Why We Should Save Farmland and Habitat in Natomas

It is not good that proposed large master plan projects are located outside of the County’s Urban Services Boundary. “The county zoned [this] area as agricultural and has numerous policies in place to protect agricultural land. These projects would eliminate the remaining farmland and habitat of the Natomas basin, in Sacramento County, and weaken the Natomas Basin Habitat Plan.”

By Heather Fargo and Susan Herre | The Natomas Buzz | May 9, 2022

In response to the Sacramento Bee article “Washington sending millions to fight Natomas Basin flooding” by David Lightman and Michael McGough:

Portions of the front page article on April 18 regarding Natomas Basin Flooding were inaccurate and misleading. It’s important to correct the record.

The need for strengthening the levees along the Sacramento River are well known, not just for Natomas, but all the way to South Sacramento. And we all appreciate the support of the federal government to help keep Sacramento safe from flooding.

It’s important to recognize that much work has been completed in Natomas and the previous moratorium on construction has been lifted. Natomas now has a similar level of flood protection to the rest of the city. Thousands of housing units have been built, and thousands are currently under construction. But they are all in areas previously planned for housing within the city limits of Sacramento.

Housing developments in the adjacent farmland, outside of the city, are prohibited currently by Sacramento County’s Urban Services Boundary, approved in 1993. And that’s a good thing. It allows agricultural uses to continue, endangered species to survive in protected habitat areas, and contributes to the region’s economy and quality of life, and the build out of Natomas.

The article erroneously states that “The levee improvements are expected to help trigger important economic benefits, allowing more construction to occur.” This is not true. It goes on to say that “The Sacramento River flood threat has choked off development on new homes on the acres west of Interstate 80 and El Centro Road, and south of San Juan Road.” This is also not true.

The project area referred to includes proposed, but not approved, projects. The county zoned the area as agricultural and has numerous policies in place to protect agricultural land. These projects would eliminate the remaining farmland and habitat of the Natomas basin, in Sacramento County, and weaken the Natomas Basin Habitat Plan. This plan which requires one half acre for acre that is developed with the city limits was a state and federal requirement to allow North Natomas to be developed in the first place. The future of North Natomas along with the protected species will be endangered if new projects of thousands of acres are ever approved.

The abandoned Joint Vision for Natomas, approved by both the city and county of Sacramento, called for development to occur only in the city limits, and agriculture and habitat to be done in the unincorporated areas of the county. It still makes sense.

While it’s a developer’s dream to buy prime farmland for cheap, and have it approved for development, the “highest and best use” in unincorporated North Natomas is farming and habitat.

Click here to view the article.


Photo by Edith Thacher

Blueprint Then and Now

February 23, 2022

SACOG Honors Blueprint Legacy in the 2024 Long-Range Transportation Plan

How the Blueprint transformed transportation and land-use planning for good

The creation of the Sacramento Region Blueprint was a revolutionary undertaking and compelled a critical assessment of the relationship between transportation and land use in the region. The strategy, completed almost 20 years ago, set the precedent for how metropolitan planning organizations engage in regional design. SACOG has chosen to carry on the innovative strategy’s legacy through the Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (MTP/SCS).

ECOS was key to original Blueprint, as mentioned in this article.

Local environmental groups filed a lawsuit and demanded more from SACOG and its members.

Keep reading at https://www.sacog.org/news/sacog-honors-blueprint-legacy-2024-long-range-transportation-plan.

CEQA can increase affordable housing in Sacramento while protecting communities

By Ralph Propper, President of the Environmental Council of Sacramento | October 19, 2021 | Sacramento News and Review

The City of Sacramento signed a deal this summer to build a U.C. Davis campus and innovation hub, bringing economic investment that will create affordable housing, jobs and transportation infrastructure. Thanks to California’s premiere social and environmental justice law, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), this agreement was not just a win-win for the project developers and city, but also for the community living near the development. Without a strong CEQA, however, the deal could have had wide-ranging negative impacts for the area’s under-resourced neighborhoods.

The project, known as Aggie Square, is a case study in how CEQA works to protect public health, safeguard communities and spur more affordable housing development. When market-rate developers approach cities with plans to build housing developments, warehouses or other big projects, their main concern is to make a profit. Thanks to CEQA, communities have a chance to make their voices heard by decision-makers before permits are approved and potentially problematic projects are built. Under CEQA, public agencies must study the environmental and public health impacts of a proposed development and identify feasible ways to offset those impacts.

Originally signed by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1970, CEQA protects environmental resources and advances environmental justice and social justice goals. But this keystone law has somehow become the punching bag of for-profit developers, who wrongly blame the statute for creating a barrier to the development of affordable housing. In fact, studies show local zoning and other local factors – not CEQA – are the primary barriers to affordable housing development. While the CEQA process has at times stalled or even blocked inclusionary housing or densification—which does further chill affordable project proposals—the Aggie Square development is a case where CEQA worked as designed, providing a pathway for inclusionary affordable housing and equitable access to opportunity.

The developers of Aggie Square were planning a project that, while bringing economic gains to the city as a whole, would have driven up rents for existing residents, leading to the all-too-familiar pattern of gentrification that displaces lower-income residents. But the outcome was different. Largely as a result of a grassroots effort led by Sacramento Investment Without Displacement that leveraged CEQA to ensure that community voices were heard, the city established a Community Benefits Partnership Agreement that protects local residents from gentrification and reduces the impact of increased traffic surrounding the new development.

Moreover, the agreement goes beyond mitigating harm posed by the project — it creates real benefits for the existing community. It will ensure that a significant portion of the new jobs created by Aggie Square, from entry-level to higher-wage positions, go to local residents. And it will create affordable housing, transportation options, job training and youth education programs.

By requiring decisionmakers to take the time to receive public input, and developers to understand the impact of their proposed development, the CEQA process made this project better and brought it into alignment with state priorities, including by increasing affordable housing supplies. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is now talking about replicating the agreement elsewhere in the city, prioritizing economic equity and residents’ rights over the financial gains of big, for-profit developers. This same model could be used to bring affordable housing and economic growth to communities across California.

As we continue to look for solutions to build more affordable housing, all Californians should look past the distorted picture being presented by those who have the most to gain by weakening this 50-year-old law. CEQA may be imperfect, but we must recognize that it is an essential tool for environmental and social justice, and for housing justice.


Click here to read this article on the Sacramento News and Review website.

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Sacramento’s top polluter is traffic. So why does the county’s climate plan create more?

By The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board | October 05, 2021 | The Sacramento Bee

While it remains to be seen what promises will be made — and likely broken — at the 26th annual UN Climate Change Conference in Scotland next month, you need not travel to Glasgow to see climate denialism in action. Sacramento County has that well in hand.

The latest version of the county’s Climate Action Plan, set to go before the Planning Commission and then the Board of Supervisors after public comment ends Friday, simply doesn’t live up to its name. Representatives of local environmental groups such as 350 Sacramento, the Environmental Council of Sacramento and the Citizens Climate Lobby of Sacramento say the long-awaited document falls far short of promises made more than 10 years ago.

Click here to read the article in full.

Wildfires, health and money: How to talk about climate change with skeptics

By Mila Jasper | August 11, 2021 | The Sacramento Bee

Monday marked a major day in climate change news. The United Nations published a new report that found global warming will likely rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next two decades, a level that will bring more instances of extreme weather.

There’s a lot to process in the report, which runs many thousands of pages. But critically, it suggests that humans still have a chance to put the brakes on and stop warming from going beyond that 1.5 degree increase. Here’s how to understand the report – and how to talk about it with skeptics – according to an expert on communicating climate science.

David Colgan is an environmental writer and the director of communications at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability…“What you need is kind of a balance, they need to see a problem and they need to see a potential way out of it,” Colgan said.

Slow and Active Streets

Ralph Propper, board president of the Environmental Council of Sacramento, mentioned one community-level solution that people can focus on: Sacramento’s “slow and active streets” initiative, instituted during the pandemic, was a great way to reduce emissions in the community. But that pilot program ended in July.

https://www.sacbee.com/news/california/article253398155.html

Click here to read the article in full.


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The drought is different this time. Everyone in the Sacramento region must conserve water.

By Ralph Propper And Tom Gray | July 31, 2021 | Special To The Sacramento Bee

ECOS Board President Ralph Propper co-authored this op-ed, published in the Sacramento Bee on July 31, 2021.

Vigilance is required to reduce water consumption and water waste. Water your lawn less and early in the day to minimize evaporation; don’t let sprinklers run off onto sidewalks; fix household leaks; take shorter showers and wash only full loads of dishes and clothes.

You should also, however, be sure to efficiently water your trees. Many trees were lost in the last drought, an unintended casualty from reduced lawn watering. Let’s give them special care this time.

Invest in long-term water efficiency measures, like removing or reducing your lawn by half in favor of water-sipping native plants, or adding high-efficiency appliances, WaterSense-labeled smart sprinkler timers, high-efficiency sprinklers and drip irrigation. Many local water agencies offer rebates and other incentives to help residents pay for these improvements — some have recently even doubled rebate amounts.

Water providers are doing their part to preserve water in our lakes and rivers by sustainably shifting to using more groundwater.

Saving water today could leave some carry-over storage in Folsom Reservoir for next year. We don’t want to drain that bank account in case next winter is dry, too.

https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/article253036003.html

Click here to read the article in full.


Featured Photo of tree shadows by Jill Burrow from Pexels