell.com.
ranklin Croney works with chef-like precision: Three minutes to heat the potatoes au gratin and 13 minutes for each side of the two pork chops, before combining them for uniform temperature. Croney is in his carpeted living room at the Rose Hotel overlooking Sixth Street. It’s also his bedroom and ersatz kitchen. Croney is cooking on a NuWave infrared Story: oven, a plug-in Eric Louie device that sits // Central City on a television Extra stand by the window, a few feet from his bed. He also has a microwave — which is where he keeps his dishes — that sits on milk crates next to a sink and mirror. His TV is on a storage tower where he keeps canned goods. He eats sitting on a chair in the middle of the room; next to it is a chair for guests. A full-size refrigerator, a $30 purchase from a resident getting evicted, is in a corner. As a corner room, Croney’s is larger than most SRO units, an accommodation for his disability. It also has a bathroom. For Croney, who in three years has dropped 130 pounds, the amenities are a godsend, the difference between life and death. “There’s no other way to cook in this place,” said Croney, 58, touting his NuWave, also used to boil eggs and make vegetables. “That’s my pride and joy.” For many residents of SROs, their options for making meals at home are extremely limited. The Rose has a community kitchen, but, Croney said, its four-burner stove fills up fast with others making meals at the 76-unit hotel. He had used an elec-
Croney said getting a mini-oven for his room changed everything. “There’s no other way to cook in this place. That’s my pride and joy.” tric skillet in his room before buying the NuWave oven and grill, but was caught by management and told not to use it. The skillet was too greasy a way to cook anyway, he said. Croney’s meal this day was a special treat, from mail order Omaha Steaks. He usually doesn’t eat so extravagantly — his meats mostly come from the corner market — but once every few months he’ll splurge. The potatoes come out of their package frozen, and Croney heats them in the microwave. The pork chops, also frozen, get a mix of cinnamon, garlic powder and other herbs that help with blood pressure and replace salt. A flick of the switch and the infrared oven is on, swirling the toppings around the cooking container. Before long, drippings are running into a pan inside. When both sides of the pork chops are cooked, Croney puts the potatoes in. The oven can keep them warm. From the hallway there’s the smell of the spices he uses, something Croney said has made him popular and inspired others to make their own meals. While waiting for his meal, neighbors dropped by to check on him, with management also calling. Croney said a resident broke the elevator, and he had not left his room for three days. He has trouble with the stairs. They wanted to know if he needed help getting the potatoes and onions donated as part of their Wednesday drop-offs, or the cooked food that sometimes comes by. One friend brought a container with fish on purple cabbage and yellow and orange lentils. “You can actually eat like this on Sixth Street,” Croney said. Mimicking a large bone to his mouth, he said: “I do my King Henry the VIII at night.”
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George Gascón has been working to bring the District Attorney Office’s technology up to date. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.
District Attorney Pushes for Data-Driven Approach in Tracking Offenders, Prosecutors The city is doling out $320,000 for a new database to replace the current relic
he San Francisco District Attorney’s Office is just around the corner from some of the world’s most cutting-edge data collectors and data miners. Yet, according to D.A. George Gascón, his office is stuck in the 1970s. To leap forward a few decades, Gascón has hired his first chief information officer. Now he’s got to warm his prosecutors to the idea that cold hard data can help deliver justice. Gascón wants to give his office a makeover, using Big Data. He said the Story: data revolution that’s Aarti Shahani // KQED News transformed whole Fix industries has been totally lost on the criminal justice system. For instance, in response to a charge that Vietnamese and Korean defendants are often misclassified as Chinese, he said, “Yeah, I think it’s even worse. In many cases they only are classifying white, black and other.” Regarding another allegation, that his office is letting domestic violence perpetrators off the hook, he said, “Is this accurate? I cannot come back to the office and push a button and get a report that is going to tell me this.” He plans to change that with an initiative he calls DA Stat. Gascón oversees 130 prosecutors and a $42.7 million annual budget. Now, in addition to money for the new chief information officer, the city is doling out $320,000 for a new database. “The database was very, very old,” Gascón said. “I think it might not quite be the ’50s. But I think it’s sort of ’60s, early ’70s vintage and ... most of it was handmade, I think.” That database, called DAMION, does track conviction rates, the metric historically used to evaluate prosecutors. But Gascón also wants to track demographics, crime categories, punishment and reoffense rates — something to figure out the odds, statistically, of someone reoffending. He hopes to do that with this new tool. Take someone charged with theft. In terms of both likelihood to reoffend and the most effective type of intervention, “a first-time offender age 45 is going to be very different from a first-time offender age 16,” Gascón said. It’s not enough for a prosecutor to rely on gut instincts when deciding whether to go light or throw the book, he said, because “when you do it intuitively, we end up incarcerating and making the wrong decisions too often.” This concept — that to stop defendants from becoming statistics, you’ve got to turn them into statistics — is not without controversy. California Attorney General Kamala Harris used to have Gascón’s job. In her book, “Smart on Crime,” Harris advocates a metrics-driven approach to punishment and community programs, but does not go as far as Gascón in advocating for Big Data. Some lawyers say criminal justice
DA’s Office 2012 Stats • 22,000 arrests reviewed • 12,000 cases charged • 80% reduction in homicide backlog • 80% sex assault conviction rate • 5,410 victims served • 250 individuals sentenced under realignment • 300 Trainings provided for staff and community Source: Office of San Francisco District Attorney 2012 Annual Report
shouldn’t try to mimic the insurance industry, in which pre-existing conditions can work against you, for instance. The 16-year-old thief who’s statistically more likely to reoffend may have been simply reacting to a one-time event, stealing to pay bills after the death of a parent, for example. Fanya Young, a former prosecutor turned defense lawyer, is skeptical of DA Stat. She said that when you turn people into statistics, you risk losing their personal stories. “There’s not really a connect between statistics and prosecuting or defending a case,” she said. “A case is a case. A person’s
shortage of information in a district attorney’s office that can’t be CompStat’ed,” he said. Bratton said his protégé is the perfect guy to lead the change, because unlike most prosecutors, Gascón used to be a cop. He saw CompStat work firsthand in Los Angeles. Joan Petersilia, a law professor at Stanford University, said Gascón will have a tough time selling DA Stat because of the elusive nature of prosecutors. “It’s always said about prosecutors they have the most power and we know the least about what they do and how they exercise that power,” Petersilia said.
“The database was very, very old. I think it might not quite be the ’50s. But I think it’s sort of ’60s, early ’70s vintage and … most of it was handmade, I think.” individual rights are a person’s individual rights.” And there is another reason prosecutors might resist. The new approach will leave them open to new scrutiny. Gascón copped the name DA Stat from his old boss, William Bratton — the police chief known for creating COMSTAT, a data system he implemented in the 1990s in New York City to map out crime hot spots and deploy police resources accordingly. This shook up some NYPD personnel practices; for instance, middle managers had to account for time. Bratton explained, “There’s no place to hide in CompStat. It’s intended to ensure that things are not hidden.” Bratton said DA Stat can do for prosecutors what CompStat did for police. “Take a look at the various assistant district attorneys, what their caseload is, what their conviction rate is, the length of time it takes to try a case. There is no
“They’ve always been the hidden part of the criminal justice system.” Back in the 1980s, Petersilia advocated that prosecutors use data to figure out why so few cases led to conviction. Practitioners didn’t know if the problem was a glut of cases brought without proper evidence or a lack of resources to pursue strong leads. She helped roll out a database called PROMIS, Prosecutor’s Management Information System. District attorneys nationwide bought in, but then kept the data to themselves. Petersilia said that instead of creating transparency, PROMIS simply became an internal management tool. She is urging Gascón to learn this lesson well. “Sharing that information to the probation department, to the public defender’s office, to community-based organizations, he will actually be evaluating the impact of the criminal justice system in San Francisco,” she said.
Sister Pat N Leather of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence stands with Police Chief Greg Suhr and other officials from the LGBT Advisory Forum at a kickoff for the safe zones program.
Police Launch LGBT Safe Zones As Refuge From Hate Crimes Gay rights groups call for “respect, compassion and honesty’’
an Francisco has become the first city in the country to launch citywide police station safe zones for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, staffed with police liaisons trained to serve that community. All 10 police district stations in San Francisco now have signs that designate the station as a safe zone and state that “LGBT individuals will Story and be treated with respect, Photo: compassion and honesty.” Tay Wiles The signs are intended as a // Mission Local preventive measure against hate crimes and a way to encourage victims to report incidents. The police department’s LGBT Advisory Forum is leading the effort in partnership with the San Francisco Police Department, community groups like the Castro Community on Patrol and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of charitable street performers who use high camp and satire to combat sexual intolerance. “This is a historical moment,” said Sister Pat N Leather, who appeared in her mock nun’s habit beside San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr at a recent kickoff event at Mission Station. In Washington state, Leather said, police have tried creating a room for LGBT community members within a police station, but she believes that San Francisco’s planned program is the country’s most extensive yet.
In the coming months, liaisons for each police district station will be trained to assist members of the LGBT community who come to the police for help. Organizers plan to reach out to local businesses that would also like to display signs that designate them as an LGBT safe zone. The program comes in the wake of an incident in February in which two transgender individuals were assaulted in the Mission. Supporters of the safe zone initiative hope it will help LGBT community members to feel more comfortable reporting hate crimes to the police. Harassment and similar crimes targeted to the LGBT community are widely underreported, Leather said. The safe zone initiative is meant to boost the reporting rate and make crime statistics more accurate. The Latino transgender community is often a particular target of violence and discrimination, said District 9 Supervisor David Campos, who supports the new effort. “This is not the San Francisco Police Department of the 1970s,” said District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener. Some LGBT community members, however, still distrust the police, officials said. “What are they going to say to the police officer — I was out cruising when this [crime] happened?” Leather asked. Organizers said that with dedicated liaisons at each district station, they hope the answer to that question might eventually be yes.
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An independent analysis of soil from Treasure Island used samples taken from under a palm tree 50 feet from a classroom building where cesium-137 was kept, according to military archives. The chemical is said to increase the risk of cancer.
Nuclear Byproduct Levels on Treasure Island Higher Than Navy Disclosed Soil tests find cesium, linked to cancer risk, up to 3 times higher than previously acknowledged by Navy
and slated for development on Treasure Island contains elevated concentrations of cesium-137, a byproduct of nuclear fission associated with an increased risk of cancer, according to an independent analysis commissioned by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The findings, discovered through soil samples gathered by reporters and tested by two independent certified laboratories, appear to undermine some past statements by the U.S. Navy about the land’s historic uses and the present condition of the island. Results show cesium-137 levels up to three times of that previously acknowledged by the Navy and at least 60 percent higher than the Navy’s own thresholds for environmental safety. “The questions raised by your Story: Matt Smith testing should be fully vetted by the and Katharine Navy,” said Gary Butner, former chief Mieszkowski of the radiologic health branch at // Center for the California Department of Public Investigative Health, who was a state watchdog for Reporting the Treasure Island cleanup until he Photo: retired in 2011. “I just don’t have a Jonah Most sense there’s a strong commitment to // New America go and (clean) the site. They just don’t Media want to spend any money there.” Exposure to cesium-137 “can result in cancer risks much higher than typical environmental exposures,” according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The concentrations do not necessarily confirm a health hazard, according to Jan Beyea, a prominent nuclear physicist specializing in the health effects of low-level radiation. They are no greater than common contamination worldwide from 20th-century nuclear fallout. But, Beyea said, the unexpected finding should prompt a more thorough evaluation of the island for potentially hotter spots. “The fact that there is a level above standards is a clear mandate for further study and assessment of the extent of contamination and its origin,” Beyea wrote in an email, adding that more systematic testing is particu-
larly important given that public play areas are planned nearby. “Building a playfield is not an appropriate plan at this time,” he wrote, “given the tendency for little children to put things in their mouths.” The test results were shared with the Navy, the city of San Francisco and state departments of Public Health and Toxic Substances Control, requesting interviews with experts involved in the Treasure Island cleanup. All responded with statements. The Navy said the test results did not warrant action. “Such limited data taken out of context doesn’t provide much value in determining site conditions or making programmatic decisions,” wrote Keith Forman, the Navy’s Treasure Island cleanup coordinator. Michael Tymoff, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s Treasure Island development director, said the findings provide no reason for the city to take action. “The city has no basis to comment on the validity or accuracy of the tests,” he said. The Department of Public Health said it “does not comment on research conducted by others.” However, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, which oversees the Navy cleanup, said in a statement that it had to review the findings and would work with the health department “to determine what it means and where we go from here.” Butner and other state radiation specialists have for years complained in emails, reports and memos that the Navy has been reluctant to test for fission byproducts such as cesium-137 — despite a Cold War history suggesting the possibility of such contamination. Instead, the Navy has focused on radium-226, used for glow-in-the-dark ship deck markers and gauges commonly discarded at military bases during the mid-20th century. The distinction is significant: If Treasure Island were contaminated only with radium, that would be consistent with the former base’s public face as a way station and barracks for sailors on their way to the Pacific. Potential contamination by fission byproducts such as
cesium-137, however, points to possible aftereffects of Treasure Island’s more guarded history: host to radioactive ships from Bikini Atoll atomic tests and a major education center training personnel for nuclear war. Butner said the Navy didn’t look for all the waste that might have been left behind during the base’s Cold War years. “Instead of going out and surveying the ground for everything, they said, ‘OK, this is what we’re looking for, and we’re not looking for cesium, for thorium,’ ” he said. “The federal government’s motivation is to keep moving
“The fact that there is a level above standards is a clear mandate for further study and assessment of the extent of contamination and its origin.” forward and not ask many questions.” The Center for Investigative Reporting-commissioned findings bolster criticisms, contained in hundreds of pages of internal emails and memos from specialists at the state Department of Public Health, that accuse the Navy of failing to adequately inspect Treasure Island for radioactive waste and of perhaps minimizing its Cold War legacy to more swiftly sell off the former base. The Navy repeatedly has rebuffed health officials’ demands that Treasure Island be thoroughly vetted for radioactive contamination — a multimillion-dollar job — before it is made available for a planned high-rise development. The Navy stands to receive more than $100 million
from San Francisco for the base, provided the military performs a satisfactory cleanup of chemical and radioactive waste. Until the early 1990s, the Navy operated atomic warfare training academies on Treasure Island, using instruction materials and devices that included radioactive plutonium, cesium, tritium, cadmium, strontium, krypton and cobalt. These supplies were stored at various locations around the former base, including supply depots, classrooms and vaults, and in and around a mocked-up atomic warfare training ship — the USS Pandemonium. The current samples were taken from under a palm tree 50 feet from a classroom building where cesium-137 was kept, according to military archives. A 1974 radiation safety audit identified cesium samples used and stored there with radioactivity several times the amount necessary to injure or kill someone who mishandled them. In 1993, shipping manifests from the same building showed even greater amounts of cesium-137 taken away from the same site that year. Classroom materials aren’t the only potential source of the Treasure Island cesium-137 contamination, either. Treasure Island ran a salvage and repair operation during the Cold War years when the West Coast was crowded with ships crippled and made radioactive from atomic tests, according to documents in military archives. The base was opened for civilian use in 1996, including the leasing of former military housing to 2,000 civilians. Then in 2011, San Francisco approved plans for a 20,000-resident redevelopment project, estimated to cost $1.5 billion. As recently as March, state public health workers were unearthing new radiological contamination on Treasure Island. A crew spent about five days checking for radioactivity in publicly accessible areas, backyards and front yards in a section of the island where residents live. They found five locations with elevated radiation levels, according to Gonzalo Perez, chief of the department’s radiologic health branch.
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San Francisco Public Press, Summer 2013 || ABOUT US | CLIMATE | CIVICS | ECONOMY | GREEN || sfpublicpress.org || B5
Loss of Teams, Fans Hasn't Sunk America's Cup Hopes Despite trimmed expectations, officials say the major sailing event will bring jobs to San Francisco — just not as many
he America’s Cup may not turn out to be the benefit to San Francisco that city leaders and private boosters once promised. But the city’s economic development officials still say taxpayers can break even by hosting a scaled-back version of the boat race this summer. Buried deep in Mayor Ed Lee’s proposed city budget released on May 31 was $22 million directed toward planning, permitting, emergency, security and transit measures for the America’s Cup. Last October, when the Board of Supervisors approved up to $32 milStory: lion in city spending for the event, Miguel Sola // Public Press the supervisors boasted about the hundreds of millions of dollars in business it would bring for the tourist industry and the thousands of new jobs it would create. And they stressed that this would all be essentially free for taxpayers. Even with a tragic boating accident and economic troubles for the organizers threatening to reduce the economic rewards of the event, the city still intends to get the $22 million through private donations fund-raised by the America’s Cup Organizing Committee. However, only $15 million has been raised so far for the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, which is coordinating disbursal of funds for the competition, whose premier events run from July to September with venues up and down the Embarcadero. “Last Thursday, we received a $750,000 check, so the money is still coming in,” said Jane Sullivan, the office’s spokeswoman for the America’s Cup project. She did not identify the donor. If the balance of the fund-raising does not come through, the city’s taxpayers would have to make up the difference. “We are projecting $13 million in tax revenues resulting from these events, so if the fund-raising were to fall short, these revenues would make the general fund whole,” Sullivan said. “We expect a significant fund-raising increase by the time the race starts.” The original $32 million price tag for city services was based on a much grander vision that Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle and the sponsor of the world-class sailing event, was hoping for. His original event would have generated $1.4 billion in economic activity altogether, but it has been trimmed to $900 million. Back in the fall, Ellison was promising 15 competitors for the main race. Now the contenders have dropped down to four sailing teams. If anything else goes wrong, the whole event could fall apart, critics warn. Despite the setbacks, workforce development officials say the investment is worth it. Original projections were for 8,800 new jobs. Now they expect to create 6,500 jobs. Even if the city had to pay for all of the remaining expenses itself, without additional fund-raising, that would come out to $1,076 per job — a pretty good return on investment. Those gains, Sullivan said, will ripple through the local economy. “It will ultimately be beneficial for the Bay
The final beam went up on Pier 27 last summer. The site is part of the main pavilion for the America’s Cup race. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Dave6sf@yahoo.com. Area,” Sullivan said. But critical voices are becoming louder. District 11 Supervisor John Avalos said the event is too exclusive, and the benefits will mostly accrue to the event’s superrich organizers. “What was supposed to be a big regatta turned out to be three men in a tub,” Avalos said. “Ellison has created a monopoly that is difficult for other teams to take part in.”
One local organization, the Brightline Defense Project, said the event’s private management team has violated local hiring and prevailing wage laws. “The America’s Cup is the blueprint of how we, as a city, seek to attract major events and ensure local economic benefits,” said Josh Arce, Brightline’s executive director. “According to what we have seen in last year’s races, the America’s Cup may not be living up to the local hiring and union jobs commitments.”
If Ellison’s own Oracle Team USA wins the race again, the city would be obliged to negotiate with him if it wants to be the host city the next America’s Cup. This year’s races are set to begin July 4, with the final competition starting Sept. 7.
Errors Cast Doubt on Bank of America Foreclosures in Bay Area Despite stricter rules, mortgage industry is rife with mistakes, mismanagement and fraud, analysis finds
oji Thomas was desperate to save his home. The San Francisco mechanical engineer sold his car, tapped into his wife’s savings and begged friends for money. In July, to stave off foreclosure, he bought a $27,777.85 cashier’s check and mailed it to Bank of America. A bank representative acknowledged receiving the check two days later, Thomas said. But the payment went missing later that week and was not applied to his mortgage. Bank of America foreclosed on his home and sold Story: it at auction. He Matt Drange, moved out April Amy Julia 13. Harris & “I was forced Elizabeth Wagner into this,” he said // Center for as he cleared the Investigative furniture from Reporting his home. “I had no other choice.” Thomas is one of thousands of Bay Area homeowners fighting in court to save their homes from a foreclosure system rife with mistakes, mismanagement and even fraud, a joint investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting and NBC Bay Area has found. Despite recent settlements with state and federal regulators and a new California law that tightens rules for the mortgage industry, banks and their subsidiaries continue to file invalid documents and foreclose on properties to which they appear to have no legal right, an analysis of thousands of pages of property records and wrongful foreclosure lawsuits shows. At the center of much of this is Bank of America, which plays the largest role of any bank in Bay Area foreclosures. From July 2008 through October, Bank of America’s foreclosure trustee, ReconTrust, handled 1 in 5 defaulted properties in the Bay Area, roughly 70 percent more than the next biggest trustee, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate information company. During the past five years, 184,000 Bay Area properties went into default; last
year, the value of these loans exceeded $11.6 billion. Jay Patterson, a forensic accountant and certified fraud examiner in Arkansas; Ben Weber, who formerly worked for the city of San Francisco analyzing property records; and Marie McDonnell, a private auditor in Massachusetts, reviewed hundreds of loan documents and property records for this story. All three agreed there is evidence that Bank of America and its subsidiaries skirted proper procedures in foreclosure filings. These practices included lying on fraudulent loan transfers and altering dates on property records, which allowed Bank of America to initiate foreclosure and collect payments and fees for home loans it did not own. DOCUMENT TRAIL Patterson said an average homeowner looking through property records cannot tell if they are fraudulent; a public document that appears to transfer ownership of a mortgage can be fabricated. Patterson traced the true chain of ownership for mortgages, and found that in many cases banks were filing false documents. “Banks didn’t have them and were making them up to foreclose,” said Patterson, who serves as an expert witness for plaintiffs’ attorneys in wrongful foreclosure lawsuits. “Land records are supposed to be the true representation of who owns the land,” he said. “But what you’ve seen in the last 10 years is the bastardization of these records, and it might take another 100 years to straighten them out.” Bank of America spokeswoman Jumana Bauwens said the bank and its subsidiaries provide homeowners who ask with written proof that the bank has the right to foreclose. She also said its subsidiary ReconTrust does not falsify documents. She declined to answer questions about what appear to be improper foreclosures on home loans the bank did not own.
“ReconTrust has procedures in place and controls to ensure documents are executed and notarized in compliance with applicable laws and regulations,” Bauwens said. Bank of America issued a statement saying that it had made significant improvements to its foreclosure process since 2010 and had helped nearly 300,000 of its California customers avoid foreclosure. In its latest annual financial statement, Bank of America wrote off more than $3.2 billion in home loans. Dustin Hobbs, spokesman for the California Mortgage Bankers Association, a trade group that represents mortgage lenders and servicers, acknowledged errors on the part of California banks but said allegations of filing of false property records — including instances of robosigning, in which bank employees misrepresent themselves — have been exaggerated. “The question of who owns the loan or not, I think that’s been blown out of proportion,” Hobbs said. “There have been mistakes, but industry has made tangible, significant improvements over the last three or four years.” In an audit last year, then-San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting found apparent legal violations in 84 percent of foreclosures in the city between 2009 and 2011. These ranged from procedural defects, such as not alerting homeowners that they were in default, to significant breaches of the law, including transferring loans in which banks appeared to have no legal ownership right. BILL OF RIGHTS California’s Homeowner Bill of Rights, which took effect in January, prohibits banks from foreclosing on properties while loan modifications are pending and requires that banks assign a single point of contact for each borrower. But the law does not address one issue that is key to homeownership: ensuring that banks file legitimate property records.
Bank of America, along with the nation’s four other largest mortgage servicers — JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup and Ally Financial (formerly GMAC) — agreed last year to a $25 billion settlement with the federal government and 49 states’ attorneys general to resolve claims that the banks falsified mortgage documents and misled homeowners; the banks admitted no wrongdoing. As part of the settlement, Bank of America agreed to help eligible homeowners get loan modifications and not falsify documents. To execute a foreclosure, Bank of America relies on ReconTrust. Some states have taken legal action against the Simi Valley company, which Bank of America acquired in 2008 when it absorbed the lending giant Countrywide. In 2011, Nevada targeted Bank of America’s business model with a law prohibiting any company from serving as lender, trustee and servicer for a loan. The law also makes it a felony for a bank to make false representations about the ownership of a property. The same year, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna sued ReconTrust for filing false documents in thousands of foreclosure cases. The company agreed to pay $1.1 million and not file fraudulent documents. ReconTrust declined to answer questions about its business activity and referred all foreclosure questions to Bank of America. Bauwens, the Bank of America spokeswoman, said ReconTrust is subject to the same quality controls as all the bank’s subsidiaries. The filing of false property documents was exacerbated after 1997 when the banking industry created Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, or MERS, a private database that maintains information on roughly 26 million active mortgages nationwide. The registry has made it possible for banks and their subsidiaries to log mortgage transfers — and record property ownership —
with little oversight. Last year, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued the company that runs the registry and three banks — Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase — for deceiving homeowners by recording false documents in foreclosure proceedings. The suit alleges that MERS has designated thousands of “certifying officers” at ReconTrust and other companies with the authority to transfer loan ownership. FALSE REPORTING In addition to giving banks the opportunity to carry out wrongful foreclosures, false reporting of loan ownership in the industry database provides inaccurate information to investors. Adam Levitin, a law professor at Georgetown University and Harvard Law School who testified about improper foreclosures before Congress, said the filing of invalid property records threatens to derail the American economy. “Banks feel that they have the right to foreclose and the paperwork is superfluous,” said Levitin, who also has been hired by attorneys as an expert witness on mortgage securities. “If you actually probe this, it’s a complete mess. No one really knows who owns what.” Joji Thomas, the mechanical engineer, still can’t piece together the paper trail of his missing check. He took out a $411,200 loan in 2009 to buy his San Ramon house. He was making regular monthly payments of $1,796.40 a month. But in January 2012, Thomas realized the payment on his fixed-rate mortgage had jumped to $3,197.70. The bank gave him no explanation. He defaulted on his loan, and the bank threatened to sell his home, filing a notice of default in March. Thomas said a Bank of America representative told him that there were errors in its mortgage database and that he should keep paying the higher amount until the problem was fixed. But when Bank of America neglected to fix the problem,
Thomas hired an attorney. After sending his check for $27,777.85, Thomas said he spoke with a Bank of America customer relations manager in New York. She told him his payment had arrived but had been forwarded to the wrong department; she assured him the matter would be resolved. There is no indication the check was cashed; Thomas did not receive a refund. Thomas kept meticulous records and compiled binders full of loan documents. He made more than 100 phone calls to the bank between July and November, wrote to lawmakers pleading his case and filed complaints with state and federal agencies. On Dec. 17, Oakland-based real estate company RWW Properties bought his home at auction on the steps of the Contra Costa County courthouse in Martinez. “Somebody, somewhere knows what happened,” said Tom Purtell, Thomas’ attorney. “We’re just trying to figure out who.” Thomas filed for bankruptcy in March to postpone being evicted. But after a judge ruled that RWW Properties had a legal right to the home, Thomas and his family packed their belongings into a U-Haul and moved down the street. Thomas and his wife, Bindu, chose a house in the same neighborhood so their three children — ages 14, 11 and 9 — could attend the same schools. They now pay $4,000 a month in rent, roughly twice the original mortgage on their old house. Thomas is still trying to get Bank of America to refund his missing $27,777.85 cashier’s check. But even if Bank of America returns the money, Thomas said it won’t be enough. “The $27,000,” he said, “is nothing compared to what I lost here.”
Agustin Armendariz of the Center for Investigative Reporting and Stephen Stock of NBC Bay Area contributed to this story.
B6 || sfpublicpress.org || ABOUT US | CLIMATE | CIVICS | ECONOMY | GREEN || San Francisco Public Press, Summer 2013
Turning a Healthy Corner in the Bayview Residents planning to bring more nutritious fare to S.F. ‘food desert’
an Francisco is known as a mecca for conscious foodies — with organic farmers markets, gourmet food trucks, and six Whole Foods supermarkets within the seven-by-seven square-mile city limits. But this abundance doesn’t reach everyone. In a lot of lowStory: income areas, it Jen Chien can be difficult // KALW News Crosscurrents to find fresh and healthy food. The BayviewHunters Point neighborhood, for example, is known as a food desert. That’s a term that’s been coined to describe a neighborhood with low or no access to fresh or healthy food. Bayview-Hunters Point does have a few full-service grocery stores, but there are five times as many corner stores, most of which sell little or no fresh food. And there are consequences: Compared with other San Francisco districts, Bayview residents suffer from diet-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease at disproportionately high rates. There’s a growing movement to change those conditions, but not necessarily by building more grocery stores. Instead, reformers are meeting people where they already shop: at the corner store. Ford’s Grocery is a tiny place — just 38 by 22 feet — at the corner of Oakdale and Lane Streets. Kathy Ford, who runs the store, said her parents opened it in 1971. When her parents started the business, they sold a lot of fresh food — sandwiches, fruits, and fresh fish on Fridays. Ford took over from her parents about 15 years ago, but she said the demand for fresh food began to wane long before that, around the mid-1980s. The store’s heavy wooden shelves filled up with packaged snacks, the refrigerators held sodas
and beer, and a crowded rack of potato chips sat in the center of the space. This was around the time that crack cocaine came into the neighborhood. “That started the destruction of the family unit,” Ford said. “Families not cooking, and families relying on fast food.” But recently, there have been changes at the store: The old wooden shelves have been replaced with open, clean metal. And what’s on those shelves has changed, too. Fruits and vegetables now occupy an open display at the center of the store, and healthy items like whole wheat bread and 100 percent juice are on the shelves. The renovation of Ford’s Grocery is part of the Healthy Corner Stores project. It is an initiative of the nonprofit Southeast Food Access and is funded by a grant from Kaiser Permanente. The goal is to bring healthier food to residents of a neighborhood by collaborating with corner store owners to change their offerings. The nonprofit employs a small cadre of neighborhood residents, called the Food Guardians, to work on food and nutrition issues. They’re based in an office off busy Third Street, in the same building as a methadone clinic. Food Guardian Antonia Williams, who’s lived in the Bayview all her life, said problems with food access are intertwined with other issues in the neighborhood. For instance, with the fear of violence right outside some people’s doors, shopping for food comes down to what’s most convenient, not necessarily what’s healthy. “It’s kind of like, when you’re here and you’re facing those things, it doesn’t really go through your mind
in that moment like, I want a fresh apple,” she said. “It’s: ‘I’m hungry, my stomach [is] growling, I gotta get something to eat.’ So you’re gonna go get it at what you can get.” She said that’s why the Healthy Corner Stores project is important, because they’re trying to reach people who might not normally venture past the end of their block to get food. Working directly with corner stores means meeting residents where they already shop. So for the last two years, the Food Guardians have undertaken a survey of stores in the neighborhood. They developed a set of retail standards to evaluate each store’s offerings in areas including types of food, tobacco and alcohol sales, advertisements for junk food, fair labor and community investment. Based on how they scored, corner stores earned ratings from zero to three apples. This wasn’t a totally new thing for the neighborhood. From 2002 to 2009, a program called Good Neighbor also surveyed food access and worked with corner stores to bring in more fresh produce. Food Guardian coordinator Tracey Patterson says it was a good program, but that the changes didn’t always last. “For some of the stores, when the grant funds ended, they didn’t have the business sustainability to be able to continue to sell healthy foods,” she said. “They had the healthy foods placed there, and they sold them while they were there, but they weren’t able to continue to integrate it into their stores.” The Food Guardians also looked for inspiration in other cities — like Philadelphia, where in the past three years, more than 600 corner stores have added healthier food to their shelves. Learning from projects like that, the Food Guardians knew they needed to work closely with
Fresh produce is now being sold at Ford’s Grocery in Bayview. Photo by Southeast Food Access // Courtesy of KALW News. store owners to be sure they felt good about the changes. One of the ways they took care of storeowners’ needs was by bringing in food retail consultants Sutti Associates, who have worked with large chains like Whole Foods and Safeway. The consultants could help plan and implement healthy changes in a way that would also maximize an owner’s space and profit.
Sutti Associates came out to Kathy Ford’s store to help oversee the makeover of Ford’s Grocery. Ford said that was one of the things that helped soothe her worries about making such big changes. She also said she feels good about using her role as a businessperson to help facilitate positive changes in the community. She told the story of one little girl who came in recently and was
excited to see the ripe mangoes on display in the center of the store. The girl told her mom she wanted the mango instead of candy. “In a way, I see it as a change in the store, but also a change in attitude — about health, about the health of our children and the health of our neighbors,” Ford said.
Golden State Warriors' S.F. Arena Plan Is No Slam Dunk While backers say it will be a boon to waterfront, foes say it will be a drag on city services
he Golden State Warriors want to cross the bay and build a brand-new arena along the San Francisco waterfront. Supporters, including San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, have rolled out the welcome mat, but opponents say the arena will create an outsized eyesore along the city’s scenic shoreline. The proposed arena would be just south of the Bay Bridge. Supporters say it would enhance the Embarcadero and also provide a space the city currently lacks to host big concerts and conventions, along with basketball. KQED “Forum” Host Interview: Dave Iverson discussed the Dave Iverson proposed Warriors arena // KQED's with Rick Welts, president Forum and COO of the Golden State Warriors; Randy Shandobil, spokesman for the San Francisco Waterfront Alliance; Jennifer Matz, director of waterfront development for San Francisco; and Art Agnos, former mayor of San Francisco. This is a condensed transcript of their conversation.
It’s all financed privately. It has to be an extraordinary location to justify the type of private investment that’s going to happen. The entire park, if you really look at the plan, if you really take the time to look at the public spaces that have been created here completely around the perimeter — whether you want to bike, walk, jog — different elevations that allow you to get views of the waterfront in ways that we don’t have today on San Francisco Bay. Agnos:
All of the sugary rhetoric that we hear from the Warriors is not going to discount the fact that this is going to be a massive building, two football fields wide, one story shorter or lower than the AT&T Park, literally four-tenths of a mile away, bringing 2.2 million people on top of the 3 million people that the Giants already attract. Iverson:
You’re talking about over the course of the year.
I want to ask you each to describe the arena in one sentence, if you would. Rick Welts:
The arena’s only going to occupy 30 percent of a 13-acre site, but I’d say the arena itself will be a new architectural jewel for the city that will be another reason for people to come to the waterfront and enjoy our beautiful bay. Randy Shandobil:
I would say looking at the drawings, it looks nice, but the architecture doesn’t matter: It’s the wrong place. It could be the Taj Majal, and it would be the wrong place. On the bay is the wrong place. Jennifer Matz:
I think the arena will serve as a gathering place for residents and visitors, and will provide the ability to have views that are missing from our waterfront and will become quickly an iconic destination. Art Agnos:
I think what’s important for San Franciscans to realize is that this is an entertainment complex, a high-rise residential luxury facility. It is also a hotel and enough retail space to house most of the Fisherman’s Wharf restaurants in one place — 13 acres on the water — and across the street in a very important, delicate neighborhood. So the facility itself is really out of character for that part of San Francisco. We love the Warriors, but we want it somewhere else. Iverson:
Rick Welts, on the question of location, why should it be there? Welts:
We spent a lot of time taking a look at possible arena sites. The mayor isn’t quite accurate in terms of where that 13 acres is on the water side. The 2.5 acres where the hotel
The proposed San Francisco arena for the Golden State Warriors basketball team would be located on Piers 30-32. The latest design by two architecture firms shows a circular building with glazing around the facade, designed to give visitors a view from outside. Illustration courtesy of Golden State Warriors // AECOM and Snøhetta.
and the residential project will be is on the other side of the Embarcadero. One of the things that really compelled us to this site is its access to public transportation. We are great admirers of AT&T Park and what the Giants have accomplished, and what that’s meant for the city. Their ballpark is 50 feet from King Street on the waterfront. This arena is set back hundreds of feet from the Embarcadero and is not as tall as AT&T Park. But the site itself, its proximity to the Financial District, its walking distance from BART, its walking distance from Muni, really give us the opportunity to create something that is very special, something that every great city has. It’s amazing that San Francisco in its history has never had a world-class multipurpose arena. And the greatest ones are in the most dense urban areas with close proximity to the business district. Iverson:
Randy Shandobil, on the AT&T comparison, which often comes up, what’s right or not about what Rick Welts is saying? If it was right to do it for baseball, why is it wrong to do it for basketball? Shandobil:
Well, first of all, AT&T was not built on the water. That is on the land near the water, and it’s at an inlet: It’s not on the bay next to the Bay Bridge. And the Giants took many, many years: They took their time. They didn’t go through something like AB1273 to kind of short-circuit the process. Mr. Welts said it’s on the waterfront. No, the arena would be on the water, on piers.
That is unprecedented, to put a 12-story building on the water. Yes, AT&T Park is a success, and it had its doubters at the beginning, but it’s not the same at all. Iverson:
I just want to stay with Randy Shandobil’s point that it’s unprecedented to build on the water. Respond to that, Jennifer Matz, about why the city would be interested in having a very large structure on the water, right in front of the Bay Bridge.
site for over 20 years, and it’s a piece of the waterfront that is more than suitable for 21st century world-class development. The issues around process, I think, are really being misstated. This is about a five-year planning, development, and implementation process. And I think that the 10-year process that the Giants went through — from a public servant perspective — actually shameful. It’s important to bring these public benefits to our residents and our visitors in a timely and thoughtful fashion. Iverson:
What I think it’s important for listeners to know is that this is a failed development site. There was a previously approved plan to build a cruise-ship terminal, 300,000 square feet of private office and 425 parking spaces on this site, which was approved through state legislation, through regional regulatory agencies, through the Board of Supervisors, and all of the city process. That project was not built because it was deemed to be financially infeasible. There was very little open space and very little opportunity for the public to use that space, other than embarking and disembarking off of cruise ships. Iverson:
Well I suspect the opposition would say, “Just because that didn’t work, it doesn’t mean we should do this.” That it was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.
I just want to stay one more moment on the question Randy raised about it being unprecedented to have this large structure, Rick Welts, on the water itself. Why do that? And won’t that detract from what is now this lovely open space where you can walk along the Embarcadero Promenade and take in the vista? Welts:
The problem is, the public can’t enjoy this 13 acres of open space, because it’s behind a chain-link fence right now and falling into the bay. What this project does is give all citizens of the Bay Area a new 6.5-plus-acre park, a public space, and give that back to the citizens of San Francisco who can’t enjoy it today because it’s not safe. Agnos:
They temporarily can’t enjoy it because it’s not safe.
This site has been deemed a development
Over the year, that’s right. And 70 percent of them come from outside the city, which is going to demand the transit. But the massive size of this facility can only be financed by the high-rise luxury housing across the street in this lot, as well as the two-story, 200-room hotel. Now, if the port wants to put that out to bid, I think they can get a lot of financing, and they will finance a development picked by the people of San Francisco, not the billionaires who own the Warriors. Iverson:
Let’s talk about the transit part of this, because you were suggesting, Rick Welts, of the Warriors, that that was a key attractive point of this, that it would take advantage of the existing public transit system. Welts:
One thing, I think, that we’re going to look back and say when this project is successful, is this project a catalyst for the city to really re-evaluate the entire public-transportation infrastructure around the waterfront. That’s indeed what the mayor [Ed Lee] has assigned Peter Albert of the MTA to do right now, to come up with a comprehensive plan to really give the waterfront the public transportation infrastructure that it needs. Iverson:
So that much more will have to be done. This can’t function unless we build out our public transportation. Welts:
We think more should happen. The Warriors have said all along, we are as focused on public transportation as anybody because, for this site to work the way we want it to work, we have to have the transportation down right.
San Francisco Public Press, Summer 2013 || ABOUT US | CLIMATE | CIVICS | ECONOMY | GREEN || sfpublicpress.org || B7
On the Watch at Mount Tamalpais Fire Tower Dry conditions require dozens of volunteer fire watchers to scan the Bay Area for blazes before they get out of hand
ALW News reporter Julie Caine visited a fire lookout tower perched atop Mount Tampalpais. After a dry winter, fire danger is high this summer and the volunteer fire spotters on duty at lookouts that ring the Bay Area have an important role in getting resources Story: quickly to the scene of Julie Caine potentially devastating // KALW News wildfires. This is an edited version of the original radio report. To hear the story and see a video, go to http://www.kalw.org/post/ audiograph-mt-tamalpais-fire-tower. During this dry season, as many as 50 volunteer fire watchers take shifts in outposts located high above San Francisco Bay. For instance, at the top of Mount Tamalpais is a little shack. It’s called the Gardner Lookout, and it’s one of two fire lookout towers in Marin County. The fire watchers spend days and nights using old brass instruments, maps, a two-way radio and a box of dog-eared 3x5 notecards to watch over you from a room with windows instead of walls, looking for smoke in an uninterrupted, 360-degree view of the Bay Area. Fire spotters have been working in the lookout since the 1930s. They’ve spotted fires in Larkspur, in Hicks Valley, and in 2012, a fire watch volunteer saw the giant plumes of smoke from the San Bruno pipeline explosion. Up this high, above the fog line, there aren’t houses or corner stores or office towers. “So you take your own food, but there’s plenty of water up there,” said Gary Yost, a fire watch volunteer at the Gardner Lookout. Besides the parking lot and the lookout, the only other man-made structures that can be seen are an array of antennae and satellite dishes, and a white dome on a peak
in the near distance. “That’s microwave communications for cell phone companies and TV and radio stations, and corporate data networks,” Yost said. “High-speed Internet stuff. And then that’s the FAA radar, from the Federal Air Traffic Control. The Air Force uses that, too.” It makes a digital chatter — something that can be heard through headphones. What’s so special about this place is not just what you can hear, it’s what you can see. This is one of the best places in the Bay Area to spot fires. The lookout building is a rugged tower — built of stone and wood, and ringed by a catwalk protected from intruders by rolls of gleaming razorwire. “And it’s solid,” Yost said. “This door weighs 300 pounds. And the rock is two to three feet thick.” That’s to keep it from burning in a fire. Inside, in the base of the lookout, are shelves of supplies, a refrigerator, a shower stall. And a steep, narrow staircase with a warning sign that says, ‘Danger, climbing can cause severe injury.’ “I don’t think it’s the climbing that causes the injury, though,” Yost joked. “It’s the falling part.” We climb the ladder, and emerge into what Yost calls “the nicest room in the SF Bay Area.” It’s breathtaking. On a clear day, you can see as far as 60 or 70 miles in all directions. “So you’re looking for a column of smoke,” Yost said. “That’s all you’re looking for is a column of smoke.” The fire watchers are the first to spot one or two fires every year. They also monitor the fires and keep firefighters updated on how well containment efforts are working. To do that, first they have to figure out exactly where the fire is by using a device called the Osborn Fire Finder. The finder is a brass measuring device
that looks like it could be a navigational instrument on an old sailing ship. It rotates above a circular map of the Bay Area — kind of like a flattened globe — perched on a tall tabletop at the center of the room. “It’ll tell you pretty much where on the vertical the fire is, and you put your eye in this little teeny tiny hole,” Yost explained. “I mean this hole is probably a 32nd of an inch across, and you line up one of those two crosshairs on the other side with the smoke, and you rotate the whole unit, which rotates very smoothly along a 360-degree marked base.” Once the volunteer gets the fire’s coordinates, he flips through “this really hightech, 3x5 file. And we can see that there are these little landmarks that are listed on each one of these three by five cards,” Yost said. The cards are well-worn — some are typed, some are written in pen. They match up coordinates with landmarks. Once they pinpoint the fire’s location, the volunteers call it in on the two-way radio that is always on, chattering in the background. During the day, the volunteers have lots of company. The summit of Mount Tamalpias is a popular spot — people come for that spectacular view. After dark and early in the morning, though, the volunteers have the mountain top all to themselves. “The sunrise up here starts real early in the summer,” Yost said. “Four o’clock you can start to see light coming into the sky. And it lasts a long time. Maybe a two-hour sunrise. … And there’s all sorts of amazing visual effects that the rising sun has on the fog. If the fog is really, really deep, you don’t see any of the lights of the Bay Area, but then the stars pop out like nobody ever sees the stars. The stars are as bright as the stars in the middle of the desert.”
Gary Yost is one of the volunteers who keep watch for fires at the Gardner Lookout, below, perched atop Mount Tamalpais. Photo above by Julie Caine // KALW News. All other photos courtesy of Gary Yost.
With a commanding view of the Bay Area, fire watchers use a device called the Osborn Fire Finder, at left, to figure out the location of a blaze and report it via radio.
B8 || sfpublicpress.org || ABOUT US | CLIMATE | CIVICS | ECONOMY | GREEN || San Francisco Public Press, Summer 2013
Underground Leaks Spoiling Alamo Square’s Vistas San Francisco needs to replace popular park’s failing waterworks
n the shadow of the pictureperfect Painted Ladies, Alamo Square is often taken as little more than a hillside for gawk-
ers. Tourists usually come to the park to look outside of it. But San Francisco officials are hoping to change that perspective as they embark on one of the largest restoration projects ever planned for the park since Story and its 1857 origins. Photo: “We want to Dhyana Levey turn the tide // Bay Nature and make sure the view into the park is as beautiful as the view out,” said Steve Cismowski, a San Francisco Recreation and Park Department neighborhood service area manager. The aim is to restore Alamo Square’s vintage, turn-of-the-century look, and to do so, the city needs to replace a failing irrigation system with a new one. Ballpark cost: $2.3 million. April Sinclair, a spokeswoman with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which is partnering with the parks department on the irrigation project, said the new system could save nearly 3.3 mil-
“There’s an interest in keeping it feeling like a park that has been around for over 100 years, which it has.” lion gallons of water per year — 37 percent of its current usage. The utilities commission, which manages San Francisco’s water, designated Alamo Square a “high water usage park” along with Balboa Park, Alta Plaza and Jefferson Square Park, which have all completed similar projects. A typical irrigation system should last at most 20 years, and Alamo Square’s hasn’t been touched for more than 40, Cismowski said.
Signs that something must be done are apparent. On one of the park’s paths, where wind-blown willows, palms and cypress trees tower above, a square of plywood and construction tape covers what park officials consider evidence of yet another underground break in the irrigation system’s main line. The public has been kept out of numerous leaky areas until they could be patched up, or otherwise repaired. But one curious side note to the irrigation project is the park’s history. Apparently, the water bubbling up could be, in part, from underground natural springs which trickle throughout the park, said Joel Pomerantz, a natural history educator in San Francisco who studies city watersheds and leads walking tours for his brainchild Thinkwalks. Pomerantz doesn’t have any maps chronicling the springs’ history, but he said early development of the park and its high water content point to the existence of springs. Alamo Square was created on top of sand dunes in the 1850s, but the 260-foot-high hill that the park sits upon includes more than just sand, Pomerantz said. It also has serpentine rock, which is commonly found by springs. “Here at the top of the hill, the springs are visible,” he said, pointing to trickles of water running into stone gutters and drains throughout the park. “The stone gutters and 29 drains make it clear that this park was designed for springs. They wouldn’t have been constructed if there wasn’t natural water present.” The park was even named after a tree that requires much water — more than a mere sprinkler system can provide — to grow and thrive, Pomerantz said. ‘Alamo’ means ‘poplar tree’ in Spanish, and in the early 1800s, the lone cottonwood on Alamo Hill marked a watering hole along the horseback trail from Mission Dolores to the Presidio, according to the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association website. Mayor James Van Ness set aside 12.7 acres around the hole in 1856, naming it Alamo Square. It was confirmed by the state legislature the following year as a
San Francisco’s parks department is hoping a new irrigation system will stop underground water leaks plaguing Alamo Square. The existing system, more than 40 years old, would be replaced by a modern one that would save nearly 3.3 million gallons of water a year. But the price tag is steep — an estimated $2.3 million.
public park. Cismowski agreed he’s heard of original springs in the area that might have been used as a watering hole for livestock before the spot was designated parkland. But, he added, he’s never seen any hard evidence of springs actually being there. “It seems odd that there would be springs coming out of the top of a hill,” he said. “It happens. But I’m more suspect that what is probably right is that there are underground leaks in the irrigation system that we are unaware of.” Although ancient springs are not on the city’s radar during this irrigation project, park officials are con-
cerned with preserving the cultural history of the park as they complete their work. The land is filled with an old growth of trees whose deep roots make underground renovations tricky. “It would be one thing if we were starting completely fresh, with a completely new park landscape; it would be a lot easier to lay out the irrigation,” Cismowski said. “But any time we have a tree root concern, it’s imperative that you trench around it. We want to minimize the damage to the existing tree canopy and also provide for even coverage on the ground plain.”
Many of these trees are foreign varieties that were brought in during the Victorian era, when the ideal for garden landscaping was imported, exotic species. An attractive crop of palm trees from the Canary Islands can still be found within the park’s forest, along with Italian poplars and Australian eucalyptus. While there is habitat value from having a mature stand of trees, their exotic nature creates an artificial environment that can be difficult to sustain in San Francisco. However, park officials are determined to maintain the area by importing water, nutrients and other necessities to keep its vintage look intact.
Even the pathway layout of the park demonstrates a turn-of-thecentury design that the city does not want to disrupt during renovations. “There’s an interest in keeping it feeling like a park that has been around for over 100 years, which it has,” Cismowski said. “It’s not like we can realign pathways significantly or change grades or modify the park in any significant way in that regard. After the irrigation project, it needs to look and feel like Alamo Square Park.”
want to make sure we have a level playing field, so we aren’t overburdened.” While there is new signage denoting particularly sensitive areas — like snowy plover resting spaces or newly planted native dune scrub — as well as some trails that outright ban dogs, they serve more as suggestions than strident rules. “As it stands, dog policies are the same as they have been since 1979,” said Alexandra Picavet, a recreation area spokeswoman. “It’s hard to say right now how many people are ‘breaking the laws’ in regard to having dogs in the Presidio. So, for the Trust to uphold city policy is a step towards controlling misuse.” Even for well-intentioned dog walkers, two sets of rules at the Presidio could be tricky to follow. How do you know whether you’re on
Presidio Trust land versus recreation area land? There is no demarcation. “It’s hard for people to understand where the rules intersect within the Presidio,” Picavet said. “We don’t want to confuse people about what we are trying to do.” But some people are confused, and remain unconvinced that any proposed “dog management plan” in the park sufficiently protects its natural areas. “It’s a national park, and the activity is not for the benefit of park users,” Brastow said. “It’s exploitation of public land — as opposed to other controversial things in the park like a café, where people are actually going and enjoying themselves — this is ecological impact on a natural area.”
Do the Presidio’s New Dog Walking Rules Go Far Enough? Environmentalists worry about effect on park’s sensitive habitat
t’s well known that San Francisco is a city of dog owners. And since few urbanites have yards or the time to adequately exercise their pets, someone has to (so to speak) let the dogs out. Professional dog walkers make their moolah off pent-up pooches. Story: San Francisco’s Heather Mack decision to // Bay Nature restrict the enterprise starting this summer went through without a hitch, but the same cannot be said for the federally owned Presidio, which is adopting the city’s commercial dog walking rules. A group of environmentalists says the rules don’t go far enough to protect the park’s sensitive habitat and are calling for severely restricting commercial dog walking in the Presidio.
“What’s happening right now is rampant chaos and anarchy as far as pet usage of the park,” said Peter Brastow, founding director of Nature in the City. “Addressing this is at the top of our agenda right now.” Brastow is part of the Presidio Environmental Council, an ad hoc conservation group that collaborates on issues as they arise. Members come from a variety of environmental groups, including Nature in the City, the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society. The groups say that the Presidio, with its ample open space and rich biodiversity of native plants and animals, is no place for romping dogs. “This basically legitimizes the commercial practice as opposed to asking whether it is a good thing or not,” Brastow said. Not so fast, say folks at the
Presidio Trust, the managers of the Presidio. Trust spokesman Joshua Steinberger said the decision to implement city rules was meant to prevent an influx of dog walkers looking to skirt the city’s rules. “It’s a misunderstanding that our proposal invites more commercial dog walking into the Presidio,” Steinberger said. “Our concern is that when the city puts their regulation into effect, if we remain unregulated, there will be an incentive to come here.” The trust plans to begin enforcing the new regulations when the city does in July. Once implemented, commercial dog walkers — anyone walking four or more dogs at a time — will be required to carry registration and limit the number of dogs to a maximum of eight per walker. Violators are subject to a citation.
For the Presidio Trust, protecting the 1,500-acre park from excess dog walking is a complicated matter. The trust doesn’t control all the parkland in the Presidio. A good chunk of it is under the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a federal agency that controls most of the beaches along the San Francisco shoreline (and western Marin). The recreation area has for years been trying to further restrict commercial and recreational dog walking, but its latest attempt has been delayed due to an outpouring of public comment and the acquisition of new park land in San Mateo County. That’s left the trust in limbo waiting for recreation area rules to go through. “This is something we took upon ourselves as a sort of stop-gap solution,” said Steinberger of the decision to adopt the city’s rules. “We
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By: Andrea Carla Michaels // Public Press
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