Sunday, July 5, 2009

Fresno ranked greenest in Valley

We posted about this almost two weeks ago, but the Bee now has a story on the topic that is worth reading
Fresno ranked greenest in Valley
Published online on Saturday, Jul. 04, 2009
By Mark Grossi / The Fresno Bee

Out of 100 Central Valley cities, Fresno has the greenest ideas for growth over the next three decades, says a groundbreaking study by the University of California at Davis.

But Fresno still may not be able to protect land, water and air from explosive growth, says lead author Mark Lubell. He doubts other cities will have much luck either. Green policies still could be pushed aside for pollution-causing sprawl that earns more money for city treasuries.

"The status quo is very difficult to derail," said Lubell, an associate professor of environmental science and policy at UC Davis. "Cities need money. A sprawl-oriented growth pattern raises income from sales tax and development fees."

His suggestion: Consider revising Proposition 13, the property tax limit passed more than 30 years ago. He said one way cities compensated for the loss of income was by allowing more development at the edge of town, where businesses found cheap property and a growing base of customers.

The longer commutes created by sprawl generated more air pollution and greenhouse gases in one of the nation's dirtiest air basins.

These issues soon will become more important, Lubell said. The Central Valley -- which includes the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys -- is forecast to expand from 7 million to 12 million residents by 2040, making it one of the fastest-growing places in America. For the last 18 months, Lubell and a team of researchers looked at Central Valley cities to see whether they are preparing for sustainable growth. In the study, sustainable growth refers to such factors as air quality, ground-water recharge, high-density residential land use and renewable energy sources, such as solar.

The UC Davis study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Planning Association, is considered by planners and researchers to be the first serious attempt to rank these growth policies among the region's 100 incorporated cities.

Fresno seems best prepared, the study showed. The city has the state's top waste-recycling program, an emphasis on clean-fuel vehicles and an idea for a vast environmentally friendly development on the southeast flank.

Lubell said a revamped Prop. 13 might bring in enough income to soften the debate over the need for more money. Fresno and other cities could fill in downtown gaps, provide better transit to get people out of their cars and promote communities where people walk to stores.

Even if Prop. 13 remains untouched, Central Valley cities still should adopt green-growth policies, Lubell said. Look to Fresno, Sacramento and other top-ranked cities in the study for ideas, he said.

Why are these cities so progressive? These bigger cities are trying to fix decades of planning mistakes, he said. By using more progressive planning policies, smaller, lower-ranked cities could skip those mistakes, Lubell said.

To determine the rankings, researchers assigned numeric values to green growth policies relating to land use, zoning, transportation, pollution prevention, energy conservation and economic development. Cities were given points for their policies and commitments to green growth.

Fresno ranked highest, primarily on the strength of two initiatives -- Fresno Green, which links the economic goals to cleaning the environment, and the Southeast Growth Area, which is targeted to absorb at least 20% of city growth in the next two decades.

Fresno also gets credit for a solar energy farm at Fresno Yosemite International Airport and the successful recycling to divert wastes from landfills.

Keith Berthold, Fresno's interim planning director, said the Southeast Growth Area is envisioned with a massive network of trails, open space, compact growth and viable transit options. The area could surpass the 2020 state goals of greenhouse gas reduction and become a leader in California. "We think we can reduce ozone and particulate matter by one half in this area," he said. "These will be walkable, livable neighborhoods."

Council Member Henry T. Perea said the UC study is vindication of hard work officials have done to clean up Fresno, which has had a reputation for bad air and a failing downtown.

Visalia was fourth in the rankings, behind Sacramento and Davis. Visalia is known for a robust and walkable downtown, which has live entertainment, restaurants and businesses.

Fred Brusuelas, city planner and assistant community development director, said the city's plan for the southeast quadrant will include six small communities with central business areas where people can walk to coffee shops or businesses.

He said the city wants to harvest stormwater in the area by keeping it in a small creek and directing it to grassy, open areas where it can seep into the ground.

"We don't want to put it in a storm drainage line and move it to another part of the city," he said. "We want it to percolate into the ground and increase the underground water table in that area."

Researcher Lubell said cities must put such environmental approaches on an equal footing with economic and social values, even through tough economic times.

"With this research, we're hoping to spark a commitment to sustainable planning," he said. "So often when there are budget problems, green policies are viewed as boutique polices. So they are the first things that go away."


Anonymous said...

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