Eight Chapters, Thousands of Members, One Voice

Designing Resilient Food Systems

Current environmental conditions are catapulting community resilience to the forefront of the public agenda.  Because of climate change, extreme weather conditions have made food security not just a problem faced by the “Third World” (IPCC, 2007), but now an impending issue faced by all members of the globe.  Unsustainable water consumption, pollution from nitrates and pesticides, as well as GHG and particulate matter air pollution have become widespread and resulted in adverse, cumulative impacts.


Thankfully, legislatures have recognized the need to incorporate innovative food production systems into urban settings and are finding ways to stimulate this sector. In 2014, California passed AB 551 permitting counties to establish “Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones.”  These zones allow private property owners to receive property tax incentives in exchange for restricting the use of their property to urban agriculture for 10 years.  Additionally, San Francisco recently opted in to the AB 551 program and passed a land use and economic development ordinance that further “connects City residents to the broader food system.”  There is no question that this new policy environment will enable local food production to proliferate throughout the Bay Area as well as in other cities that opt into the Incentives Zones initiative.

However, legislatures are not the only ones who recognize the need to change common practices.  One innovative response driven by agricultural entrepreneurs is taking root in the urban setting. These community-oriented actors are working to localize food supply chains using aquaponics.  Their hope is to create resilient and sustainable food systems with minimal environmental impacts.  For them ‘business as usual’ is off the menu.

AquaponicsTraditionally, there have been two main barriers to efficient urban food production; insufficient yield to meet local demand and the inability to financially break even.  According to Aqua Gardens Family Farm, a leading aquaponic grower in Northern California, the advantages of aquaponics over conventional practices address these barriers.  Aquaponic systems yield 4 to 10 times more produce per acre than field grown methods and, because of the contained nature of aquaponic systems, have lower operating expenses and use significantly less resources.

Given the many positive environmental benefits associated with aquaponics, such as 90% less water consumption and zero water and air pollution, when compared to conventional agricultural practices, Aquaponics is clearly the sustainable food production system for the future.  Hopefully, given the shifts in public policy, such systems will go from being innovations for the future to the reality of today.




USGBC+ Looks at California in Latest Issue

Yeah, that’outfront-outwest-headers me doing the old folded arm thing in front of what you have to admit is a pretty cool sign. USGBC+, the new USGBC magazine (http://plus.usgbc.org/), focuses on our changing climate this issue. Unfortunately, if things continue the way they are currently going, Redwood City may have to reconsider their famous motto, derived from the observations of both the American and German governemtns in an era when such determinations were based on whoknowswhat.

While all the attention of the article is quite flattering personally, and Vice Chair Wes Sullens does refer to this org as “my baby,” I know it really takes a virtual village. The true story is much more about all the good, public-spirited USGBC people across California that have made this organization into a recognized source for forward-thiking policy squarely aimed at an audacious undertaking: the transformation of our built environment for the benefit of all through a carbon-free California economy much more prosperous, healthy, and equitable. We face a few tons worth of challenges moving towards this goal, but what choice do we really have? We know the most dangerous thing we can do when our world is so dramatically changing is to stand still; we need to build consensus, foster innovation, make markets, and then achieve and surpass our climate goals.

All of us involved in the coalition of eight chapters that is USGBC California need each other to get thigs done. Candice Wong, chair of the California Central Coast Chapter (they call it C4), says that the creation of our state org has helped connect her chapter to other chapters and speak with one stronger, collective voice in Sacramento. Our issue portfolio spans quite a few areas like water and energy efficiency, building codes, green schools, finance and resilency/adaptation. Alongside the USGBC+ issue was the recent release of Safeguarding Califonia, the state’s far-ranging guide on climate risk management headed by Natural Resource’s Ann Chan (http://resources.ca.gov/climate/safeguarding/).

But the single bggest area, the one that cuts across everything, has been the evolving understanding around health impacts, whether inside buildings or across climate zones. Northern California Chapter Executive Director Dan Geiger puts it plainly: “If you say, ‘Green schools have cleaner air, more daylight, less absenteeism,’ people get it right away.” Dominique Smith, executive director of USGBC’s Los Angeles Chapter concurs, noting a “huge movement” toward including human health issues as part of environmental advocacy. USGBC California has been quite active on making our furniture and insualtion safer. Technical Bulliten 117 has been updated fro 1975 and Research head Paul Werrmer has been leading the regualtory grind of implementation for last year’s landmark Assembly Bill 127.

So we hope that this USGBC+ issue is the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship chronicaling the exploits of our continued advocacy. It is certainly something worthy of your topline bookmark.

PS: USGBC+ also has an article on the San Diego’s Chapter Green Assistance Program (GAP) and the work done in Balboa Park with the Worldbeat Center. Hats of to Renée Daigneault and Ravi Bajaj and Doug Kot.

On Big-Ticket Bonds & Budgets: Establishing a Loading Order for Water

fire.ca.govMark Twain, noted California chronicaler and climatologist (“The coldest winter I ever saw was the Summer I spent in San Francisco…“) might not have actually made the telling remark that “Whisky’s for drinking and water’s for fighting over,” but whoever did was certainly on the mark.

California faces huge problems with water. We’ve long been warned about the murky history of Owens River water and that we live in a Cadillac Desert. Currently 80% of the state is under extreme drought conditions, and with a changing climate and growing population, this is not a situation that will get better on its own. While Coastal California concerns itself with transitioning browning lawns to badges of honor, the Central Valley is literally sinking as farmers pump groundwater at increasingly higher levels.

We’re talking about land subsidence due to the compaction of the aquifer system, which is a result of lowering ground water levels, which is mostly caused by pumping,” said hydrologist Michelle Sneed of the U.S. Geological Survey. As BakersfieldNow.com notes, the groundwater pumping is also affecting the way we move water on the surface. The sinking valley is damaging water canals that bring water to thirsty Southern California, and also protect us from flooding in wet years. If flood control channels are damaged by subsiding land, they will not be able to properly direct water flow away from the towns and cities in the Central Valley.

California is the only state in the western United States that does not regulate groundwater pumping, and water management and policy throughout the years has been a “backwater” of questionable agricultural practices, “un-metering” and promotion of expensive, unsustainable storage facilities. The time has come for all of us to take responsibility for our watershed. Just like with energy (& energy efficiency) policy, we need a Loading Order, a weighting of prioirties as we formulate hugely expensive water bonds, referendums and budgets.

Our Loading Order for Water would include:

Efficiency/Conservation programs at the local utility level (wPACE, On-Bill, etc.)
Centralized and/or onsite recycling and reuse at the local utility level
Existing Water Storage maintenance (dredging, seismic retrofit)
Stormwater capture and management
Groundwater/Aquifer remediation and recharge programs
Watershed management (regional)
Delta Sustainability
Urban River restoration and management

USGBC California recognizes that water and effective, sustainable water policy is worth fighting over (our views on whisky are somewhat mixed, although I personally can vouch for bourbon-marinated grilled corn). We have a great model with California energy policy’s hierarchy emphasizing efficiency first and foremost and then sustainable, distributed generation. Let’s use it towards building a better water future. Click on the letter image above to get the PDF file.

USGBC PolicyPalooza Logo 2014

PolicyPalooza 2014

USGBC PolicyPalooza Logo 2014 That special time is coming near: PolicyPalooza! Our annual Advocacy Day will be concurrent with the Green California Summit and promises to be a great big three-ring circus of fun, featuring our Day at the Capital, the Advocates Luncheon and the Green Hard Hat Awards Reception as well as special Green California Summit keynotes from Building Health Initiative leader Anne Simpson of CalPERS and Wade Crowfoot of the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research. In addition to the USGBC California booth (#608) on the exhibit floor, there will be USGBC “Greenbuild-style” presentations on Prop 39 programs, school water management, “Grey, Purple, Green” water policy, “Last Mile” code discussions and reports from USGBC Northern California Chapter’s Building Health Initiative.

USGBC Advocates from around the state will gather at the Capital for over 70 meetings and discuss “mainstreaming” topics like driving sustainable market transformation, specifying healthier building materials,  fostering innovative building permit delivery and enforcement metrics, codifying foundational greywater and recycled water plumbing and leveraging building energy data beyond the benchmark.

The Class of 2014 Green Hard Hat Awardees features water policy leader Assemblymember Mike Gatto (legislative sponsor of the dual-use plumbing “Purple Pipe” bill, AB 2282), energy efficiency policy leader Assemblymember Das Williams (sponsor of  the “Last Mile” energy code enforcement legislation, AB 1918) and Dan Burgoyne of the Department of General Services, point person for implementing the Governor’s Executive Order B-18-12 on State BuildingsResiliency_Doug and Ann_sm and statewide water management and other worthy initiatives. These notables follow in the footsteps of past champions like Governor Brown Senators Kevin de Leon,  Fran Pavley and Darrell Steinberg, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

A great, exhausting time will be sure to be had by all. We’ll be posting scenes of Green Hard Hat wearing in the near future.





USGBC Member Survey 2014

Make Your Voice Heard: It’s Member Survey Time!

USGBC Member Survey 2014 With a new year comes new challenges.  2013 saw the passage of two USGBC California-sponsored initiatives (AB 127 & AB 341), the continuation of other efforts like Prop 39,  CO2toEE and AB 758, and the start of movement in other focus areas like deep water reductions, healthier materials and “last mile” energy code enforcement. As we progress in these efforts, we need your help, encouragement and active involvement. Completing this survey is a great first step towards beginning a dialogue towards transforming the built environment. We want to know what you issues you care about, what we should be focusing our efforts on, and what kind of geographic distribution our advocates occupy. Go to www.tinyurl.com/membervoice to make your voice heard.

Coordination is California's Least Cost Path to a Clean Energy Future

By Carl Zichella

Carl Zichella, Director of Western Energy Transmission, San Francisco

A new study for California’s largest investor-owned and public utilities is the latest in a series of influential reports identifying the range of measures needed to add large amounts of renewable power to the grid quickly. The analysis, Investigating a Higher Renewables Portfolio Standard in California, conducted by the consulting firm Energy and Environmental Economics, Inc. (E3), focuses on the challenges to a single state, California, and affirms what many have been saying for a long time: cost-effective renewable integration requires coordination among states, diverse geographies and technologies and access to new markets and market tools.

Previous studies such as the Western Governors’ Association report Meeting Renewable Energy Targets in the West at Least Cost: The Integration Challenge; the Western Grid Group’s Western Grid 2050; NREL’s Renewable Electricity Futures Report; Energy Foundation’s America’s Power Plan; and, NREL’s Western Wind and Solar Integration Study to name a few have plowed similar ground from a regional and national perspective and all have found similar tactics are required to make renewable integration happen on a grand scale.

These include:

  • Regional planning
  • Better coordination, utilization and operation of the existing grid
  • Strategic transmission upgrades
  • Faster scheduling of generation onto the grid
  • Energy Imbalance Markets based on rapid (five minute) resource dispatch
  • Diverse portfolios of renewable technologies
  • Exploiting geographic diversity and the inherent uncorrelated variability it provides
  • Repurposing gas generation for flexibility and repowering gas plants with fast ramping technologies
  • Improved resource and weather forecasting
  • Reserve management
  • Taking advantage of electricity storage
  • Distribution- side energy efficiency and demand response tools

E3 touches upon the need for combining these measures in California with the largest portion (a third) of all western electricity demand, and which has designs on even deeper penetrations of renewable energy than have ever been added to a single system before. California is expected to meet its goal of providing 33% of its electricity energy from renewable power sources by 2020. The E3 study explores what the next likely steps may be if California shoots for 40-50% of its load being met by renewable generation by 2030. But California, like many states, has suffered from a sort of renewable xenophobia, the determination to meet all renewable generation development and integration needs from sources largely within its own borders. This report shows that going it alone will cost more, be technically much more difficult, and be likely to create overgeneration challenges when renewable power plants – mainly solar – cause a glut of generation into the system when demand for power is low.

In contrast, taking a more coordinated approach helps avoid or softens many of these problems and saves money; lots of it, while increasing the reliability of the grid and rapidly ramping down greenhouse gases and conventional air pollution. This is because coordination improves the efficiency of the grid, provides access to cheaper geographically diverse renewable resources that complement California’s own, and allows California to share (and sell) reserves and surplus renewable generation with neighboring balancing authorities and states. In combination these benefits mean fewer gas-fired power plants will be needed for balancing renewables and providing peaking power. The gas plants we will operate in the future will start and reach full power rapidly, use less fuel, emit less pollution and will be used principally to back up renewable power sources.

The E3 report takes a poke at quantifying the cost of renewable integration at 40 and 50% levels using a go-it-alone approach (9-23% increases), and this is likely to get most of the attention. But this analysis will likely be misinterpreted and misunderstood. Some may say the report shows renewable integration will come at too steep a price. But the report repeatedly points out that the costs will be lower if a coordinated and diversified approach is used. Utility rates will increase no matter what between now and 2030, making the cost of renewable power, which comes with no fuel cost volatility, a safer economic as well as environmental bet.

Source: NRDC

Letter to Gov. Brown: Californians United in Support of a Fracking Moratorium

By Damon Nagami

Damon Nagami, Senior Attorney, Santa Monica

Today, as the public comment period on fracking regulations ends, a broad and united coalition of 50 environmental, public health and social justice groups representing more than 2 million Californians just sent one unified comment, in the form of a letter, to Governor Brown asking him to place an immediate moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and other well stimulation activities. This letter can be viewed here. As we said back in July and have been saying for more than a year and a half now, California needs a time-out on fracking to allow the state the time it needs to thoroughly assess the health risks and environmental impacts, as well as how to protect against them.

This letter follows on the heels of letters from twenty leading scientists, twenty-seven of Brown’s former advisors, more than 100 chefs and others in the restaurant industry, and nine concerned legislators who are calling on Governor Brown to impose a moratorium on fracking in California.

I’ve blogged before about the long list of reasons why Californians should be concerned about fracking, and detailed reasons can be found in the public comment letter we submitted on the draft regulations today. Across the state, at hearings on the proposed regulations and the statewide environmental impact report (EIR) required by Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), in geographically and culturally diverse cities including Oakland, Sacramento, Long Beach, Salinas, Ventura, and Santa Maria, thousands of citizens echoed our coalition’s call, speaking out in passionate and undeniable support of a ban or moratorium on fracking.

While California has been at the forefront of environmental protection in many areas, on fracking the state is still way behind. We need to catch up to the other states that have taken action on fracking, like New York, where the Governor issued an executive order effectively halting fracking in order to give state regulators time to fully evaluate the risks to public health and the environment, in order to determine how to protect against them. Governor Brown should take similar action, and in doing so he would be listening to Californians, who have now made clear in two polls that a moratorium on fracking is needed now.

Governor Brown has the authority to make sure that Californians’ safety and public health come first. He can, and should, direct the state’s oil and gas agency, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), to carry out its statutory duty to prevent oil and gas operations from harming human health, property, and natural resources. Until we have a better understanding of the risks of fracking and the climate impacts from developing the Monterey Shale, and until adequate safeguards are in place, to continue to allow fracking leaves the health of Californians and our precious natural resources unprotected. This is why Californians are speaking out now to urge the Governor to impose an immediate moratorium on fracking, acidizing and other forms of well stimulation.

Source: NRDC

Purple: Where Gray makes Green

Scaling up the purple pipe system statewide has the potential to stabilize California’s variable groundwater reserves.  Creating a sustainable and comprehensive statewide system fosters predictable service levels for California’s industrial, commercial, and residential end users.

Water is critical to the health of our family, friends and neighbors and the strength of our natural and built environment. California needs to create a comprehensive statewide strategy that prioritizes local, reliable, healthy and sustainable sources of water – today.

(Prop/SB/AB) 39 Roadshow

You know that old adage about showing up being some large percentage of the job? Well, the movement to get Prop 39 fairly implemented within California took to the road recently with Senator de León convening the Subcommittee on Fiscal Oversight and Bonded Indebtedness in San Jose and San Diego. USGBC California has been an early, active and enthusiastic supporter of Proposition 39, which will raise $2.5B over the next five years for public energy efficiency projects, and arranged to have accomplished representatives appear and testify at both hearings. While it will certainly take more than showing up to assure that funds are distributed wisely, we want to continue working with implementing legislative authors Senator de León (SB39) and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (AB39), Tom Steyer and Kate Gordon of the Center for the Next Generation and other stakeholders to realize the shared vision of improving existing school building performance across California, with special emphasis on previously under-served districts.

alice sung_1.23.13
Alice Sung testifies in San Jose.

Prop 39 was favored by a strong 60% mandate of California voters this past November. We agree that zeroing in on targeted improvements within schools will demonstrate progress across a wide range of communities and keeps building on the public trust of stewardship and wise use of this special revenue source.

In the first hearing at San Jose’s sprawling Independence High, longtime Northern California Chapter schools advocate Alice Sung of Greenbank Associates zeroed in on the important link between healthy classrooms and learning. Speaking as a LEED AP, member of AIA, CASH, CHPS, AASHE, technical advisor to the State Architect and Department of Education Schools of the Future Program, but especially as a mother of two daughters enrolled in the public school system, Alice stressed the theme that where children learn matters. Beyond the societal benefits of lower environmental impacts and reduced energy usage, green schools can improve student academic performance and general health. Pointing to a large library of research data, Alice described how natural daylight aids cortisol hormone production, improving concentration and academic achievement, and how “smartly-controlled” HVAC systems providing proper ventilation and improved air quality increase student task speed and offer a sanctuary from asthma-inducing neighborhoods impacted by freeways, factories, or other air pollution sources. Alice’s ability to combine the science of healthy green buildings with the passion of a committed parent made for a very strong and effective presentation.

Sean Hulen_San Diego
Sean Hulen speaks in San Diego.

Two days later in San Diego, Sean Hulen, VP at Balfour Beatty Constriction (second largest U.S. educational builder), father of two school-age children and San Diego Green Building Council Board Member, spoke from a different perspective. Representing the “Big Tent” diversity of USGBC members across California, Sean relayed his history as a carpenter working out of the back of his ’73 Buick Convertible and builder. Touching on the reversal of the effects of the Broken Window Theory that he has seen, Sean applauded efforts to find stable funding for facilities maintenance and operations and for modernization of aging schools. He pointed to the local Santee School District program and the community pride of ownership (and rising test scores) that the retrofits have engendered, as well as a related example of governmental leadership in healthy building about which he has first-hand experience: the LEED Platinum Wounded Warrior Facility at Camp Pendleton, which is designed to provide the best possible living and working conditions to heal our injured and ill Marines returning from the wars overseas.

Lastly, Sean quoted a Kenyan proverb that sums up his building aspirations: “If there are to be problems, may they come during my life-time so that I can resolve them and give my children the chance of a good life.” Prop 39 implementers would be well-advised to take just this view.

Additional hearings are planned for LA, the Inland Empire and the Central Valley, and USGBC California will look to provide perspective from our deep bench of statewide green building practitioners.