If you like acronyms, you must love Alameda County. Representatives of CEQA, BCDC, CARE, MTC, ABAG, BAAQMD and others met last Saturday to plan a future that will affect each of us, our lives and our lifestyles. And these representatives/regulators mean business.
Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty hosted the workshop for mayors, city council members and senior staff from Pleasanton, Dublin, Livermore and Fremont at the Pleasanton Hilton. The workshop's focus was to educate and inform these city leaders about the implementation of SCS, yes, another acronym that stands for the regional Sustainable Communities Strategy. SCS also deals with the implementation of the newly revised California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) guidelines adopted by the Bar Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). These are the folks who tell us when we can't burn wood in our home fireplaces.
It would seem that elected officials and city staff in the Tri-Valley would be able to rattle off these acronyms in simple conversations at meetings like these, but few knew more about what many of these initialisms and abbreviations meant than I did, which was little. But after four hours of presentations, we had a better understanding of what these agencies do and how intrusive they are becoming as California focuses on creating more livable, sustainable communities. It all sounds good. The purpose of SCS (Sustainable Communities Strategy, remember?) is to build a Bay Area that "thrives and prospers." The strategy stems from State Senate Bill 375 passed in 2008, which is now considered "landmark" legislation that will regulate our neighborhoods, tell us how to conserve resources, and mandate that we create a sustainable region where we live. As attorney general, Jerry Brown showed a passion for reducing greenhouse gases as part of this sustainability. His office even sued Pleasanton over its housing cap, which he claimed restricted housing growth for lower-income workers in our business parks. Not only couldn't they afford to live here, but by commuting from San Joaquin County and other areas, they contributed to the greenhouse gas emissions problem. The result was no housing cap and more affordable housing in Pleasanton.
At the meeting, Mayor Mark Green of Union City, president of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), said the regulations controlling land use and greenhouse gas emissions are part of an evolutionary process for Californians. That "evolution" is under way with new environmental requirements to be in effect by 2013. For one, we'll have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions just from driving our personal cars by 15%. New housing, mass transit and land use plans to make us more "environmentally friendly" are all in the requirement hopper for 2035. With ABAG projecting 8,900 new jobs heading to Dublin, 2,800 more housing units will have to be built there. Livermore will see 1,300 new jobs for a need of 2,800 housing units. Pleasanton, with its 50,000-person workforce, will need more than the 800 workforce housing units now planned for Hacienda Business Park.
Besides housing, though, all these agencies cite another dilemma. If trucks and cars on freeways emit toxic, cancer-causing gases, we shouldn't live or play near them. Henry Hilken, director of planning and research for BAAQMD said his agency regulates all emissions in the Bay Area, including those from refineries and from our fireplaces. With the Livermore Valley designated as having the highest level of emissions, and with the greatest toxic risks from diesel trucks and trains passing through our valley, we're in trouble. Kids playing soccer and other stressful sports on fields near freeways shouldn't be there. Senior housing anywhere near a freeway, busy street or airport should be somewhere else. Showing fuzzy colored maps that modeled air toxic risks, the bright red -- and highest cancer-risk areas -- seemed perilously close to sports fields in Dublin and Staples Ranch in Pleasanton. "Health studies consistently show that living near highways has serious health consequences," Hilken said. Not to worry, though. MTC, ABAG, JPC, BAPDA, BAAQMD are working to address these GHG thresholds to make our area risk-free.