Is Glendale City’s Greener Plan Sustainable?
Back on September 9, 2013 I wrote in Vanguard about Glendale and Local Governments for Sustainability. On November 9, 2010, the City of Glendale adopted a resolution to address sustainability and climate change using the UN Urban Environmental Accords as its framework for sustainability which outlined Energy, Water, Waste, Transportation, Urban Design, Urban Nature, and Environmental Health, for achieving better sustainability. (1)
In the City’s Greener Glendale Plan, it said that the City is committed to doing its part to promote sustainable living through eco-friendly programs and projects, for the betterment of our community through sustainability outreach and education to our residents. The City’s community operations plan addressed the seven sustainable areas and how it can achieve CHG (Green House Gases) reduction targets of 8% by 2020 and 13% by 2035. (1) Critics contend that such policies will undermine our quality of life, personal choice, and property rights in American communities, i.e. higher density, increased traffic congestion, using eminent domain for private development, etc….
In 2012-2013, the council approved an Ordinance amending Chapter 2.30 of the Glendale Municipal Code to add an Economic Development Program within the city to aid in the promotion of the health and welfare of the inhabitant residents and businesses in the city. Accordingly, the purpose of this chapter was to authorize the city to undertake Economic Development consisting of activities that improve residential and housing value and options, increasing retail, commercial and industrial activity, visitation and visitor spending, improving entertainment options, enriching cultural experiences, improving recreational options, and expanding the city’s tax base which increases the city’s ability to provide municipal services to its inhabitant residents and businesses. (2)
The City intends to undertake a vigorous business retention and attraction program for economic development, that includes assistance in the form of grants, loans, fee abatements, payments of insurance premiums, tax rebates, variance in the City’s Downtown Specific Plan, specially zoning ordinance of required number of parking spaces per unit, or other assistance to assist in the attraction or retention of qualifying commercial, mixed-use, industrial or other suitable activity in the city, in order to increase property and sales tax revenue, and to generate interest in and visitation to the city via marketing activities including, but not limited to, branding campaigns, public outreach and special events. (2)
Based on the foregoing, and in accordance with the City’s Greener Glendale Plan, the council engaged on a plan to substantially increase the density of downtown Glendale supposedly for the benefit of Glendale residents and its inhabitants. The only problem was that the city council never took a survey or provided its residents with an ample opportunity to provide their input or to have any say on the matter. The council took it upon themselves, alone, to make one of the most important decisions in the City’s history.. There is no question that the City has a spending problem due to unsustainable salaries and unfunded debt. That is why the City transfers annually approximately $21 million of GWP receipts to the general fund and collected $26.8 million in Utility Users tax in 2012 that was all appropriated to the General Fund, the majority of which was to pay for over-inflated city employee costs.
The City Council this week gave tentative approval to another building at the corner of Central and Wilson avenues, another mixed-use development — with a CVS drug store. There will be 167 units and 303 parking spaces. The developments failed to provide adequate parking for guest and commercial customers of approximately 100 parking spaces.. Najarian voted no because he was worried that residential development in Glendale needed to be slowed down. (3)
The six projects currently under construction allow developers to minimize the amount of parking below the City’s downtown specific plan of 2 spaces per unit, plus guest parking and commercial parking for multi-use projects. This saves developers about $25,000 per parking space. The Council suggests that this is acceptable due to the changing culture of downtown, and the declining need for parking. Generally this might be acceptable if given the neighborhood’s proximity to transit. However, in Glendale’s case there is no proximity to transit especially if the new residents work outside of the downtown district.
According to the city’s report, only 55 affordable units are currently under construction at six projects that took advantage of state “density bonus” provisions, which let developers build more units in exchange for renting some of them below market rate. To qualify for some low-income housing, the annual earnings ceiling for a family of four is about $68,000. (4)
CA’s California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), passed in 1970, requires every city, county and public agency in California to analyze and disclose environmental impacts of proposed projects and adopt feasible measures to mitigate those impacts. On Feb. 22 2013, Senate President Pro Tem Steinberg introduced SB 731, a bill containing a list of “intents” reflecting many reforms streamlining approval of infill projects. Advocacy groups on all sides of the CEQA reform debate were frustrated and unhappy with the measures included. As a result, SB 731 was put off until next year, and Steinberg instead pushed through passage of Senate Bill 743, intended to streamline environmental review but it does include provisions that apply statewide, i.e.. Aesthetic impacts and parking impacts of a residential, mixed-use residential employment center project on an “infill site” and within a “transit priority area” can no longer be considered significant impacts on the environment.(5)
A project will only qualify to use the expanded exemption if it is consistent with an agency’s “sustainable community’s strategy” or “alternative planning strategy.” The governor now has until Oct. 13 to sign it into law, which he is expected to do. The City of Glendale would not qualify with the foregoing since these projects are a small class of “green” mega-projects that must invest at least $100 million in California, and the governor must certify a project as an “environmental leadership development project” by Jan. 1, 2016. (5)
It’s apparent that the State has “water” problems, i.e., who will pay for Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta tunnel project? To keep the water project alive, urban ratepayers in Southern California may pay more than their share, in effect subsidizing San Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests, instead of the biggest bill for the tunnels should go to San Joaquin Valley agriculture, because most water exported from the delta is used by irrigation districts
Due to a recent economic analysis commissioned by the state, it concluded that from a financial standpoint, urban users would reap the lion’s share of project benefits because urban water is far more valuable than irrigation supplies. Much of California agriculture is accustomed to vast amounts of cheap, federally subsidized water in the form of deliveries from the Central Valley Project, the nation’s largest water supply program. (6)
Maximizing Water Sustainability Through Engineering As the population increases and climate patterns change, the pressure on the world’s fresh water sources goes up. Especially in arid regions where precipitation is generally low, waiting for rain to refresh our aquifers can be stressful. In order to keep our water supply high, water districts are embracing indirect potable reuse (IPR) to recycle their water, instead of sending treated water out to the ocean and hoping for rain, reclaimed water is returned to local aquifers, increasing groundwater availability at a predictable rate. (7)
As urban centers grow, water reclamation plants (WRPs) must grow too. Water districts with limited funds must determine whether it makes more sense to increase the capacity of existing WRPs or build additional facilities closer to the aquifer to implement IPR. The demands placed on these aquifers are unsustainable and they must be supplemented with imported water at enormous expense. Furthermore, the capacity of existing centralized recycled water distribution limits the potential for local recharge. With Civiltec’s help, these secondary WRPs will reduce the environmental impact of straining the water cycle beyond its locally sustainable limits. (7)
California’s water house of cardsGroundwater supplies at least a third of the state’s water.But it’s being depleted at a rapid pace, despite efforts to recharge it. California uses more of its groundwater than any other state: Nearly 20% of all groundwater withdrawals in the United States occur in California. The importance of this underground water source to the socioeconomic and environmental health of our state cannot be overemphasized. We rely on groundwater to provide a third or more of our statewide water supply, and even more in drought years. Most of the water pumped is used for irrigation, although an increasingly large amount is being used to support energy production. Unfortunately, the vast reserve that underlies our state is being depleted at a rapid pace. (8)
Since 2002, the Central Valley has been using groundwater at a rate of 800 billion gallons a year. In the Central Valley, falling well levels and subsiding land are curtailing food production, damaging ecosystems and threatening the livelihoods of the thousands of area residents employed by the water-dependent agricultural sector. Clearly, food and energy production are essential, but those water needs must be balanced against domestic requirements, the needs of the environment and ecosystems, long-term preservation of groundwater supplies for future generations and the economic future of our state and nation. (8)
The challenge of optimally allocating groundwater among its competing uses is exacerbated by California’s steadily growing population and the impacts of climate change. Warmer temperatures are already decreasing the amount of water stored as snow in the Sierra each winter. Ultimately this translates into lower river flows and less replenishment of underground aquifers. The state’s top groundwater priority should be to implement a monitoring and management program. The absence of such a management framework has transformed California’s groundwater infrastructure into an unsustainable house of cards. Without active management of California groundwater, our state’s and our nation’s food and economic, energy and water security will be increasingly at risk. The era of relative abundance is over. California needs a clear road map toward a sustainable groundwater future. (8)
Part of the City’s membership in the Local Government for Sustainability, is to ensure that there is sustainability in Energy, Water, Waste, Transportation, Urban Design, Urban Nature, and Environmental Health. Yet, with all of these “Mixed-Use “construction projects underway in Downtown Glendale, and approved for the future, to achieve high density, and turn Glendale from a sleeping town into a “vibrant metropolitan hub”, this endeavor may be in fact turn out to be unsustainable even with the City’s planned capital improvement upgrade of GWP’s infrastructure.
If true, this could very well affect the very health, welfare, and well being of every resident, inhabitant, and businesses in the city due to the state’s ground water dilemma, lack of adequate parking spaces for residents, guest and commercial parking, that will result in traffic congestion and parking problems, as well as the City’s failure to implement adequate transit for area residents and outside commercial visitors, that will fail to meet the City’s . Greener Glendale Plan for lower green house emissions and the State’s CEQA requirements, due to its failure to analyze and disclose the environmental impact of these projects to the State. The City does not qualify for the State’s expanded exemption since it is not a “green” mega-projects that must invest at least $100 million.