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Local fight against global warming: Activists push for ‘Cool Cities’

Sharon Noguchi

They came with the goal of saving the planet and left Saturday with a handy tool kit of ideas that began with how to approach City Hall. About 40 foot soldiers in the battle against global warming got their marching orders at a workshop in Mountain View offered by the Sierra Club and two other environmental organizations.

Why fight at City Hall against carbon dioxide emissions? Because about 45 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions come from transportation, and 28 percent from electricity generation and natural gas burning to heat and power buildings, according to Bay Area air quality officials. And cities and counties make the rules that shape that energy consumption.

“Technology alone is not enough to reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions. We have to pay attention to how much we drive our fuel-efficient cars,” said Stephanie Reyes of Greenbelt Alliance, a workshop co-sponsor. In California, vehicle miles traveled has increased at nearly twice the rate of population growth.

In other words, you can’t solve global warming by simply driving a Prius.

High on the list of planet-friendly ideas is more of the “right” kind of development: high-density, walkable communities, affordable housing, retail and commercial nestling alongside houses.

The Sierra Club’s 2-year-old Cool Cities campaign aims to change the way many people live, with less sprawl and more transit near housing.

“This is the major social movement of the early 21st century — fighting climate change,” said Matt Vander Sluis of the statewide Planning and Conservation League, another workshop sponsor. San Jose, a leader among cities in the fight, aims to reduce per-capita emissions by 50 percent within 15 years. California has passed a law ordering greenhouse-gas emissions to be rolled back to 1990 levels by 2020.

But setting goals is one thing; achieving them is another. Palo Alto, lauded for its “green” building policies, a few years ago approved a housing project called by some at the workshop “an abomination” — upscale housing at the former Rickey’s Hyatt site on El Camino Real, a major transit corridor. Neighbors fearing traffic beat back the original proposal for a hotel and more affordable units, which was just the kind of development that planet-protectors advocate.

Workshop organizers suggested the way to fight nimby-ism and enforce anti-greenhouse-gas rules is to embed targets in cities’ general plans and regions’ transportation plans, which are legally binding rules. If all that sounds high on the policy-wonk scale, there was more: The eco-activist primer is full of details on how to harness and strengthen environmental laws. Pointers include: Get eight cities this year to pass ordinances. Create three micro teams. Bird-dog general-plan processes.

The most effective measures will be the most difficult to achieve — require homeowners to install energy-saving measures such as weatherstripping and insulation, before selling a home, said Margie Suozzo, co-chair of the Cool Cities core team.

“I don’t think cities realize how much power they have,” said David Marsland, San Jose Cool Team member. “We are solving global warming one city at a time.”



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