Op-ed: Policy, not rhetoric needed to fight climate change

I was frankly perplexed by Ben Gould’s recent op-ed attacking two forward-thinking environmental policies I have brought before the Berkeley City Council. One would expect that the Chair of the city’s Environmental Commission would embrace meaningful steps to combat climate change.

Mr. Gould’s premise is that green building policies, many of which will be mandated in 2020 – less than four years from now — by the State of California’s Zero Net Energy program, are actually cynical attempts to stop the construction of housing. And he attacks legislation to allow community gardens and urban agriculture in Berkeley’s manufacturing and commercial areas as anti-environment, because these uses might take up land that would otherwise be used for housing.

Apparently, Mr. Gould has not familiarized himself with Berkeley’s award winning Climate Action Plan. The plan, approved by the City Council unanimously in 2009, identifies seven key priorities for Berkeley to reduce its carbon footprint. The first goal is for “new and existing Berkeley buildings [to] achieve zero net energy consumption through increased energy efficiency and a shift to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.” The voluntary, incentive-based Green Building plan I have proposed for consideration by city staff and the community is a huge step forward in achieving this important goal. Another of the City’s seven Climate Action Goals is for “the majority of food consumed in Berkeley [to be] produced locally.” My Community Garden and Urban Agriculture legislation is key to enabling local production of food. Given Mr. Gould’s criticisms, one can only assume he does not support implementation of our Climate Action Plan.

Mr. Gould erroneously states that the Berkeley Deep Green Building initiative will impose insurmountable costs on new development. Considering that the proposed code is 100% voluntary and incentive based, not one penny needs to be spent, should a developer wish to build at lower green standards. I have never heard of such a thing as a voluntary requirement.


He also evidences a lack of knowledge about the added cost of building green. The proposal tracks State Title 24 standards and Zero Net Energy requirements that will be mandatory in 2020. Perhaps Mr. Gould thinks the State is also conspiring to end housing development? Deep Green Buildings bring city and state requirements together into one integrated, incentive based program, and would put Berkeley ahead of the curve. Further, the proposal before the City Council tonight is for staff to consider and adapt, and offers a starting point for a broader community discussion. If referred to Staff, there will be a robust process for community input, at which time Mr. Gould will have ample opportunity to offer his critiques — nothing is being foisted on anyone!

The Berkeley Deep Green Building initiative was developed by an impressive group of green building and sustainability experts including Bronwyn Barry, co-president, Passive House California; Amy Dryden, Senior Technical Manager, Build It Green; Gary Gerber, CEO and Founder, Sunlight and Power; Cate Leger, Northern California Chapter Board Member, Architects Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility; Christina Bertea, Member, Greywater Action; and Mary Ann Gallagher, Senior Partner, ParCenTra. These are experts in solar, grey water, green building, passive energy, zero net energy and green building of national and international renown. The proposal but is the product of over a year of discussion and work by these experts. It’s ridiculous for Mr. Gould, a graduate student with no advanced degrees or real-world experience, to question the expertise of over 20 seasoned professionals, and insulting for him to question their motives.

I am honored to carry this important legislation to the Council.

Mr. Gould’s attacks on the urban agriculture legislation are even more bizarre. He suggests that allowing property owners to voluntarily use their land for agricultural uses, especially during the short term before redevelopment, is anti-environment. Berkeley’s zoning is outdated and needs to adapt to climate change. Existing barriers to urban agriculture are just one example of antiquated rules prohibiting important environmental initiatives. Innovative projects like Urban Adamah’s new farm in West Berkeley face unnecessary barriers to permitting. Mr. Gould recently expressed support for the by-right building of market rate units in most of Berkeley’s residential areas, without any citizen review, but somehow growing vegetables and fruit in manufacturing and commercial areas is so onerous that complicated permits should be required?

Berkeley continues to have “food deserts” and there are significant disparities in health based on race and geography, but Mr. Gould does not think it’s important to increase access to healthy food by expanding local food production. Instead, he appears to believe that every inch of land in Berkeley should be developed. The Urban Agriculture Package supported by the Berkeley Climate Action Coalition, Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative, Sustainable Economies Law Center and The Ecology Center. These groups have worked over the past few years to develop proposals to encourage urban agriculture citywide.

One of the proudest votes I have made on the City Council was to adopt our visionary Climate Action Plan in 2009. The Berkeley Climate Action Plan (CAP) sets a bold goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 33% of 2000 levels by 2020, and 80% by 2050. According to the CAP, commercial and residential buildings account for 53% of the city’s GHG emissions. The CAP includes many policies which support the Deep Green Building proposal: encouraging Zero Net Energy, promoting solarization, graywater and water conservation. While Berkeley citizens in 2006 adopted an ambitious Climate Action goal, we are at risk of failing to meet that goal. At a November 2015 Council work session, it was reported that as of 2013, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have been reduced by only 9%. Programs like Berkeley Deep Green Buildings have been adopted by other cities, such as Portland’s Green Building and Development Program. Incorporating this proposal into City of Berkeley policy would not only help us meet our GHG emission reduction targets, but serve as a model for other cities to follow.

Mr. Gould’s piece is a cheap shot being taken during election season, and trivializes the important work of addressing climate change. Berkeley has been at the forefront of environmental leadership, and I am proud to introduce bold proposals which can serve as a model for cities throughout the state. It’s truly a shame to see a mayoral candidate play political football with our Climate Action Plan.

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Jesse Arreguín is a Berkeley City Councilman and a candidate for Mayor.