Op-ed: Environmental issues must be solved with Berkeley values

Berkeley prides itself in being a leader in environmental policy. In 2006, Berkeley voters overwhelmingly supported Measure G, which called on the City to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% by the year 2050. This vision, which received a mandate of over 82% of voters, laid the foundation for the Climate Action Plan, adopted in 2009. More recently, in April 2016, Berkeley became one of the first cities in the world to create a Resiliency Strategy, as part of the 100 Resilient Cities program from the Rockefeller Foundation. Among other goals set out, the Resiliency Strategy aims to accelerate access to clean energy and find innovative solutions to adapt to climate change.

While Berkeley is ahead of state goals when it comes to reducing GHG emissions, we have fallen behind the City’s proposed target of a 33% reduction by 2020 (as of 2013, we have reduced GHGs by 9%). When it comes to the environment and climate change, Berkeley knows how to talk the talk. But in order to achieve the bold goals we set out, we need to walk the walk.

At tonight’s meeting, the City Council will be voting on two proposals that I have introduced which will make a significant impact in tackling climate change. The Deep Green Building Program, an incentive program to create zero-net energy buildings, and the Urban Agriculture Package, which will expand opportunities for urban farming, build on Berkeley values to consciously address the local and regional environmental issues we face.

With residential and commercial buildings responsible for 44% of the city’s GHG emissions, we must make new construction truly sustainable and energy efficient. Building developments near transit areas is not enough to make a building truly green. Instead of just focusing on where a building is constructed, we must also focus on how a building is constructed. New technologies enable the construction of zero net energy buildings, yet we continue to largely use outdated methods. We need a paradigm shift in the way we envision building. Zero net energy should not be seen as a novelty, but rather a necessity. Deep Green Building creates a pathway to make this vision a reality. This initiative was spearheaded by a distinguished group of green building professionals, co-convened by local green building architect Cate Leger and Sierra Club Executive Board member and Zoning Commissioner Sophie Hahn. It reflects the professional input of design professionals who have worked nationally and internationally on green building, and will help Berkeley reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while also reducing water consumption and the use of toxic chemicals.

Urban agriculture improves the environment by reducing the distance food must travel to our plates, which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions. It also promotes resiliency and improves community health. Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan calls on our city to “build a resilient and sustainable local food system”. Removing existing legal barriers to urban farming is key to realizing this goal. Who would have thought that in Berkeley it’s illegal to use your backyard or to use a vacant lot for agriculture? In talking with existing community gardens and urban farmers, it became clear that we need to streamline our laws to promote urban agriculture. To address this problem, my office convened a working group of sustainability and urban agriculture leaders including the Ecology Center, Berkeley Climate Action Coalition, Sierra Club, Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative, Sustainable Economies Law Center and Spiral Gardens. With the help of these experts, we developed the Urban Agriculture Package which reflects best practices adopted by other cities, and proposes regulatory changes to enable urban farming in our residential and commercial areas. In July 2012, the City Council passed an item I introduced which allowed for small-scale Community Supported Agriculture in residential districts. The Urban Agriculture Package will expand this to other zones, making it easy to grow food locally.

Climate change is one of the biggest risks this city faces in the long term. We need to tap into Berkeley’s history of ingenuity and innovation to address this issue and make a global impact on a local level. Constructing and retrofitting buildings to meet the highest environmental standards, along with expanding urban agriculture, will help Berkeley move towards self-sufficiency while making a significant impact in the fight against climate change.  It’s the Berkeley thing to do.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. Email submissions, as Word documents or embedded in the email, to editors@berkeleyside.com. The recommended length is 500-800 words. Please include your name and a one-line bio that includes full, relevant disclosures. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Jesse Arreguín is a City Council member representing District 4. He is also a candidate for mayor.