Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stanford Sustainable Development Study: document dump

I normally try to post most of my written communications here on the blog. In the case of the Stanford Study, much of that didn't happen due to everything going on. Below the fold are a few of the things I wrote during that time:

(A short PowerPoint presentation on the failure to define "sustainability")

(More on what should have been included)
Principles for a new chapter in the Stanford Sustainable Development Study regarding the Academic Growth Boundary and Stanford's future after 2035

Academic growth needs:
While acknowledging that significant increases in Stanford's population and square footage beyond that discussed in the Study's Scenario C could have environmental impacts on issues such as transportation and greenhouse gas emissions, an equivalent or greater amount of development than Scenario C could be added after 2035 without fundamentally and negatively altering the character of Stanford's core campus. There is therefore no foreseeable academic need for expanding development beyond the AGB.

Additional issues regarding sustainability and the AGB:
As Stanford increases in population and square footage, the need for nearby, accessible open space also increases.

As Stanford increases in population, the people brought to the area by Stanford will make increasing use of open space lands not owned by Stanford. Any reduction of Stanford's open space by expanding beyond the AGB would exacerbate the environmental impact on non-Stanford land.

Environmental benefits such as public transit and walkability increase through concentrating Stanford development within the AGB as opposed to expanding the existing the AGB.

Long-term conservation biology projects are in place in the Stanford Foothills and could be harmed or destroyed by expanding the AGB.

Stanford's proposed 50-year Habitat Conservation Plan also relies on protection of much of the Stanford Foothills.

The Stanford Research Park and Stanford Shopping Center areas are Stanford-owned land that are not being used for its core academic mission and could be converted back to academic work rather than encroach upon the Stanford Foothills.

Online distance learning provides a significant avenue for potential growth for Stanford while avoid many environmental impacts, including impacts on open space.

There is no foreseeable academic need to expand beyond the AGB after 2035, and environmental principles for making Stanford University a sustainable community make maintaining the existing AGB even more important as development continues at Stanford. This Study concludes for the foreseeable future after 2035, the Academic Growth Boundary should not be changed.

(Still more on what should have been included)
Should describe what sustainable development would look like

Should describe constraints on development:
Energy transmission
Greenhouse gas emissions
Other pollutants
Waste generation
Hazardous waste - full life cycle
Development density relative to surrounding communities

Should describe to what extent, if at all, Stanford's development would need to go beyond the Academic Growth Boundary for the foreseeable future.
Should describe the relationship between open space and increased development
Should describe alternatives to extending into the foothills, including converting Stanford Research Park and Shopping Center back to core mission
Should describe the role of online study

Should describe what is the likely cap on overall development
Should describe role of satellite campuses, off-site offices, and effect on overall sustainability
Should describe the relationship between increased development and increased traffic, and the traffic's effect on sustainability

Should describe other indicators of sustainability
Should indicate whether the intent is enough housing for all people studying and working on campus, including affordable housing
Should describe conservation biology goals for areas beyond the AGB for the foreseeable future, including but not limited to the habitats and time frame of the Stanford HCP
Should describe the relationship between new development and compliance with AB 32 and SB 375 and their likely successors for the foreseeable future (could be done by describing role in County's compliance or by analyzing as if the laws applied to Stanford as a separate entity).
(My notes when I prepared to speak at the April 7, 2009 hearing)
2035 is only ten years past the expiration of the existing 2025 Academic Growth Boundary at Stanford. Should we care about what happens after 2035?

Is it possible to plan past 2035? Stanford thinks so.

How can anyone plan beyond 25 years? Different levels of specificity
(and remember non-binding)

Would it do any good to make extend this study past 2035? It would influence the next General Use Permit and the next Sustainable Development Study if it did extend longer. So long as Stanford keeps thinking in the back of their heads that "the phase after this next one is when we make the Foothills look like the core campus," then they won't commit to planning the foothills for permanent low-impact outdoor recreation, low-impact studies, and conservation biology projects. Extending the Study period outward, together with the next Study, would help shake off that mindset.

Finally, the Committee strongly urges the Supervisors NOT to take the approach of letting Stanford off with something inadequate now under the idea that they'll be held to a higher standard next time. Frankly, we've heard that before regarding Stanford's environmental commitments and it will happen again in the future if it's not stopped. The next Sustainable Development Study, for example, can be improved by developing it simultaneously with the next General Use Permit, but that shouldn't let Stanford out of its current commitment. The current Study should be rejected until extends closer to what Stanford promised, or at least significantly past 2035.
(County staff responded here to numerous examples showing the legislative history of the Study meant it to have an indefinite or 99-year timeframe. Below is CGF's reply.)

I had overlooked that staff's Attachment G enumeration of the legislative history citation also contained something of a response.
Going through them briefly:
#1. Palo Alto's letter: Staff ignores the key term in the Palo Alto letter, that the vision should describe the "ultimate buildout" of the campus. That became the "maximum planned buildout potential". It's how the concept originated, and they're ignoring it because the term "ultimate" is inconvenient for their interpretation.
#2. Menlo Park: less important, but still an indication that the non-binding Study was to substitute for a lack of permanent protection, and a ten-year extension doesn't fit that role.
#3. Simitian written comments: he puts the terms together. Contra staff's earlier statement in its attachment, the Sustainable Development Study combines Beall's suggestion of such a study with Simitian's suggestion of a Buildout Study. Simitian wrote this one month before he made the motion that made the Study part of the GUP.
#4. Transcript of hearing: staff incorrectly says the concept of clustering credits was abandoned. Instead the only two Supervisors who spoke on the subject of the contents of the Study said that credits "can be looked at in the Sustainable Development Study". It would be nonsensical to look at credits for a study that extends the Academic Growth Boundary for only ten years, so I can't see how to avoid concluding that the staff's interpretation is that the Supervisors were being nonsensical. We disagree.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Good news - County commission proposes fee on paper bags, and a ban on plastic

From the Mercury News:

In a surprising reversal of a decision made less than two months ago, a
Santa Clara County commission is recommending an all-out ban on plastic shopping
bags and a fee on paper bags.

The Recycling and Waste Reduction Commission, made up of elected leaders
from around the county, plans to ask county supervisors and all 15 cities to
adopt the proposal for grocers and other retailers, with an exemption for
nonprofit "reuse" stores such as Goodwill.

I attended the previous meeting and was disappointed at the slow pace, so this is an excellent step. The Committee has supported a fee on both paper and plastic bags - we haven't called for a ban on plastic, but we don't oppose one either.

As the article says, this is just advisory, but let's hope the cities move forward. As always, San Jose is the 800-pound gorilla in terms of impact, so we'll be watching carefully.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Sanborn Park video to accompany Green Footnotes newsletter

I took a small video of the climbing area in Sanborn Park that's described in the Spring 2009 Green Footnotes (CGF members already have the hard copy, and it will also be posted on our website):


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day 2009

CGF has had a busy Earth Week, with tabling events in both of our counties. Tomorrow should be an especially interesting one in Morgan Hill, where our organization is a member of the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce and an active participant with the Chamber's Environmental Affairs Council organizing the main Earth Day activities in Morgan Hill.

We've had our share of disagreements with the various Chambers in Santa Clara County, but each one has a different personality, and the Morgan Hill Chamber has avoided the anti-environment positions we've seen elsewhere. This is a very hopeful aspect of our region's future, and we will continue to work on building the potential for environmental protection and business development.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Stanford Study and thank yous to Santa Clara County Supervisors

(CGF sent the following thank you and suggestion to Supervisors Kniss, Yeager, and Cortese for their resolution that went beyond the staff recommendation of simply approving Stanford's draft Sustainable Development Study. We hope that some years in the future, Supervisors Yeager and Cortese will have the chance to support our suggestion of making a new Study simultaneous with a new GUP. -Brian)

Dear President Kniss, Vice-President Yeager, and Supervisor Cortese:

I would just like to thank you all (somewhat belatedly) on behalf of the Committee for Green Foothills for your work on the Stanford Sustainable Development Study and the resolution that you passed. While more could always be done, and we would like to do more, we also very much appreciate your decision to go beyond what was placed in front of you and to make findings and recommendations that we believe will help direct future development on Stanford lands in a more sustainable direction.

In particular, President Kniss and Supervisor Cortese had a useful discussion that clarified doing another Sustainable Development Study right before or right after the next General Use Permit would be of relatively little use. One idea we would like to explore in the future, however, is that a Study could be developed simultaneously with the next the GUP, just as the EIR for the next GUP would develop simultaneously. The initial, broad outlines of the GUP proposal could direct the initial framework of both the EIR and the Sustainable Development Study. If at any point the EIR or Study show environmental problems, they could provide feedback that would help redirect the GUP proposal in a more environmental benign and sustainable direction. The EIR process can work this way, so there is no reason why a Sustainable Development Study can't as well.

President Kniss is quite correct that the next GUP will likely occur after her term in office, but both Vice-President Yeager and Supervisor Cortese may have the chance to help direct it. The Committee for Green Foothills will be happy to provide any assistance.

Thanks again.

Brian Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Committee for Green Foothills

Monday, April 13, 2009

Shoulda, coulda, woulda - the Stanford Sustainable Development Study

Well, it may not be surprising, but it's still disappointing that Santa Clara County didn't require Stanford to do an adequate job on it's Sustainable Development Study. The Study was an important requirement of the 2000 General Use Permit that Stanford mostly dismissed with a recitation of ongoing campus programs rather than an analysis over whether the campus is on a sustainable path. The main problem, besides the lack of real analysis, was an artificially-short 25 year time frame that makes it impossible to consider whether an existing trend has a long-run impact. We've covered this at various times on our website, beginning here and in some detail here.

The Supervisors did vote for a few findings and recommendations for future improvements that the Board of Supervisors could use someday, when Stanford exhausts its current General Use Permit. These will have some value in instilling the concept of sustainability in future environmental planning, although it should have been done now.

Unfortunately, only three of the five Supervisors supported even these findings and recommendations, but we do thank Supervisors Kniss, Yeager, and Cortese for doing so. We at the Committee especially appreciate President Kniss and her aide Scott Strickland for their efforts at improvements.

So whenever things don't go as well I'd like, I always think of what I should have or could have done better. In this case it was trying to get the Supervisors to require a future Sustainable Development Study be developed simultaneously with the development a future General Use Permit, which would help redirect the Permit in a more sustainable direction. I think the Supervisors missed the idea of simultaneity. All I can say now is that we can try again to make that happen when the next Permit rolls around.

I'll add some follow-up posts that will take care of some old business on this issue during the week. We especially thank everyone who wrote into the Supervisors and asked for the improvements. We got something out of it, and we're ready for next time.