The Bay Area will be spewing an additional 1.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2040 if opponents of a new long-range land-use blueprint for the Bay Area get their way.
That estimate -- the equivalent of burning 20,456 tanker trucks of gasoline or 6,664 rail cars of coal -- comes from the environmental impact report for Plan Bay Area, a long-range housing blueprint that has ignited controversy in Marin.
A collaboration of four regional government agencies, Plan Bay Area was developed as a response to the California Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, which requires each of the state's 18 metropolitan areas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks.
The plan has sparked debate across Marin, with a coalition of neighborhood groups calling itself Citizen Marin opposing it and another group of residents, Concerned Marinites to End NIMBYism, defending the plan. The debate has heated up as an environmental impact report on the 40-year plan has circulated for public discussion. The impact report includes four alternatives to the Plan Bay Area scenario, and opponents of the plan have called for adoption of the "no project" alternative.
Susan Kirsch of Mill Valley, a Citizen Marin co-founder, said she supports the "no project" alternative because she believes Plan Bay Area offers "an insignificant amount of improvement over what would happen if we went with 'no project.'" She also questions the veracity of the numbers in the impact report.
"I think the assumptions and numbers we've been fed almost from the beginning have questionable elements to them," Kirsch said.
But Anthony Barnosky, a University of California, Berkeley professor of integrative biology, said, "We absolutely have to do everything we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
Barnosky was lead author of a scientific paper last year warning that the Earth is approaching a tipping point beyond which the planet's climate and biodiversity will be radically and unalterably changed. On Thursday, 500 of the world's top global change scientists, including Barnosky, released a 30-page statement titled "Maintaining Humanity's Life Support Systems in the 21st Century."
Stephen Palumbi, one of the statement's 16 main authors, a professor of biological sciences at Stanford University, said, "In 30 years there are a few things that people will credit us for doing now, or bemoan our failure if we don't. Grappling with climate change, and stopping it, is the best gift we can give the future, because unstopped it will crack our society and impoverish our children."
Under the "no project" alternative, no new regional policies would be implemented in order to influence local land use patterns and no uncommitted transportation investments would be made. According to an analysis in the environmental impact report, the Bay Area would be producing about 42.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually by 2040 if the "no project" alternative is adopted. That compares with 41.3 million metric tons annually by 2040 if the Plan Bay Area scenario is approved.
The impact report contains two alternatives that would reduce the Bay Area's greenhouse gas production even more than the alternative preferred by Plan Bay Area. The scenario with the lowest greenhouse gas production has been dubbed the "environmental, equity and jobs" alternative. Language in the impact report minimizes the benefits of this alternative, however, stating that it "would result in the lowest level of environmental impacts, but only marginally lower," than the Plan Bay Area scenario.
Alex Karner, a researcher at UC Davis's Center for Regional Change, compared the "environmental, equity and jobs" alternative to the Plan Bay Area preferred alternative at the behest of Public Advocates, one of the environmental groups that lobbied for inclusion of the scenario in the impact report.
"Part of our work was to show that the marginal differences that they calculate in terms of percentages can actually be quite large when you multiply them out and look at the total numbers," Karner said.
Compared with the Plan Bay Area scenario, the "environment, equity and jobs" alternative would reduce the Bay Area's annual carbon dioxide production by another 568,000 metric tons per year -- the equivalent of 7,491 tanker trucks of gasoline or 2,440 rail cars of coal.
One of the principal criticisms of Plan Bay Area has been that it would foster high-density apartment developments that will damage Marin's pristine natural environment and small-town character. The "environment, equity and jobs" alternative would seek to maximize affordable housing in job-rich, urban and suburban areas through incentives and housing subsidies.
"I don't like it any better," said Kirsch, who objects to plans to coordinate Plan Bay Area with state laws requiring cities and counties to adjust their zoning laws to foster development of minimum amounts of new affordable and market-rate housing.
But Barnosky said, "There is no local anymore. Everything we do has global implications and everything that we rely on comes from far outside where we live. We have to start thinking globally."
Suburban growth in the "environment, equity and jobs" alternative would be supported by increased transit service to historically disadvantaged communities. The beefed-up transit service would be paid for with higher bridge tolls and a new "vehicle miles traveled," or VMT, tax.
Kirsch said, "It feels like these are Draconian measures."
The environmental impact report identifies this approach as the "environmentally superior alternative" due to its reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air contaminants. The impact report also notes, however, that implementation of the VMT tax may prove unfeasible because it "may require approval by a two-thirds supermajority of the Legislature." And the report states that this alternative "assumes residential growth at levels that some local jurisdictions may be unlikely to implement."
But Richard Marcantonio, managing attorney at Public Advocates in San Francisco, said, "The 'environmental, equity and jobs' alternative demonstrates that when you increase funding for transit service, you get a better Bay Area all around -- less traffic, less emissions, improved public health. The point isn't that more transit funding has to come from a carbon or VMT fee. But it has to come from somewhere, and we as a region need urgently to have that discussion."
Under the Plan Bay Area preferred alternative, 80 percent of housing growth and 66 percent of job growth over the next 37 years would be channeled into 170 "priority development areas," scattered throughout the Bay Area. These "PDA's" have been identified voluntarily by cities or counties as areas for future growth. They typically provide access to mass transit, jobs, shopping and other services. Cities and counties would be rewarded with grant money if they adopt zoning policies in their PDAs that make higher-density projects possible.
It is assumed that about 60 percent of the reduction in carbon dioxide caused by cars and light trucks achieved under this approach by 2035 would result from encouraging housing and job growth closer to mass transit; the other 40 percent would be achieved by spending $640 million to encourage car sharing and implement other transportation climate initiatives, said Michele Rodriguez, a former principal planner with the county of Marin.
Carolyn Clevenger, a policy analyst with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said, "It's an important part of the proposed plan that we invest in programs that reduce greenhouse gases. If you go with the 'no project,' you wouldn't be investing in any of these programs."
Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org ___