Welcome to new list members who attended our Beyond Towers and Sprawl event. We heard an informative conversation between Alex Lee and Karen Parolek, featuring Opticos' visually appealing renditions of the climate-friendly, community-building housing we could have with appropriate reforms. If you missed the event, you can catch it here. Make sure to support Alex in his State Assembly campaign, and thank our cosponsors South Bay YIMBY and East Bay for Everyone. You can support Karen's work and learn more by buying Dan Parolek's book Missing Middle Housing.
Julian Castro at the YIMBY Awards this Fri!
Julian Castro, presidential candidate and former Housing & Urban Development Secretary under Pres. Obama, has been a national leader in calling for fair housing. He will keynote this year's YIMBY Awards. This year's event will be online at 5:30pm Oct 23: get your ticket now.
Reject a lease renewal for fossil fuel infrastructure on SF's public land
Urban Environmentalists Phillip Kobernick and Erik Shilts published this op-ed in the SF Examiner. Tell the SF Board of Supervisors that if their actions are to match their rhetoric on the climate emergency and our housing crisis, then a decade-long below-market lease to a gas station is not the way forward: sign our petition.
A telework mandate is not the climate solution we need
Rather than promoting walkable communities, complete streets, and fully funded transit, the regional transportation planning agency MTC is proposing to meet its obligations to reduce driving miles by mandating telework. Many of our region's political leaders, including London Breed and Scott Wiener, are pushing back. We have a petition with regional partner organizations led by Transbay Coalition to fix the mandate.
Transportation for America's new report Driving Down Emissions
Urban Environmentalists know that we can't decarbonize transportation with electric cars alone: and even if we could, we would be squandering the opportunity to prioritize healthier, equitable solutions. They gather together all our favorite arguments with compelling graphics and figures in this wonderful new report. Join them for a national discussion Oct 28.
Streets for People inaugural event
Friends of Urban Environmentalists have launched a new Bay Area organization Streets for People. Their first event will be a forum on Prop 22 this Thursday at 6pm.
Two weeks left to vote and volunteer!
We suggest referencing the YIMBY Action Voter Guide and the SPUR Voter Guide. And don't forget to volunteer for Yes on RR to save Caltrain!
What We're Reading
We have an exciting upcoming event we wanted to make sure that you learned about! On Mon, Oct 5, our monthly meeting will be Beyond Towers and Sprawl. Today our partners hosted a forum on how Measure RR can help support public transit. Sign up to support Measure RR here.
We're glad that Gov. Newsom signed SB 288! Thanks to those of you who may have emailed him.
Beyond Towers and Sprawl
It's OK if you like towers-- we do too! But when most people in the US think of housing possibilities, their minds immediately go to single-family detached houses on the one hand, and austere high-rises built from steel and concrete on the other. But this dichotomy itself is historically anomalous and a product of the mid-20th century pro-sprawl agenda. Worse, the specter of a century of racist housing policy looms over the conversation. First we had poorly conceived and maintained high-rise public housing projects, where Le Corbusier's Towers in the Park aesthetic met America's tragic commitment to segregated communities. More recently, the tables have turned and we have seen much of the new housing construction in American cities focused into a small area, taking the form of large condo projects marketed at the wealthy, often in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. (At the same time, far too few homes have been built altogether, and much of what has been built consists of new sprawl.)
Allowing a broader range of housing types over a broader geographic area, in the form of "missing middle housing," can be a big part of the solution: especially if this encourages housing designed to be car-light and facilitates building smaller, more affordable homes, even absent subsidies. One recent study found that the entire housing shortage in the US could conceivably be filled by missing middle alone (though the shortage is more pronounced in California). The movement for 15-minute cities and the rise of micromobility could synergize with the movement for missing middle to support Urban Environmentalist goals.
This is why we are excited to be in conversation with State Assembly candidate Alex Lee and Missing Middle expert Karen Parolek to explore this concept next week on Oct 5 at 7:30pm: please RSVP here. We thank South Bay YIMBY and East Bay for Everyone for cohosting.
What We're Reading
If you're in California, we hope you've been staying safe and cool and had access to clean air in these last few weeks of utterly terrifying atmospheric conditions. Our hearts go out to all those whose homes have been threatened, and we have utmost gratitude for those who must brave these conditions to continue to do essential work outdoors. But gratitude is not enough: we must all pitch in to build a resilient future while protecting our most vulnerable.
As Urban Environmentalists, we know that cities have a lot of work to do to meet the challenges of climate change. This timely NY Times article on the intersection between urban heat islands and racist redlining policies is a stark reminder of how racist and environmentally unfriendly policies have resulted in heat waves being much more uncomfortable and even dangerous for black and brown communities across the United States. And two of our favorite California leaders on housing and climate, Annie Fryman and Leonora Camner, provided some inspiration for our work in this incredible Vox interview released today. We are so glad to be taking on these important challenges together.
If you're joining us for the first time from the SPUR event on saving public transit, or because you sent emails to save Caltrain, welcome! Thanks for everyone who sent emails and helped make sure Measure RR made it to the ballot! Grassroots outreach (what we do) will be the margin of victory - Sign this pledge card and you’ll be connected with opportunities to help.
September 16 Happy Hour - Gather Mixer - RSVP Now!
Join us for informal hangout time in Gather, a fun virtual spot for mixing and mingling in small groups. Sign up today!
Coming Soon - What is the True Cost of Residential Parking Permits?
Have you ever wondered what we could do with the space and money we devote to residential parking, if it didn't all go to cars? Join us for an upcoming event in partnership with SPUR to explore this question, and to hear from experts on what it would take to equitably transition to more vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable use of our residential curb space. Stay tuned for the RSVP!
Coming Soon - Missing Middle Housing
Suburbs are environmentally unfriendly and perpetuate inequality - but that doesn't mean we all have to live in skyscrapers. Come learn about the promise of "missing middle" housing - duplexes and sixplexes, in-law units, subdivided lots, small cottages, and more! Our featured speaker will be Karen Parolek or a colleague from Opticos. The RSVP page is coming soon! In the meantime, learn more by reading this op-ed on missing middle housing in Los Angeles, and dive even deeper by checking out Dan Parolek's recent book.
Coming Soon - Urban Environmentalists x Livable Sunnyvale x Greenbelt Alliance
Let's talk about the intersections between urban environmentalism, the pro-housing movement, and preserving nature! Event details coming soon.
Urban Environmentalists promotes vibrant, diverse urban communities that nurture their inhabitants and benefit society, and provide abundant housing and opportunities for all. While we don't provide our own election endorsements, we are a part of the YIMBY Action network, and we invite you to look at the regional endorsements from our friends at SF YIMBY, Peninsula for Everyone (stay tuned for fall endorsements shortly), East Bay for Everyone, and Berkeley Neighbors for Housing & Climate Action. Your vote counts!
The California legislative season ended on August 31. Here's a rundown of which bills we support made it through, and which will have to wait until next year:
You can email Gov. Newsom to ask him to sign SB 288 and AB 2345, and let him know your disappointment that the legislature was not able to pass comprehensive housing reform this year.
Federally, we support the YIMBY Act which has passed the US House in a bipartisan vote and is now in the Senate. Follow Up for Growth (which Urban Environmentalists is a member of) for updates and ways to support. Also see Dan Bertolet's rundown of the major options for federal land use reform.
Hope to "see" you on Sep. 16.
Greetings! This month, we welcome all of our new members who wrote to the SF Board of Supervisors to express their support for Caltrain, as well as those who attended our SFCTA Congestion Pricing Update and Lunch & Learn with the Port of SF.
The mission of Urban Environmentalists is to address the climate and inequality crises by transforming cities and towns into inclusive communities designed around people rather than cars. We value healthy environments supportive of all life; vibrant, diverse, and nurturing urban communities with abundant housing and opportunities for all; and efficient, equitable use of our planet’s resources, especially land. We look forward to seeing you at one of our August events!
An Important Milestone
Every Urban Environmentalist contributes to this movement, and there are now over a thousand of us on this email list! To celebrate, we made this visualization of our 800 Bay Area members. The counts on the map represent the number of members in each ZIP Code.
Some other notable regions for Urban Environmentalists subscribers:
We recognize that our membership is lacking in many disadvantaged Bay Area communities that bear the brunt of our pollution burden and face barriers to affordable housing, healthcare, and employment. Our goal is to identify speakers and team leads who live in and advocate for these communities.
Last month was jam-packed! Events included an SFCTA Congestion Pricing Update and a lunch & learn with the Port of SF, co-hosted by the Association of Women in Water, Energy and Environment (AWWEE).
Today’s Actions - SB 902 + SB 288
SB 902 (Streamlining Rezoning up to 10-plexes)
SB 288 (CEQA Streamlining)
What we’re reading/watching:
Please help us with an urgent call to action to save Caltrain from shutdown.
Caltrain is a critical component of the Bay Area’s public transportation network. It must continue to operate for those who most need it - essential workers, and people needing to travel for basic needs who cannot afford to or are unable to drive - who are using it right now. We also need it to emerge strong after the pandemic for the Bay Area to have an inclusive future with more homes and less car pollution and car dependency.
On Wednesday, Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Shamann Walton on the SF Board of Supervisors blocked a proposed Caltrain funding measure from appearing on the ballot in November by failing to introduce it to the Board. Polls have indicated the ⅛ cent sales tax would stand a strong chance of passing, yet these two supervisors opposed it in an apparent dispute over Caltrain governance and funding mechanisms, with little warning for stakeholders in the rest of the Bay Area. Without this funding, the financial hardship imposed by COVID-19 could shut Caltrain permanently as it has no dedicated funding source, unlike other Bay Area agencies. Particularly given the $2 billion investment in electrifying the corridor, as well as Caltrain’s impressive equity proposals, it is critical that we insist our politicians preserve our regional transit infrastructure.
To advance the ballot measure, the SF Board of Supervisors now would need to pass an urgency ordinance, requiring a ⅔ majority. Please email the Board President Norman Yee at Norman.Yee@sfgov.org and cc Aaron.Peskin@sfgov.org, Shamann.Walton@sfgov.org, and your own district supervisor (if you live in San Francisco), or use this email tool we put together with SF YIMBY and SF HAC to contact the entire board demanding that they move the measure forward and let voters decide the future of Caltrain. Thanks to the people who have already called and emailed: members of the Board including Supervisor Matt Haney are listening and may take action, but we need to keep up our encouragement to make sure we get the votes for this.
Please continue to follow our friends at Green Caltrain for updates, and see their blog post and call to action with additional background.
For those of you who are new to Urban Environmentalists - welcome! Our mission is to address the climate and inequality crises by transforming cities and towns into inclusive communities designed around people rather than cars. We value healthy environments supportive of all life; vibrant, diverse, and nurturing urban communities with abundant housing and opportunities for all; and efficient, equitable use of our planet’s resources, especially land. We look forward to seeing you at one of our upcoming events!
Recently we had three great events - if you missed them, check out the recordings below!
Today’s Actions - SB 902 + SB 288
What we’re reading/watching:
Read below for info on asking ABAG not to repeat the housing failures of the past, and sign the petition.
Thanks to everyone who joined us for our recent events: a rundown of federal transportation policies with Transportation for America; a lunch & learn on sustainable housing and mobility for disadvantaged communities with GRID Alternatives; and a conversation on climate justice in Berkeley with City Council candidate Terry Taplin.
For those of you who are new to Urban Environmentalists - welcome! Our mission is to address the climate and inequality crises by transforming cities and towns into inclusive communities designed around people rather than cars. And for those of you who missed an event, no worries! You can catch up on many of them via our YouTube channel, including the GRID Alternatives event and the Terry Taplin event.
SF Bay x SoCal Happy Hour: Mon, July 6, 6pm
Unwind (and geek out on urban environmentalism) at our informal happy hour. We'll be trading stories and best practices from across the SF Bay Area and Southern California. Sign up here!
Sustainability, Resilience, and Social Justice on the Waterfront with the Port of San Francisco: Thu, July 23, 12pm
Our next lunch & learn is co-hosted by the Association of Women in Water, Energy and Environment (AWWEE) and features Diane Oshima, Deputy Director of Planning & Environment for the Port of San Francisco. Diane will discuss some of the many ways the Port impacts the environment, urban life, and social justice in the city. Attendees will also receive a special discount code for AWWEE membership. RSVP today!
Today's Action: Tell ABAG to Plan for More Homes!
Where we build new housing - and how much of it we build - has enormous environmental implications. It can lead to ever-expanding sprawl and increased risk of wildfire, heat stroke, and flooding; or it can lead to less car use, lower energy consumption, and preservation of open spaces. In its draft Regional Housing Needs Allocation, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) increased proposed housing development substantially compared to last decade's meager plan. Yet by using an overly conservative population forecast that assumes today's levels of overcrowding and unaffordability continue, the plan still falls far short of what's needed for both Californians and our environment. It's not too late to make a difference - sign the petition to ask ABAG to plan for at least 1 million homes by 2030!
Ready to do more? Urban Environmentalists Robert Spragg, Charles Whitfield, and Zack Subin called into the ABAG Executive Board meeting this past Thursday to remind them how important infill housing is to addressing the climate crisis. Let us know if you want to join them next time. You can also email ABAG or their chair, Jesse Arreguin (Mayor of Berkeley), and tell them you want more housing in the Bay Area.
Recent Urban Environmentalist Successes
Two bills we endorsed passed the Assembly! AB 3135 (supported by ally Calbike) would support housing affordability by allowing bike parking to substitute for car parking, and AB 2345 (supported by ally Up for Growth) would expand the state's density bonus law to allow to enhance affordable infill housing opportunities.
We also submitted comments supporting more zero-emission trucks to the California Air Resources Board (CARB). NRDC covered CARB's decision: California Makes History with Clean Trucks Rule.
What We're Reading
Call for Lead Volunteers!
Urban Environmentalists is run by volunteers who organize events, craft petitions and other calls to action, write the newsletter, engage on social media, and more. One of our current leads (Nathan Chan) is stepping back due to being over-committed, and we'd love it if you wanted to step up into this role. We are especially interested in people who can help us diversify our leadership, and wanted to extend the call beyond the core group of already-mobilized volunteers. The time commitment is roughly a few hours per week. Reply to this email to chat with us if you have interest or questions.
New! Federal Transportation Funding and Climate Action with Transportation for America: 6-7pm on Mon, June 15
This Monday, come hear from Transportation for America's Policy Director Scott Goldstein about the intersection of federal transportation policy & climate change, and about our unique opportunity for reform. We'll discuss how federal transportation policy worsens climate change, what needs to be done to make it better, what the just-released House transportation bill would do, and the role of advocates - including you! This event will take place via Zoom. All registered attendees will receive a link approximately 15 minutes prior to the start of the event. RSVP here.
GRID Alternatives Lunch & Learn: 12-1pm on Tue, June 16
On Tuesday, join Urban Environmentalists and the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) for a "lunch & learn" conversation and Q&A with Dani Mahrer, GRID Alternatives' Bay Area Partnerships and Communications Officer. We’ll hear about GRID's groundbreaking programs in sustainable multifamily housing, shared solar in disadvantaged communities, tribal energy sovereignty, shared clean mobility, diverse workforce development, and mor . This event will take place via Zoom. All registered attendees will receive a link approximately 15 minutes prior to the start of the event. RSVP today!
Climate Justice with Terry Taplin: Building an Equitable & Resilient Berkeley, June 21, 7pm
Join Urban Environmentalists and East Bay for Everyone in conversation with Terry, a Berkeley City Council candidate, about the intersection of race, housing, and pollution in West Berkeley. West Berkeley is a frontline, working class black and brown community that faces sea level rise, deteriorating infrastructure, pollution from fossil fuel pipelines and a major freeway. How can we use the pillars of equity and innovation to create a climate resilient, mobility-inclusive ecodistrict with vibrant industry and equitable and abundant housing? Register on the Zoom Webinar page.
New affiliate event: Making Urbanism Antiracist with Warren Logan: 6-7pm on Tue, June 23
How should planners, advocates, public officials and urbanists advance the cause of racial justice? Join YIMBY Action for a conversation with Warren Logan, Policy Director of Mobility and Interagency Relations, City of Oakland. This is the first in YIMBY Action's "Making Urbanism Antiracist" series; an ongoing conversation on how housing and transit people must advance racial equity. This event will take place via Zoom. Register now!
Upcoming Events - Save the Date!
Black Lives Matter
Urban Environmentalists postponed our June 1 meeting with SoCal allies to allow space for the urgent conversations on racial justice that are happening (stay tuned for a reschedule). We also signed onto the YIMBY Action statement Demanding Justice: Black Lives Matter.
We stand with the protestors demanding justice across the country. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others — so many that the simple demand to say their names is now a rallying call for justice — have rocked communities across the country. People are righteously enraged about decades of racism in policing, in healthcare, in housing, in schooling, in every aspect of human life.
We recognize the tight linkages between the fights for racial justice and those for housing justice, environmental justice, and climate justice. Our platform calls for Equity and Environmental Justice. We note that racial inequity and the failure to equitably share urban and public space makes mitigating climate change and air pollution harder, reduces adaptive capacity to cope with their impacts, and concentrates these impacts - from asthma to flooding to heat stroke - on Black and other vulnerable communities.
At the same time, we take this moment to closely reflect on our own responsibilities, to embrace humility and learn from our allies, and to elevate the voices of people of color both inside and outside our organization when advocating for change. We will make more of an effort going forward to highlight Black voices in our event planning. We also look forward to hearing from you on how we can do better.
GRID Alternatives Brownbag: 12-1pm on Tue, June 16
Please join Urban Environmentalists and the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) for a brownbag conversation and Q&A with Dani Mahrer, GRID Alternatives' Bay Area Partnerships and Communications Officer. We’ll hear about GRID's groundbreaking programs in sustainable multifamily housing, community solar, shared clean mobility, tribal energy sovereignty, diverse workforce development, and more. RSVP here. This event will take place via Zoom. All registered attendees will receive a link approximately 15 minutes prior to the start of the event.
We are finalizing plans, but stay tuned for the following events:
Today we're asking you to consider supporting allied groups and groups on the front lines seeking racial justice. We are impressed by the work of our allies at Greenlining and encourage you to support them. We have seen compilations of national and local Black community groups, nonprofits, and businesses, such as this list put together by SF YIMBY member Mike Chen. Other local allies have suggested the ACLU, Black Futures Lab, Equal Justice Society,
United Playaz, Movement for Black Lives, Black Lives Matter, San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, National Bail Fund Network, & Silicon Valley De-Bug.
A note about Facebook
We are troubled by the failure of Facebook to take a stronger stand against the use of its platform for hate speech and for sharing disinformation and misinformation, sparking protests within the company. For this reason, we are suspending use of the platform to share our news and events. You can continue to follow us on our other platforms.
Q. Isn’t urban density a risk factor for transmission of respiratory viruses like that which causes COVID-19?
A. When we talk about the advantages of urban density, we are referring to the number of people or housing units per square mile of land area. This is related to but distinct from the question of crowding, which is a function of the number of people in an enclosed or restricted space, and implicated in viral transmission. Crowding is sometimes a desired feature of city recreational activities (such as a packed bar, concert, or open streets event), but often it is the result of insufficient and inequitably distributed built space. Less housing units per square mile in a place where many people want to live can often mean more people housed per room. Similarly, excessive allocation of outdoor space to cars can exacerbate crowding on sidewalks and in parks.
Public transportation ridership is down steeply during the pandemic, and transit operators face fiscal challenges even as they strive to implement new safety practices. We support fully funding public transportation to insure safe and adequate service especially for those who most need it. Transportation networks need a unified approach to transportation safety, including assessing and mitigating public health risks based on science, appropriately contextualizing relative risks of different transportation modes, and communicating these to the public. The Seamless Transit Principles developed for Bay Area transportation provide a template for reforming governance to support these goals. Bikeshare and other micromobility options-- equitably deployed and operating on complete streets-- can provide people with more alternatives and alleviate congestion both on roads and in transit. Dedicated bus lanes can allow more buses to run with greater efficacy and less crowding.
We can’t avoid a conversation about environmental justice when talking about impacts of the pandemic on cities. Our most vulnerable communities-- those which have been exposed disproportionately to pollution (itself a possible COVID-19 risk), have access to insufficient and inadequate housing, have been allocated insufficient public space, and have had insufficient access to health services-- are those which are seeing the worst impacts of the pandemic around the country. Even if there were an irreducible health risk of density over sprawl (which we do not believe to be the case), then exclusionary housing policies are no solution: they merely allow the privileged to opt out of these challenges, often while still enjoying the cultural and economic benefits of density.
Finally, urban density featuring flexible and diverse land use can enhance resilience to both pandemics and climate change. We don’t all have to live in skyscrapers, but living in environments dedicated to one housing type that require driving for all the activities of daily life are uniquely fragile, limiting both functional and economic responses to disturbance. If cities are urban ecosystems, then single-family detached zoning is urban monoculture. Natural environments do not all look the same, but they do share common features like diversity, modularity, and feedback that allow them to resist and adapt to stressors. We need to incorporate these principles into our human environments across spatial scales from small towns to towering metropolises.
Also see our March 2020 blog post led by Urban Environmentalist Robert Spragg.