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Derry Project of Interest to Sierra Club

Original post made by Brielle Johnck on Mar 9, 2007

Article from the Loma Prietan
Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter

Update from the Sustainable Land Use Committee: Menlo Park and San Carlos

By Irvin Dawid, former chair

Recently the Sustainable Land Use (SLU)committee has become involved in developmentsin two Peninsula communities, Menlo Park and San Carlos. Interestingly, the two developments are at the opposite ends of the planning stage, and therein perhaps lies an important lesson.

In October, SLU heard from Jim Pollart of Foster City-based O'Brien Group, developer of a three-acre lot known as the Derry Property opposite the Menlo Park Caltrain Station. Mr. Pollart explained the "mixed use" project (i.e. having residential, retail, and office components) to the committee with a diagram depicting the residential component (135 for-sale homes, with a density of 40 units/acre and 4 stories or 50 ft. high) backing up to the railroad track side of the project and stepping down to 3 stories on the El Camino side.

The project has garnered enormous political opposition. A referendum petition was circulated, and it gathered the requisite number of signatures, so the project is halted as the City Council deliberates whether to place the project to a vote of the people, or rescind its approval of the zoning change that made the project possible.

SLU members, while expressing support for a project that so clearly meets most, if not all, the committee's objectives of being transit oriented, with an affordable component, and meeting the minimum density requirement, explained to Mr. Pollart that before the committee could recommend a position, it was necessary to "score" the project according to "green building criteria". This is a new requirement, effective October, 2006, resulting from input from the chapter's conservation committee.

The Conservation Committee should feel justified requiring a development be considered sustainable or 'green' if the Sierra Club is to put its imprimatur on it. Mr. Pollart has done his part. He has submitted a "Build It Green: Multifamily GreenPoint Checklist" for the Derry Property project. The O'Brien Group is the first developer to comply with the new guideline, and we appreciate his cooperation.

SLU will review the checklist at its February meeting, as well as await the outcome of the Menlo Park City Council deliberations on the referendum petition.
Meanwhile, in San Carlos, SLU was offered an opportunity by the chapter's San Carlos-Belmont Group to participate in their December group meeting where Samtrans (San Mateo transit agency) and a developer discussed a project being planned on eight vacant acres adjacent to the San Carlos Caltrain Station. The project, which is only at the beginning of the planning stage, clearly meets the criteria described above, i.e. sufficient density, transit oriented, and mixed-use.

The developer chosen by SamTrans, Foster City-based, Legacy Partners Residential, was given the "green guideline" criteria at the onset, so they know what is necessary to comply with the SLU guidelines for endorsement. Should the Legacy project receive a SLU endorsement in the future, it is hoped that the Sierra Club support would help the community understand the benefits of these types of developments. They add to a community's vitality, provide housing opportunities for city workers and their children, and most importantly in a world facing the imminent dangers of climate change, reduce the "carbon footprint" of the community by allowing more workers to live closer to their jobs and be less auto-dependent.

Comments (5)

Posted by GreenSkeptic, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 9, 2007 at 5:45 pm

As a Sierra Club member, I am pleased when green building is promoted. However, I am very skeptical about the purported benefits of this type of very dense housing. What open space has been preserved forever? Where is it? How many families and lower paid workers really move into such housing? What evidence is there that the carbon footprint of these developments is an improvement above what is already there? Won't there be more cars? More demand for water and power? Seems to me that this push for urbanization just uses up finite resources more quickly. How green is that?


Posted by Keen on Green, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Mar 10, 2007 at 6:00 pm

So now the high density make-a-quick-buck-before-the-housing-market-collapses developers have found some dupes, er, supporters among the more vocal environmentalists.

Come on, folks, we can see through this, can't we? Do you really suppose the workers who drive here from Tracy are doing so because they can't find a house in Menlo Park? Or are they making the commute because they want the 4 br/3 ba house with swimming pool that they will never be able to afford on the mid-peninsula? How likely are they to uproot their families and move into 900 sq ft units on the train tracks?

Maybe, in a perfect world in which the social engineers prevailed, everyone was assigned jobs, and public transportation was readily accessible and flexible, we could argue that building high density housing would reduce car trips. But if you take a look at existing housing developments near train stations/mass transit in this area, you will find that most of the residents still use their cars for just about everything.

It's too bad that well-intended people like Brielle have allowed themselves to be snake oiled by these utopian scenarios of such dubious provenance.


Posted by Hopeful, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Oct 24, 2007 at 2:05 pm

Technology alone won't tame climate-change juggernaut
Tom Steinbach,Mike Howe

California is on the cutting edge of America's efforts to reverse climate change, right? And the Bay Area is on the cutting edge of California, right?

Then why are we building like it's 1957, and the best thing we can think of is driving on the freeway? Maybe this is what makes it different: Now we can drive hybrids on the freeway.

Guess we're on the cutting edge, after all.

We all know that if we want to keep our climate, and our planet, relatively unscathed by climate change, we need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Last year, California - in an act that really was on the cutting edge - passed the Global Warming Solutions Act to reduce the state's total greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. That's an ambitious goal.

Now we have to get there.

The clear first step is to tackle transportation: All those cars and trucks belching out carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Transportation accounts for almost half of all the greenhouse gas emissions in the Bay Area and statewide.

There are two main ways to reduce emissions from transportation. We can use an example to illustrate each approach. Let's imagine a guy named Dan who lives in Dublin and drives a big sport utility vehicle to work at a high-tech company in Mountain View every day. It's a three-hour round trip and costs him at least $60 a week on gas - just for the commute. Dan would like to lower his impact on the climate (and maybe save some money on gas).

Here's his first option: He could buy a hybrid car with much better gas mileage. He'd save about $45 a week on gas, and he'd reduce his greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds. Not bad.

Here's the second option: Dan could move to Mountain View and have only a three-mile round-trip commute. Even if he kept driving his truck to work, he only would spend $3 per week on gas for the commute, and he'd reduce his greenhouse gas emissions by almost 90 percent.

The upshot? Dan could do more for the climate (and his wallet) by moving himself and his gas guzzler close to his job than by getting a hybrid car for his long commute.

Of course, it's no small task to up and move. There's a lot to take into account. The thing is, Dan would save more than greenhouse gases and money on gas - he'd save that most precious of commodities, time. He'd have at least 10 hours more a week if he lived a few miles from work. He could spend that time with his wife and kids, or could play basketball after work, or run errands that he now does on the weekend. If he were really ambitious, maybe he could even bike to work - that would still save time, and he'd be a lot healthier. (It's hard to exercise much when your commute takes so long that you all you have time to do is eat, put the kids to bed, and sack out every night, before getting up to get on the road all over again.)

But maybe - and this is probably the case - Dan lives in Dublin because he can't afford to live in Mountain View. That illustrates why affordable housing is truly an environmental issue; when people can't afford to live close to their jobs, they end up driving long distances and pumping more carbon dioxide into the air.

So if Dan is committed to reducing his impact on the climate, he might well do both: Get a hybrid and move close to work, too (if he can afford it).

That's the equivalent of what California will need to do.

Dan's options illustrate the two ways to reduce emissions from transportation: increasing fuel economy and using low-carbon fuels ("technology"); and decreasing the number of miles driven ("travel").

Technological improvements are important. We have to reduce the amount of pollution released by the average car. California is again leading the way on this, with AB1493. The bill, which will take effect next fall (pending an automaker lawsuit and a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency), will require reductions in vehicle emissions. By 2020, it will eliminate about a fifth of the greenhouse gases created by cars and trucks. That's a big step.

But technology isn't enough. Even with the new vehicle-emissions law, California's total emissions from transportation in 2020 are projected to be 6 percent higher - not lower - than they are today. This is because the number of miles we drive will increase. Here in the Bay Area, it's predicted that for every 4 miles we drive now, we'll be driving 5 in 2020.

Our cars will be more fuel-efficient, but we'll be driving them more. So we'll be right back at square one - or really, square negative one - because the impacts of our travel will probably have overwhelmed the benefits of our technology.

We need to do a lot more if we're actually going to reduce our emissions. We've got to reduce the amount we drive.

To do that, we need to build in a way that makes it easy to get around. We need to build more homes near jobs, and make sure people can afford those homes. We need to build neighborhoods with shops, services, good public transit, and parks - all within easy walking distance of homes.

It might seem like it's too late to talk about building so we don't have to drive as much. Our cities are already built, aren't they? Well, recent studies have estimated that half of all development that will be around in 2030 hasn't been built yet. There's still time. We can still choose how development should look.

This being the Bay Area, it's no surprise that we're making headway on the technology front in fighting global warming. Google and other tech firms have made big investments in plug-in hybrid cars, and more and more people are buying Priuses or even converting their cars to biodiesel. Technological innovations are at the heart of the Bay Area's culture and economy. We are experts at thinking outside the box and dreaming big - not building a better CD player, but instead rethinking the whole way we purchase and listen to music.

But when it comes to the other side of the equation - just driving less - it's like we're still using 8-track tapes in an iPod world. Why are we still building as if it's the 1950s, and we think strip malls, subdivisions and freeways are symbols of the good life?

It's time to turn the Bay Area's innovative talent to the question of how to use our land well. Instead of saying, "We have to drive, but maybe we should drive a different kind of car," let's ask, "How can we make it easier to get where we want to go?" Let's envision a better way to live for people and the planet, and let's start making it happen.

The Bay Area really can be on the cutting edge. But we have to act fast. When it comes to the climate, we don't have time to waste. Global climate change is going to take all the solutions we can provide. If we want to keep our region and our planet habitable - if we want to stop the climate juggernaut - we can't rely on technology alone. We need to do everything we know will work now.

We know it'll work to drive less. Let's build our cities to make it possible.

Tom Steinbach is the former executive director and Mike Howe is the interim director of Greenbelt Alliance, which promotes the protection of open space in the Bay Area and advocates for building homes in established urban areas. Contact them at www.greenbelt.org. from Web Link


Posted by Following the money, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 24, 2007 at 9:59 pm

Maybe Dan lives in Dublin because he wants a real home, not a ticky tacky townhouse in Mountain View. Maybe he lives in Dublin because he knows his job in Mountain View isn't going to last forever and next year he could be working in Pleasanton.

Let's stop soaking up the utopian pap the developers are spouting. When they start building homes that don't have garages or parking spaces, maybe we can take them seriously. Until then, let's not let them get away with this scam.

P.S. If you're really worried about all the miles people drive to work, why not spend more energy promoting telecommuting? That solves the emissions problem without requiring a lot of junk high density housing.


Posted by feeling green, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Oct 25, 2007 at 8:50 am

No green organization is going to get behind telecommuting because it doesn't make anyone rich. The green organizations support whatever causes their funders tell them to support.


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