Pleasanton Weekly

Column - August 19, 2011

Greenest city in California?

by Jeb Bing

A few years ago, mention of parking meters downtown or rules requiring homeowners to install triple-pane windows before selling their homes would have council members shaking their heads before quickly moving on to other less sensitive issues. But times have changed and everything's in play as Pleasanton moves to meet tough new state and federal requirements on a myriad of issues concerning energy conservation, land use, the air we breathe and the kinds of cars we drive, even the types of toilets we can install in our homes. The once-sacred Prop. 13 is being challenged by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who wants to cancel that benefit, at least for business properties as a starter.

Pleasanton Operations Director Daniel Smith, who mentioned pay-for-parking and home retrofits at Tuesday's council meeting, quickly added that those aren't part of his new Citizens Climate Action Plan that the City Council reviewed and then approved in a 5-0 vote. But the plan does contain numerous goals and requirements that will affect all of us in the not-too-distant future, using terms as climate change, carbon footprints, greenhouse gases and sustainability. While pay-for-parking to discourage driving the family car to nearby shops is not part of the plan, some on the council indicated they would pay (e.g., taxpayers' dollars) to add more Wheels buses to canvass the city for riders.

Clearly, a long-sought effort by the Pleasanton Downtown Association to build parking garages downtown seems now to be an endangered species, along with the polar bears CAP-type programs hope to spare. In fact, polar bears brought the only opposition to the Pleasanton CAP from David Miller, a self-professed Tea Party supporter. He countered Smith's chart showing 400,000 years of periodic climate changes until now by showing his own data from the 1960s and beyond about "imminent" melt-downs of the polar ice caps, overpopulation and the dying-out polar bears, whose population he says has now rebounded.

If there were any surprises in Tuesday's public hearing, they were the all-out support, except by Miller, for the climate plan that includes the statement: "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level." Smith, a believer, spent more than an hour Tuesday showing how water availability (his No. 1 concern) and other commodities and lifestyle comforts we take for granted are threatened unless cities such as ours take action. He noted the extreme heat this month in southwest Texas, 11 inches of rain this week in New York, and said we could be next despite a pleasant couple of years with better than average rainfall and reasonable temperatures. "We're at the tipping point," he warned, in urging council approval.

No one's sure just how personal habits and lifestyles will change as a result of the Climate Action Plan. Dave Stark, a vice president at the Bay East Association of Realtors and former Housing Commissioner, said he and his wife, to reduce water usage, ripped out their front lawn and replaced it with an architect-designed yard that requires no water -- and has no grass. It's not clear how prospective buyers would view grass-less front yards, but perhaps if everyone did the same, they'd have no choice.

Assembly Bill 32, which mandates that cities enact CAP measures, uses 2005 as a baseline for energy conservation and other climate goals, and goes even farther. Cities must target their 2020 emission, as the new Pleasanton CAP does, at 15% below 2005 levels. That means that whatever you were driving or wherever you were traveling in 2005, you'll have to make do with 15% less nine years from now.

Garbage will take a hit, too. Pleasanton now recycles about 73% of its waste; Smith wants that to go to 90% by 2025. The CAP uses a baseline of water consumption from 1996 to 2005, equivalent to 244 per capita gallons of water used per day. CAP tells us to reduce that by 20% by 2020.

In response to Councilman Jerry Thorne's support of the CAP as a way to make Pleasanton the greenest city in California, Smith said: "That's our goal."

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