S.F. climate plan calls for fewer cars, more trees

The chief agency acting as steward of San Francisco’s environment has laid out an ambitious plan to make The City greener and its air cleaner.

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Published January 29, 2007 by The San Francisco Examiner 
By Joshua Sabatini

San Francisco — The chief agency acting as steward of San Francisco’s environment has laid out an ambitious plan to make The City greener and its air cleaner.

The Department of the Environment will spend the next three years attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, entice more people to ride public transit, walk, bicycle and find funding to pay for planting more trees, according to the department’s draft 2007-09 strategic plan.

Among the chief objectives is to reduce greenhouse gases. As part Mayor Gavin Newsom’s “Climate Action Plan,” which was rolled out in 2004, The City has set a goal of 2012 to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels.

To reduce greenhouse gases, The City’s Public Utilities Commission and the Department of the Environment have spent millions of dollars, including $32 million worth of energy efficiency programs. “But in spite of these unprecedented efforts, the last four years have generated only a small fraction of the reductions needed to meet our goal. Between now and 2012, we must quadruple our efforts,” the plan says.

“Each person who lives or works in San Francisco will need to cut almost two tons CO2 (carbon dioxide) annually,” the plan says.

“For San Francisco to achieve its goals, city residents and people all over the country are going to have to participate along with government agencies,” said Johanna Wald, chair of the Environmental Commission’s Policy Committee, which will discuss the plan today.

The City will need to spend $630 million annually under the plan and the department “will need to apply for an unprecedented combination of public outreach campaigns, incentive programs and new ordinances in order to attain The City’s goal.” One idea is to establish a “Climate Fund,” to which people or groups can contribute.

The department will also try to lure people out of their cars. Gasoline and diesel vehicles is San Francisco’s “largest source of greenhouse gases, accounting for 51 percent of The City’s CO2 emissions,” according to the plan.

The department has set a goal of generating 4.7 million new pedestrian trips and an equal number of bicycle trips, in lieu of car trips. The department also wants to have 16,800 people switch from so-called single occupancy vehicles to ridesharing, and convince 105,350 people to use public transit instead of their cars. The department will also explore ways to generate revenue — such as a ballot measure for funding or a special tax assessment — to ensure The City’s greenery is well maintained and more trees are planted. An Urban Forest Plan released last year said The City’s 680,000 trees are dying at a quicker rate than The City is planting new ones, and advised establishing a $20 million annual spending stream to ensure the current tree stock remains healthy and new trees are planted.

Other goals laid out in the plan include beefing up public outreach and advocating city policies to help achieve a goal of 75 percent landfill diversion by 2010, with the ultimate goal of zero waste by 2020.

“I believe people in San Francisco will be willing to do their part once they are presented with options and reasons,” Wald said. “The pay off is enormous.”