Local Cities and the County imagine greener communities.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Hundreds of 9-month-old seedlings sit in neat rows outside the Pebble Beach Co. greenhouse, their roots packed into inverted cone-shaped containers. “These guys’re antsy,” says company gardener Julie Wong. “They want to get out of these cells and into the ground.”
Standing next to Wong, Pacific Grove Mayor Dan Cort surveys the young Monterey pines with satisfaction. He and his wife Beth bought more than 500 seedlings for about $600, jump-starting a plan to reforest PG as the city’s aging pines die off.
“We’re not just gonna wait for the government to do this for us,” he says.
“But you are the government,” I point out.
“Oh yeah, that’s right,” he says, throwing up his hands.
“we are as global a community as there ever was. We need to live within our means.”
On Earth Day, Sunday, April 22, Good Old Days staffers will give the seedlings to celebration-goers to plant at home or at designated spots across the city on National Arbor Day, April 27. The trees are intended to make one day of the 50th annual celebration “carbon-neutral.” Consultants for the PG Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the event, calculated that it would take 507 trees to absorb the carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles traveling to and from Jewell Park, as well as by power plants producing electricity for vendors, entertainers and waste management.
The seedlings will join thousands more that will be planted as part of the Trees for PG initiative, which has already raised about $3,400 in cash donations. Using a global positioning system, the Public Works Department has mapped where the trees will go, and the Fire Department will coordinate a group of volunteers to water them every week for the first year. The City’s tree-planting program is one branch of the Sustainable PG initiative, an offshoot of Sustainable Monterey County.
For Cort, a historic building renovator who gets jazzed about solar heating and rides an electric bike, the initiative is a call to action. Last September he joined more than 90 international mayors in signing the Urban Environmental Accords, which identify 21 ways that cities can green up through energy, waste, urban design, transportation, environmental health and water reforms. He also signed the US Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, a city-scale version of the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions.
“I want to see our city as a model for small communities across the US,” he says. “We are as global a community as there ever was. We need to live within our means.”
Three months into Cort’s two-year term as elected mayor, he has gotten the ball moving. City staff are working with Honeywell to try to outfit city properties with solar panels, and the city manager has directed an engineer to look into restoring the former reservoir behind PG Middle School in order to use rainwater for irrigation. The City recently sponsored a workshop on nontoxic household cleaning products, and Cort has asked the waste management district to add more recycling centers. Economically, sustainability means supporting local businesses, sharing resources between neighbors and straightening out the City’s financial slump.
Among the myriad other green goals Cort hopes to pursue during his mayorship: Hiring a city forester, growing the local eco-tourism industry, digging a community garden, making buildings more energy-efficient, promoting recycling and restricting the use of toxic products.
Sitting in the red leather seat of his Benz, Cort gets dreamy-eyed imagining the possibilities for transportation. Pedi-cabs, city bikes—heck, even a magnetic levitation train that could run from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The earth’s the limit.
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Like its Peninsula neighbor, Monterey stands on the cutting edge of eco-friendly initiative, from its fleet of hybrid cars to city-sponsored beach cleanups and its recycling program, which is a pilot for the state. Heating and ventilation units in city buildings are equipped with timers to regulate airflow, and city officials have reduced water consumption by retrofitting some restrooms with waterless urinals and dual-flush toilets. The City also recently completed a trial phase with VendingMiser, a device installed in vending machines that cuts energy use by monitoring the room’s temperature and powering down the machine when no one is around. Officials are also in the early stages of creating a new building ordinance intended to encourage sustainable construction and green building design.
In the late ’90s, Monterey replaced its incandescent traffic lights, which used 80 to 100 watt bulbs, with LED lights that use 15 to 20 watts. In the last decade the technology has become even more energy efficient; the City recently finished replacing red traffic lights with newer bulbs that only use 7.5 to 10 watts. Officials recently installed energy saving bulbs in the Sports Center, the Library and three parking garages, and are looking to do the same with lights along the Rec Trail. Not only does this effort pare down City energy bills, says Deputy Public Works Director Hans Uslar, but it could also earn rebates from PG&E and the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. “Our utility usage has dropped by 40 percent in consumption,” Uslar says.
The County, too, is taking steps toward green governance. Its planners encourage developers to build walkable, mixed-use communities such as East Garrison, which cut down residents’ dependence on gas-guzzlers. Purchasing staff ask departments to buy office supplies made from recycled materials, and they hope to have a green-purchasing policy in place by the next fiscal year. The County also owns a dozen hybrid cars and 45 compressed natural gas vehicles, which can be fueled at the county-owned CNG station at 885 E. Laurel Dr. in Salinas. And on April 21, the day before Earth Day, County staff will host a volunteer litter and graffiti cleanup effort.
Salinas is also taking part in the green revolution. As envisioned in the city’s general plan, all new housing developments will be located within walking distance to shopping, jobs and schools. In another move to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the City is helping develop a downtown alternative transportation center that will offer bus and commuter rail service to the Bay Area. To reduce the flow of contaminated stormwater into waterways and Monterey Bay, new developments like the Boronda Crossing shopping center will feature engineered soils and bioswales, which remove silt and pollution from runoff water.
In Marina, new home developments incorporate green techniques from deconstruction to design. When the developer of University Village removes old Fort Ord buildings, it will recycle nearly all of the uncontaminated concrete and asphalt. Once the homes are for sale, homebuyers in University Village and Cypress Knolls will be able to opt for solar power. The City also plans to install more bike paths and make downtown more pedestrian-friendly.
Sustainability is something of a buzzword these days, but local reforms signify an increasing awareness that humans must redirect the planet’s environmental collision course. Cort sums up the challenge in grave terms. “If we don’t start speaking loudly and doing things [to be more sustainable],” he says, “we’re doomed.”
Additional reporting by Zachary Stahl and Jessica Lyons.