January 2023 Newsletter

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Local Action for a Better World

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Why are all the cities suddenly talking about housing?

A deadline is looming for California cities and counties: by January 31, local governments have to submit the Housing Element of their General Plans to the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

A Housing Element describes how a local jurisdiction plans to meet the needs of all its residents for a livable, affordable home. All these plans have to be recertified by HCD every eight years.

It’s not hard to see that Housing Elements are a very important way to ensure environmental justice and climate sanity. Every person has a right to a home in a community with clean air and water, green space, and a way to get around. To meet the needs of Californians who are unhoused, or living in inadequate housing, many more affordable homes must be built. Unfortunately, municipalities have been reluctant to make this happen.

Every jurisdiction’s Housing Element has to comply with our state’s RHNA laws—that is, the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (pronounced “reena”). Through the RHNA process, cities and counties are assigned target numbers of new homes to be built. Until recently, municipalities have not fully complied with their RHNA requirements, particularly the targets for affordable housing; fortunately, recent state laws have provided for stronger enforcement.

Of course, it’s crucial to design our cities for efficient use of land, water, and energy—and that means planning for multifamily housing, located close to shopping and public transit, and powered by renewable energy sources.

Here are some specific provisions we’re looking for in the new crop of Housing Elements for Contra Costa cities:

  • Changing zoning requirements to allow for higher-density housing
  • Ensuring all housing developments have access to public transportation, bike and walking paths, municipal services, and parks
  • In multifamily complexes, reducing parking-space minimums and providing EV charging capability to residents
  • Phasing out the use of natural gas in all buildings.

So far, our cities have largely failed to include such provisions in their housing plans. That’s why we need to keep pushing them! With the right Housing Element in place, our cities can create the vibrant, healthful, sustainable communities we all hope to see.

Action item: End NOx pollution

The Sierra Club’s SF Bay Area Chapter is campaigning to end nitrogen oxide pollution from appliances. They’re petitioning the Air District (that’s the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, or BAAQMD) to adopt two regulations that will require all water heaters and home furnaces to be zero-NOx emitting by 2027 and 2029, respectively.

Please take a moment to sign the petition here. For information about appliance pollution, see this 2022 report.

Action item: Hold Martinez refinery accountable for their crime

Did you know that, last Thanksgiving night, downtown Martinez was covered in toxic white powder released by the Martinez Refining Company? And that the company failed to report the release to county health officials?

The folks at Sunflower Alliance are urging the Contra Costa District Attorney, Diana Becton, to prosecute the refinery for endangering the health and safety of Martinez residents. Please add your voice! Get the details in this article on the Sunflower website—then follow the links to email the DA’s office.

Emily and Lisa

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