Sac community air protection

A group of partners led by Valley Vision is undertaking a project to identify location for new air quality monitors in low-income, high-pollution areas of Sacramento, specifically Old North Sacramento and Oak Park. For more on the project, which will install 20 Clarity Node-S monitors for particulate matter 2.5 and nitrogen dioxide, see the Valley Vision webpage at https://www.valleyvision.org/projects/community-air-protection/.

The issue is that these two communities are subject to significant negative air quality impacts from a variety of sources but primarily freeways which slice through both communities, and high-traffic arterials. But no one really knows what the problem is, because there are no air quality monitors in those neighborhoods. Below, a map of existing Clarity monitors. The concentration in South Sacramento is due to a similar earlier project, funded by AB 617, but there are none in Old North Sacramento, and one at the edge of Oak Park.

Clarity locations

PurpleAir, a citizen-led network of air quality monitors, has a better distribution, but still only one in Old North Sacramento and a few in Oak Park. These are particulate matter monitors, and gained great popularity with the wildfire smoke incidents of the last few years.

PurpleAir locations

What about the official air quality monitors, the ones used to set air quality alerts for the county? Here they are (little red dots). You might think, surely some must be missing. Nope. These stations mesure air quality for the entire county. Update: I replaced the map graphic with one showing all Sacramento County locations, created a pdf map, and added a table of locations.

EPA AQS locations

Sacramento County is a nonattainment area for ozone 8-hr (2015 standard), PM2.5 24-hr (2006 standard), and PM10 (1987 standard).

The project, of course, is not just about monitoring air quality, but about identifying solutions to improve air quality. Community Project Advisory Committees will be formed in both neighborhoods to guide deployment, data collection, and actions and ongoing collaboration for solutions.

I participated in the first listening sessions, for Oak Park, on January 13. Participants had a lot of suggestions for locations, particularly ones where there are high volumes of traffic, as well as places such as schools where the pollution is most harmful. There was also a lot of talk about solutions, with reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by increasing walkability and providing better transit service being the most commonly mentioned.

There are three more sessions to come, January 20, 26, and 28. Please see the project webpage for details and to register: https://www.valleyvision.org/projects/community-air-protection/ (scroll down to just below the map).

If you live in these two neighborhoods, or work or shop or recreate there, I strongly encourage you to participate in some way and make your voice heard. Even for others, it would be good to track and support the project. I strongly believe that our lack of monitoring capacity allows us to think that air quality in the county is better than it really is, and allows the public to overlook that it is mostly low-income, high-minority neighborhoods that bear the brunt of air pollution from our cars-first development pattern and long distance commuter freeways.

Added two graphics showing the community areas in more detail.

Oak Park
Old North Sacramento/Norwood

Redlining trees

A take-off on the article on CapRadio, Summer Days Often Feel Much Hotter If You Live In One Of California’s Historically Redlined Neighborhoods, published/broadcast May 26.

image from @RandolWhite tweet

The lower temperatures along the river corridor are of course expected. And so is the pattern, almost universally seen here, that lower income locations have higher temperatures. One could speculate that these areas never had as many trees, but I don’t think that is the explanation. It has to do with sidewalks, and city neglect.

I walk a lot, and to the degree possible, walk throughout the city. What I see in the lower income neighborhoods is a decline in trees. Many have been removed, and many of the ones remaining are declining in health. I do not think it is because people who live there don’t care about trees, quite the opposite. It is because there are more renters in lower income neighborhoods, with landlords who do not care much about trees, or other things. For those who do own their homes, it is a struggle to pay the bills and take care of trees.

When these neighborhoods were built, they probably had just as many trees as any of the leafy neighborhoods in midtown or east Sacramento or Arden Park. But these neighborhoods are old enough that many of the trees are dying out (maybe for lack of care, more probably because they were not the right tree for the context), and not being replaced. The homeowners or renters don’t have the money to replace them, and the landlords don’t care.

So why are there still trees other places? Because the design of streets in many higher income neighborhoods feature detached sidewalks, with a buffer in between the street and the sidewalk. This is the standard design for livability in all but intensive retail areas, and adds significant safety and comfort for walkers. But in the second ring and beyond suburbs, most streets are either without sidewalks or have attached sidewalks, with no buffers. So the trees were in people’s yards, not in the buffer. When they die or are taken out, the city has no responsibility. When there are buffers, the city replaces the trees. Yes, they are incredible slow about doing so, but it does eventually happen. And it happens for the most obvious of reasons, that richer (white) people get what they ask for in this city.

The city also repairs sidewalks when the buffer tree roots systems begin to crack and heave the sidewalk (many buffers were too small for the trees planted in them). Not with alacrity, but they do it. When a yard tree cracks and heaves a sidewalk, the city sends the owner a notice to repair.

tree in sidewalk buffer, with city repair
a typical lower income neighborhood, no buffer, no city maintenance
no buffer, rolled curb, no yard trees (though there were at one time)

A person posted in reply to the CapRadio article that the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District did a Urban Heat Island Project to assess the issue and solutions. Good for the air district, and good for the study, but what about action? What about the city? What is the city doing, proactively, to get trees back into low income neighborhoods?

Tree redling also relates to the issue of sidewalk responsibility. Sidewalks are a part of the city’s transportation system, and are legally and morally the responsibility of the city to maintain. The idea that we provide for cars and car drivers, while leaving walkers to the vagaries of private property owners is an idea whose time has passed. In fact, I think that the city should establish a program of repairing and installing sidewalks before ANY road repairs are done. It will take many years to undo the damage of our cars-first transportation system and funding, but the time to start is now. Where sufficient public right of way exists, and sidewalks are in need of significant repair, existing sidewalks should be replaced by detached sidewalks, with buffers and street trees.

Measure B and air quality

Warning: nerdy detail ahead, but nerdy detail of critical importance to acheiving air quality goals in the region.

In the April 2016 draft Measure B included the following language:

Federal Air Quality Requirements. Measure_ Expenditure Plan funds programmed for a project construction phase that must be included in a federally approved air quality conformity determination to either the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) or Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP) shall have consistent project descriptions to the listing in the MTP & MTIP before the Authority allocates construction funding for the project phase.

The final Measure B language is:

Federal Air Quality Requirements. Measure_ Expenditure Plan funds programmed for a project construction phase shall not impair the ability of the region’s Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) and Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP) to meet federal air quality conformity, as determined by the Sacramento Transportation Authority Governing Board.

The difference may seem subtle at first glance, but it is not! The original language meant that:

  • projects must be considered as a whole, not piecemeal
  • all projects must meet federal air quality goals
  • SACOG would make the determination of whether the project met federal air quality goals

Instead:

  • projects can be considered piecemeal
  • a specific project need not meet air quality goals as long as the overall program does
  • the Transportation Authority rather than SACOG will determine whether a project meets air quality goals

Why is this important?

The Capital Southeast Connector! The Capital Southeast Connector, at full build-out, would be an environmental disaster for the region. It will induce traffic, create more long distance commuters and further separation between housing and jobs, and very likely prevent the region from meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals.

How did it happen?

The language was changed at the Sacramento Transportation Authority board meeting on April 28. Region Business, which is a front group for greenfield developers, and California Alliance of Jobs, which represents employers who build roads, threatened board members with loss at the next election if they did not kowtow to the demands of the developers. This is not speculation: Kerri Howell, board chair, specifically said that the threat was made that candidates would be put up against her at the next election, and many other board members reported similar threats or nodded their heads in assent. And sadly, the board caved to these threats. After considerable non-public negotiation (the board members gather behind the dais), including discussion with the board members who had supported the original language and SACOG staff, compromise language was developed and passed, and is now part of Measure B ballot text.

What does it mean?

It means that Measure B has been tailored to the needs of greenfield developers. It was clear from the beginning that project allocations followed the old and discredited model of sprawl and cars-first development, but with this change it is now clear that Measure B will damage air quality in the region and prevent us from reaching greenhouse gas reduction goals.