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Green Homes, Tiny Trips Could Help ‘Climate-Proof’ California

Feb. 7, 2020, 11:30 AM

California needs more than a boost in electric vehicles and a 100% clean energy sector by 2045 to meet its climate goals.

Regulators and lawmakers are also looking at how more affordable housing, quicker commutes, expanded mass transit, and green buildings can lower emissions.

“I think that our greatest hope lies in making ourselves climate-proof, if you will, by transforming our system to one where we build communities around a resilient transportation system and housing for our communities that simply don’t emit greenhouse gas emissions at all,” Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said this week.

She called for mandating 100% electric vehicle sales by 2035, building affordable housing outside high wildfire threat zones, and helping people cut their commuting time. Programs that time lights to reduce congestion and cutting down on the miles vehicles traveled also help lower emissions.

California has high goals: reducing planet-warming emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and no net release of those emissions by 2045.

“We would be wrong to rely on our past success to assume that we could make it to our 2030 and 2045 climate goals because they are much harder to achieve,” Nichols said.

And she is not alone.

On the first day of the 2020 legislative session in January, 14 Democrats in the Assembly introduced a bill to focus on meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals and speeding up adoption of clean energy while also cutting homelessness in half, offering job training for green jobs, and increasing affordable housing offerings in sustainable communities.

The bill hasn’t had committee hearings yet. Democrats hold a two-thirds majority in both the Assembly and Senate, enough to pass without Republican support.

‘Need to Do Everything’

No one action will solve the climate crisis, said Sierra Club California Director Kathryn Phillips, who helped craft the bill.

“If there’s a bottom line message: ‘You need to do everything,’” Phillips said. “No strategy is off the table because this is a really serious situation.”

Even a utility like PG&E could play a part.

PG&E is in bankruptcy in response to $30 billion in possible liabilities because its equipment was blamed for the 2018 Camp Fire wildfire. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has said the utility needs to transform itself for the future, including supporting electrified cars.

“When we talk about going green,” Newsom said during an event on California’s future last week, “it has to be green growth that is inclusive.”

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator have unveiled plans to improve air quality and decrease greenhouse gas emissions in advance of the 2028 Summer Olympics. The initiative includes electrifying cars and trucks, increasing charging infrastructure, and linking transit options to expand mobility. Electric vehicle car sharing pilots in disadvantaged communities are also part of the plan.

“The three Es: environment, equity, and economy need to work together,” said Matt Petersen, president and CEO of Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator.

The efforts aren’t unique. Toyota Motor Corp. last month announced plans to break ground next year on a prototype sustainable community called the Woven City at the foot of Mount Fuji. The Japanese town on 175 acres will be fully sustainable with automated technology, zero-emission transportation, smart homes, solar power, hydrogen power fuel cells, mobile retail, and artificial intelligence. Toyota declined to comment on the project.

Role of Housing

A Los Angeles company also is working on the environmental side of affordable housing and solving the problem of homelessness.

United Dwelling this year began contracting with homeowners to convert unused detached garages into affordable living spaces.

The idea is to increase housing density while not taking away green space and also providing homeowners with income and renters with affordable places to live, United Dwelling founder and CEO Steven Dietz said.

Since January two tenants have moved into 359-square-foot units that are net zero energy and nearly zero carbon emitting through insulation, reflective roofing, and insulated foundations. Solar thermal power heats water and LED bulbs provide lighting.

The housing also allows people to live closer to work, reducing vehicle miles. “In most areas we’re taking a long distance commute off the road,” Dietz said.

The company has 60 signed leases and plans to build 200 units this year and 2,000 in 2021.

Cleaner Transportation

Meanwhile, environmentalists are pushing for cleaner transportation, the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Newsom has been criticized because his proposed budget includes a cut to low-carbon transportation funding, which includes incentive programs to buy clean trucks, buses, and cars.

When he presented his budget, Newsom said he would work with the Legislature and the allocation could change when he releases a revised budget in May. Money also would be available through a climate resiliency bond he wants on the November ballot, he said.

But the money is needed now, and transforming transportation is an urgent need, environmentalists argue.

The Sierra Club has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Environment is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily C. Dooley at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Renee Schoof at