Category Archives: Green

Wording of Berkeley ballot initiative headed to court

Downtown Berkeley, May 2014. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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The backers of a downtown Berkeley initiative that voters will consider in November plan to file a lawsuit next week to force the city to change the wording in the ballot measure. They contend that the summary is inaccurate, biased and misleading.

The decision to go to court was in response to Berkeley’s decision not to voluntarily change the wording of the ballot measure. City Councilman Jesse Arreguín had sent a letter on July 21 to City Attorney Zach Cowan asking for changes, but Cowan responded in a July 24 letter that he did not have the power to modify the wording. Only the Berkeley City Council, which is in recess until September, can make those changes, Cowan said.

“It is unfortunate that the City Council was not advised, at the time the biased and factually inaccurate Ballot Statement language was put forward, that such language violates legal standards,” Arreguín wrote Cowan on July 30. “In light of that omission, and given that the City Council is on recess, we have no choice but to seek judicial relief to protect the rights of all Berkeley voters to fair elections.”

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Berkeley Asphalt: New technology will reduce odors

Berkeley Asphalt plant on Virginia St. Photo: Mary Flaherty
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Berkeley Asphalt plans to invest in a new manufacturing process designed to reduce emissions and odors in its West Berkeley neighborhood starting in January, officials announced recently.

Its neighbors have complained about the noise, odors, and pollution from the plant for at least 20 years, most recently in June when a group questioned whether the plant has been violating its use permit with excess odors and noise.

What the company has decided to do is convert to a new technology called “warm-mix” asphalt, which produces paving material at a lower temperature than traditional asphalt, yet performs as well on the road and releases fewer pollutants into the air, according to company officials. The decision was the result of negotiations between the company and city staff that began last year.

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Berkeley parks advocates push back after council drops bond from November ballot

The Berkeley rose garden pergola needs major repairs and has been closed to park visitors since April. Photo: Daniel Parks
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The public dismay was palpable last month when the Berkeley City Council decided, in a surprise move, to put a parks tax before voters this fall without a related bond measure that would have infused parks and pools around the city with much-needed cash, reversing an earlier vote on the items.

The $1.7 million parks tax, if approved by voters, would essentially maintain the status quo for maintenance and staffing needs, and cost the owner of an average-size home an additional $43 a year. (That same homeowner already pays about $240 a year for the existing parks tax.)

Had it gone to voters, the proposed $20 million parks bond could have helped re-open Willard Pool, improve the King and West Campus pools, put millions toward Aquatic Park, James Kenney Park and the much-loved rose garden, and repair tennis courts and ballfields around the city, in addition to addressing other significant needs. (See a financial breakdown of several possible iterations of the bond and tax proposal.)

The city estimated that the joint bond and tax measure would have added just $15 more than the tax alone to the bill for owners of an average Berkeley home, defined by the city as 1,900 square feet. … Continue reading »

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New drought rules would see Berkeley reduce its water use

A Downtown Berkeley Association employee powerwashes the sidewalk at the corner of Shattuck and Center. Photo: Isabelle Gaston
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This week the state Water Resources Control Board will consider emergency restrictions on water use that would require the city of Berkeley to impose fines for certain types of outdoor water use.

If approved, the Water Board’s drought measures would require Berkeley to levy fines of up to $500 for excessive water use while  cleaning sidewalks, watering plants, cleaning cars, or operating outdoor fountains.

This will be good news to some Berkeley residents, who have noticed some businesses using large amounts of water around town. Isabelle Gaston, president of the Northeast Berkeley Association, emailed Councilman Jesse Arreguín recently about the Downtown Berkeley Association’s use of power-washers to clean the sidewalks in the downtown neighborhood.

“One can see in the photos the large pools of water accumulating on the sidewalks,” wrote Gaston in her email. “I would think a good sweeping would be sufficient given the severity of our water shortage.”

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Janet Napolitano launches UC food initiative in Berkeley

Alice Waters and Janet Napolitano. Photo- University of California
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UC President Janet Napolitano visited Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard on Tuesday to launch a new initiative which aims to pull together the resources of ten UC campuses to address, and hopefully find solutions to, issues of food security, health and sustainability internationally.

The UC Global Food Initiative was conceived following a meeting held earlier this year between Napolitano and UC campus chancellors at which they agreed to work collectively to support healthy eating on the international stage. But their efforts will start at home. The project will identify best practices and share them widely within the UC system.

Yesterday morning, Napolitano was shown around the Edible Schoolyard garden at King Middle School by its founder, Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters, who is one of the members of the university’s Food Initiative Working Group. Other members of the group who attended the launch included UC Santa Cruz Professor Daniel Press, executive director of the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at that campus, and Ann Thrupp, executive director of the Berkeley Food Institute at UC Berkeley.Continue reading »

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Berkeley asphalt plant emissions dangerous, say residents

Residents allege that the Lehigh Hanson asphalt plant at 699 Virginia St. in West Berkeley is emitting dangerous fumes. Photo: Charles Siler
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A small group of West Berkeley homeowners gathered at City Hall on Monday this week to submit a Public Record Act request, claiming the Berkeley Asphalt & Ready Mix plant on Virginia Street has been violating its use permit by emitting excessive odors and noise.

The company, owned by Texas-based Lehigh Hanson, operates an asphalt plant at 699 Virginia St. in the Oceanview area. The group of residents, who call themselves Oceanview Neighborhood Action, say the plant is constantly emitting noxious fumes, to the point that they can’t go outside or leave their windows open.

“It smells like sulfur most days, like burnt sand,” said Kate Stepanski, a resident of the neighborhood. “It’s making people sick and it’s a public hazard — it’s irresponsible.”  … Continue reading »

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Strawberry Creek honored, mourned in weekend ritual

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The out-of-town parents and friends of UC Berkeley grads may have been bemused, but locals took it in their stride, even delighting in it.

This weekend, a collaborative of Bay Area and international dancers and musicians staged a “site-specific ritual performance” called NOMAD: The Blue Road in support of ‘daylighting’ Berkeley’s Strawberry Creek and other hidden urban streams.

The performance on both Saturday and Sunday began on the Cal campus, where Strawberry Creek still runs open, before heading into a culvert a few yards east of Oxford and Center Streets. Slowly unravelling a blood-red cloth into the water, renowned Korean-born dancer Dohee Lee backed balletically into the creek up to the entrance of the culvert while a mournful wail lamented the fate of what had once been a source of Berkeley’s water supply. … Continue reading »

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Thursday May 8 is Bike to Work and Bike to School Day

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Thursday May 8 is Bike to Work and Bike to School Day and local bike groups and schools are geared up to encourage as many people as possible to participate.

Bike East Bay is hosting hundreds of Energizer Stations throughout the area, distributing goodie bags and “celebrating the joy of biking.” Last year over 15,000 cyclists participated throughout Bike to Work Day.

“We had a record number of children bike to school and mayors leading by example and biking to City Hall,” the nonprofit said on its website. 

Many local schools are participating this year, including Berkeley High. … Continue reading »

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Initiative aims to tighten ‘green’ parts of Downtown Plan

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Update: 6//14: The initiative has qualified for the November 2014 ballot.

Original story: City Councilman Jesse Arreguín, some members of the environmental community, the labor community, and preservationists are circulating a ballot initiative that would drastically overhaul elements of the Berkeley Downtown Area Plan endorsed by voters in 2010 and codified by the city council in 2012.

The initiative would restore the “green” in the “Green Vision” part of the plan, according to Arreguín.

It would essentially mandate that all buildings in the downtown core taller than 60 feet high follow the more stringent “Green Pathways” provision of the Downtown Area Plan, rather than making that an optional track for developers. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley rolling out electric vehicle charging stations

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Berkeley’s Whole Foods market unveiled two new, powerful charging stations for electric vehicles yesterday at its store at the intersection of Telegraph at Ashby. The move brings the total number of public stations in the city to four, and Berkeley is on track to gain at least a further seven stations in the not too distant future.

This will be welcome news to owners of Leafs, Volts and Teslas whose numbers are on the rise: the city has seen a 70% increase in electric vehicle registrations in the past six months, according to Sarah Moore, Assistant Planner in the city’s Office of Energy and Sustainable Development, who estimates there are around 350 electric vehicles currently registered to Berkeley residents and businesses.

The Whole Foods stations allow customers with electric cars to boost their power from zero to 80% in just 20-30 minutes if they choose their DC-Fast option.

Whole Foods is the first business to participate in a City of Berkeley pilot program to ease the permitting and installation of EV charging stations. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley to increase garbage collection fees by 25%

Berkeley began using automated single-operator garbage trucks as a cost-saving measure in late 2012. Photo: City of Berkeley
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Faced with a projected shortfall of nearly $3 million for waste pick-up services, Berkeley officials voted unanimously late Tuesday night to increase residential pick-up fees by almost 25% beginning in July.

Customers will also see a new description on their tax bills, as “Zero Waste Services” will replace the category previously described as “Refuse.”

The city has not been charging enough to cover costs associated with recycling and organics pick-up, which has contributed to the problem, according to staff.

Tuesday night, council was advised either to increase fees by 24.7% come July, or phase in a 35.5% increase over three years.  … Continue reading »

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An all too black comedy of unintended consequences

Elizabeth Kohlbert
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As it turns out, only a handful of these disappearing species are “charismatic” large animals. In fact, nearly all of them are small, many of them vanishingly so; they’re plants as well as animals, few of them even with names, and they’re hidden away in tropical forests. From a scientific perspective, that’s no less serious. But the PR angle is tough to find.

A brilliant new book

In an outstanding new book, The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert tackles this challenge with considerable success. Kolbert, a science journalist on the staff of The New Yorker, spoke about the mass extinction now underway in an illuminating presentation last Wednesday to a large and attentive audience at the Hillside Club, under the auspices of Berkeley Arts & Letters. Her talk, like the book, was a sobering wake-up call. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley to kill squirrels, gophers to protect bay

A ground squirrel at Cesar Chavez Park. Photo: Bill Williams/Creative Commons
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In Berkeley, squirrels are in the cross fire.

In an attempt to make sure no toxins leak out of the old landfill under Cesar Chavez Park and leach into San Francisco Bay, Berkeley is hiring a pest control company to trap and kill hundreds of squirrels and gophers that make their home there.

It seems that when the squirrels and gophers do what comes naturally—digging holes or tunneling in the ground—they are getting perilously close to the clay cap that covers the landfill. If the rodents penetrate that barrier, dangerous toxins like gasoline, lead, iron, herbicides and pesticides, could leach into the bay. So the city needs to reduce the animal population to lessen the risk, according to city spokesman Matthai Chakko. … Continue reading »

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