Proposed Air Quality Guidelines Generate Concern Among Developers

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New guidelines the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has proposed for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from development projects have generated concern among Berkeley developers.

The final draft of the guidelines, which was presented to the district's Board of Directors this month, proposes greenhouse gas emission thresholds for development projects. If those thresholds are violated, projects would be subject to environmental reviews.

The district plans to report back to the board in January to answer questions and recommend the board adopt the thresholds.

Though the proposal allows developments in cities that have a climate action plan, including Berkeley, to be exempt from environmental review, Berkeley's Planning Director Dan Marks said "neither Berkeley's or anyone else's (climate action plans) could have met those standards." He said the emissions threshold for developments in the previous draft was too restrictive.

"The thresholds they established would have eliminated a special exemption under the California Environmental Quality Act for large projects that are over a certain size, usually transit-oriented," he said. "They would have established a more complicated, costly, time-consuming process for smart growth development."

Berkeley adopted a Climate Action Plan in 2007, which consists of advisory strategies to help increase the city's energy efficiency as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 33 percent by 2020. Measures include reducing emissions by increasing the availability of other forms of transportation, such as public transit, and increasing vehicle fuel efficiency and the use of low-carbon fuels.

According to Henry Hilken, the district's director of planning, rules and research, greenhouse gas emissions have never been addressed in California Environmental Quality Air guidelines.

"Most pollution comes from greenhouse gases," he said. "We try to encourage people to develop Downtown (rather) than in suburb (and) in agricultural areas. Then people can use transit more instead of having to use the car all the time."

Hilken said the guidelines would help meet the mandates under the 2006 Assembly Bill 32, which requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas levels in 2020 to the levels of 1990.

"We received a letter from State Attorney General, Jerry Brown, supporting the greenhouse gas thresholds," he said.

Marks said while he and the city staff have not had the chance to look at the revised draft, they hope it addresses their concerns with the preliminary draft released in September.

According to Hilken, representatives from the district have met with city officials to discuss their concerns, and the revised proposal should reflect those considerations.

Tom Kelly, volunteer director at KyotoUSA, said having a regional agency standardize guidelines for cities is a more efficient way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and would actually make it easier for developers.

"Costs associated with (the guidelines) are often overstated," he said. "Green building is getting much cheaper. Projects are cleaner and better for the environment."

Hilken said there shouldn't be any new costs because most projects already use the existing model used to calculate air pollution emissions for projects to calculate greenhouse gas emissions.

"Those developments can certainly be built in this economy," he said. "If your buildings are more energy-efficient and more auto-efficient, you could save money on energy and transportation costs."


Contact Melody Ng at [email protected]

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