Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Affordable Housing and Air Quality

Sacramento County has one of the most innovative and progressive affordable housing ordinances in the country. The ordinance was crafted with a coalition of building industry representatives and housing advocates and went into affect in 2005. Yet, just as soon as a more politically favorable climate emerged on the County Board of Supervisors, the Building Industry Association began to backtrack. The ordinance, which has already created 4,000 new affordable units, is now in jeopardy according to the Sacramento Bee:

The building industry challenged this ordinance in court and lost the first round. That would suggest the county is on strong legal footing with its requirement that 15 percent of any new development provide for affordable housing.

Yet for dubious reasons, a new majority on the Board of Supervisors has been negotiating a settlement with the building industry to revise this landmark ordinance. Housing advocates, who helped craft the original law, were excluded from these talks and only recently have seen details of the settlement proposal. What they've seen gives them great fear that supervisors are preparing to rush through changes that undermine the goals of the 2004 ordinance.

It isn't a stretch to link the lack of affordable housing in our urban areas to poor air quality. Just think about the situation in the Bay Area during the past several decades. As housing prices soared, more and more families had to search for housing outside of the urban corridors--Livermore, Gilroy, San Benito County, Santa Rosa. These commuters spend hours a day on the freeway in order to fulfill the American Dream. But that Dream has turned into a nightmare as congestion worsened and pollution emissions increased. In the Bay Area most of that pollution drifts through the Delta to worsen air quality in the Central Valley. See the Transportation and Land Use Coalition website for more on the links between housing, environment and transportation.

In the same fashion, greenhouse gas emissions increase with the increase in the vehicle miles traveled to these affordable homes. It is imperative that local politicians do all they can to create and enhance a mix of affordable homes in the urban core in order to stem the rise in homelessness and improve our environment. Contact the Sacramento Housing Alliance to find out what you can do to protect affordable housing in sacramento.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


I make a conscious effort not to put together too many posts that unreflectively link to other sites. In my humble opinion, any blog worth its salt must provide some original content, thought, or synthesis. Simply pointing people to other writers’ posts is journalistic parasitism, and it doesn’t usually make for good reading.

Nevertheless, I think it’s worth sending out some recognition to other sites that are of interest because of their perspective on transportation and/or the natural resource policies in the Sacramento region. Here are a few that I’ve found interesting.

The blog Walkable Neighborhoods just finished a monthlong photographic examination of the walkability of urban areas in the United States. Each day, Eric Fredericks posted photos and/or commentary highlighting pedestrian-friendly urban design around the country. Some of the choices were, to say the least, unexpected. (Sacramento’s K Street mall? Sure, it’s walkable. But give me a reason to want to walk there!) And the project might be faulted for its heavy reliance on university towns and incorporated enclaves of wealth, both of which are able to address growth and traffic issues in ways that can’t easily be exported to cities where the teeming masses work and play. Nevertheless, the project is provocative, and some of the material is both enlightening and inspiring.

Locally, Sacramento is blessed with a complementary set of blogs focused on Sacramento Regional Transit, the public transportation agency that is the object of both affection and frustration for many of us. RT Driver provides an employee’s perspective on both daily life in the Sacramento transit system and on policy issues affecting operations. RT Rider covers many of the same issues from the perspective of a passenger. Both blogs have had fascinating and passionate entries on the proposed cuts to transit service as a result of the Governor’s and Legislature’s cowardly budget proposals. Check those entries out here and here. (And make plans to appear at the RT Public Hearing at 6 PM on Aug. 13!)

Finally, SacBee editor Stuart Leavenworth is slowly establishing a blog covering global warming issues. He calls it the Hot House. I’m at best ambivalent about the Sacramento Bee’s journalistic and editorial coverage of transportation and air quality issues in the region. Still, a global warming blog is a great idea, and I’m hoping that providing a forum focused on the issue has impacts on the rest of their editorial policy. Leavenworth recently has had a couple of provocative posts about the Attorney General’s strategy of forcing local planning agencies to include greenhouse gas emissions in their CEQA analysis. Read those posts here and here.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Private Sector Approaches

As an advocacy organization, ECOS naturally is especially concerned with public policy issues that affect transportation and natural resources. But it's worth noting that there are private sector enterprises that see opportunity in providing people with alternatives to the individually owned automobile as a way of getting around. Here are two examples.

Notwithstanding the French love of the Tour de France and the hackneyed image of the baguette-bearing cycliste, France's capital city isn't famous for being bicycle friendly. (Maybe that's a consequence of the populace having smoked a few too many Gauloises.) Nevertheless, a recent venture is attempting to convince Parisians to take advantage of the city's 230-mile network of bike lanes. Velib ("Velo liberte") is a city sponsored project financed by the advertising giant JC Decaux (better known to Californians as the developers of San Francisco's pay toilets/advertising kiosks). Velib has established a citywide network of 750 bicycle stations where residents and tourists can rent one of 10,648 three-speed bicycles. Other European cities have attempted to provide free bicycles for the temporary use of anyone moving around the urban area, but people tend to undervalue (and therefore abuse) goods and services provided for free. The Velib strategy is to charge a small daily or monthly fee for bicycle use. Also, the bikes are equipped with alarms that go off if they're not returned on time. Other cities, even some in the United States, are watching closely to see if the project works.

In most places in the U.S., using an automobile to get around is at least an occasional necessity. But in urban areas, not everyone needs a car all the time. Many people wind up dumping lots of money and resources (purchase price, maintenance, insurance, parking) into cars that they don't need to use every day. For these people, car ownership is inefficient and needlessly expensive. What's more, once you own a car, you find reasons to use it.

One solution is car sharing. Car sharing is basically a form of car rental-- a service that makes cars quickly and cheaply available for rental by the hour. By making it easier for people to acquire a shared vehicle, car sharing services make it possible for people to forego individual car ownership, even if they need an automobile on a regular basis. Reducing the number of cars in circulation has direct impacts on parking demand and land use in densely populated areas. And by reducing the availability of vehicles, it can also reduce congestion by encouraging people to use alternative means (transit, bicycles, walking) to get around. For-profit car share enterprises exist in the East Bay and San Francisco, among other places.