Toward A Sustainable City:
A Report On Natural Resources
And The City Of San Jose*

 By Dennis Church

Prepared For The
City of San Jose

February 27, 1980

*This report, in the words of a United States Department of Energy case study, has become
"a cornerstone of San Jose's sustainability efforts."


Humanity's total environment is a synthesis of man-made and natural systems. If we are to consciously shape our future, we must learn to manage our total environment -- to reconcile the conflicts and contradictions between man-made and natural systems. It is a false and tragic dichotomy to pit economic prosperity against environmental resource conservation.

All of man's wealth, all of industrial society, would not be possible without abundant natural resources. Industrial development in the United States occurred in a vast and tremendously resource rich land. Every resource needed for agricultural and industrial development was available in superabundance. Rich agricultural land, vast forests, energy resources, clean water, mineral resources -- all were here in great abundance.

Today our natural wealth is being slowly wasted away. There is less and less prime agricultural land, and much of that which is being farmed is undergoing some degree of short or long-term damage. Domestic energy sources and mineral deposits are being depleted, and the limits of water supply have already become visible.

The thrust of this paper will be that many, if not most, of the problems, or challenges, facing mankind today spring in whole or in part from the reduced availability of resources. The converse, of course, is that improved management of these resources will contribute in many ways to the practical solution of these problems. Hegel's statement that the "truth is the whole" is the guiding spirit for this examination. The world broken down into separate pieces resists understanding.

The Concept of Natural Resources

Natural resources include all material resources. The air will always be there. Supply is not the question, the issue is its quality and composition. Water involves issues of both supply and quality. The earth is the foundation of our homes, the source of most of our food, the source of all of our mineral resources, and the source of some of our energy. And energy is what makes everything run.

Natural resource management for any geographical jurisdiction involves ensuring adequate supplies of air, earth, water and energy, and of ensuring the use of these resources in a manner that does not impose inordinate costs upon society as a whole or upon future generations.

San Jose's urban natural resources consist of the air overhead, the land available for urban uses, the urban or potentially urban land available for food-producing uses, the water table, the water sheds, the creeks and ponds, the South Bay shore line, all liquid waste and storm water flows, all mineral and biomass "waste" materials, all currently used energy sources, and all future or potential energy sources.

Several relationships are easily observable at this point:

1) Urban development or redevelopment decisions that increase the per capita use of any single natural resource will tend to increase the per capita use of them all, and vice versa.

2) A resource efficient city is also more likely to have a productive and less wasteful government.

3) Air, earth, water and energy are becoming increasingly interchangeable.

As inflation caused by resource scarcity moves forward, these basic resources are increasingly used in the economy as substitute goods for each other. For example, as oil prices go up, land is increasingly seen as a source for biomass derived energy. Economically, the continuation of this and parallel trends will equalize the inflation rate of land derived products and oil derived products. Already, the three elements contributing most to our inflation, and which are not coincidentally identified as the three elements uncontrollable through wage and price controls, are energy, housing (land), and food (land). It may be true, in other words, that inflation comes less from bad economic management than from bad resource management.

Current And Future Consequences Of
Inadequate Resource Management

1) Inflation. Natural resource scarcity is undeniable. Great debates occur as to whether its origin is in political decisions or in the natural limits of the Earth. The national debate about federally mandated automobile fuel mileage requirements, and the local debate about the locally legislated restrictions on the use of land for housing, are both about the management of natural resources in the contemporary context of a mixed (public-private) economy. But, regardless of the ultimate origin of natural resource scarcity, its effects in driving up inflation are obvious in the local housing and energy markets. Inadequate resource management (inadequate public and private decisions) has resulted in inadequate supplies of these goods relative to the demand for them, and inflation is the result.

Outlook: The negative effects of resource scarcity induced inflation are growing, and they constitute a grave threat to the future of San Jose and of the world.

2) Fiscal problems for governments. For the Federal government, inflation brings benefits as well as costs. For example, it devalues the Federal debt and increases real tax revenues by pushing individuals into higher tax brackets. For local governments subject to additional revenue and spending limitations, its fiscal effects are much more uniformly negative.

Inflation resulting from inadequate natural resource supplies contributes to costs growing faster than income and leads to depletion of San Jose's fiscal resources in the following ways:

a) Direct cost increases to the City budget for purchase of natural resources;

b) Indirect cost increases to the City budget for purchase of manufactured goods whose cost has been increased by natural resource inflation;

c) Indirect cost increases to the City budget for staff payroll as a result of the higher wage demands necessitated by employees' higher cost of living.

Outlook: Exacerbated by the impending passage of Proposition 9, the threat to the City's ability to continue to provide an adequate level of service to citizens is severe.

3) Public health and safety problems. Wasteful energy use and air and water quality deterioration go hand in hand. While self-induced health problems (from cigarette smoking, alcohol, etc.) account for the majority of "pollution caused" disease, a portion of our rapidly inflating health care costs comes from the disease and injury associated with the results of the current uses of and sources of natural resources and energy. What distinguishes these costs is that they are imposed on everyone. A person can choose not to smoke or drink, but a person cannot choose not to breathe. Aside from the tens of millions of dollars paid to treat these unnecessary and preventable health problems every year by San Jose citizens, there is the unquantifiable cost in human suffering and spiritual degradation which we and our friends and neighbors must pay.

Outlook: While air quality has improved over the last decade, recent events threaten a renewed deterioration. Recent price increases have caused the reported widespread use of regular in lieu of unleaded gasoline and may have already contributed to a worsening of conditions. The latest energy crunch has renewed legislative efforts to relax the State's air quality laws. Over the long term, growth in the number of vehicle miles traveled will overwhelm the positive effects of the existing air quality regulations. Alternative technologies such as diesel engines in cars or the use of gasohol hold new air quality risks and uncertainties of their own.

Water supply and quality are equally in question. Over the long term, the water table has dropped, and recent tests are raising more serious questions about chemical and biological contamination of the water tables. The water sheds are endangered by encroaching urban development. Recent chemical spills and technological accidents have adversely affected both our creeks and our South Bay shore line. Overall, adequate protection of water supply and quality has not been assured.

4) The growing threat to peace and the growing drain of military budgets. A noted expert on California's and the world's energy future recently quipped that "no one should have to die for the electric carving knife." More and more, what was jokingly referred to as MEOW (the President's "moral equivalent of war") is now being seriously described as the practical alternative to war.

All over the world one can see the influence of oil distorting our foreign policy. Our relations with countries on several continents are dominated by our most pressing national strategic weakness -- the overwhelming dependency of the Industrialized World on unstable and expensive sources of imported oil.

The generally held view in this country is that the OPEC cartel is responsible for increasing oil prices. We overlook the fact that key OPEC members in recent years have worked to hold prices down. We know, when we really stop to think about it, that the law of supply and demand is what is really driving up prices.

With the United States contributing at present about one third of the world's total demand for energy, we are a major force in driving up world energy prices. The most severe impact of these higher energy prices is in the underdeveloped world, where they retard growth in agricultural production and industrialization. Much of the world perceives these costs as being imposed upon them by excessive U.S. demand. This is turn greatly strains our relations with many of the other countries in the world.

In addition to the generalized costs of strained international relations (which are distributed among all Americans), this area may be subject to a worsening of many of our urban problems as a result of the massive infusion of additional military spending. And it seems certain that San Jose will be larger in population and have more social problems because of our national need for the energy resources of Mexico.

Outlook: These forces will bring an increased risk of serious military conflict over the next five to ten years. There will certainly be an increase in military spending, which will squeeze other badly needed programs, such as aid to cities. Increased growth related problems for San Jose will also result.

5) The incremental loss of local community control. As a community, San Jose's local choices will be limited by the external constraints of reduced resource availability and higher resource costs, or by political decisions made at a higher level of government in response to those availability and cost problems. Five years ago when San Jose's general plan was written, it included a prophetic warning which San Jose would do well to heed: "As energy supplies decrease, new construction may be severely reduced or prohibited. Conservation of energy at the local level may allow San Jose to continue its development while communities outside the Bay Area are halted for lack of foresight to promote Energy Conservation."

Outlook: Natural resource costs will rise as a percentage of the City budget. This will reduce the range of options open to City government by lessening the budgetary means to implement them.

6) The incremental loss of personal freedom and independence. Mandatory thermostat settings, odd-even gasoline purchasing, and draft registration are only some of the forms of reduction in personal freedom which we are now or soon will be experiencing as a direct result of our problems in securing an adequate supply of energy.

Outlook: Gasoline rationing and wage and price controls are both being seriously discussed and even proposed by national leaders.

Natural resource costs will rise as a percentage of the average household budget. This will severely reduce many individual's discretionary spending power and thus remove many recreation, leisure and consumer choices that these individuals will no longer be able to afford. (This in turn could have severe impacts on many local businesses, and in particular on the City's hopes for downtown redevelopment.)

7) The increasing gap between the rich and the poor. The poor always seem to pay more for less. The poor pay a much higher percentage of their total incomes for energy than the rest of us. The poor, the minorities, and the handicapped are making the greatest share of the sacrifices resulting from resource scarcity. New cars, new houses, and new appliances all take less energy and therefore money to operate than the older models the less affluent possess. The marginally employed and recently employed are the first to lose their jobs to the recessionary impacts of our resource problems. Slower capital formation and therefore slower job growth denies the opportunity to many to help themselves.

Outlook: Increasing social injustice will result in increasing social problems and associated public costs.

8) Decline in the availability, fertility and productivity of agricultural land. The massive application of chemicals, intentional and as pollutants, has damaged the land. Nearly a million acres of farmland are being lost each year to urban development. Agricultural and land management practices are damaging the long term productivity of a substantial percentage of our total land resources. Worldwide food production has peaked, and is now limited by supplies of energy and water. Declines in soil fertility and productivity will thus result in a gradual decline of world food production. At the same time, world population continues to explode.

Outlook: Increasing inflation in food costs. This trend will be exacerbated by continuing government pressure to expand food exports. These exports are needed to help balance our huge imports of oil. Worldwide hunger, and even famine, will become more and more common.


Answers are not always complicated, technical, and understandable only to experts. But it always seems to take teams of experts conducting years of complicated technical analysis to establish the truth of simple common sense perception.

The last year has seen at least some of the confusion about energy policy resolved. Most experts now agree that there is no simple or easy way to dramatically increase supplies. It has finally been established by an authoritative and influential Harvard Business School study that it is much cheaper to save a barrel of oil than to find and produce a new one. The clarity that has emerged from this simple fact is remarkable. Several recent studies, including one by the President's Council on Environmental Quality, have concluded that "the United States can achieve a high economic growth rate while reducing energy consumption." An internal study be the Westinghouse Corporation found that conservation measures would allow the current total economic production with sixty percent of the energy now used. In the words of former Energy Secretary James Schlesinger, "Energy consumption and GNP have begun to 'uncouple'".

As a result of these and other studies, we are hearing calls to conservation throughout the mainstream of the American establishment. A national consensus is forming that we need a return to stressing some of our most traditional values -- efficiency, productivity, frugality, saving, and the reduction of waste.

Also re-emerging are the values of self sufficiency and self reliance. Larger numbers of our citizens are responding to a style of life which SRI International calls voluntary simplicity, and which embodies many of these traditional cultural values.

Recognition is spreading today that there are physical and environmental limits to the construction of man-made systems. It is no longer simply assumed that rising prices will stimulate additional supplies of an economic good.

In short, we are groping toward answers with some success. We are in the midst of an historic transition, not just in technology but also in thought and philosophy. New values are being forged and new historic forces are at work upon which our future and even our survival depend.

We must recognize that our health, safety, and prosperity in both the near and the longer term will depend upon a much better approach to the management of our natural resources.

Good management of our natural resources means reducing waste and ensuring adequate supplies at an affordable cost. It can be done, but it will require design modifications in many of our urban and industrial systems. What is required is a dual approach -- innovation and efficiency improvement.

Our efforts should be designed to conserve energy and promote development of alternative energy resources, to conserve and recycle mineral and biomass resources, to conserve water and otherwise ensure adequate supplies of safe water, and to protect agricultural land or land which could be used for agriculture from wasteful types of development, topsoil depletion, or chemical degradation.

Carrying out this program will be hard, expensive and slow. But the rewards will be great.

Widespread improvements in the use of natural resources will help fight inflation because they will ensure future supplies and lower their cost. Such improvements will reduce our nation's, states', and local communities' vulnerability to disruptions due to decisions or events out of their control. They will reduce the most probable cause of a future war. They will protect our communities and our abundance for our children and their children. They will make the community safer and healthier, and people will be sick less and live longer. They will increase the feeling and reality, by individuals and by communities, of self-control, self-determination, and independence.

A New Ethic:
Natural Resource Conservation

The earth, air, water and living biosphere are the collective heritage of mankind. Much of what is being consumed by current generations will not be available to future generations. If spending city capital funds for current city operations is stealing from future generations, as members of the City Council have said, then how much more grand a theft would it be for current generations to consume wastefully at the cost of using up the capital of natural resources upon which future prosperity depends?

A new ethic is taking shape in which using up the natural wealth that will be needed by our children's children will be seen as a crime against the future.

Elements of an Alternative

The solutions available involve several general features:

1) A shift from non-renewable to renewable resources.

2) A shift from remotely located resources to locally available resources.

3) A shift from production of goods to be used up to the production of goods to be used, reused and recycled.

4) A shift from living on capital to living on income.

5) Maximum reduction of waste in the use of resources.

6) Maximum reduction in the production of poisonous and otherwise harmful by-products in the use of resources.

7) Protection of natural resources from destruction by the spread of man and his technology.

8) Preservation of the social fabric -- community and family life.

Special Local Conditions and Opportunities

San Jose's Mediterranean-class climate and proximity to alternative energy and natural resource supplies makes resource conservation and development of alternative energy and resource supplies a particularly attractive course for this area. Polls indicate popular support. Existing community leadership and the news media are supportive. Many of the required technologies and skills are already concentrated in this area. The County and State governments are strongly backing this strategy. Overall, no major city in the United States has more favorable conditions and resources for this course than San Jose.

The Role of Cities

As leaders of the twentieth largest city in a country that uses between one-third and one-half of the world's total supply of natural resources, the City Council has a serious responsibility to address natural resource management. California alone consumes one-twenty-fifth of all the world's energy, and San Jose is its fourth largest city.

In a special report published by Nation's Cities on April 2, 1979, Omi Walden, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy for conservation and solar applications, wrote, ". . . the federal government cannot solve the nation's energy problems alone . . . . Local governments must be effective partners in this national effort. Local energy policies can effectively reduce the consumption of nonrenewable energy resources and expedite conversion to renewables such as solar. Local energy efforts can also accommodate local differences and involve the public in a new appreciation for energy conservation and renewable-based systems."

The DOE recently completed a special six-month study to assess what local governments are and could be doing in energy planning, management and conservation, but even the most superficial examination of local government's powers points to a significant role indeed. Local governments exert a dominant influence on design and construction of urban infrastructure and on the design and location of private development.

The government of the City of San Jose has four major sources of power to shape the environment:

1) It participates in both the regulation of and the stimulation of private sector urban development.

2) It participates in the governmental regulation of utilities.

3) It works with other levels of government to influence the design of systems they control.

4) It makes all the decisions about the infrastructure it builds, owns, or otherwise controls.

The major sub-systems that make up the urban infrastructure are:

1) Energy systems, including natural gas, electricity, petroleum products, and a wide variety of alternative energy systems.

2) Transportation systems, including roads, bike lanes, sidewalks, street lights, rail lines, bus systems, cab fleets, and air transit.

3) Land use systems -- decisions about the type, location and mix of urban development (i.e., residential, commercial and industrial buildings and structures), as well as about the type, location and size of open public lands (i.e., parks. community gardens, park strips, etc.).

4) Water systems, including the water table, the reservoirs and imported sources supplying water utilities or water companies, the storm drainage system, and the flood control system.

5) Waste systems, including the sanitary sewer system, the water pollution control plant, several solid waste disposal systems, and several hazardous waste disposal systems.

6) Communications systems, including telephone, telegraph, and public sector radio channels such as police, fire, etc.

It is worth noting that strategies of resource conservation, resource recovery, and alternative energy and resource development are precisely those energy and resource strategies with the greatest need for a strong local government role. These strategies require consumer investments at the local level instead of producer investments by national and regional corporations and governments. Conservation decisions tend strongly to be decentralized, and production decisions tend strongly to be centralized.

In fact, it is desirable for local governments to make many of the key energy and natural resource decisions. Different regions of the country vary significantly in their natural resource problems and opportunities. A dominant national government role could lead to excessive and inappropriate regulation.

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