Thursday, March 31, 2005

Thinking of an elephant to avoid the death of environmentalism

Two documents have created a great deal of ruckus in the liberal political community and in the environmental community: Don't Think of An Elephant, by George Lakoff, and The Death of Environmentalism, by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger.

Lakoff argues in Don't Think of an Elephant that liberal/progressives have failed to articulate a compelling overall framework that unites their varied constituencies (including environmentalism as belonging to the left), even though an overall psychological framework exists. He criticizes the varied groups for focusing on technocratic solutions to their various problems, and failing to work together.

Meanwhile, Death of Environmentalism argues the environmental movement has been inadequately successful in recent years, and argues that is because the movement has focused on technocratic solutions to environmental problems. The authors state that instead the movement should focus on developing alliances with a broader "progressive" constituency.

Here at the non-partisan, strongly environmental Committee for Green Foothills, we might look at things a little differently.

First, as Mark Schmitt (no relation) argues in "Death and Resurrection", many other movements would deeply envy the supposed underperformance of the environmental movement, with its wide base of support in the public, academia, and in funding instutions. Schmitt points out that wide base of support extends across the political spectrum to include "real Republicans". Ken Ward builds from this point in "Response to 'Death': Part II" in questioning Lakoff's assertion that environmentalism is just a subsidiary part of the partisan left political framework. Ward suggests that environmentalism can be an entirely different framework from that of the left-right partisan split. Given the support for environmentalism among Republicans, including religious conservatives and neo-conservatives, Ward has a point.

This does not mean rejecting everything that Lakoff, Nordhaus, and Shellenberger have said. Building coalitions can be a great way to advance the environmental agenda. We just don't have to limit ourselves to one side of the political spectrum.


Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Green Footnotes article republished by Morgan Hill Times

The Morgan Hill Times contacted us and asked permission to republish our Coyote Valley piece in the latest Green Footnotes as an Op-Ed, which we were very happy to do. It's great to get the extra attention.

The republished article is here, while the original is here.


More quarry issues

We've been dealing with problems at the Hanson Quarry, but it's only one of several active quarries in Santa Clara County.

Below is our comment letter on an EIR that would expand the Lexington Quarry. Some of the same issues involving a massive industrial project in a pristine area arise at Lexington as well as Hanson. It's also another example of cooperating with concerned neighbors.


March 25, 2005

Rob Eastwood
Santa Clara County Planning Office
70 West Hedding St., 7th Floor East Wing
San Jose CA 95110


Dear Rob,

The Committee for Green Foothills submits these comments regarding the Lexington Quarry Expansion Project Draft Environmental Impact Report. CGF generally supports the concerns and critiques that the Los Gatos Hillside Preservation League (League) has regarding the DEIR, and we refer you to the League’s forthcoming comment letter for the specifics of their concerns. The League’s concerns indicate flaws in the DEIR that make it an inadequate basis for proceeding with project approval. We wish to emphasize the following points:

· The County failed to consider that existing impacts from the quarry will end earlier without the Project than will be the case if the County approves the Project. In City of Santee v. County of San Diego ((1989) 214 Cal.App.3d 1438), California courts found inadequate an EIR that failed to consider the future effects of a “temporary” project. Many of the impacts from the currently operating quarry are similarly temporary – expanding the quarry is extending those impacts into the future. Failing to consider the future extension of the quarry’s noise, dust, and other impacts similarly makes this DEIR inadequate.

· We share the League’s concern that the County clearly articulate its own objectives in deciding whether to approve this Project. The DEIR states the applicant’s objectives without indicating whether the County accepts or rejects these objectives. DEIR at 30. The lack of clarity resurfaces in the Alternatives Analysis, where a conclusion refers to an alternative’s failure to meet the applicant’s objectives of making money as quickly as possible. DEIR at 161. If this objective is not the County’s objective, then it is no more relevant than an environmentalist objective - like eliminating all impacts from the quarry as soon as possible and converting the property to private or public open space.

· The DEIR’s Land Use analysis rewards the applicant for its past illegal behavior by emphasizing that the quarry’s permit violations constituted the most noticeable past impact from the quarry. DEIR at 66. No one questions that permit violations had even worse adverse impacts, but that is not the relevant question for the DEIR. Had the quarry not violated its permit, the DEIR would be forced to focus on the operating effects of the quarry in the past and whether those effects are incompatible with surrounding land uses.

· The DEIR states that operation during “proposed normal operating hours” would not result in “new, significant land use compatibility impacts”. DEIR at 66. This analysis ignores the City of Santee requirement that future extension of otherwise temporary impacts be analyzed. The present incompatibility would end sooner without the Project, and this difference was not analyzed in the DEIR.

· In addition to extending the Quarry’s impacts into the future, the DEIR notes expanded operating hours will occur on weekends and evenings. DEIR at 66. The next sentence reads, “While these activities could annoy residents in this relatively quite rural area, they would not constitute a significant land use compatibility impact.” Id. This sentence is a conclusion, not an analysis. Why is the extended operation merely “annoying” and not incompatible with surrounding land uses? CEQA requires substantial evidence in support of the agency’s conclusion, and the DEIR offers no evidence that the extended operation has insignificant impacts. CEQA also requires the DEIR demonstrate the “analytic route” that the agency takes in making its conclusion. Sierra Club v. California Coastal Comm’n. (1993) 19 Cal.App.4th 547, 556-557. Again, no analysis has been presented. Given that more than one out of four previously quiet Saturdays will be noisy, and that half of the active evening hours of 6 to 10 p.m. will now be noisy, the evidence indicates an incompatible use.

· The DEIR’s Erosion and Sedimentation analysis states that “Timing for planned removal of the rockfall protection fence will be included in the monitoring schedule in the Final Reclamation Plan.” DEIR at 123. The DEIR gives no indication of why it can ever be removed. The DEIR should clarify that the fence may need to be permanent and sufficient mitigation funding included for the fence’s upkeep and replacement.

· The DEIR at pages 94-95 mentions a landslide eroding into the creek that may have resulted from the quarry activities. If it is from the quarry, it is an ongoing violation of state and federal law, and the DEIR should address whether the Project will affect the slide, as well as what steps have been taken to enforce the law.

· A feasible impact from noise impacts includes the use of flashing lights instead of backup beepers under low-light conditions. The Hanson Permanente Quarry makes use of this mitigation, so it should also be applied to the Project. A significant fraction of the work at the Project site will occur under low-light conditions, especially with extended operating hours and especially in the wintertime. The Project should include this mitigation currently by a nearby quarry.

· The DEIR Air Quality analysis does not discuss increased carbon dioxide emissions that result from the Project. Carbon dioxide is the main pollutant causing global warming, which will have significant environmental impacts. The lack of a regulatory standard for carbon dioxide does not mean that it can be ignored, and other agencies take global warming effects into account. See, e.g., "Air Quality Analysis Guidance Handbook" (“The SCAQMD adopted a policy on global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion on April 6, 1990, that committed the SCAQMD to consider global impacts in its rule making and in drafting revisions to the AQMP”) available at Here, the increased traffic and increased quarrying activities indicate additional carbon dioxide emissions that could contribute to a cumulatively significant impact.

· The DEIR states that the purpose of the Project is to induce growth (“a large volume of construction grade rock is needed in Santa Clara County for new development” (DEIR at 30)) and then concludes the project does not have significant growth inducing impacts. DEIR at 166. We believe the conclusion is incorrect based on the fact that the quarry provides a critical element in the development of infrastructure. If the Project provides an important source of construction grade rock for new development, which the County implies it does (DEIR at 30), then the Project must create significant growth-inducing impacts. If the Project is not an important source, then the impacts created by the Project should weigh much more heavily against the minimal benefit that the County derives from its existence.

For the above reasons, we urge the County to not move forward with the Project as proposed. At the present time it may not be possible to end an incompatible land use of industrial quarry operations with an otherwise pristine environment. That provides no reason, however, for making the problem worse.

Please contact us if you have any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Impervious surface document -draft for review

This posting is a little different from our others - CGF received a generous grant from the Santa Clara Valley Water District to write a report on the missing analysis of impacts from increased impervious surfaces in Santa Clara County. We have a draft available for review - when the final version comes out it will get a separate fancy webpage.

To make it easier for reviewers to access the draft document, we're posting it here.

By the way, while we will invite specific people to review the draft, comments from anyone will be welcome.


Earth's health in trouble

From the SF Chronicle website: "U.N. Study: Earth's Health Deteriorating"

Unless nations adopt more eco-friendly policies, increased human demands for food, clean water and fuels could speed the disappearance of forests, fish and fresh water reserves and lead to more frequent disease outbreaks over the next 50 years, it said.

Something we should keep in mind in the Bay Area.


Monday, March 21, 2005

Morgan Hill looking for good people on its Planning Commission

The City of Morgan Hill wants volunteers to serve on its Planning Commission, which I can guarantee would be a great place for some good environmentalists. You have to be a City resident or in the City's Sphere of Influence, which extends a bit beyond the City's boundary.

City describes the Planning Commission below:

7-member Advisory Commission that serves as an advisory body to the City Council on matters related to city growth and development; and on such matters as may be requested by the City Council. The Commission meets on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at 7:00 p.m. Three vacancies to be filled by June 1, 2005 (4-year term).

For more information about applying, go to the City's website here, and scroll about half-way down. Feel free to contact me about it as well.


Friday, March 18, 2005

San Jose illegally polluting the Bay

The Merc reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has ordered San Jose to clean up pollutants it dumps into San Francisco Bay. EPA produced a 28-page list of violations of the Clean Water Act.

Disturbing quote from the article:

Significantly, the city wastewater plant empties into South Bay marshes, where water is less than five feet deep with little tidal action.

``You would be hard-pressed to find a worse place to have toxics getting into the system than the South Bay,'' said Greg Karras, senior scientist with Communities for a Better Environment, in Oakland.

``It is a wildlife refuge, and people fish in it, so you have a human health threat exacerbated by this stuff. It is particularly sensitive.''


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Global warming and open space protection

(Below is another "thought piece" on issues relevant to CGF's work)

Stop global warming – save the Bay Area’s farms and natural areas!

Many Bay Area residents want to stop the global warming that will dry up our water supplies and flood our coastal and Bayside lands, but taking action means more than buying hybrid cars and installing solar panels on homes. Land use planning that organizes our cities and rural areas will also determine how much greenhouse gas we produce. By stopping unplanned sprawl, we can save the undeveloped lands we have every reason to preserve, and direct the population and business growth into urban areas. Efficient use of space will give us the capability to reduce emissions, while sprawl destroys that capability.

If you talk to Bay Area old-timers, they will tell of driving from San Francisco to San Jose through miles orchards and gardens, an area called the Valley of Heart’s Delight. Now, boats and planes spew pollutants as they bring the same produce from distant continents, but much of what we have lost still remains. San Jose cherries, Half Moon Bay artichokes, Gilroy garlic, and grass-fed cattle from around the Bay Area all provide local alternatives to distant products arriving on a wave of petroleum emissions. Our mostly green and forested hillsides also provide a strong contrast to the endless suburbs of Southern California, where residents drive long distances in emission-spewing cars with little public transit.

Fighting global warming will be a marathon, not a sprint, so we need to consider what the Bay Area will be like when we all become the old-timers. Will we just tell our grandchildren about food that was not trucked from far away, about how you could hike locally instead of driving to the Sierras? Or instead of telling, will we show them the same farmlands, ranchlands, and natural areas that we enjoy today in the Bay Area? Our grandchildren’s environment, as well as our effect on the global environment, depend on getting the right answer to land use planning for the Bay Area.


Monday, March 7, 2005

Coyote Valley Alternatives letter

San Jose has solicited comments on the alternatives it should consider in the EIR for Coyote Valley. CGF initiated this letter, which was cosigned by Sierra Club and Audubon Society after their input.


Friday, March 4, 2005

Stanford trail and hotel news

We've been hearing about a potential hotel on Stanford land near the end of Sand Hill Road. Something like this has been under discussion for years, but news from The Almanac suggests they're getting a little more serious.

The land is undeveloped open space with some environmental value involved. CGF will be following this issue closely.

And Stanford has also been doing some testing in support of expanding an existing trail along Alpine Road. Stanford contends that expanding the existing trail in San Mateo County fulfills its obligation to dedicate a new "C-1" trail in Santa Clara County. We obviously disagree and will be working hard on the issue.

No official news yet on the process for the "S-1" trail Stanford is also supposed to dedicate along the southern part of its property, but that process is a little further along. We should be hearing something about it soon.