Yesterday Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 350 (De Leon), a landmark bill that pledges California to a 50% renewable goal by 2030, as well as a doubling of energy efficiency in existing buildings by that date.
Despite the environmental win, it’s been well-reported by the media and others that California’s environmental leaders got beaten pretty badly this last legislative session by the oil industry. Faced with a provision in SB 350 that would mandate 50% petroleum reduction by 2030 and a bill to codify 2030 and 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goals (SB 32), the industry launched a multi-million dollar campaign, full of false claims of impending gas rationing and price spikes, and targeted it at “moderate” Democrats in the legislature.
The plan worked. These democrats helped lead SB 32 to its demise and stripped SB 350 of the petroleum reduction goal.
But is it possible that the oil industry representatives missed an important provision in SB 350 relating to long-term greenhouse gas reduction goals?
Buried on page 59 in SB 350, the legislature for the first time codified the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent below those levels by 2050. The provisions begin in the findings section on the need to electrify transportation, via amendments to the state’s Public Utilities Code:
740.12. (a) (1) The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
740.12. (a) (1) (D) Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 will require widespread transportation electrification.
The legislation then directs utilities to file applications with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for programs to electrify transportation in order to meet these climate goals:
740.12. (b) The commission, in consultation with the State Air Resources Board and the Energy Commission, shall direct electrical corporations to file applications for programs and investments to accelerate widespread transportation electrification to reduce dependence on petroleum, meet air quality standards, achieve the goals set forth in the Charge Ahead California Initiative…, and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 [italics added].
So in the context of electrifying transportation and utilities role in achieving it, the 2030 and 2050 goals are now law, giving the CPUC broad regulatory authority to achieve those goals in this sector.
This is no small potatoes. Electrification of transportation is absolutely essential to meeting long-term climate goals, given that almost 40 percent of emissions come from transportation. In the 50% petroleum reduction debate, it was clear that much of the decrease will be achieved anyway by 2030 given improved federal fuel economy standards and a continued leveling off of vehicles miles traveled per capita in the state – both of which basically would occur without any additional legislative action. But electrification of transportation will still be dependent on state action for the near term, including support for greater deployment of public charging stations and state rebates for electric vehicles purchases and leases, among other policies to boost this nascent industry. The 2030 and 2050 goals for electric vehicles now give the CPUC specific marching orders that would essentially achieve the 2030 petroleum reduction anyway, even without it being specifically called out in SB 350.
To be sure, this codification won’t benefit the full range of climate measures that California is taking for the years beyond 2020, when AB 32 authority plateaus. For example, other alternatives to petroleum, namely biofuels, are not covered by this provision. Currently, the low carbon fuel standard, a regulation under AB 32 authority, is the primary driver of biofuel deployment. Biofuels will be necessary to reduce emissions in the short term for passenger vehicles, at least until battery electrics become cheaper and better, and in the long-term for transportation like aviation and long-haul trucking that isn’t otherwise suitable for battery electrification. Cap-and-trade is also specifically authorized by AB 32 through 2020 and wouldn’t continue based solely on SB 350. In general, regulations from the California Air Resources Board to address climate pollution not tied to renewables, energy efficiency or electrification of transportation couldn’t be extended based solely on these provisions.
But the provisions could have another immediate impact, specifically with litigation over regional and local plans that may fail to take into account long-term climate goals. Most famously, San Diego’s regional transportation plan purports to reduce emissions from driving through 2035 but then backslides out to 2050. The agency argued it didn’t have to study the impacts out to 2050 because the goals are merely based in an executive order. The case is pending before the State Supreme Court on this issue (full disclosure: I co-authored an amicus brief with Legal Planeteer Rick Frank and Jayni Hein supporting the petitioner’s claims about the plan’s failure to study long-term impacts). But now petitioners in litigation like this one have a stronger case that the goals are in fact codified in legislation, and specifically in the transportation context.
And perhaps more importantly, these SB 350 provisions could now create a worthy rival to Big Oil. Big Utilities are itching to get into the electrification game, and they have the resources and power to compete with Big Oil in these legislative showdowns. While California doesn’t want to crowd out the electric vehicle space with utility entrenchment, the state will certainly need utilities to help with charging infrastructure and programs to manage the charging load more effectively. The provisions on Page 59 take the state down that path in a significant way, and the oil industry may soon regret their inclusion.
So while the environmental community has much to cheer about with yesterday’s signing in terms of renewables and energy efficiency, they shouldn’t overlook the important greenhouse gas provisions that may have an even more transformative effect on California’s long-term climate program — and the oil industry’s efforts to limit it.
Anytime you grade someone poorly, you run the risk of getting them defensive. And in the case of San Diego’s rail transit station areas, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) has reason to be. In our statewide evaluation of rail transit station area performance, based on a variety of metrics like walkability, affordability, and local transit ridership, the data showed San Diego’s station areas to be the worst in the state on average.
MTS issued a statement defending its performance, according to the Times of San Diego:
The MTS released a statement that said the scorecard was narrow in scope, designed to support high-density neighborhoods and transit-oriented development. The criteria used is largely outside the control of MTS, according to the agency.The statement pointed out that an all-time high of more than 40 million passenger trips were logged on the trolley in the fiscal year completed June 30.
According to the study, the best performing Metropolitan Transit System stations in San Diego were the main 12th and Imperial stop in the East Village, and one on C Street in front of the City Administration Building in downtown San Diego. Both received B grades.
Grades of F were given to the following stations — Massachusetts Avenue in Lemon Grove, Santee Town Center, Spring Street in La Mesa, Fenton Parkway in Mission Valley, and the El Cajon Transit Center and Gillespie Field in El Cajon. The latter was named the worst station in the state because it is used by almost no nearby residents or workers, according to the study, while the MTS defended the stop as useful as a park-and-ride location for special events.
In some ways, I’m sympathetic to MTS. They are correct that they don’t have land use control over the station areas. Many of those stations were planned and built a long time ago. And the intent of the study was not to attack transit agencies, but to encourage primarily local and state leaders to improve under-performing areas.
That said, MTS does have leverage to improve station area performance, and I hope the agency uses it. The first step is admitting there is a problem, and it doesn’t seem like that has occurred, based on this report. Second, MTS could develop a policy to condition any future rail expansions on a local commitment to developing the station areas around the network. Third, MTS could consider reducing service to under-performing areas and redirecting those resources to better performing parts of the system. The agency could also use its leadership role to educate local leaders about the importance of improving station areas.
Ultimately, our report was not meant to demoralize transit leaders or make people feel that rail transit is a bad investment. It’s an important investment and necessary to California’s long-term economic and environmental success. But only if we get the land use piece of the equation right. And so far, San Diego still has work to do.
If we build it, they will come. For many years, that was the mantra of rail transit planners. Just build the rail line, and development will happen around the stations. And then more people will ride, and the system will be a good investment.
But in California, too often that hasn’t been the case. Much of our prime real estate within an easy walk (half-mile) of urban rail lines has been wasted — a victim of bad planning, poor market conditions, and/or restrictive local zoning. As a result, recalcitrant California cities push new growth into outlying areas, sprawling over open space and farmland, increasing traffic and air pollution, and creating an artificial and extreme shortage of housing that drives up rents and home prices and squeezes businesses and residents alike.
Today the nonpartisan research organization Next 10 is releasing a report authored by the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) at the UC Berkeley School of Law that seeks to evaluate how well California is taking advantage of rail transit stations. Using existing data from such sources as Walk Score and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, CLEE developed a scorecard of 11 indicators, including factors like walkability, affordability, percentage of residents and employees who use transit, and number of jobs and households within 1/2 mile radius. We then used that information to grade 489 transit stations in 6 rail systems across the state, excluding commuter lines like Metrolink and Caltrain and Amtrak, but including L.A.’s bus rapid transit line given it’s rail-like qualities.
The results are on a curve, with the top 50% of station areas receiving A’s and B’s, and the bottom 50% receiving C’s and D’s (the bottom 2% get F’s). Stations are divided by and compete within three place types (residential, employment or mixed).
We found that each transit system has successful stations, typically located in downtown-like environments with walkability and good connection to amenities. San Francisco’s MUNI light rail system scored the best on average, with the top performing station statewide at Market Street and Church Street.
Other notable findings:
- San Diego’s Gillespie Field Station, located in a car-dependent and otherwise barren wasteland, received an F—scoring poorly across the board.
- LA Metro Rail’s best-scoring station is Westlake/ MacArthur Park station, which scores high on diversity of destinations, walkability, transit access, and affordability, but gets a poor mark on safety.
- Sacramento’s Longview Drive and I-80 station is next to a major interstate and used primarily for park-and-ride services. It is the region’s lowest-scoring area in terms of fostering a vibrant transit neighborhood, with very low train use among local residents and workers.
- The San Joaquin Valley is California’s fastest-growing region but lacks rail transit. As a result, we analyzed key busy bus station areas instead, awarding them separate grades ranging from B to D.
Overall, Santa Clara’s VTA and San Diego’s MTS systems scored the worst in the state, with many auto-oriented, derelict station areas, including along highways. After MUNI, BART was second and LA Metro Rail and Sacramento RT were tied for third, in terms of highest average score. You can access all the materials for the report here.
So what can be done to improve scores? First, local leaders with stations in their jurisdictions should plan for and encourage thriving, walkable neighborhoods around the stations. Second, state leaders can help underperforming areas that lack a market for new development by focusing state investment and financing programs in those areas, such as through green bonds and tax-increment financing. Finally, transit leaders should condition any rail expansion on a local commitment to transit-oriented development around the stations, and they should consider reducing service to underperforming stations in order to better serve stations with thriving neighborhoods around them.
Without steps like these, we risk wasting rail investments and exacerbating the state’s environmental and economic challenges. Future growth in the state should be focused along our existing rail transit networks, instead of pushed outward along highways. Ultimately, the scorecard reveals which station areas we should emulate, and which ones policy makers should focus on for improvement.
Lyndon Rive, Elon Musk’s cousin, is planning it for SolarCity:
Economies of scale are part of SolarCity’s plan. The company will manufacture the modules at its new facility in Buffalo, which it hopes to have fully operational by the end of 2017, pumping out enough solar panels to supply 200,000 homes a year. Of course, to hear the CEO say it, we’re already in a pretty good place, cost-wise.
“Solar is not expensive; in fact, there is no cost at all,” SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive told ThinkProgress. “There are savings on day one.”
This ongoing revolution in making solar panels affordable has made the transition to clean-generated electricity possible. Now if we could just do the same for batteries and other energy storage technologies, we could actually solve climate change — or at least minimize the damage to keep the planet livable in the coming centuries.
Tesla made headlines this week finally unveiling the new Model X SUV. The car looks amazing as expected, but Tesla is only shipping a select version to work out the kinks among it’s well-heeled customers. It won’t be available to the greater public for another year.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle compares Tesla’s approach to Google, with its goofy-looking self-driving vehicle:
Google co-founder Sergey Brin sees a future in which self-driving technology takes several forms. That future, he said, should still have room for people who enjoy taking the wheel on a wide-open, twisty strip of asphalt. People like Brin.
“I don’t think we’re going to see ‘no human drivers’ any time soon,” he said this week at an open house for the company’s autonomous car program. “I love the idea of being out on an open road that’s curvy and fun. But in practice, that’s maybe 1 percent of my experience. Mostly, it’s stop-and-go traffic. It’s not nearly that pleasant. And then I’m hunting for parking.”
Google has spent six years on self-driving cars. Its test vehicles have logged 1.2 million miles of autonomous driving, adding an additional 10,000 to 15,000 every week. While impressive, the results still feel like a work in progress.
For its part, Tesla fully envisions self-driving capabilities for its vehicles, even equipping with them with sensors for when the software becomes widely available.
We’re still years away, but to my mind, the future of cars is becoming clearer: they will be electric, self-driving, and rented on demand by most drivers.
David Roberts at Vox.com makes the case for this utopia, describing the huge environmental benefits. Current cars are over-engineered, as is our urban space, for bulky cars built to withstand impacts and for long road trips that we rarely if ever take.
So the future will involve right-sizing cars that can be delivered autonomously to your home (maybe you need an SUV, maybe you need an electric bike). The vehicles will have a smaller environmental footprint (literally, in some cases), and homes won’t need to waste space on garages and other parking spaces. Towns won’t need big parking lots, at least within the downtown.
The environmental upside is big. The battery-powered cars will be distributed storage for the grid, and we won’t need as much auto-oriented infrastructure. Of course, we still want pedestrian friendly, transit-oriented communities. But we shouldn’t ignore the larger technology trends that are shaping the future while we try to plan for it.
Morro Bay is one of the great natural features of California — but also a testament to the state’s history of environmental destruction. The bay features Morro Rock, a beautiful, striking volcanic rock feature that looks like a mini Gibraltar. For centuries, it marked the northern border of villages culturally considered Chumash, and today’s Chumash still hold religious services on top of the rock.
But when Americans came, they quarried a big chunk of the rock, and more recently built a polluting and unsightly power plant right next to it.
Now in the era of renewables, a wind power company wants to put floating turbines offshore, as the San Luis Obispo Tribune reports:
Trident Winds LLC has approached the city of Morro Bay with a proposal to install about 100 floating turbines 15 miles offshore. It’s a 1,000-megawatt project that would produce enough energy to power 150,000 households. The turbines would rise 360 to 400 feet above sea level, would cover about 63 square miles and would be spaced about half-a-mile apart.
The company is negotiating with the city for use of the outfall line at the northeast side of Morro Rock. A transmission cable would run from the wind farm through the pipeline and on to the Morro Bay Power Plant switchyard, which is connected to the state power grid.
Evidently the turbines would be so far offshore you wouldn’t see them from the beach, and the transmission cable would take advantage of the power plant infrastructure. Still, going by the Cape Wind controversy off Cape Cod, and objections to undersea transmission cables in places like Molokai, this may be a tough sell. And I imagine many of the local Chumash won’t be happy with more infrastructure by a sacred rock.
But given the pressures of climate change and the need to transition to clean energy, projects like this one are going to be critical to getting us off fossil fuels. Whether it’s Morro Bay or elsewhere along the coast, we’re going to have to be creative and smart about using the resources we have in a sustainable way. This project is far from complete and studied, but it will be worth watching to see how it progresses.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the 1986 groundbreaking on L.A.’s Red Line subway, for its initial 4.1 mile segment from downtown. On the video below, you see many of the prime actors who made L.A. rail happen, from Mayor Tom Bradley to transit officials like Marv Holen and Jan Hall.
What stands out to me though is how off some of the predictions were. Dyer, for example, predicted that in 40-50 years there would be “40-50 miles of subway,” with 110 miles of light rail. He thought they’d all be in place in 10 or 20 years. Instead, almost 30 years later we have only 18.6 miles of subway, with just a 4-mile extension in the immediate pipeline, moving at a literal glacial pace. The system with light rail included totals 87.7 miles, albeit with some new lines opening in the coming years.
But perhaps Dyer could be forgiven. Rail was new in Los Angeles at the time, and nobody anticipated how bogged down planning and construction would become. But it points to how painful it has become to implement these projects.
Meanwhile, enjoy this funky 80s video of the groundbreaking festivities:
Mindless parking requirements badly hurt infill projects. Even though these projects are often located near transit, city codes typically require boilerplate parking requirements. With underground spots sometimes costing $30,000 each to build, limiting the height and the size of the building as a result, these requirements are a major impediment to growing in our urban areas instead of sprawling outward.
California may finally be chipping away at them with AB 744, on the governor’s desk now, which would reduce parking requirements for affordable housing near transit. TransForm has the skinny:
AB 744 would modify outdated parking policies that currently force developers of affordable, senior, and special needs housing to build more parking than their residents need (especially in places where there is great transit!)
In doing so, AB 744 would empower planners and developers to on supply as much parking as a new development actually needs, saving them money on construction and in turn, bringing rent costs down for future residents.
AB 744 would also make it possible for developers to build more affordable homes (including near transit stops). Building more affordable homes near public transportation is not only a way to solve our state’s housing crisis, it’s an incredibly effective strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
For a detailed description of the bill, go here.
If AB 744 becomes law, we could see more successes like Garden Village, a student housing development in Berkeley that cut over $1 million in project costs by re-thinking parking needs. By working with our GreenTRIP program, the developer shifted from an initial proposal that included a $2.3 million underground parking garage to a traffic reduction strategy that nearly halved that cost and allowed the developer to provide additional affordable homes.
Let’s hope the governor signs this bill promptly, and also that the bill is just the first step in deregulating parking requirements for all infill projects across the state.
The big law firm Holland & Knight has been on a crusade against California’s signature environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), for a while now. I’ve had my tangles with partner Jennifer Hernandez there, who has issued some misleading studies to derail sensible CEQA reform.
Recently, the law firm tried to step up its game to issue a seemingly-comprehensive study of CEQA litigation to prove once and for all how the law is badly misused by NIMBYs and labor unions to stop badly needed projects. Among the chief conclusions, CEQA mostly targets infill projects, as well as transit and renewables.
The problem is, as my UCLA Law colleague Sean Hecht writes in a devastating takedown, the evidence doesn’t support their conclusions.
On infill, the study defines it as anything within incorporated city limits or adjacent to a development in unincorporated area — in other words an absurdly large geographical area that matches nobody’s definition of environmentally beneficial development. Hecht goes in for the kill:
Unsurprisingly, the definition includes projects that virtually no one would recognize as “infill” under any common definition. For example, this Wal-Mart in Milpitas appears to be classified as “infill,” along with several other Wal-Mart projects. So is Chandler Ranch, a new development in suburban Rolling Hills Estates that includes 114 single-family luxury homes plus a new golf course and clubhouse for the Rolling Hills Country Club. Moreover, some “infill” projects clearly do not provide benefits to their communities. The Bradley Landfill site, the subject of Comunidad en Accion v. Los Angeles City Council, is a waste management site in the middle of a poor Latino community. And another “infill” case, City of Irvine v. County of Orange, involved the expansion of a jail, partially on agricultural land, from 1200 inmates to 7,584 inmates. Many of the “infill” projects are industrial facilities, including asphalt and cement plants. The data presented just don’t support the idea that CEQA cases mostly target projects that support environmentally-sound development that is good for communities. The fact that projects challenged under CEQA are mostly located within the geographical boundaries of cities simply doesn’t prove anything.
On transit, Hecht found only a few lawsuits a year in the Holland & Knight dataset related to transit, including one that actually involved a paint and body industrial facility serving transit lines, rather than a transit project (whoops!).
On renewables, over the three-year study period, the report found just five solar projects and two wind projects that were challenged under CEQA. Hardly a damning amount, particularly given the questionable approval in the first place on one of the wind projects.
Hecht’s demo job of the report was badly needed and speaks to the problem of having ideologically motivated industry actors attempt a neutral “study” of something as hot-button as CEQA. In the future, I hope Holland & Knight attorneys stick to representing clients and leave the CEQA analysis to people who don’t have an axe to grind.
Last night subnational leaders from around the globe gathered in New York City to sign the California-led “Under 2 MOU” pledge. The effort involves getting big cities and states within nations to commit to limiting warming to under two degrees centigrade by 2100 (hence the “under 2″ name).
Governor Brown was on hand to witness the signing, and Berkeley Law helped support the event, which was I was there. More from the Washington Post on it:
The additions Thursday brought to nearly 40 the number of major cities and provinces to sign the extraordinarily ambitious — though nonbinding — pact. Signers commit to either cutting pollution to 80 to 95 percent below 1990 levels, or attaining a per capita emissions goal of two metric tons of carbon emissions by 2050. The current per capita average of U.S. citizens is about 18 tons.
“We’re just getting warmed up,” said California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who helped launch the movement. “And I promise you, no opposition . . . will stop California from reaching the sustainable goals we commit to tonight.”
Brown’s office said the signers — who include representatives from New York and Mexico City — collectively represent 313 million people and more than $8.7 trillion in gross domestic product. If they were a single country, it “would be the third largest economy in the world, behind only China and the United States,” the governor’s office said in a statement.
In the remarks leading up to the event, Glen Murray, Ontario’s environment minister, actually choked up describing the impacts of climate change on some of the northern provinces in Canada. As he said, many of those areas are already at 2 degrees warmer and will likely rise to seven degrees, effectively destroying much of the way of life there.
His remarks, and the fiery comments of Governor Brown, reminded the audience of the stakes and called them to action. If the effort is successful, it will not only lead to greater cooperation among these entities in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but hopefully force a more aggressive international treaty in Paris this December.