Hearing on Elk Grove’s Latest Attempt to Sprawl – February 7, 2018

January 16, 2017

Below, two updates from our partners at the Sierra Club Mother Lode Chapter, a member organization of ECOS, from their recent newsletter.


Chapter Chair’s Column

By Andy Sawyer

Fighting urban sprawl has long been a priority for the Sierra Club Mother Lode Chapter. Sprawl consumes important wildlife habitat and agricultural land. It increases costs of providing urban services. It undermines efforts to provide the compact, transit- and pedestrian-oriented development needed to serve a population that is becoming increasingly transit dependent. The Chapter has been particularly concerned about effects on air quality. Low density urban sprawl increases automobile dependency, requiring driving for commutes and errands that could otherwise rely on walking, bicycling or transit, and the driving distances are greater, resulting in increased vehicle miles traveled and automobile emissions.

Climate change heightens the urgency of stopping sprawl. The transportation sector accounts for 37% of greenhouse gas emissions in California. Reducing automobile use is essential to reducing those emissions. In 2008, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 375, providing for the preparation of sustainable communities with plans designed to reduce greenhouse gasses, and providing incentives for development consistent with those plans. A package of bills enacted in 2017 provides incentives for housing in existing urbanized areas. These incentives will not have much effect, however, so long as our local governments make cheap land available for urban sprawl by rezoning agricultural and open space lands, and state and local governments continue to build highway projects designed to open up new areas to development.

A key element of our efforts to combat urban sprawl is involvement in Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) decisions. Changes in the boundaries and spheres of influence of cities and special districts, which require approval by county LAFCOs, determine which areas are planned for urban development. By statute, the purposes of the LAFCOs include “discouraging urban sprawl” and “preserving open-space and prime agricultural lands.” Too often, however, county LAFCOs ignore this direction, rubber stamping local applications for sprawl and leapfrog development. Four years ago we won an important victory when the Sacramento County LAFCO turned down the City of Elk Grove’s application to sprawl into important agricultural land and habitat in the Delta. But now Elk Grove is back, hoping that changes in LAFCO membership will yield a different result. The Sierra Club has commented extensively on the proposal, and is gearing up for the February 7 hearing on the project, where we will need a large turnout. Mother Lode Chapter Conservation Chair Sean Wirth provides additional information on this below.

We are also working to shift transportation funding from highway expansion to transit. The Mother Lode Chapter is supporting litigation challenging Caltrans’ failure to consider and provide mitigation for the increase in vehicle miles travelled when it approved additional lanes on Highway 50, and is preparing comments on the proposed expansion of Highway 65. We are also working on proposed local transportation sales taxes, seeking to eliminate funds for sprawl supporting highway expansions and increase funding for transit.

Sprawl hurts us all. Fighting sprawl is critical to our success in protecting our environment, both regionally and globally.


Elk Grove and the ecological health of the north Delta

By Sean Wirth

As Elk Grove aggressively continues to try and realize its growth ambitions to the south of its existing city’s footprint, it is important to take stock of what is at stake for the ecology of the north Delta. Elk Grove has made it clear that it wants to grow right down to the edge of the 100 year floodplain, and then mitigate for the destruction of habitat of listed species, such as the Swainson’s Hawk, that resulted from that development by conserving habitat within the floodplain. The Sierra Club has long been concerned about the loss of upland habitat south of Elk Grove because the Consumnes River floodplain is an active floodplain that is inundated cyclically every seven to ten years, like it did dramatically last winter season.

The land conservation for the majority of north Delta species, especially the Greater Sandhill Crane, has been done within floodplains. When the cyclical flooding of the Consumnes River occurs, many of these species need to seek higher ground for their survival. For the Greater Sandhill Crane, it needs nearby upland areas for foraging and feeding when those floods occur. Though the Greater Sandhill Crane roosts in shallow wetlands at night, and though it will also forage in freshly flooded fields, the vast majority of the calories that this bird relies upon in our region comes from the grains that escaped agricultural harvest, such as corn, rice and wheat.

Sandhill Cranes are unusually loyal to their specific wintering geography and rarely travel more than two miles from their selected roost sites. When the cyclical flooding occurs, these birds look for the closest upland forage opportunities to their roost sites. All of the unincorporated lands south of Elk Grove serve this important purpose and the prospect of all of those lands being developed down to the floodplain would be catastrophic to the Crane and many other species that rely on un-flooded terrestrial habitat for their survival.

What complicates this problem even further is that the most conservative modeling for the impacts of global sea level rise in the north Delta indicate that basically all of the current lands set aside for the Greater Sandhill Cranes, and hundreds of other terrestrial species, are going to be threatened with permanent inundation as the symptoms of climate change accrue. This reality elevates the importance of the lands south of Elk Grove as a critical pathway to get our North Delta species over to the higher ground in the east. And clearly, this pathway is not going to be effective if it is paved over for low density sprawl neighborhoods and their associated malls.

Voicing these concerns is going to be an important part of convincing LAFCO that allowing Elk Grove to pave over this critically important geography is not in the interest of our region. Please join us on February 7th to demonstrate your concern at the hearing. The hearing starts at 5:30 p.m. and will be held at the Board of Supervisor’s chamber at 700 H Street in downtown Sacramento.

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Homelessness is an Environmental Issue

The Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) has adopted the following policy to guide its response to the issues of environmental protection and homeless shelter.

ECOS is a broad coalition of members and community organizations committed to achieve regional and community sustainability and a healthy environment for existing and future residents. We include both environmental protection groups and affordable housing advocates. By working proactively with our members, member organizations, local government, and community groups, ECOS strives to develop thriving communities.

At present, the level and persistence of homelessness has emerged as the greatest unmitigated current challenge to the mission of our Habitat Conservation committee, Habitat 2020. Human suffering, public health and sanitation risks, and environmental degradation have become intolerable.

1. We will support the actions of our member groups to address the various elements of this challenge including actions to protect and restore creek and river environments, keep parks clean and safe from habitat destruction and available for public recreation, provide shelter, public sanitation and clean water to those in need, and long-term actions to increase affordable housing stock and ensure sustainability of adequate housing for all.

2. We ask all local governments in the region make a concerted effort to achieve compliance with local regulations meant to protect habitat such as in the American River Parkway, our creeks and in similar locations, and to comply with state and federal laws and regulations protecting our environment. We need to protect our environment and commit significant resources to improve local housing and human services policies.

3. We ask that all local governments in the region provide enough safe and legal locations for our region’s people living without shelter to rest, places with public safety services, public restrooms, clean water and refuse disposal.

4. Bold measures and unprecedented regional cooperation are required to pull our communities out of a shelter crisis that threatens the health of our environment, public safety and local sustainability.

Resolved by the Board of the Environmental Council of Sacramento

Adopted by Habitat 2020, January 9, 2018
Adopted by ECOS executive committee, January 17, 2018
Adopted ECOS Board of Directors, January 23, 2018

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International Honors for Mutual Housing’s Sustainable Housing Model

A member organization of the Environmental Council of Sacramento, Mutual Housing California has been honored with the 2017 World Habitat Award. Each year the World Habitat Awards, in partnership with the United Nations–Habitat, are presented to two outstanding and innovative housing projects—from more than 100 entries from across the globe. The judges—who include Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing—choose developments and providers that not only produced outstanding housing solutions, but also can be copied elsewhere.

Mutual Housing at Spring Lake being 100% Zero Net Energy, means the utility bills are extremely low. Built in 2015, the 62-apartment and townhome community generates energy by solar panels installed on buildings and carport roofs to meet its electricity needs. Each home has a real-time, color-coded meter that helps residents track their energy use and stay within expected amounts for their apartment size. A water-based system for heating and air-conditioning also contributes to the energy savings, which are expected to reach 45,439 kilowatt hours and $58,000 annually.

The community has received LEED platinum certification, the first for a multi-family affordable housing development in Yolo County. The community also received the Environmental Protection Agency’s Indoor airPLUS certification and a Cool Davis Climate Solution Award in 2016.

Mutual Housing’s sustainability commitment and breakthrough of providing zero net energy to a very low income population is remarkable but, what sets Mutual Housing apart is more than physical housing. The World Habitat award also highlights their achievement in providing a high-quality housing option that is affordable to agricultural workers and their families – many of whom struggle with housing insecurity. The estimated 6,000-plus agricultural workers in Yolo County endure some of the worst housing conditions—and most dangerous jobs—in the country.

“We are grateful to receive the 2017 World Habitat Award—and to join the ranks of so many remarkable finalists that are improving the housing conditions of people facing enormous challenges,” said Roberto Jiménez, Mutual Housing CEO. “We’re proud to have developed the first certified Zero Net Energy Ready rental-housing community in the USA, and equally proud that agricultural workers and their families are the beneficiaries of this achievement.”

Further still, Mutual Housing’s resident engagement work is broad and deep. They work with adults, children, and the elderly in a way which is inclusive and empowering, with a multiplicity of programs that speak to the genuine interests and challenges of resident members.

“Through the Community Organizer and other staff I have been presented with opportunities to work though some of my past traumas and grow my leadership skills,” said resident member Hector Sanchez. “We strive to build a community with one another knowing that each of us shares a connection to the agricultural land.”

The Environmental Council of Sacramento congratulates Mutual Housing California. The honor validates the exciting work being done as they continue to push the envelope of sustainable housing.

The other winner was the Post-Haiyan Self-Recovery Housing Programme in the Philippines. After the widespread devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, this project helped more than 15,000 families rebuild their homes and self-recover.

Instead of relocating families, the project helped people rebuild their housing using locally available materials and debris from destroyed houses. This means families were reached and helped more quickly and fewer were forced to leave the area. They also gained useful skills in the process.

“All of this year’s World Habitat Awards finalists are interesting and important,” said Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing. “They are helping so many people in difficult and vulnerable circumstances.

“Billions of people across the world still lack a safe home. These remarkable projects show that it doesn’t have to be like that,” said David Ireland, Director of World Habitat, funders and coordinators of the World Habitat Awards.

“Brilliant people and ideas have come together to show that people on low-incomes can live safely free from the fear of disease, natural disasters and insecurity.”

The World Habitat Awards began 30 years ago with the first awards being given in London in 1986 by HRH the Prince of Wales and the Dr. Arcot Ramachandran, UN-HABITAT Executive Director, at the time.

Run with support from UN-Habitat, the World Habitat Awards are the world’s leading housing awards. Full details can be found at www.worldhabitatawards.org.

Mutual Housing will be presented with the award in February at a United Nations conference in Malaysia. And coming up in March, the organization will break ground on the second phase of this housing community, planned to achieve positive net energy.

Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Columbia, Md.-based Enterprise Community Partners funded capacity-building grants to further Mutual Housing’s work in rural communities and sustainable development.

Founded in 1988, Mutual Housing California develops, operates and advocates for sustainable housing for the diversity of the region’s households.

A member of NeighborWorks America—a congressionally chartered nonprofit organization that supports community development nationwide—Mutual Housing has more than 3,200 residents, nearly half of whom are children.

For information, visit www.mutualhousing.com.

To get a chance to hear from Mutual Housing California in person, please attend the ECOS Board Meeting on January 23rd, 2018.

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