City Visions Conversation With Gov. Brown Senior Adviser Ken Alex, Tonight At 7pm

Pretty much everything boils down to land use, at one level or another. Certainly housing and office development is traditionally within that sphere, but so is energy development, when we think about siting new transmission lines or solar farms. Even electric vehicles involve permitting and siting public charging infrastructure.

Tonight on City Visions, KALW 91.7 FM, I’ll talk with Ken Alex, Governor Brown’s senior adviser and director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR), which helps the state set land use policy. We’ll talk transportation, housing policies, water, and climate change. And beyond local government matters, Ken also helps the state with its international climate efforts like the Under 2 MOU.

Tune in or stream at 7pm tonight, and please send in your questions or comments for Ken to address on the air.

UPDATE: audio available here.

Solar + Batteries As A Lifeline For Indigenous Communities

We certainly need cheap renewables like solar, coupled with batteries, to clean our grid and mitigate climate change.  But these technologies also hold incredible promise as economic development lifelines for remote indigenous communities.

The Guardian recently profiled a growing indigenous renewable energy alliance in Australia:

Only a handful of Indigenous communities have embarked on renewable energy projects in Australia. The Indigenous-owned and -operated company AllGrid Energy, for instance, has installed solar panels and battery storage systems to replace diesel generators in the Aboriginal communities of Ngurrara and Kurnturlpara in the Northern Territory’s Barkly Tableland. Within two months of the system being installed in May 2016, people were moving back to their homelands from Tennant Creek, the communities growing from just two permanent residents to about 40.

As these technologies become cheaper, not only will the developed world benefit, but historically disadvantaged communities across the globe will have access to clean, cheap power for their hospitals, homes and businesses.

California’s Courageous Plan For Transportation Infrastructure Repair

7800801564_594fdc5fe9_bLast week the California legislature did what many have been hoping for at the national level: pass an infrastructure bill. The issue was the state’s nearly $60 billion backlog in deferred maintenance for our transportation infrastructure.

But rather than deficit spend or raid other programs, the legislature took a politically brave step with SB 1 (Beall) of raising gas taxes and vehicle registration fees to pay for this work. It took a two-thirds super majority, which meant no room to spare on votes.

From an environmental perspective, the plan is good because it generally doesn’t pay for new capacity, just repairs and maintenance of existing infrastructure. The money will also help fund transit and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

Environmentalists complained about a weakening of standards for truck drivers to retrofit or retire their dirtiest vehicles, but those impacts could potentially be blunted by tightening other environmental standards related to fuels and pollution limits.  Some also objected to the new annual electric vehicle fee ($100) per year, which could discourage consumer adoption.  But that fee seems relatively modest for vehicles that contribute to wear-and-tear on the roads.

The primary criticisms of the plan boiled down to the following:

1) California should spend its existing dollars more efficiently. Republicans and even one Democrat took this approach, arguing that “Caltrans reforms” could save us an equivalent amount of money. However, none of them to my knowledge spelled out exactly how much money could be saved and how from these reforms.  I also don’t know of any study that has attempted to quantify potential savings. As a result, this criticism struck me as ideological posturing, along the lines that eliminating foreign aid and welfare could help balance the federal budget, when those programs are a mere pittance compared to military and insurance spending.

2) California should devote high speed rail money to deferred maintenance instead of funding this unpopular train project. Democratic state senator Steve Glazer made this argument, which is uninformed and inaccurate. High speed rail is funded by state bond money, approved by the voters, that cannot legally be diverted to other uses. Additional federal dollars are also reserved solely for train projects. Some cap-and-trade auction proceeds are directed to high speed rail and could theoretically go to other transportation uses, but these are only a few billion dollars at this point, hardly anywhere close to the $60 billion we need. Plus, those funds should go to projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which high speed rail will do once it’s built and operational, whereas highway investments have the opposite impact.

3) California should find the money from existing transportation revenues that are instead spent on the general fund or other non-transportation sources.  I’m admittedly less familiar with how transportation revenues are spent in the state, and in concept I would support efforts to ensure that dollars collected from transportation go to transportation improvements.  But the critics, to my knowledge, presented no hard numbers on how much could be redirected to address the funding needs.  So it was hard to take this criticism too seriously.

4) Californians already are overtaxed on transportation.  Not when it comes to the gas tax and spending for road maintenance.  The existing state and federal gas taxes have not kept up with inflation, and as vehicles become more fuel efficient, the revenues will continue to fail to keep up with usage.  In short, most drivers are actually getting a cheap ride when it comes to paying for their fair share of road repair, minus the bills they have to pay to repair their cars from hitting potholes.

Overall, it’s an important spending bill that should help the environment to some extent, while also providing a fiscal stimulus in rural communities through the repair work.  Higher gas taxes could also marginally dissuade people from buying gas guzzlers, although the taxes are relatively minimal compared to the price of gasoline.

But don’t expect this kind of action at the federal level, barring unlikely bipartisan cooperation with the Trump administration.  Because raising taxes and fees isn’t popular, and it takes courage to do so when the need is great.  And that kind of courage and foresight is in short supply at the federal level.

California’s Pioneering “Under2 MOU” Featured On Capitol Public Radio

With the Trump administration putting the brakes on national climate efforts, such as the Clean Power Plan, action will shift to the states.  But California is doing more than just reducing its own carbon footprint, it’s signing up cities and states around the world to commit to the same.

Capitol Public Radio ran a story yesterday on the “Under 2 MOU,” which is the memorandum that binds the coalition states to reduce greenhouse gases to under 2 degrees warming by 2100.  International law students in a class I helped teach at Berkeley Law helped develop new strategies for their home country jurisdictions and were featured on the radio piece:

…Ken Alex, who oversees the organization for Jerry Brown, says the organization has little, if any, stable funding.
“We’re learning, we’re building the airplane as we’re flying it,” Alex says. He notes the organization has more signatories than the Paris Agreement. “And oh by the way there are at least 10 languages.”
He counts one full-time employee working on it. Instead, Under2 has largely relied on informal arrangements.
For instance, a U.C. Berkeley professor who does work in Kenya helped Laikipia calculate its total emissions. Another class at Berkeley law school, made up of international students with law degrees in their home countries and taught by a former colleague of Alex’s, is scouting potential new allies.

The work of the international students is helping to identify new potential coalition partners and strategies for existing ones to follow through on their pledges. It’s a shining example of state and local leadership — around the world — at a time when our federal government appears to be moving backwards.

Future Of Electric Vehicles In The U.S. — KQED Forum Today At 10am

The election of Trump may stall the nation’s progress toward more electric vehicles, but the market momentum is undeniable.  Tesla, for example, is now valued higher by Wall Street than General Motors.

To discuss the future of EVs going forward, I’ll be on KQED radio’s Forum today at 10am. The other guests include:

  • Joel Levin, executive director, Plug In America
  • Loren McDonald, marketing evangelist and blogger

Please tune in at 88.5 FM in the Bay Area and weigh in with your questions.  Even if you don’t live in the Bay Area, you can stream it live.

UPDATE: Audio is now posted.


Tech’s Gender Problem: Tonight at 7pm on City Visions, KALW 91.7 FM

The tech industry is dominant in the Bay Area.  Its products and services have already changed so much of our lives on a daily basis, while its growth has changed the commuting and physical landscape of the region.

Yet the industry has lagged on key markers of equality, particularly gender equity.

Tonight at 7pm on City Visions, I’ll moderate a panel asking about the efforts tech companies are making to open their doors to more women.  Will these measures prove effective? And where they lead, will other industries follow?

My guests will include:

  • Elizabeth Ames, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Alliances and Programs at the Anita Borg Institute

  • Carissa Romero, Partner at Paradigm, a strategy firm taking a data-driven approach to helping companies to build stronger, more diverse and inclusive organizations

  • Stephanie Lampkin, Founder and CEO of Blendoor with an engineering degree from Stanford and an MBA from MIT

Tune in on local public radio KALW 91.7 FM San Francisco or stream live.  You can also call or email with your questions.  Hope you can join the conversation!

UPDATE: Audio is now here.

L.A. County Bar Association Conference On Transportation — This Friday, April 7th

I’ll be on vacation this week and won’t be blogging (other than today).  However, for those in Los Angeles, I’ll be speaking on Friday at the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s 31st Annual Environmental Law Section Spring Super Symposium.  I’ll be part of an afternoon panel on transportation and climate change:

Description:  This panel will consider how climate change policies will affect transportation projects and technologies like driverless vehicles going forward. Panelists will discuss what policies, legal developments, and technological advancements will be most pressing and consider how those developments may impact California’s long-term planning.  Panelists will also discuss how the current federal landscape may influence state efforts to regulate air emissions from transportation.

Moderator:  Andrea Warren – Senior Associate, Alston & Bird LLP


  • Ryan Snyder – Principal, Transpogroup;
  • Jamey Wyman – Associate, Best Best & Krieger LLP;
  • Ethan Elkind – Director of Climate Program at Center for Law, Energy and the Environment at UC Berkeley Law; UCLA Law’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment

You can see the full program and register here.  Have a great week, and blogging will return next week.

Happy Baseball Season!

Spring is finally, officially here with the start of baseball season. In celebration of the sport and my favorite team, the Oakland A’s, here’s my 2007 song (and 2012 video) Champions:

Play ball!

Op-Ed On The Climate Benefits Of Infill Housing

Right Type Right Place CoverWith the release of the new report Right Type, Right Place, Capitol Weekly ran an op-ed from me and co-authors Carol Galante and Noel Perry this week, summarizing some of the benefits of an infill “target” scenario for new housing in California:

The target scenario provides more housing that meets market demand for compact, walkable neighborhoods. While rents and home prices would be slightly higher in these neighborhoods on average, monthly household savings on commuting and other travel expenses, along with monthly savings on utilities, would more than make up the difference.

And infill has other advantages for our society. Switching from business as usual to the target scenario would save California 1.79 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year. That’s like taking 378,000 cars off the road; it would help us meet our climate change and air pollution goals. At the same time, our economy would fare better under the target scenario. Annual growth would be $800 million higher than under the business-as-usual scenario.

One benefit worth discussing but not captured in these economic and environmental metrics is quality of life.  How do you put a dollar value on someone now having access to a decent home near high-quality jobs and in good neighborhoods?  To being able to spend more time with family and friends and less in exhausting and expensive commutes?

Ultimately, infill is more than just about numbers.  It’s about access to a better life for everyone, and the cleaner environment that goes with it.

Webinar Video On The Economic Impacts Of Climate Programs On The San Joaquin Valley

For those who missed the webinar held by Berkeley Law on the new report Economic Impacts of California’s Major Climate Programs on the San Joaquin Valley, you can watch a recorded version here and below.

The report assessed the economic and employment impacts of California’s ambitious climate policies on the San Joaquin Valley, including cap and trade, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.  In addition to me and moderator Jordan Diamond, the webinar featured:

The video runs about an hour.  Happy viewing!


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