Analyzing the Draft EIR for the General Plan 2040

Analyzing the Draft EIR for the General Plan 2040

George Humphreys

The City of Alameda recently issued a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Alameda General Plan 2040. Comments were received on the Draft EIR at the end of June. Within the next several months, the City Council will consider whether or not to approve the adequacy of the Draft EIR. Residents are encouraged to make their views known to the Council.

The EIR basically accepts the State’s idea of inevitable population growth and adopts the allocation of growth for Alameda. The State’s mandate does not take into consideration that Alameda is an island city with limited access and egress. Population growth will, over time, radically change the character of the City and make it a less attractive place to live.

The Draft EIR is based on a growth in Alameda’s population of about 30% by 2040 (from 79,000 at present to 104,000). This is a substantial increase. Incredibly, the EIR concludes that the impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, seismic events and emergency access are “less than significant”.

Obviously, the planned substantial growth will exacerbate traffic congestion, aggravate parking problems, multiply difficulties associated with emergency evacuation and with supplying water during a natural disaster.

Although the Draft EIR identifies an increase in vehicle miles travelled by commuters, it concludes that it doesn’t generate greenhouse gasses. Apparently, this conclusion is based on the impact of a 30% increase in Alameda alone. It ignores the cumulative impact of population increases in the Bay Area and California. This is like saying that one gross-polluting car doesn’t impact air quality. Further, the Draft EIR concludes that there are no feasible mitigation measures. What about limiting population growth, enhancing and encouraging work from home programs and linking commercial/industrial developments to nearby housing so that workers are encouraged to live near their workplace? For example, if a large corporation like Federal Express or Amazon were to create a distribution center in Building 5 at Alameda Point that could be coupled to nearby housing to accommodate some of their workforce.

Population

Population growth in Alameda over the next two decades is tied to the State’s projected requirements for new housing as reflected by the Regional Housing Needs Allocation and promulgated by the Association of Bay Area Governments. We should question the inevitability and desirability of uncurbed population growth. Some studies show that during the last few years people have been exiting the Bay Area and California because of the high cost-of-living, wildfire hazards, high taxes and water shortages.

Most of the problems confronting our community and State, namely climate change, water shortages, sea level rise, and loss of wildlife habitat are rooted in greenhouse emissions and population growth. For several hundred years preceding 1900, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere was essentially constant at 280 parts per million (ppm). Concentrations of carbon dioxide started to rise markedly from about 300 ppm in the 1920s to over 400 ppm at present. Some carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is essential because without it the earth would be uninhabitable, with a mean temperature about -15°C (5°F).

The increase in mean temperature during the last hundred years coincides with technological change (the sudden increase in fossil fuel usages for cars, planes and power plants) and the growth in population in California, the U.S. and world-wide. Mean global temperature increase depends on two factors, population and economic growth (per capita emissions). Countries have different standards of living as reflected by per capita emissions. For example, the U.S. has about one quarter of India’s population, but produces roughly twice the annual carbon dioxide emissions (5.4 million metric tons versus 2.6 million tons). We seem to be tackling only half the problem, i.e., technology. This is reflected in the gradual shift from fossil fuels to renewables (solar, wind and electric cars) while maintaining our standard of living. We are also proposing to shift from natural gas to electricity for household appliances and heating. But only part of our energy consumption is from households. Some industrial uses of fossil fuels like steel and cement production, agriculture, railroads and airplanes will be difficult to supplant.

Note that efforts to control wildfires such as controlled burns and to protect power lines by clearing vegetation and burning debris will release carbon dioxide as a combustion product. If we successfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions from households by two-thirds (i.e., emissions per capita would be one-third of the baseline), but triple the population by 2100, we will have made no net progress toward solving the greenhouse gas problem. We must tackle both parts of the equation (technology and population). How long can we tolerate unbridled population growth?

Population growth in California during the last century was brought on by immigration, birth rates and lifespan increases due to medical advances (vaccinations and antibiotics).

If we project the 15 percent per decade compound growth in population accepted by the Draft EIR, that would mean tripling Alameda’s population to about 240,000 over eight decades to the end of this century.

There are powerful forces behind population growth. Our capitalistic system thrives on continual growth in consumption and profits. Politicians pride themselves on “growing the economy”. Some religions admonish “be fruitful and multiply”. Governments at all levels need increasing tax revenues. Our social security system needs more young people paying into the retirement fund. Well-motivated and compassionate policies like child tax, deductions and credits, paid parental leave, and subsidized pre-school also provide incentives for increasing family size and population. Nevertheless, it is imperative that we make a start toward stabilizing the world population near the present level (over eight billion).

Population control must start as a policy at the State level because it is the State that is dictating that we accommodate a quota of planned population growth. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions and controlling population are national and world-wide problems. Population growth not only affects climate change but humanity’s impact on resources and the biodiversity of the natural world.

An eminent educator, Edward O. Wilson professor emeritus Harvard University, has proposed that fifty percent of the earth’s surface be preserved as sanctuaries for the earth’s plant life and creatures. This would set aside large reserves of unique habitat, protect biodiversity and prevent the extinction of as yet undiscovered species. We should not destroy the diverse world from which we evolved and which is essential for our own survival. National Parks represent only a small percent of the world’s land and ocean areas.

How can the world’s population be stabilized? Hopefully, voluntary cooperation and family planning will discourage people from having large families. A hundred years ago we had an agrarian society and people wanted large families to work on the farms. Now people are being crowded into cities and the high cost-of-living, including higher rents will discourage couples from having large families. Education and women’s assertion of their right to pursue a career may limit family size in male-dominated developing countries. Unfortunately, wars, food shortages, climate stress and pandemics, brought about by humans encroaching on the natural environment, may ultimately limit population growth.

George Humphreys lives in Alameda.