Saving Cities, Saving Money
Toward A Sustainable San Jose

Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save CivilizationSan Jose, California, population 782,000, used to have a hard-to-shake reputation as an environmental despoiler: the megalopolis that out-competed its rivals in paving over the agricultural Santa Clara Valley, "valley of heart's delight." In recent years, the city has shaken that image and gained a happier one: it has emerged instead as a leader in the pursuit of local government environmental efficiency. By the most conservative estimate, its environmental programs now save the city government $6 million a year. When savings to the community are included, the total reaches over $15 million.

The transformation didn't occur all at once, of course. There were various turning points. The city had officially repudiated the old policy of sprawl by 1975. But it was at the very end of the 1970s that a positive new direction was set.

In 1978, a controlled-growth mayoral candidate achieved a stunning victory over a traditional opponent. One of the architects of that victory was consultant Dennis Church. In the months following the election, Church sat down to write a report he entitled "Toward a Sustainable City: A Report on Natural Resources and the City of San Jose." The paper would review the pressing need for resource conservation and suggest that environmental protection, economic growth, social welfare, and fiscal solvency are interlocking, not competing, goals.

While Church tapped away at his paper, two shocks - one local in origin, one centered far away - hit the city. The general shock was revolution in Iran and the steep oil price rises that came out of it. The local shock was a major sewage spill: the city's overburdened wastewater treatment plant discharged an appalling amount of untreated effluent into the shallow, slowly circulating waters of southern San Francisco Bay. The Regional Water Quality Control Board threatened a building ban.

First Steps

When, in the aftermath of these events, Church's paper appeared, it found an audience wide awake and hungry for ideas. The initial step the city council took along the recommended lines was to create an energy office within the office of the City Manager. Church was hired as its founding director.

The first major assignment of the "energy" office was in fact to help out with the wastewater crisis - through a water conservation drive. By drawing less fresh water from their taps, San Jose residents and businesses would also send less down the drains, reducing the load on the treatment plant until it could be expanded.

At a cost of half a million dollars (paid for with sewer fees and a state grant), the city distributed free low-flow showerheads and other water conservation devices throughout San Jose. The inflow to the sewer plant declined, helping to buy time for needed improvements.

The energy program proper took its initial campaign literally to the streets. At the beginning of the 1980s, the city replaced the mercury vapor lamps in all its streetlights with low-pressure sodium fixtures that use half the electricity. Result: a $1.5 million drop in San Jose's annual energy bill - not once, but forever.

The Garbage Coup

A third early campaign cleared the way for recycling. For many years, a single garbage company had owned the only landfill in San Jose and held an effective monopoly on garbage collection and disposal. The cost to the city kept rising, and the city staff did not have the people or the data to determine whether or not the increases were justified. Moreover, the contractor was uninterested in recycling. Faced with this lack of interest, the city could not add recycling to basic garbage service; faced with public resentment at high garbage bills, the city could not launch a serious curbside recycling program for which it would have had to charge.

Councilwoman Shirley Lewis, assisted by Dennis Church in a new role on her staff, realized that the garbage monopoly had to be broken - if possible, at the 1984 contract renewal. That was a tight deadline, but the city administration, led by solid waste manager Gary Liss, raced to conceive and carry out a plan. First, the city hurried to open a second landfill: that is, it solicited a private proposal and shepherded it through the multiple levels of approval such a project requires. Second, the city separated the garbage contract into two parts: one agreement for collection, the other for final landfill disposal.

When the contracts were bid, one of two major companies won the disposal contract; the other won on garbage collection. The winning bids totaled nearly $6 million less per year than the city had been paying. The city used half the savings to fund recycling programs and returned the other half to the public as a rate decrease. So San Jose found itself in the delightful position of increasing service and reducing cost.

San Jose's garbage maneuver changed the waste management world. The two companies that competed for the city's business - Browning Ferris, Inc. and Waste Management, Inc. - are also the two largest companies in the field. Spurred by the San Jose experience, each entered the recycling business in a big way.

Widening the Attack

"When we try to pick out anything by itself," John Muir famously observed, "we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." So it is with natural resources, Dennis Church reminded the workshop. To waste one is typically to waste several; to conserve one may be to conserve them all.

If less water is used, for instance, less energy is used to pump and heat it. Recycling saves not only landfill capacity but also energy, water, forests, and mineral wealth. (Recycling an aluminum can - contents, a cup and a half - saves energy equivalent to three quarters of a cup of gasoline.) Improving mass transit cuts air pollution, energy use, and greenhouse emissions while also reducing noise, congestion, and cut-through neighborhood traffic. To take advantage of these overlaps, a broad view and a broad attack are required.

Recognizing this interconnectedness, San Jose in 1986 combined its energy, water, and solid waste programs and created the Office of Environmental Management (OEM), located in the city manager's office. The expanded office also has an "environmental protection" staff that focuses on toxics and other pollution problems. OEM is both a "line" agency, an operator of services, and a "staff" agency, assisting the city manager and other city departments.

With support and prodding from Councilwoman Lewis and other members of the council environmental committee, OEM has carried out a long list of efficiency and environmental protection measures. Sometimes these programs are distinctly new; in other cases, what occurs is a subtle change of emphasis. For example, police on traffic duty now concentrate on preventing accidents at known hazard spots. While public safety is the primary reason, there's also an environmental dimension. By reducing the congestion and property damage that accidents cause, this strategy cuts the consumption of fuel and the materials and energy that go into repairing or replacing damaged vehicles.

San Jose's catalog of efforts breaks into eight natural divisions. In each area, the city has identified an array of actions it could take - some already implemented, others in preparation.

1. Saving Energy in Heating, Cooling, and Lighting

Energy conservation in cities has two major components: reducing the use of natural gas and electricity in buildings, industrial plants, and outdoor applications (mainly lighting); and reducing the use of motor fuels. The first component is more easily attacked.

Reducing Energy Use in Public Buildings

After the founding of the energy office, city technicians carried out an "audit" of city buildings. The resulting reports recommended energy-saving changes, estimated their cost, and showed the length of time it would take for energy savings to cover that cost (typically two or three years). The program has continued ever since, identifying more and more sophisticated improvements. OEM now employs its own full-time mechanical engineer to handle this responsibility. In addition to physical changes, there's a strong educational effort (including such simple items as stickers on light switches: "Please turn off when not in use - energy for tomorrow.") Recently, some offices have been equipped with motion sensors that automatically douse the lights in unoccupied rooms.

Through the 1980s, San Jose spent approximately $2.2 million on energy conservation in city structures. The continuing annual savings are at least $500,000 for 3.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and 30,000 therms of gas not used.

In 1990, the city approved the second phase of its in-house energy management program. By 1996, it plans to spend an additional $1 million on energy improvements to city buildings; it expects these efforts to knock another $225,000 off the city's annual energy bill.

Reducing Energy Use in Wastewater Treatment

San Jose's wastewater treatment plant (now one of the most sophisticated in the world) spent $750,000 to lower energy use, saving 4 million kilowatt-hours annually.

Retrofitting Street Lamps

The city entered into an agreement with an electrical contractor to provide and install new low-pressure sodium fixtures, spreading payments over five years (lease-purchase). Even during the payback period, the annual energy savings exceeded the cost.

Generating Energy In City Operations

The city sewage treatment plant burns the 700 million cubic feet of methane it produces from sewage sludge annually. This process generates 50,000 megawatt-hours of electricity a year - enough to supply the needs of a residential community of 20,000 persons - and incidentally converting a very potent greenhouse gas (methane) into a much less potent one (carbon dioxide).

Using Cogeneration

When electricity is generated, heat is produced as well. "Cogeneration" simply means making use of this heat. In San Jose's new convention center, a natural-gas-powered generator produces all the electricity and all the heat the building needs, and exports some energy to adjacent buildings as well.

Building Energy Efficiency Into New Construction

New city-owned buildings are now designed for high efficiency. To encourage energy-efficient designs in new private buildings, the city offers information and assistance to engineers and architects through its Innovative Design and Energy Analysis (IDEA) service. The Pacific Gas and Electric Company cooperates by providing rebates to builders who incorporate energy-saving features and also by paying the city for its help in reducing energy requirements.

Retrofitting Private Homes

In several ways, the city assists in making private homes more energy efficient. Anyone can come in for information and referrals. The housing department has a program to rehabilitate housing units, and makes sure that energy-saving improvements are incorporated. Finally, the city contracts with Economic and Social Opportunity, a nonprofit social service agency, to weatherize the homes of low-income and senior residents. All three programs are federally funded.

Planting and Maintaining Trees

Trees absorb carbon dioxide and mitigate air pollution, but their cooling function is perhaps the most important. (Trees are natural air conditioners. A shade tree in Los Angeles, it is estimated, will save $1,000 in air-conditioning cost during its lifetime.) San Jose has set a tree-planting target - one million new trees by the year 2000 - and recently hired an urban forest program manager to gear up for the campaign.

2. Saving Energy by Promoting Efficient Driving

In California, the automobile is both the greatest energy consumer and the greatest polluter (even the greatest source of greenhouse gases). Reducing the amount of gasoline burned helps on both fronts.

The amount of gasoline consumed by a car, Dennis Church pointed out at the New Environmental Strategies workshop, depends on many factors: the vehicle's built-in fuel efficiency, how it is maintained, the distance it is driven, how it is driven, what sorts of road surfaces it is driven on, and what traffic conditions it encounters. San Jose tries to improve automobile efficiency by working on all these elements, some of which are under the city's direct control.

Buying Efficient, Low-Emitting Vehicles

San Jose buys compact, fuel-efficient cars and trucks whenever possible, saving enough gas annually to drive a car around the world 25 times. The city has tested several kinds of "low emissions" vehicles that burn alternative fuels, most recently compressed natural gas. San Jose is also moving to encourage its major contractors, like garbage companies, to operate efficient, low-polluting fleets.

Educating City Drivers

City employees have been trained in how to get the best mileage out of vehicles, and instructed to combine errands, taking as few separate trips as possible. (Cold starts and short trips emit disproportionately high amounts of polluting fumes.)

Educating Private Drivers

Although the Office of Environmental Management has identified this possible action, San Jose is not yet carrying out a program.

Improving Maintenance of Streets and Roads

Efficient operation of vehicles also depends on the state of the road. Fuel use can jump by a third when a driver turns from a good road onto a fairly worn road, and can increase nearly as much again when the surface becomes poor. In 1982, the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission estimated that poorly maintained roads cost the Bay Area driver an average of one hundred dollars a year in gasoline and repairs. The figure would be higher today. San Jose is completing a $3.1 million computerized system to improve maintenance of infrastructure, including roads.

Improving Traffic Flow At Intersections

Vehicles idling at traffic lights are getting zero miles per gallon. Waiting time can be cut by synchronizing those lights. To this end, San Jose is spending $12 million on computer systems and "smart" traffic signals. The city is also adding turning and stacking lanes.

Reducing Accident-Caused Delays

Accidents block traffic and lead to fuel-wasting, time-consuming delays. Since the city began concentrating its traffic enforcement at locations and times at which accidents are common, the number of accidents at some trouble spots has dropped by about 25 percent.

Encouraging Reverse Commuting and Off-Peak Driving

Commuters traveling in the opposite direction from the norm, or at off-peak hours, face less congestion and thus move more quickly and use less fuel. Many San Jose commuters go north to jobs from houses in the central and southern parts of the city. By rezoning land in the north for housing and land in the south for jobs, the city has tried to increase the number of people going south in the morning and north at night - reversing the usual direction.

3. Saving Energy by Discouraging Solo Driving and Promoting All Other Means of Transportation

Efficient driving helps, indeed, to save gas and to clear the air. Not driving at all helps more. Every time someone who might drive alone boards a bus or train, hops on a bicycle, heads out on foot, or shares in a car pool, the community gains. Because cars left at home don't add to congestion, even cars on the road are rendered more efficient, doubling the saving.

Although commuting typically accounts for less than half of miles driven, it's the easiest movement to define and assist. San Jose has joined other cities in an ambitious effort to provide alternatives to the solo auto commute. The city hopes to double - from 17 to 35 - the percentage of workers using a car pool, bus or train, or their own muscles, to get to and from their jobs.

Working With Employers

In what is called the Commuter Network, government, working with local employers, promotes alternatives. Firms with a certain number of employees must appoint commute coordinators, report on the commute habits of their workers, and choose ways of encouraging other means of travel than solo driving. Employers may, for instance, offer transit tickets, sometimes discounted, for sale on the premises, provide preferred parking for car pools and van pools, and offer safe storage for bicycles. The Commuter Network helps with advice, forms, and educational materials, and also offers a ride-matching service; computers, taking data the workers provide, spit out lists of possible car pool matchups.

Providing Car Pool Lanes

High-occupancy-vehicle lanes give the advantage to people traveling together. To draw much use, however, these must form a network linking the most common destinations. The governments in Santa Clara County are developing an extensive system.

Supporting Bicycle Use

The city now has 75 miles of bicycle lanes (marked but not physically separated roadways) and offers bicycle safety training in the schools. It is studying ways to do more.

Providing Transit To Employment Centers and the City Core

Santa Clara County is building a light-rail system on a wheel design, with a hub, radial lines, and a rim route; one line - consisting of the hub, two opposite spokes, and a bit of rim - Is now in service. The hub is a transit mall in downtown San Jose, which the city is a partner in developing.

4. Conserving Water and Reducing Wastewater Flows

Shortage of supply is one excellent reason for conserving water; the environmental damage done unavoidably by each new water supply project is a second; staying within sewage treatment capacity, a third; and saving the energy that pumps, heats, and purifies water, a fourth.


San Jose, like most (not all) California cities, has water meters, the essential means by which individual water use can be monitored and, if need be, controlled.

Fixing Leaks in Mains

The city government provides water to only about a tenth of the city's households; maintaining this system to minimize leaks is a priority. The city has encouraged the local investor-owned water utility to improve its own leak detection. It has even proposed to the California Public Utilities Commission that fines from drought rationing be earmarked for pipeline leak repair.

Auditing and Retrofitting Buildings

The city's initial conservation effort, described earlier, helped buy time while sewage treatment was expanded. In the mid-1980s, the city launched a larger campaign, a 10-year program to cut water use by 17 percent, some 12 million gallons a day, at a cost currently estimated at some $20 million. In the first half of this program, now concluded, high quality low-flow showerheads and toilet dams were delivered to every household. City workers then went door to door to follow up. It was the biggest voluntary retrofit of water conservation devices ever undertaken.

In the second half of the program, the city will concentrate on getting low-flow toilets installed: 175,000 of them, 100,000 of which will replace existing toilets in homes. A $75 rebate will encourage citizens to make the switch.

In dollar terms, the ten-year program is expected to save water customers $46 million, or some $200 per home. Most of the savings will show up, not on water bills, but on energy bills: prudent users use less hot water and spend less to heat it. The city will save, too, chiefly by deferring expansion of the water pollution control plant; the resulting saving is placed at some $68 million.

Promoting Water Conservation In Industry

Other programs target industrial establishments. San Jose did case studies on selected corporations that conserved, showing savings in the billions of gallons a year. It has publicized these studies, and uses them to guide audits of other businesses. The city also offers cash grants to corporations that install conservation devices, based on the amount of water to be saved.

Building Water Efficiency Into New Developments

In 1992, the city will begin advising architects and engineers on water-conserving features (adding this service to the Innovative Design and Energy Analysis program mentioned above).

Promoting Efficient Landscaping

The public works department has been using water-conserving landscaping for some time, and the city is developing a water budget for parks. In its new Guadalupe Gardens (in the airport approach zone), the city will have demonstration areas to show how much can be done with little water. With the advice of OEM, the planning department has adopted landscaping standards that every new development (other than single-family residential units) must meet.

Promoting Use of Reclaimed Water

The city sells highly treated wastewater, for outdoor use, at the sewage treatment plant. It plans a distribution system, to be built by 1996, to pipe 9 or 10 million gallons a day to areas in three cities where outdoor water use is heavy. Meanwhile, it is exploring the possibility of using wastewater to recharge the regional aquifer from which most of the area's drinking water is drawn.

5. Conserving Materials

The long-established national habit of using once and then discarding, everything from the aluminum in a soft drink can to the steel and concrete in a major building, hurts doubly. At the production end, we are mining minerals, pumping oil, and cutting timber to replace what we discard; at the disposal end, we are consuming (and in some regions exhausting) landfill space; at both ends, we are squandering energy.

San Jose, like all California cities, is now required by state law to recycle 50 percent of solid waste by the year 2000. Eventually, only a few nonrecyclable, nonreusable materials will be treated as "waste."

Recycling helps, but is the second half of the solution. The first and more important half is conservation - making the things we possess work for us longer. San Jose was the first American city to recognize that extending the useful life of buildings, vehicles, and other durable items is an environmental imperative.

Maintaining Infrastructure Properly

When aging pavement begins to crack, there is an optimum time to seal or resurface it. For example, if pavement with a 20-year life is resurfaced at 17 years, the job will cost a third as much as it will at 23 years. Timely maintenance also reduces wear and tear on vehicles and waste of gas.

The same pattern applies to everything a city owns: buildings, sewer and water lines, transit rails and vehicles, and so on. Early maintenance saves money and extends resources.

As noted above, San Jose is installing a state-of-the-art computerized system to keep track of city assets and manage their maintenance. It will - to pick one example of many - coordinate work so that a street repaved in May is not torn up in June to service buried utilities; it will also demonstrate the vast advantages of preventive maintenance. The $3.1 million system is expected to save the city $1.3 million a year once in place, paying for itself in under three years.

Encouraging Timely Maintenance of Private Facilities

The city also has an interest in encouraging maintenance of private infrastructure and buildings. San Jose spends $5 million a year on preventive maintenance and rehabilitation of housing. It also enforces code requirements for such maintenance items as roof repair and drainage, with an eye to preventing water damage.

Requiring Durability In New Construction

Through its codes, and in the negotiations that accompany major development approvals, the city insists that new buildings be durable and safely sited. It screens development sites for seismic, flood, wildfire, and erosion hazards. The city has strict grading standards and has tightened the requirements in its building codes to match the recommendations of the International Conference of Building Officials and other organizations in the field.

Retrofitting Older Buildings For Seismic Safety

San Jose might suffer $5 billion in property damage in a great earthquake; reducing that by even 10 percent would save the community half a billion dollars. Since the 1989 Loma Prieta temblor, the city has set new requirements for the strengthening of unreinforced masonry buildings (fragile and often historic). It will be looking at other types of vulnerable buildings. Meanwhile, it encourages householders to make the strengthening improvements that can reduce earthquake damage, and provides information on how to do so.

Protecting Citizens' Property

City services that protect personal property and private buildings - fast, efficient police and fire service in particular - can be regarded as conservation measures. After all, things not burned, stolen, or vandalized need not be replaced or repaired. When San Jose was able to cut burglaries dramatically between 1981 and 1988, it recognized environmental as well as law-and-order benefits. Modern fire-fighting methods contain damage from water and forcible entry, reduce toxic air pollution from burning plastic, and limit the release of airborne asbestos.

6. Recycling Materials

Recycling In Public Facilities

San Jose's earliest effort was in its own domain. Today the city recycles not only office supplies but also such items as car batteries, oil, and shell casings from the police department firing range. And it is now attempting to market some 31,000 tons of sludge a year from its sewage treatment plant as a soil amendment.

Purchasing Recycled Products

The city also encourages recycling by buying recycled products. It now purchases 24 items with recycled content, including copy paper (over 60,000 reams), other office paper products, janitorial papers, and trash can liners. Some products cost more in recycled versions, some less; a comparison done by OEM suggests a modest but surprising overall saving. For instance, by returning laser printer toner cartridges for refilling, rather than buying new ones, the city saves $10,000 a year. The city is now testing asphalt made partly of recycled tires, and park equipment made of recycled plastic.

Offering Curbside Recycling

Once it had broken the scavenger company monopoly that stood in the way of recycling, San Jose moved quickly. To get the program going, the city offered stackable plastic bins, free of charge, to every household. "Giving people those bins," says former top environmental officer Michelle Yesney, "was the best capital investment we ever made."

San Jose's curbside recycling program, until recently the largest in the nation, serves over 175,000 homes. More than 65 percent of single-family households take part, recycling about 38,000 tons annually. Used oil from automobiles is also picked up at the curb.

Promoting Recycling From Apartments and Businesses

Apartment houses and businesses may need specially tailored recycling services. For instance, San Jose offers apartment complex managers a choice among several types and sizes of containers. The city has been aiding recycling at large businesses for some time; in the summer of 1991, it concluded two experimental programs, each serving two hundred firms, designed to explore recycling options for small businesses as well.

Composting Yard Waste

Grass clippings and trimmings from shrubs and trees are a large part of the waste stream - in the San Francisco Bay Area, about one-third. In 1989 San Jose began offering curbside pickup of piles of yard waste. The program is popular, and the city hopes to feed some 60,000 tons of clippings a year to a central composting plant.

Composting Household Waste

A proper backyard composting setup turns food scraps into soil without odors or animal nuisances. It also saves water when compared with one common alternative, the in-sink garbage disposal. In 1979, San Jose changed a policy that had actually discouraged this form of recycling, and now backyard composting is a recommended practice.

Encouraging Private Recycling Services

To encourage private recycling centers, San Jose has adopted a Recycling Zoning Ordinance to provide for their siting; the State Department of Conservation has adopted it as a model. The city charges private landfill operators a fee, by weight, for material dumped. This encourages the operators to pull out as much recyclable material as possible, reducing the fee (and extending landfill life). Several private facilities now recycle about 160,000 tons of such waste a year.

Encouraging Use Of Recycled Materials In The Private Sector

The city increasingly requires or rewards the use of recycled products by private companies working under contract. To promote the habit more widely, San Jose hosted a conference featuring vendors of recycled products. It also maintains a list of such vendors, publishes educational materials, and offers technical assistance to firms.

7. Controlling Several Specific Types of Pollution

Local responsibility for pollution control is rapidly growing. To old concerns about air and water pollution have been added newer worries about toxic materials and ozone depleters. The less these materials are used or produced, the better. Once in existence, they need to be strictly confined and, if possible, recycled. The clumsiest and costliest response is to clean them up once they have escaped.

Reducing The Burning Of Motor Fuels

As noted above, the automobile is California's largest pollution source, and all measures that reduce automobile travel are pollution control measures.

Cleaning Up Sewage Plant Discharges

San Jose's water pollution control plant is one of the most advanced treatment facilities in the nation. Even tertiary treatment, however, does not remove troublesome materials like heavy metals; the city has tightened regulations to minimize the loss of such chemicals down drains.

Reducing The Use Of Toxic Substances And Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

San Jose is working to cut its use of toxics and to segregate them strictly. Less problematic chemicals have been substituted in print shops and in cleaning products. CFC foams are avoided in city construction. In city parks and landscaping, pesticide use has been reduced.

City ordinances require similar measures in the community. CFC foams will be out of use citywide by 1994; CFCs in auto air conditioners must be captured and recycled when the units are repaired (a program spurred specifically by OEM).

Preventing The Escape Of Toxic Substances

The city has done pioneering work on the problem of leaking underground tanks containing gasoline and industrial solvents. It was in the Santa Clara Valley that this problem first came to national attention (through the work of citizen's groups). A 1983 San Jose ordinance (adopted also by neighboring jurisdictions) now requires containment of solvents in double-walled tanks, with monitoring wells nearby to sound the alarm if there is leakage. Double containment and careful record keeping are also required for underground gasoline tanks ("They all leak," says Michelle Yesney). The ordinances adopted in Santa Clara County have become models for state and federal law. San Jose has a parallel ordinance for toxic gases.

Cleaning Up Toxic Spills

San Jose's Hazardous Incident Team, in the fire department, is trained and equipped to deal with spills, pipe breaks, accidents, illegal dumping, and so forth.

Disposing Properly Of Toxic Substances From Industry

Well-established laws and regulations have reduced environmentally harmful disposal of toxic wastes from industry. It is particularly important to keep these out of the sewage system, which, as noted, is not equipped to handle such contaminants as heavy metals.

Disposing Properly Of Toxic Substances From Households

Household toxic wastes - such items as used batteries, insecticides, and old paint - present an awkward disposal problem. San Jose, like many cities, has invited citizens to turn in such wastes on specified places. Like most communities, though, it has collected only a tiny fraction of the problematic discards. Now the local governments in Santa Clara County are gearing up for a new effort with mobile pickup vehicles.

Screening Land For Public Acquisition

In 1989, the environmental protection division of OEM advised on the purchase of land for a sports arena. A consultant estimated that $3.5 million would have to be spent on toxics cleanup; a judge knocked this amount off the purchase price. So a program with an annual budget of $250,000 saved the city fourteen times that sum. All city land purchases are so reviewed.

Attacking Non-Point-Source Water Pollution

The water that runs off from urban streets, roofs, and yards carries a complex mixture of pollutants. State and federal laws require strong efforts to keep these out of streams and bays. The largest pollution source is, in fact, the automobile, and measures that reduce the number of trips and vehicle miles traveled will help against water fouling as well. Some people dump various wastes deliberately into city drains, even rigging pipes to do so. San Jose is tracking down such illegal connections. Regular street sweeping and cleaning of storm lines also alleviate pollution problems; the city has reinstituted sweepings and scheduled the storm line cleanings more frequently. In new developments, builders may be required to build sediment-catching traps into drainage systems.

8. Setting Efficient Patterns Of Land Use And Transportation

Of all the levers a city can use to produce resource efficiency, one is most potent: the power to determine future patterns of land use and transportation. In the typical American metropolitan area, the pattern since 1945 has been one of outwardly sprawling growth, with worker housing increasingly remote from employment centers. San Jose is one of many cities now trying to reverse this pattern, curbing its outward growth, taking steps to revitalize its core, and attempting to match housing to jobs.

Choosing A Compact Development Pattern

San Jose, having loosely blanketed most of the valley land available to it, decided in 1975 not to build into the hills. To illustrate the environmental benefits of this choice, city leaders compared two hypothetical developments - 10,000 homes in the hills, 10,000 homes downtown and near transit lines - and found that the sprawl pattern would produce at least 200,000 miles of extra automobile commuting per day, use 3 million gallons per day more water, require 40 percent more energy for heating and cooling, and demand far larger investments in infrastructure and ongoing urban services. The city has chosen to house its growing population within the existing urban zone, and to encourage greater densities downtown and along the light-rail transit line.

Working Toward Jobs/Housing Balance

Businesses and industries, like homeowners, pay taxes to the community; compared to homeowners, the enterprises make less use of government services. To put it simply, they more than pay their way. Cities thus have reason to court employers, while letting other jurisdictions worry about housing the employees. The winners in this game wind up with far more jobs than residents who work; the losers have the workers, fewer jobs, and lower tax bases. The penalties of this understandable but pernicious process include wasteful, polluting, and congested commutes; greatly inflated prices for housing; and less plentiful services in the communities where workers live. When the inconvenience and expense become acute, employers find it hard to get and keep employees.

This is one of those problems that a single city, enmeshed in a complex metropolitan area, can't very well solve alone. San Jose has joined several of its neighbors in a partly successful effort to confront it.

Home | Democracy & 2024 | Video Productions & Services
History & About Us | Products By Topic | Contact

© Copyright 1992 - John Hart