Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Palo Alto keeps partial ban on plastic bags

Palo Alto settled a lawsuit over its plastic bag ban. From the PA Weekly:

Under the settlement, the city will be able to maintain its ban. But any expansion of its scope would have to be accompanied by a complete environmental review.

The city's current ban applies to seven supermarkets, three of which had voluntarily stopped using plastic bags before the ban was adopted. Only Safeway, JJ&F Food Store, Andronico's and Mollie Stone's were required to stop using plastic check-out bags.

Stephen Joseph, the attorney representing, said the group is pleased with the settlement because it ensures that the city's ban on bags will not expand without a full review.

The City Council and staff have consistently indicated that they would like to ban plastic check-out bags from local pharmacies and other stores. The settlement essentially guarantees that the city's quest to expand its bag ban will take longer than officials had hoped.
Save the Plastic Bag is a paper-thin disguise for plastic manufacturers. This is an example of using environmental laws for the purpose of delaying environmental reforms. While this problem is exaggerated, it does happen.

CGF hasn't taken a position on plastic bag bans, but we do support a fee on both paper and plastic bags, both of which harm the environment. Local streams are littered with plastic, and we don't want to see forests cut for unnecessary paper bags either.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Guest post on Coyote Valley and wildlife corridor issues

(CGF Volunteer Shari Pomerantz wrote the guest blog post below, and we're looking forward to more from her. -Brian)

Coyote Valley is one of the few remaining wildlife corridors in Santa Clara County, linking habitats in the Santa Cruz Mountains with the northern Diablo Range. Gavilan College’s proposal – the addition of a new 10,000 student campus in Coyote Valley - will have significant impacts on the cougars, badgers, raptors, and other species that migrate through Coyote Valley to access seasonal food and water supplies.

A recent SF Gate article discusses the ecological value of Coyote Valley, and highlights disagreements regarding the extent to which the new campus will reduce Coyote Valley’s functioning as a wildlife corridor.

Students at De Anza College have identified nearly 200 species of birds and mammals using the corridor, including 12 species with special statuses. The students seek to protect them through the establishment of a Coyote Valley Raptor Reserve, and do not believe Gavilan’s expansion plans to be compatible with their goals. The Committee for Green Foothills is also working to protect Coyote Valley, and agrees with the students’ assessment of its value.

Gavilan College spokeswoman Jan Bernstein acknowledges the presence of wildlife in Coyote Valley, but believes the impacts of development in Coyote Valley and Gilroy will be comparable. There are several distinctions between the areas surrounding these two campuses, which have not been adequately addressed.

The Gilroy campus borders thousands of acres of pristine wild habitat. The proposed Coyote Valley site does not. Coyote Valley is one of the few remaining wildlife corridors in the region, and the corridor is already impaired by traffic and the fact that farmland isn't quite as compatible with wildlife movement as natural habitat. While animals do stray into the Gilroy campus from adjacent habitat, we cannot realistically assume a similar ‘coexistence’ to occur with an increased human presence in Coyote Valley.

The Coyote Valley site for Gavilan College currently consists of unoccupied farmland. The College’s plan includes specific elements that will greatly increase its impact on wildlife and migration. The new campus will include a firing range, police academy, and athletic fields. Clearly, the noise and fence construction associated with these activities can harm animal migration. Furthermore, the arrival of 10,000 students to a presently unpopulated area will greatly increase traffic, and encourage additional business and residential development.

In summary: Gavilan College’s expansion plans are not compatible with the need to protect Coyote Valley’s rare value as a wildlife migration corridor.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tackling the rise in SF Bay levels

Climate change-induced sea level rise will have a similar effect on San Francisco Bay, leaving planners, taxpayers, and environmentalists with a difficult problem in how to manage the rising Bay. The Chronicle covers some interesting and highly speculative ideas entered in a recent contest:
Once they would have been the stuff of science fiction: shimmering levees of
water that shield cities, or laser beams slicing across water through the

In fact, these are two of six winners announced Tuesday in a
design competition that responds to a real-life threat - scientific projections
that in the century to come, the sea level of San Francisco Bay could climb 55
inches beyond today's high tide.
"We need to rethink how we build along the
shoreline, but we didn't have the answers," said Will Travis, executive director
of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which
organized the competition. "So we decided to cast the net for ideas."

The ideas can be seen here. I skimmed through a few, and any solution is going to be expensive. This is something that both San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties are going to have to deal with, soon.

It would be interesting to see how much could be saved if aggressive action on climate cut the Bay level increase in half.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

News roundup

Haven't done one of these in a while:

Home Buyers Are Drawn to Nearby Organic Farms - more evidence that urban edge agriculture has a niche:

Increasingly, subdivisions, usually master-planned developments at which buyers
buy home sites or raw land, have been treating farms as an amenity. “There are
currently at least 200 projects that include agriculture as a key community
component,” said
Ed McMahon, a senior fellow with the Urban Land Institute.

Careful though - the technique could be used as an excuse for sprawl, saving only a part of a farm while dividing the rest up in subdivisions.

Controlled Burn Planned - good use of prescribed fire:

The burn is similar to four others that have occurred since 1998 at Russian
Ridge, a 1,978-acre preserve known for its wildflowers and raptors, such as
red-tail hawks. The goal is to reduce overall fire risk by removing dead and
dying brush and grasses under controlled conditions. Controlled burns also can
limit the spread of non-native weeds and other invasive vegetation that choke
out native plants, thus providing more food and habitat for native wildlife as
well as improving spring wildflower displays.

Big plans for a little butterfly - endangered species reintroduction:

A team of researchers is proposing reintroducing a vanished butterfly
to the hills above Stanford University, a biological experiment with both
promise and peril.

If the experiment succeeds, it would return Bay checkerspot
butterflies to Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve and offer important lessons to
the fledgling science of species reintroduction, which aims to save thousands of
plants and animals from extinction.

No guarantee it will work, but the risk - losing a small number of butterflies - may well be worth it. We'll watch this with a lot of interest.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Inaction Alert! You can save Santa Clara County open space - by doing nothing!

(CGF sent this "Inaction" Alert out to folks on our email alert list that are likely residents of the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority districts. -Brian)

Dear Friend,

The Committee for Green Foothills is sending out the easiest environmental Alert in its 47-year history. By doing nothing, you can help save millions of dollars for the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority (OSA) for land protection, and fix a mistake made by the California Supreme Court. All you have to do is to NOT request a refund of past parcel assessments that the Court said had to be made available. You are not required to apply for refunds - you can do nothing. Please help the environment more easily than you've ever had a chance to before!

What's Happening

In 2002, voters in the Open Space Authority district, which covers most of Santa Clara County from the city of Santa Clara eastwards, voted to enact a parcel assessment of about $20 annually to help fund the purchase and protection of local natural open spaces. Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court last year mistakenly applied a law that said the will of the majority is not enough, but that a two-thirds' vote in favor was required.

Following the decision, the OSA agreed to send a letter out to anyone who owned land in the district from 2002 to 2007 and paid the assessment, allowing them to apply for a refund if they wished. The letter has just been sent out.

Why This Is Important

The Supreme Court has cut off this voter-approved funding source for protecting local open spaces that funded most of the OSA's work, so the money collected to date remains the last major additional funding until the OSA can go back to voters for a super-majority approval. Most of this money, $57 million accrued so far, could still help preserve thousands of acres of land from sprawl and provide more public recreation for everyone - if people let the money stay instead of applying for refunds.

What You Can Do

If you owned land in the part of Santa Clara County where the OSA operates between 2002 and 2007 (OSA district map attached), you will receive a letter telling you how to apply for a refund. All you have to do is ignore the letter.

Please let us know how you did nothing - was it hard? Tell us your trials and tribulations, and how you accomplished doing nothing, and please let us know if you give us permission and we may publish your adventure on our website.

Okay, if you do want to do something - please forward this to your neighbors and friends who own residences in the OSA district, and tell them THEY CAN ALSO help protect their environment by doing nothing.

For more information, go to the OSA website to see all the good it does with the voter-approved funding:

Thanks! Your voice (and inaction) does make a difference!

- The Folks at Green Foothills

UPDATE: Already received this reply: "I will put this on my to do list."