Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags , , , ,

Major fixes for addressing traffic, sea level rise on Highway 37 identified

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Imagine driving along a four-lane elevated causeway above the brackish San Pablo Bay, shaving more than an hour off the normal Highway 37 commute.

Transportation planners have for years envisioned remaking the 20-mile route from Novato to Vallejo into the North Bay’s most important east-west corridor. Now, they are ready to act.

Officials in Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties have been meeting for several years, pondering solutions to Highway 37’s notorious bottlenecks, where 45,000 cars per day stretch the normal 20-minute commute to as much as 100 minutes. They have also acknowledged that traffic improvements will be irrelevant without addressing sea level rise — without action, the highway will be underwater in 30 years.

The first fixes will be completed within the next seven years, officials say, and a new formal partnership defines the roles various agencies will play and sets the process in motion.

Branded as Resilient State Route 37, the program that includes the transportation agencies of the four counties plus Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority, is planning vast changes to the highway. The Sonoma County Transportation Authority signed onto the partnership on Monday.

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/9236578-181/major-fixes-for-addressing-traffic

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Sonoma County hotel sector poised for expansion

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s hoteliers are playing catch-up to make room for the growing number of visitors.

The lodging industry is undergoing unprecedented expansion with about a dozen properties slated to open in the next few years.

The hotel building boom comes after a dearth of new lodging in the earlier part of the decade. Developers and hoteliers now appear to be making up for inactivity in the aftermath of the Great Recession, as the county remains a prime destination for wine tourism and an array of other activities and places to visit.

“This is a very strong county. … The occupancy level is very, very high,” said Jan Freitag, senior vice president for STR, a Tennessee research firm and longtime tracker of the global hotel industry. “Developers see a hot market and say, ‘Let’s get into it.’”

Developers are betting Sonoma County can keep delivering more tourists. It’s averaging about 7.5 million visitors a year. Those visitors are staying in more than 7,000 hotel rooms and 3,700 campground and recreational vehicle spaces, according to Sonoma County Tourism figures.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9247313-181/sonoma-county-lodging-sector-bustling

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

From Sonoma County to Antarctica, Point Blue studies climate change through birds

Jeanne Wirka, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Tucked behind a Petaluma office park overlooking Shollenberger wetlands, the headquarters of Point Blue Conservation Science can be difficult to find without a map.

Yet this 53-year-old, Petaluma-based organization is doing globally significant work from Alaska to Antarctica, and from the Sierra Nevada to the California coastline. Point Blue’s 160 scientists form a kind of “geek squad” for nature — unapologetically generating, interpreting and leading with data that document impacts of a changing climate and other threats to wildlife and ecosystems.

“We are driven by data,” said Point Blue’s chief scientist, Grant Ballard. “If the data don’t say anything, we don’t say anything.”

Since its 1965 origins as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, the organization’s scientists and their collaborators have recorded more than a billion observations of birds and other wildlife from field stations throughout California and in Antarctica. According to Ballard, it is precisely these long-term data sets, some of which dates 50 years, that set Point Blue apart.

“By taking the long view, we can speak with credibility about whether changes are happening or not.”

It comes as no surprise then that climate change has become the central focus of Point Blue’s research and that “climate-smart conservation” is now the cornerstone of its strategy.

The complexity of how and whether animals respond to changes in their environment is perhaps best illustrated by one of Point Blue’s most charismatic long-term research subjects, the Adélie (pronounced “uh-DELL-ee”) penguin, a tough little bird whose population in Antarctica’s Ross Sea has actually been increasing during the time Point Blue has been studying them.

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , ,

Oceans are warming even faster than previously thought

Kendra Pierre-Louis, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Scientists say the world’s oceans are warming far more quickly than previously thought, a finding with dire implications for climate change because almost all the excess heat absorbed by the planet ends up stored in their waters.

A new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up 40 percent faster on average than a United Nations panel estimated five years ago. The researchers also concluded that ocean temperatures have broken records for several straight years.

“2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans,” said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. “As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year.”

As the planet has warmed, the oceans have provided a critical buffer. They have slowed the effects of climate change by absorbing 93 percent of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases humans pump into the atmosphere.

“If the ocean wasn’t absorbing as much heat, the surface of the land would heat up much faster than it is right now,” said Malin L. Pinsky, an associate professor in the department of ecology, evolution and natural resources at Rutgers University. “In fact, the ocean is saving us from massive warming right now.”

But the surging water temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and making hurricanes more destructive.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/10/climate/ocean-warming-climate-change.html

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , , ,

Carpool decals set to expire for hundreds of thousands of California drivers with clean-air vehicles

Alexandria Bordas, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Clarence Dold has been a proud owner of a used Nissan Leaf electric car since 2016. Back when he was commuting to San Mateo from his home in Santa Rosa, being able to slide into the carpool lane and cruise past cars sitting idly in traffic was an added bonus to the smaller climate footprint of his electric vehicle. But as of Jan. 1, Dold and nearly 215,000 zero- and low-emission car owners in the state of California are set to lose their clean-air carpool status. That group is composed of electric and hybrid vehicles.

The state Legislature last year passed a measure that will no longer recognize the white and green carpool decals on clean-air vehicles purchased before 2017. Only vehicles purchased since then will qualify for the new passes, which are red. Those qualifying owners will have to apply to the state for the new passes.

Dold, who learned of the new law only weeks ago, said he felt the change unfairly treats drivers who have long invested in low-emission vehicles.

“What upsets me is that I thought I was going to get to use the decal for three years, and had I waited even just a few months, I would have qualified for the extension,” Dold said.

The new law is an attempt to address the overcrowding of carpool lanes — a result partly of California’s bid to spur the wider adoption of cleaner-burning vehicles 13 years ago by first offering owners of hybrid cars unrestricted access to carpool lanes. Caltrans documented the problem two years ago, pointing partly to increased carpool traffic stemming from clean-air decals.

California has the largest share of low- and zero-emission vehicles in the nation by far.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9089030-181/carpool-decals-set-to-expire?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Wildland development escalates California fire costs

Bay City News, NPR

The sky above Ron Beeny turned black.

The 71-year-old was stuck in traffic as he evacuated from his home in Paradise on the morning of Nov. 8.

Trees and brush lined both sides of the two-lane road. In the darkness, Beeny had no idea where the fire was. A former firefighter, he knew that getting trapped between walls of fuel could be deadly.

“[When] daytime turns to night, the fire is burning extremely intense,” he said.

For more than an hour Beeny inched forward in his red Toyota pickup, heading west toward Chico. His home of 41 years was incinerated by the Camp Fire. The blaze that destroyed Beeny’s home is just the latest mega-fire in California — and the cost of fighting such fires has risen dramatically.

California dwarfs other states in fire-suppression costs, an analysis by a Stanford journalism class has found. The Stanford class analyzed daily reports from the most expensive fires in every state from 2014 to 2017, and found that dense development at the border of wildlands — in communities like Paradise, Cobb, and Santa Rosa — helps explain California fires’ exceptional damage and expense to put out.

A 2015 federal audit showed that fire suppression costs vastly more in these transition zones between wild and developed areas — Wildland Urban Interface areas, or WUIs, for short.

The Stanford analysis of fire costs found that, among the states that spend the most on suppression, California fires overlapped far more with the WUI: More than 30 percent of the 2015 Butte Fire, for example, burned on WUI lands, destroying almost 1,000 buildings. Much of the state’s WUI is made up of chaparral — dry shrubland — that burns fast and hot.

Read more at https://www.kqed.org/news/11713393/wildland-development-escalates-california-fire-costs

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

California extends ban on abalone fishing until 2021

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

California fish and game commissioners on Wednesday extended the ban on recreational abalone fishing another two years to give the ailing species more time to recover from a near-total collapse on the North Coast.

The vote continued until April 2021 an existing closure approved a year ago in the wake of a sharp, multi-year decline in the popular fishery, with no signs of a rebound, a key state official said Tuesday.

“There’s no positive news,” said Sonke Mastrup, environmental program manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the lead expert on abalone matters. “We’re still seeing starving abalone this last season during the surveys. We’re still seeing fresh empty shells.”

The closure had been expected but is nonetheless a painful reminder of the uncertain future of a cherished tradition that brings friends and family together and is often passed down from one generation to the next. It could be years before abalone hunting on the level seen in recent decades along the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts, the prime destination, is allowed again, Mastrup said.

Read more at om/news/9058818-181/california-extends-ban-on-abalone?ref=related

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

California first state to mandate solar power for new homes

ASSOCIATED PRESS

California became the first state in the nation to require homes built in 2020 and later be solar powered, following a vote by the Building Standards Commission.

The unanimous action on Wednesday finalizes a previous vote by the Energy Commission and fulfills a decade-old goal to make the state reliant on cleaner energy.

“These provisions really are historic and will be a beacon of light for the rest of the country,” said Kent Sasaki, a structural engineer and one of six building standards commissioners. “(It’s) the beginning of substantial improvement in how we produce energy and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.”

Related Stories

California moves to require solar panels on all new homes
While nobody spoke Wednesday in opposition, the commission received about 300 letters opposing the mandate because of the added cost, the Orange County Register reported.

Energy officials estimated the provisions will add $10,000 to the cost of building a single-family home — about $8,400 from adding solar and about $1,500 for making homes more energy-efficient. But those costs would be offset by lower utility bills over the 30-year lifespan of the solar panels, officials said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9041250-181/california-first-state-to-mandate

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , , ,

Programs encourage Sonoma County high school students to ditch car commutes

SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Efforts to shift school commutes away from single-rider trips to more sustainable modes of transportation, such as walking, bicycling, carpooling, and public transit are making a difference at 12 Sonoma County high schools.

“Since September 2017 the Safe Routes to School pilot program has seen measurable increases in active and alternative forms of transportation among students at participating high schools,” said Kelly Elder, Public Health Division manager at the Sonoma County Department of Health Services (DHS).

The two-year pilot program is coordinated by DHS and funded by the Caltrans’ Active Transportation Program, aims to increase physical activity among high school students and decrease greenhouse gas emissions related to vehicle trips.

The Department collaborated with the Center for Climate Protection to implement youth leadership trainings at 12 local high schools, while W-Trans, a traffic-engineering consultant, received funding to assess walking and biking infrastructure around the schools.

“Our team has gathered information on walking and bicycling to and from school, and we led walking audits in the spring to identify critical pedestrian and bike safety issues,” said Principal, W-Trans, Steve Weinberger.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/sonoma-county-high-schools-reduce-carbon-footprint-during-commute

Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags , , , ,

New ARB report finds California regions are falling short on climate goals, as pollution from driving increases

CLIMATE PLAN

Top findings

Today’s report on those plans finds that regions have made progress in some areas, but not nearly enough to meet their goals:

1. Regions are not on track to meet their climate goals, not for 2020 or even for 2035.
2. Statewide, driving is increasing. The trend is going in the wrong direction — each of us is driving more, not less.
3. Not enough investment is going toward climate-friendly transportation — including walking, bicycling, and public transit — or affordable housing near jobs and transit.
4. Action is needed at every level of government — cities, counties, regions, and the state — to get on track.

“To reduce emissions, the most sustainable options need to be the most convenient,” said Ella Wise, State Policy Associate at ClimatePlan.

Today the California Air Resources Board (ARB) released a new report finding that California regions are not on track to meet either their 2020 or 2035 climate targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Additional action from every level of government is required, including more investment in sustainable transportation and affordable homes near jobs and transit. The report can be downloaded here.

Each metropolitan region in the state has a plan, required by law, to reduce emissions by reducing the need to drive. However, the report finds that regions are failing to deliver on their plans. Part of regions’ failure is due to challenges beyond their control, such as limited state funding and local land use decisions. But regions continue to invest in highways, which results in more driving, not less.

Read more at https://www.climateplan.org/new_report_california_regions_falling_short_on_climate_driving_increases