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.