[Note from BenIndy: There are many paths to a balanced budget in a small town like ours. Paths that emphasize local economic development by enhancing active transportation safety and accessibility, minimizing fossil fuel reliance, and boosting both outdoor and indoor air quality set a course for a San Luis Obispo that is cleaner, healthier, and safer…and yet still financially stable and self-sustaining. San Luis Obispo and Benicia have a lot of common: SLO is another full-service town like Benicia, with a larger population but many of the same values.]
San Luis Obispo has set big goals to reduce pollution and adapt to the climate crisis, and we’re making big progress. To highlight this work, the City is adding a new Sustainable SLO mark and illustrated graphic on a variety of public facilities and equipment in San Luis Obispo.
“The City of San Luis Obispo is leading on climate action, and we’re excited to tell our story over the next few months,” said Chris Read, the City’s sustainability manager. “Now through Earth Day 2024, we will highlight everything from our new electric buses to our recycling bins and will share resources for how community members can make changes to save money, reduce pollution in their own homes and businesses and help reach communitywide carbon neutrality by 2035.”
Community members may have already seen the new Sustainable SLO mark and illustrated graphic throughout San Luis Obispo and will likely be seeing it more often. Climate action is a major City goal for the City of San Luis Obispo and the City has been working for years from its Climate Action Plan to reduce pollution and make San Luis Obispo more resilient to the effects of climate change.
Sustainable SLO demonstrates how the City is leading by example by phasing out fossil fuels from public facilities and fleet vehicles, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from organic waste and restoring the beautiful natural ecosystems that make San Luis Obispo such a wonderful place to live. These efforts include but are not limited to:
Installing new bike lanes and using all-electric buses that make it safer and easier to get around,
Conserving open space properties throughout the greenbelt to protect natural resources,
Transitioning the City’s fleet to electric vehicles to save money and use less fossil fuels,
Installing new trash and recycling bins downtown to reduce litter and landfilled waste,
Adding more public-facing electric vehicle chargers in SLO so it’s easy to charge on the go,
Planting 10,000 new trees in streets, parks and open space areas by 2035,
Switching to energy-efficient lighting at City facilities to save money and use less energy, and
Installing a large battery at the Water Treatment Plant to save money and create a more resilient facility.
With generous federal, state and regional funding resources, incentives and technical assistance available to support climate action, it’s becoming easier for organizations and individuals to make sustainable choices in SLO. Over the next few months, the City will share more about Sustainable SLO and suggest ways organizations and individuals can take local action on the climate crisis.
“We’ll be telling this story on social media, local news channels and at in-person events,” said Lucia Pohlman, the City’s sustainability and natural resources analyst. “Everyone can find Sustainable SLO‘in the wild’ to see tangible ways we’re making a difference. Hopefully, this will inspire community members to cut climate pollution and prepare for increasingly hazardous floods and fires. It’s no easy task, but with the community’s help, we can reach our goals and ensure our community thrives into the future.”
It seems he has unintentionally been captured by the influence of “development machine” (which happens to be the title of a 25-year-old University of California book on developers and their practices). A casual reference to “stagnant population growth” does not make population growth itself a legitimate path to economic prosperity. For just a few examples, this EPA report titled “How Small Towns and Cities Can Use Local Assets to Rebuild Their Economies: Lessons from Successful Places” highlights what small cities can do for economic health with a stable population.
It is true that we need to provide for housing, and I like the idea of tasteful additions of duplexes, ADUs and multifamily units as infill development. But, of course, it is the developers who build – not the cities – and developers have shown their true intentions when they have the chance to build expensive housing instead of affordable or middle-cost housing. They go for the higher profit. We are told they have to do this because of the fees, time to process and so forth.
Anyone read The Ox-Bow Incident? You should. It would teach you about what the “market can bear” the intentions of the commercial class – in this case, the railroads. And yes, we are being railroaded into building anything, anywhere, no matter what.
So, back to Stephen’s piece. The population growth issue is being used by the city in support of sprawl development out by Lake Herman Road. Now back up a second and think about population growth and the need to develop outside of the city’s urban footprint. If it were true that we must have population growth to thrive, when does it stop? We just keep having population growth to the end of time? Of course not. This is a failed concept and people should stop saying that we must approve development inconsistent with the city’s General Plan due to stagnant population growth (General Plans regard the constitution of land use development and fealty to them is the law, not a choice).
To be clear, Stephen does not say he supports sprawl development. He doesn’t. In fact, he supports the East Fifth Gateway mixed-use plan. It’s a good plan and needs city initiatives to encourage development. But he does use the “stagnant population” theme, which is troubling.
I suggest that we dig deeper into this concept of population growth and connect the dots of congested roads, long lines at National Parks, food shortages and pollution. There is a connection. It is not likely that we will solve problems like these by having more people.
And lastly, population growth is projected to begin to decline near the end of the century. This is certainly true in the US and California. We could wind up with lots of empty residential development just like we are seeing with the over-built, retail commercial development that we were warned about years ago.
What then, is the answer?
Consider economic development with the increasing need for manufacturing that is green, more local shopping at smaller, more community-based stores, not to mention the arts and entertainment. Our aging population will need services and housing accommodations over the next 25 years.
Thoughtful development with these needs in mind will create a place that people want to visit, shop in and work in. This is not a pie-in-the-sky idea, but it does take hard work and we, the people, need to do our part and help with city revenues for our infrastructure. And maybe with less stress the city council and staff can focus on the future so clearly described in the General Plan.
By Stephen Golub, originally posted in the Benicia Herald January 15, 2024
Over the course of the next ten days, Benicians will have two major opportunities to weigh in on the future of our community.
January 15-25: Addressing Our $6.5 Million Budget Gap
The first opportunity features a community survey, open houses and virtual workshops by which we can have our say on how to address the City’s budget crisis. As you may know, a variety of factors (stagnant population growth for 20 years, very little new housing or housing sales, limited retail outlets, etc.) have constrained our tax base while inflation and other factors have increased our costs. The bottom line is that we face a budget deficit of $6.5 million per year.
In an effort to get community input on the problem and potential solutions, the City has organized various in-person and online ways in which we can offer opinions and ask questions. They will take place from January 15 through 25.
January 15-25: Community Survey (online link here)
To alleviate the problem, the City has already cut $4.5 million from its budget. This has involved reducing ten staff positions and service cuts that include reduction of swimming pool hours, closing the Benicia Library on Sundays, eliminating road paving projects except for emergencies, delayed and deferred maintenance/upgrades on city equipment and facilities (including parks and the storm water system), and cutting support for July 4th and Christmas Tree celebrations.
But, even after those cuts, a $6.5 million gap remains. One way of addressing it over the medium-to-long term is by building the tax base by cutting regulations so as to facilitate commercial investment and approving such projects as the “Eastern Gateway” initiative, which encourages mixed-use development in the area of East 5th St./Military East.
In the shorter run, the City has placed two budget measures on the March 5 ballot. Measure A increases the local hotel tax. Measure B, by far the larger revenue-producing vehicle, increases the local sales tax by 75 cents cent per $100. This works out to costing the average Benician about 33 cents per day.
Regardless of how you feel about all this, the next ten days offer opportunities to air your input, through the in-person and virtual meetings and the community survey. Again, BelieveinBenicia.org is a good way to weigh in and get more information online.
January 18: Sharing in Refinery Fines
In early 2022, we learned from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (aka the Air District) that for at least 15 years Valero’s Benicia Refinery had been putting toxic emissions hundreds of times the regulatory limits into our air, without telling us, the City government or the Air District about it.
What’s more, for nearly three subsequent years the Air District itself had known about this, but had not informed us until two years ago. In addition, the Air District still has not informed us what fines it will levy on Valero, perhaps because it may be still negotiating the matter nearly five years after becoming aware of the violations.
Nor has it let us know whether or how any portion of the fines will go to benefit Benicia, beyond a vague assurance that it may allocate some sums from the fines for health and safety matters here.
On January 18 at 6 pm, we’ll have a chance to learn more, ask questions about and offer our opinions on Air District actions and policies regarding such fines, regarding not just Valero and Benicia but also the other refineries and communities in the area. On that day, the Air District’s Community Advisory Council will meet at the Air District’s Headquarters, at 375 Beale Street in San Francisco. But we can also access the meeting online and offer comments there.
More specifically, one key agenda item for the meeting is:
“4. Funding Community Benefits from Penalty Fund. This is an action item for the Council to consider recommending to the Air District Board of Directors that they set a policy that automatically allocates a portion of penalties for regional and local community benefits.”
The January 18 Community Advisory Council meeting will make a decision that could potentially yield great benefits to Benicia. It might well be worth attending in person, since we’re talking about potentially millions of dollars for Benicia from this one Valero incident and/or other violations by this or other refineries (such as in Martinez) down the line. (Again, the discussion is not just about Benicia and Valero, but about all local refineries and affected communities.)
But for those of us who can’t make it to San Francisco for the meeting, we can Zoom in and have up to three minutes each for public comment. Here’s the link for the relevant page where, if you scroll down a bit, you can in turn simply watch the meeting, join via Zoom to comment during the meeting or write a public comment.
The meeting offers a great way of seeking to secure well-deserved, potentially major compensation for Benicia, for both past and future harms. I intend to attend, whether in person or online.
Visit BelieveInBenicia.org to learn more about Benicia’s Resiliency Plan, sign up for updates from Benicia City Manager Mario Giuliani, and join the effort to help shape Benicia’s future. Add your voice!
[Note from BenIndy Contributor Elizabeth Patterson: I appreciate and support the need for tax increases as Benicia council wrings its hands over the budget. The long, long staff letter and follow-up postcard is all about cutting and traditional development of the 20th century. Without a vision of hope, why would anyone have confidence that the future is bright for our historic city with treasures and character unlike any other city? And, the Industrial Park was a brilliant idea until it wasn’t (meaning the dependence on fossil fuel refining). Over the years some people in Benicia have offered a vision of being a green gateway into Solano County. What has been done to realize that? Reading this interview of a Mayor in Sheffield, England illustrates how a city with inspired leadership for the 21st century can attract new manufacturing and industrial activity that meet the needs of this century. Investing in getting battery manufacturing established in Benicia as one of the few large industrial and manufacturing places in the Bay Area should be embraced with a little risk taking. Where is the vision for prosperity? Why are development decisions that increase the city’s operating and maintenance needs the only option presented by staff? Where is the citizen’s academy or blue-ribbon task force of 50 or so people who are demographically representative of the whole region, who together will help gather information to understand what trade-offs could or should look like and how we can all benefit from embracing the future. As the Sheffield Mayor said, ” I’m determined to make sure that we’re doing this with our community, not to our community.”]
To replace decaying 19th century industries, the region around Sheffield lures high-tech manufacturing from McLaren supercars to Boeing airplane parts.
The steel that fed England’s industrial revolution and powered its rise to a global empire came from a region in its northern hills, where iron and abundant coal deposits combined with sweeping rivers to create an ideal environment for steelmaking. That region, anchored by the city of Sheffield, is now looking to create a new industrial revolution.
Sheffield is known as “Steel City” thanks to those historical roots. It’s the largest city in a region known as South Yorkshire, but the days of industrial dominance are long gone. Today, the region is grappling with the impacts of deindustrialization that have plagued parts of developed economies around the world. Now, its 42-year-old mayor wants to revive the region’s past by attracting business and making South Yorkshire the epicenter of advanced manufacturing.
Oliver Coppard took office in 2022, becoming the second mayor of the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (its first was elected in 2018), which includes the cities of Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley, sitting some 170 miles north of London. The authority was created with a goal of developing and growing the regional economy, while giving the cities a coordinated platform from which to lobby higher levels of government.
His goal is to leverage the region’s industrial roots and connect it with next-generation manufacturing companies, while ensuring it is not left behind again as the world shifts away from fossil fuels.
It’s already attracting investments. In March, Ultimate Battery Co., which makes batteries out of sustainable materials, announced plans to place its headquarters and 500 new jobs in the region. Then, in July, South Yorkshire was named the UK’s first investment zone for advanced manufacturing. An initial £80 million ($101 million) has been promised for skills training, infrastructure and tax relief in an attempt to attract £1.2 billion in private investment and 8,000 jobs. That announcement coincided with a commitment from Boeing Co. to conduct sustainable, lightweight aircraft research in the region. McLaren Automotive also moved some manufacturing for its carbon fiber supercars from Austria to Sheffield.
Coppard grew up in South Yorkshire during the 1980s, giving him a first-hand view of the region’s industrial decline. Just a decade earlier, in the early 1970s, nearly half of the region’s employment was in manufacturing. But by 2011, employment in manufacturing jobs had shrunk to 11%. Replacing those jobs with well-paying alternatives has been a struggle. The unemployment rate in the region is higher than the national average, while wages are £80 a week less.
Boeing’s first European factory opened in Sheffield in 2018, representing the next-era industries the region seeks to attract.Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg
The challenge for Coppard will be ensuring the promised investments actually materialize and provide benefits for local residents. Bloomberg CityLab spoke to Coppard about his vision for the future of South Yorkshire. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
South Yorkshire is going through a period of transition. Can you talk about the challenges facing the region?
South Yorkshire was the home of the industrial revolution. We had a huge steel industry, coal mining industry, right through until the 1980s. And then there was a huge amount of industrial decline. Since then we’ve been recovering.
It’s’s fair to say we are now on the cusp of something pretty special. We’re dealing with issues around transport, health, economy and particularly the economic growth of South Yorkshire. My job is essentially growth.
What’s that growth strategy looked like?
We’re trying to create a regional industrial strategy for South Yorkshire. That essentially means figuring out what we’re good at, and then trying to do more of it. Things like advanced manufacturing, which we are world leading at. We were the first place to mass produce steel, we were the first place to be an advanced manufacturing innovation district and now we’re the UK’s first investment zone.
The investment zone status allows us to focus on that expertise and those recent strengths. We’re trying to lead the world when it comes to advanced manufacturing to the extent that now, if you’re in the advanced manufacturing space globally, and you’re not in South Yorkshire, it’s more of a problem for you than it is for me.
How are you thinking about the future, how do you make sure South Yorkshire isn’t left behind a second time?
The transition to net zero is an opportunity to do that. We know what it’s like to go through an energy transition and when we went through the last one, we didn’t do so well.
So we’re running a citizens’ assembly in South Yorkshire, which is essentially 100 people who are demographically representative of the whole region, who will now work with us to understand what trade-offs could or should look like and how we can all benefit from that transition. I’m determined to make sure that we’re doing this with our community, not to our community.
Has there been opposition to these changes?
The UK is in the middle of quite a difficult political climate. The UK government has been saying for a while that they’re going to level up our country, which meant they were going to put investment into the north of the country just as much as the south (where London is). I don’t think we’ve necessarily come to fruition. That’s a real problem.
We are determined to make sure that we get just as much in investment and support, but some of that we’re going to have to do ourselves. We’re going to make sure that we push forward with our economic growth, with our plans, with our projects in South Yorkshire, with or without the support of the UK government.
Any lessons you’ve taken from other cities or regions?
The work we’re doing with St. Louis — they’re building their advanced manufacturing innovation center on the model that South Yorkshire developed. We’ll work with anybody globally to make sure they’re learning the lessons we have to share, particularly our friends in the United States.
We’ll also listen to the people who are doing things in a different way from us to see if there are lessons there too. This has to be a collaboration, it has to be a sector where we’re learning from people as much as we’re sharing our learning with others too. I’m determined we’ll be global leaders, but global leaders also have to listen.
This story is part of a Bloomberg CityLab series of conversations with mayors about how they’re making their cities more livable.
Visit BelieveInBenicia.org to learn more about Benicia’s Resiliency Plan, sign up for updates from Benicia City Manager Mario Giuliani, and join the effort to help shape Benicia’s future. Add your voice.
January 15-26 – link coming soon
In Person Workshops
January 18 • 6pm-8pm
City of Benicia Public Library
January 25 • 6pm-8pm
City of Benicia Community Center
Virtual Workshopsvia Zoom (links coming soon)
January 17 • 6pm
January 24 • 6pm
[BenIndy will post links to these meetings when they become available. Meanwhile, save the dates!]