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Josh Sonnenfeld: After 143 years, Oakland’s Lake Merritt Reunites with the Bay

20 Sep Lake_Merritt_Circa_1800_Map

This guest blog post was written by Josh Sonnenfeld, Campaign Manager for Save the Bay. This post is cross-posted from Save the Bay’s blog, one of the handful of environmental blogs I read regularly. If you care about the Bay, you should be reading it too.

A gem at the heart of Oakland, Lake Merritt has been many things – the nation’s first wildlife refuge, beloved waterway, sewage-filled cesspool, and even the rumored home to a lake monster. There’s one thing that Lake Merritt has never been, however – and that’s a lake.

What we now call Lake Merritt has for most of the past ten thousand years been a tidal lagoon where the waters of several East Bay creeks met the brackish tides of the Bay. Ringed with mudflats and tidal marsh, this lagoon was home to an abundance of native wildlife, including hundreds of species of birds.

This changed dramatically in 1869 as Oakland Mayor Samuel Merritt dammed the channel connecting the lagoon to the Bay. Later becoming the 12th Street Bridge, the lagoon’s water was forced through narrow culverts on its way in and out of the Bay, significantly reducing circulation and largely disconnecting the waterway from the rest of our great estuary. Continue reading

Exciting news & Sierra Club City Council candidate forum

6 Jul Sierra Club candidate forum

Last night my wife was cleaning out some boxes that we hadn’t looked through in years, and she found a box that was full of a bunch of papers from my high school years, including some sweet hand written letters from friends and my sisters. In this box I found several drafts of the personal statement I submitted to get into UC Berkeley, full of hand written notes (no tracked changes) from my mom and dad. Reading my personal statement made me realize that though I have changed quite a bit since my senior year in high school, my values were very similar. (My writing issues apparently haven’t changed much either – my dad’s notes on one draft say “too many commas” and “too many transition words”.)  Here’s one paragraph from a draft of the statement:

Once issue that I have felt strongly about since childhood is ecology. In elementary school, our classes held an annual fund-raiser to buy and preserve several acres of the rain forest. I also participated in my school’s ecology club during eighth and ninth grade. Each year we organized an ecology fair and disseminated information covering issues ranging from vegetarianism to fuel conservation. We also instituted a recycling program, which the school still uses.

Being a longtime environmentalist, I was so excited this week to receive the news that the Sierra Club had endorsed my candidacy for BART Board. The decisions made in the next decade at BART are crucial not just for BART, but also for the Bay Area’s environment for decades to come. I’m just as eager as I was in elementary school to address the environmental challenges we face.

The City of Oakland also faces a myriad of environmental challenges, and next year we will have at least two new city councilmembers to address these issues. The Sierra Club and the Oakland Climate Action Coalition (OCAC) recognize the importance of the open seat races in districts 1 and 3 so they’re holding a forum on Monday featuring nearly all of the candidates running for these seats (a few couldn’t make it). From the Facebook event description: Continue reading

Will Lowry: Don’t leave apartments out of Oakland Zero Waste plan

30 May compost

This guest post was written by Will Lowry, who was born in San Francisco, where he lives with his family. Will has worked in Oakland’s public schools and currently does online communication for the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter. He considers it part of his online mission to encourage you to leave your computer off, and to go outside.

Oakland is designing a new “Zero Waste” collection system to be implemented in 2015, which will last for 10 years or more. The proposal has many excellent points, but it still needs an essential improvement.

Under the current proposal, single-family residences would continue to put out separate carts for recyclables, compostables, and garbage. Multifamily buildings, however, would receive pick-ups just for recycling and garbage, with compostables mixed in the garbage. This mixed garbage would be processed at a mixed-materials processing facility, which would try to sort out the compostables (organic matter) from the items going to landfill.

This distinction between residential and multi-family buildings is wrong — both for the environment and for the people. Compost derived from mixed garbage is contaminated (sometimes by hazardous waste in the dumpsters), and can’t be used for farms and food crops. Further, treating apartment-dwellers as second-class residents, unable to learn to distinguish between compostables and trash, is insulting to them, and leaves them out of the city’s efforts to achieve Zero Waste. Continue reading

Good news & bad news: Damon Slough & MTC

20 Oct Damon Slough Map

Blogging’s been a bit light here lately because I’ve been super busy and I was in Chicago last week for a much-needed vacation. I’ve been working on a long blog post (or possibly series of blog posts) about the County’s Measure B transportation reauthorization plan, but you’ll have to wait until next week for that. In the meantime, I wanted to share a couple of updates on issues I’ve blogged about – Damon Slough and the MTC headquarters relocation.

I’ll start with the bad (though unsurprising) news. The MTC voted last Wednesday to purchase 390 Main Street in San Francisco for their headquarters. Here’s a report from Joyce Roy: Continue reading

Vote for Save the Bay to adopt Damon Slough

4 Oct Damon-Slough

Every year Save the Bay identifies Bay Area trash hot spots – sites around the Bay that have high levels of trash. They release a report about these spots so you might have read about them in local newspapers. But this year, they’re going a step further. Anyone can vote for one of the five Bay Trash Hot Spots, and Save the Bay will organize volunteer clean ups at the winning site throughout 2012.

One of the five sites is Oakland’s Damon Slough. My initial reaction to seeing that was, huh, what’s a slough? And where is that? My second reaction was to vote for it because it’s in Oakland. Then, I did a little research.

A slough is a swamp or a creek, in this case one that drains into the Bay. If you’ve ever been to the Coliseum, you’ve certainly passed over Damon Slough, whether from BART or from the parking lot. Here’s an image from Google Maps: Continue reading

Despite ongoing state audit, MTC poised to move to San Francisco; ABAG unlikely to join them

27 Sep 390 Main Street Disabled Entrance

You might remember that two months ago, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) voted to move their headquarters from Oakland to San Francisco. After the City of Oakland raised questions of Brown Act violations in this initial vote, the MTC voted in August to rescind its initial vote and to create a committee that would review the decision and return with a recommendation to the MTC within 60 days.

To recap, in case you missed the excellent guest blog post from Joyce Roy about this issue a month ago, the MTC has been searching for a new headquarters for MTC and the Associations of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) – who currently share offices next to the Lake Merritt BART station – as well as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (Air District). The plan for the three agencies to locate together makes total sense, as they work together frequently and it would make it easier for the public to interact with the three agencies. MTC narrowed down their location search to two options – building a new building on top of the 12th Street BART station in downtown Oakland at 1100 Broadway or purchasing a 1940’s warehouse half a mile from BART in San Francisco at 390 Main Street. At the meeting in August, East Bay officials and advocates turned out in force, advocating for the Oakland site, and State Senator Mark DeSaulnier – chair of the Senate Transportation Committee – sent a letter informing the Commission that his committee would audit their proposed use of bridge toll funds for the move to San Francisco.

It hasn’t been 60 days yet, but the committee appointed at that August meeting has apparently completed its work and recommended that the MTC move forward with its initial plans to move to San Francisco. The MTC will be voting tomorrow, Wednesday morning, September 28th on whether to move forward with the San Francisco building purchase (meeting details at the end of this post). Continue reading

Celebrating World Carfree Day… in a taxi

22 Sep Taxi

Today is World Carfree Day, which for me, is not so different from any other day, since most days I get around by walking and taking the bus. So when I was reminded of the day by TransForm on Twitter yesterday, I struggled a bit with how I would celebrate and what I might write here.

I’ve already gone on and on about how awesome it is to not own a car and how much I love getting around on the bus and by foot (even if sometimes it’s challenging and frustrating). But the truth is that the bus system and my feet are not enough. There’s one thing that allowed me to give away my car, and it might seem odd, but that thing is actually another car. Specifically, a taxi. Continue reading

MTC does the right thing, rescinds vote to move to San Francisco

19 Aug 390 Main Street, San Francisco

I’ll have a more complete update in the coming weeks, and I realize most have already heard what happened, but I wanted to give an update on Wednesday’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) meeting. I attended most of the meeting and spoke but had to get to work before the commissioners spoke or voted. Luckily, others were able to stay and shared the good news that the MTC voted to rescind their July vote to purchase 390 Main Street in San Francisco and to set up a committee to further research the relocation of their headquarters.

This is huge and I want to thank everyone who helped make this happen. Thanks to Joyce Roy for writing an excellent guest blog post here that mobilized dozens to write the commissioners or to speak on Wednesday. Thanks to everyone who spoke on Wednesday, including many elected officials and advocates. And thanks to State Senator Mark DeSaulnier and the several senators who signed on to his letter to the MTC questioning this purchase and the use of bridge toll funds.

Now on to the updates. The first one is from Joan Lichterman: Continue reading

Joyce Roy: MTC stealth action contradicts sustainability policy

16 Aug 380 Main Street

This guest post was written by Joyce Roy. As a retired architect, Joyce has raised her sights (or sites?) to the whole city of Oakland and so has been active in advocating for better transit, the right development in the right place and the reuse of existing structures.  She is an active member of ULTRA.

With little public knowledge or input, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) voted on July 27 to purchase a 1940’s warehouse in a desolate San Francisco area, a half-mile from BART, for a new headquarters to share with other regional agencies.  This violates their own land use policy of locating ”job centers within a quarter mile of transit.”  And it will take many years and more than the $180 million allocated to transform this 8-story humongous plug-ugly warehouse into humane habitable office spaces. No matter how much money is sunk into this building, it is doubtful it can be rated a Class-A office building because of its location.

MTC has another choice, a superbly sustainable one, for $153 million—a proposed new, fully entitled, 20-story Class-A office tower above the 12th Street BART Station at 1100 Broadway in downtown Oakland which will be LEED Platinum certified! With 310,000 square feet of office space and 10,000 square feet of public/retail space on the ground floor, it would more than meet the needs of all three (or four?) regional agencies—it would become a signature regional center.  And the façade of the attached Historic Key System building, the birthplace of Bay Area mass transit, would be restored! What better demonstration of sustainable development could there be? Continue reading

Blogs worth reading from Oakland organizations

18 Apr Ella's Voice

I was so excited last week to find out that TransForm had started a blog, and it got me thinking about the other great Oakland based organizations that have blogs. I link to some of them in my blogroll but felt it was worth a post to spread the word about these great blogs:

TransForm – TransForming the Bay Area: The blog is new so it’s hard to know the scope, but judging by its name and TransForm’s mission, it is likely to cover transportation and land use issues in the Bay Area.

Ella Baker Center – Ella’s Voice: Ella’s Voice covers a wide range of issues that the Ella Baker Center works on – the environment, criminal justice, civil rights, and much more. I’ve been following the blog for a while and have enjoyed the mix of story telling, action alerts, and policy updates. Continue reading

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