Indicator city - Page 2

If cutting edge San Francisco can't meet the challenge of climate change and related environmental issues, are we all doomed?

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"PT. REYES FROM CHIMNEY ROCK" BY TOM KILLION

"Private passenger vehicles account for two-fifths of San Francisco's emissions. In the short term, demand-based pricing initiatives appear to be the biggest opportunity," the report notes, adding a few lines later, "Providing alternate methods of transport, such as protected cycle lanes, can encourage them to consider alternatives to cars."

Melanie Nutter, who heads the city's Department of the Environment, admits that the transportation sector and expanding the city's renewable energy portfolio through CleanPowerSF or some other program — both of which are crucial to reducing the city's carbon footprint — are two important areas where the city needs to do a better job if it's going to meet its environmental goals, including the target of cutting carbon emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2025.

But Nutter said that solid waste reduction programs, green building standards, and the rise of the "shareable economy" — with Internet-based companies facilitating the sharing of cars, housing, and other products and services — help San Francisco show how environmentalism can co-exist with economic development.

"San Francisco is really focused on economic development and growth, but we've gone beyond the old edict that you can either be sustainable or have a thriving economy," Nutter said.

Yet there's sparse evidence to support that statement. There's a two-year time lag in reporting the city's carbon emissions, meaning we don't have good indicators since Mayor Lee pumped up economic development with tax breaks and other city policies. For example, Nutter touted how there's more green buildings, but she didn't have data about whether that comes close to offsetting the sheer number of new energy-consuming buildings — not to mention the increase in automobile trips and other byproducts of a booming economy.

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and president of the BART board, told us that San Francisco seems to have been derailed by the last economic crisis, with economic insecurity and fear trumping environmental concerns.

"All our other values got tossed aside and it was all jobs, jobs, jobs. And then the crisis passed and the mantra of this [mayoral] administration is still jobs, jobs, jobs," he said. "They put sustainability on hold until the economic crisis passed, and they still haven't returned to sustainability."

Radulovich reviewed the McKinsey report, which he considers well-done and worth heeding. He's been asking the Department of the Environment for weeks why it hasn't been released. Nutter told us her office just decided to hold the report until after its annual climate action strategy report is released during Earth Day event on April 24. And mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey told us, "There's no hold up from the Mayor's Office."

Radulovich said the study highlights how much more the city should be doing. "It's a good study, it asks all the right questions," Radulovich said. "We're paying lip service to these ideas, but we're not getting any closer to sustainability."

In fact, he said the promise that the city showed 10 years ago is gone. "Gavin [Newsom] wanted to be thought of as an environmentalist and a leader in sustainability, but I don't think that's important to Ed Lee," Radulovich said.

Joshua Arce, who chairs the city's Environmental Commission, agreed that there is a notable difference between Newsom, who regularly rolled out new environmental initiatives and goals, and Lee, who is still developing ways to promote environmentalism within his economic development push.

"Ed Lee doesn't have traditional environmental background," Arce said. "What is Mayor Lee's definition of environmentalism? It's something that creates jobs and is more embracing of economic development."

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