Monday, June 22, 2009

Is The 'San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments' Pushing A Greenhouse Gas Agenda That Will Only Help Make Global Warming Worse?

Perhaps one of the most ecologically devastating pieces of legislation to come out of Sacramento in quite some time was originally designed to, believe it or not, actually serve as a solution to greenhouse gases and global warming. Yet more proof that good intentions in Sacramento rarely survive for long in the patronage mill. Every lobby requiring its own special pound of flesh.

Senate Bill 375 is, on paper, a law designed to halt the ecologically adverse effects of suburban sprawl. The idea being that if people lived in compact urban centers close to work, they would have to drive shorter distances, thus cutting the amount of greenhouse gas causing auto emissions that contribute to our global warming problem.

And how would this be accomplished? By permitting one of the most draconian high-density building booms in California history. As the solons of Sacramento would have it, they would need to help make large amounts of new housing available to all of those people returning to the urban core from their current homes out there areas now considered to be suburban sprawl. Here in the SGV that would mean huge new housing construction in those areas linked to Los Angeles by rail lines, bus routes, and plain old proximity. And certainly Sierra Madre, along with our neighboring cities in the San Gabriel Valley, would be targeted for such Sacramento imposed new housing demands courtesy of SB 375.

Our local regional planning syndicate, the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, is right there and ready to enforce this law. And its Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee Energy Working Group, chaired by none other than our very own Joe Mosca, is doing all it can to get Frankenstein up and walking. In its report on their recent meeting, held June 17, 2009 and right here at Sierra Madre City Hall (apparently an RSVP only confab in order to keep out the riffraff), the following passage from the agenda informed us of the following:

"Staff reviewed the most recent developments regarding SB 375 including the issues of sub-delegation and regional targets. An SB 375 briefing is scheduled for June 11th from 4 - 6 pm at the Garvey Community Center in Rosemead. It is very important the elected officials, city managers, and planning staff attend this meeting as the San Gabriel Valley considers it strategy for implementation."

Now why SGVCOG would announce a June 11 meeting at a June 17th conclave is chronologically challenging. Certainly some of us might have liked to attend. But considering the source, this level of confusion is not completely unexpected.

So it looks like Sacramento, backed up by organizations such as the SGVCOG, is ready to begin implementing what would be a centrally planned population shift and building boom. Mostly in the name of cutting peoples' commuting times, but also as preparation for a large population increase that has yet to materialize. The basic assumption here being that automobile emissions are the major contributing factor to greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore the preeminent source of global warming. 

But is this actually true? Apparently the Green community, along with those concerned about Global Warming,  have some very different viewpoints on the ecological benefits of allowing massive high-density building projects such as the kind being pushed by SGVCOG.

The U.S. Green Building Council, an organization dedicated to ecologically responsible construction, lists these inconvenient facts:

- Buildings account for 38% of CO2 emissions in the United States - more than either the transportation or industrial sectors.
- Over the next 25 years, CO2 emissions from buildings are projected to grow faster than any other sector, with emissions from commercial buildings projected to grow the fastest - 1.8% a year through 2030.
- Buildings consume 70% of the electricity load in the U.S.

A blog simply known as Good has this to say:

"I'd wager that if you polled even well-informed citizens, they'd rank fuel efficiency as the number one problem we face in trying to reduce carbon emissions. And I'd bet that, if in this very column you're reading, I went on to talk about all the ways cars are destructive to the environment, not a single person would respond: 'But how important is that really?' ... But the plain fact, as Mother Jones (magazine) points out, is that buildings, the electricity they use to run and the materials they require to build, are responsible for nearly half of our nation's carbon footprint. Transportation? Twenty-seven percent. So it's safe to say that while transportation is crucial, we can't solve our carbon problem if we don't address the energy we use in our buildings."   

A site called Climate Feedback put it quite succinctly: "Buildings account for up to half of all energy consumption, and are the biggest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions."

An article entitled "Buildings Major Source of Greenhouse Gases, Expert Says," quoted famed architect Connie Wallace this way:

"The biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption in this nation and around the world is the buildings in which we live and work - not gas guzzling SUVs and other widely recognized energy consumers that we hear so much about - an internationally recognized architect and authority on preventing global warming said here this weekend."

The New York Times ran an article on April of 2007 called "Buildings Called Key Source of City's Greenhouse Gases."

"Laying the groundwork for a plan to reduce the production of greenhouse gases in the city, the Bloomberg administration released a study yesterday showing that New York's roughly 950,000 buildings are responsible for a vast majority of the city's carbon dioxide emissions ... In sharp contrast to the national average of about 32 percent, the city's buildings are responsible for 79 percent of the greenhouse gases produced by the city ... Transportation systems, including mass transit, cars and trucks, are responsible for most of the remaining 21 percent of the emissions, which are considered a major factor in global warming."

And finally, an article than ran last July in The Washington Post called "To Reduce Greenhouse Gases, Start By Shrinking Buildings," put it this way:

"New Mexico architect Edward Mazrin has a proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. His target: buildings ... Most people do not connect the two, but in the United States, buildings are the largest source of greenhouses gases. And half these buildings are houses ... About 25 percent of building-related greenhouse gas is produced on-site by fossil-fuel-burning furnaces and water heaters. The rest is produced off-site by the local utility that generates electricity. About half of U.S. electricity is generated at coal-fired plants, which are hugely polluting." 

So this does raise a couple of questions. If buildings are the source of the lion's share of greenhouse gases, and therefore contribute the most to global warming, why would Sacramento and their messenger boys at places like SGVCOG be pushing vast amounts of new high-density (multi-unit) housing in places like Los Angeles County? And why is it Sacramento passed SB 375, the bill that is being used by these people as the legal muscle behind this mad rush to potentially ecologically devastating new development?

The answer, of course, is that all this talk about carbon dioxide emissions, global warming, and the future of life on Planet Earth, is just greenwash being used to help sell the kind of building boom high-powered and cash-rich organizations such as the Building Industry Association and California Association of Realtors so desperately want. Sacramento had to have known that massive new housing construction would only make the greenhouse gas emission problem worse. But that never was the point. As always, in the end it is all about the building and realty industries making money. It always is.

Of course, there is another way to look at this. If smaller buildings and less densely packed neighborhoods emit lower levels of greenhouse gases, then Measure V must be the Greenest thing that has happened in the San Gabriel Valley for quite some time.


  1. solution=get out of SCAG...Email your elected officials..Its hard to believe any normal person could be conned into supporting such a slum...unless of course they have plans to move on to better and bigger things.

  2. Everything always goes back to that one thing, high-density
    development. Sacramento, the BIA, CAR, all they want to do
    is build in areas where there no longer is any room. And all
    we see is one cockamamie scheme after another to make this
    happen. SB 375 will end up in the dust heap within a year.

  3. It is absurd to believe the proposed structures were designed by Human Beings...Incectman perhaps?

  4. Hollywood Park racetrack is owned by Bay Meadows Reality out of northern Calif.
    They also owned the race track in San Mateo that used to be the Bay Meadows Racetrack. It was torn down a while back to build a big real estate development. Then the crash hit.......the demolished former racetrack stands as is, they can't even clear out the rubble!
    Hollywood Park is set to be demolished next year, the City Council in Inglewood just passed the okay for the development on the property of a big ant colony type housing with a park and a school, shops, very grandiose plans. Problem is no one wants to or can afford to build it.
    Anyone not familiar with Hollywood's next to the Forum in Inglewood, right smack under the LAX air traffic, planes zoom by creating massive pollution and noise 24/7.
    It is in an area so plagued by gangs and crime that if you go over to Friday night racing....go out in the paddock any time after 9:00 pm, you will likely hear gun fire. They have a casino on the property that I understand will be kept. Any night of the week, you can go in there and gamble with drug dealers and other shady characters. Hookers are plentiful. Not such a good place.
    I don't believe this development project will be built. I was sure hoping it would be. I would prefer horseracing to be at Santa Anita.
    I was hoping Obama would pass off some stimulus money to Inglewood and the developers to get it built. I fear it won't happen.
    Where the HELL IS BART DOYLE, SCAG, MOSCA, the BIA and CAR when you need them??????
    They need you in Inglewood, they need you in San get the HELL out of Sierra Madre.
    We don't need you here.

  5. Read the following link: Joe and John must be jumping for joy. The changes to the CEQA process will strip cities of a review process and deelopers will be able to push through projects.

  6. Totalitarianism with a smiley button for a face. Strip municipalities of the right to control their own affairs and open them up to plundering by the very people who pushed through the laws.

  7. old,ky

    isn't santa anita going on the auction block on

    september 9?

  8. Steve,

    I think that's the date Santa Anita goes up for auction, it was suppose to be in July, they postponed it.
    I understand there are at least 3 buyers.
    One is a group of horsemen, B.Wayne Huges, Marty Wygod were mentioned.
    Another big owner, don't remember the name is going to put a bid in, he's going in partners with the Teamsters Union.
    Chinese investors are putting in a bid.
    This is just what I've heard, and sure isn't official.
    Of course we are hoping horsemen get Santa Anita.
    Steve, do you have any idea what your City Council is favoring?

  9. re pasta&george...Welcome indeed to the NEW WORLD ORDER..Citizen Rights as we have known them are being diminished slowly but very surely.I was particulary chilled by the penalties incurred if the City refuses to comply.

  10. Welcome to Soviet California.

  11. No Kidding...State Fascism has arrived.The usual checks against oppressive government have been diminished and will therefore challenge the community,s ability to control it's future.

  12. The state will inform the regional governments what it expects, and they in turn will inform rubber stamp powerless City Councils what it is they must do. All to be enforced by apparatchiks like the appalling Mr. Mosca.

    No wonder people are fleeing this state in droves.

  13. you folks in sierra madre are taking a stand

    against the facsists in sacramento and in your

    own town.

    you're giving the rest of us some real hope.

    good luck

  14. Wow. From the same people who ran California into the ground, now comes SB375. Or, as it should be known, the "Strip City Govts Of All Power" Act.

  15. Doctor Stacatto?

    Please check in on this today?


  16. The AIA is taking proactive action on the CO2 issue from building construction, it's an accepted fact in the industry. The real question is how to change the economic system that drives the development simply for profit, not for need.

    With respect to changing the dysfunctional economic system that rewards destructive growth practices, here's a link to Riane Eisler's site

  17. According to The California Planning and Development Report

    Sorry this is long, but it is important to read.

    5. CEQA Exemptions and Streamlining

    In terms of planning practice, the most powerful provisions of SB 375 have to do with CEQA Exemptions and Streamlining. Under the new law, certain types of development projects are exempt from CEQA – or qualify for streamlined review – if they conform to the Sustainable Communities Strategy. And these projects qualify for streamlined review even if they CONFLICT with local plans. Of course, such projects can't qualify for an exemption or streamlined review until a Sustainable Communities Strategy is adopted, which is likely about three years from now.

    But the list of caveats is long, meaning the eventual impact of the CEQA provisions may not be as significant as you might think.

    Two types of projects qualify for CEQA breaks under SB 375 – residential or mixed-use projects, and “transit priority projects”.

    Under the law, a residential or mixed-use project that conforms to the Sustainable Community Strategy qualifies for CEQA streamlining. Specifically, the CEQA review DOES NOT have to cover growth-inducing impacts; and it DOES NOT have to cover either project-specific or cumulative impacts dealing with climate change.

    More significant is the “transit priority projects." These projects can qualify for either a full CEQA exemption or a streamlined environmental assessment if they meet certain criteria.

    “Transit priority projects” are projects that meet the following criteria:

    1. Contain at least 50% residential use
    2. Have a minimum net density of 20 units per acre
    3. Have a floor-area ratio for the commercial portion of the project at 0.75
    4. Be located within ½ mile of either a rail stop, a ferry terminal, or a bus line with 15-minute headways.

    Under the law, projects can qualify for a full CEQA exemption if:

    • They are no bigger than 8 acres or 200 units
    • They can be served by existing utilities
    • They will not have a significant effect on historic resources
    • Their buildings exceed energy efficiency standards
    • They provide ANY of the following:
    - 5 acres of open space
    - 20% moderate income housing
    - 10% low income housing
    - 5% very low income housing.

    Under the law, “transit priority projects" that don’t meet these criteria still qualify for a truncated environmental assessment similar to the truncated environmental assessment permitted for residential and mixed-use projects specified above.

  18. Sir Eric, thank you for the great research that went into this article. Wish you could debate the topic with Joe & John. There'd have to be strict time limits of course, or J&J would try to spin it endlessly. You, Sir, would win.

  19. Sad to say, pasta's right about SB 375. It's the law. Check it all out at

    I will try to have a few minutes to review the whole thing, but whether you call it "streamlining" or "stripping the people of their powers" you now have a statutory preference for transit villages of a certain type. I end up feeling like this was written by the BIA and it probably was. If you go to the link above, you can go through all the committee reports and see what happened and how it was changed. Kind of like watching sausage get made. Anyway, I think they've put in so many specific criteria that we're not likely to get too much from this, but bear in mind that California's CEQA Guidelines are meant for big city environments like LA, East Bay, San Jose, Orange County, San Diego, etc., and not for little towns like Sierra Madre. We ran into that when drafting Sierra Madre's CEQA Guidelines. The BIA faction tried to run through everything in the State guidelines but a few watchful citizens raised objections and got a lot of the proforma stuff that would have permitted the paving of Stonehouse thrown out. Meanwhile, The legislature gives and the legislature takes away. Here they're taking away. Maybe if Bart and John Leung end up in jail we won't have to think much about transit villages any more.

  20. I have read two alarming facts that show that California is truly going off the rails: 1) the notion that you can build your way to lower greenhouse emissions and 2) that there's been a successful move by the BIA/CAR industrial complex to remove environmental review of transit development from CEQA. Personally, I am outraged by the whole thing. Sierra Madre ought to get out of SCAG but it won't change the voodoo that's going on in Sacramento. And of course wait until you hear the mantra about how this is going to help the economy. Give me a break.

  21. Thanks for checking in on this latest unfortunate legislation, Doctor Staccato.
    Sierra Madre should get out of SCAG as a protest if nothing else.


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