Greener than thou

Green City: A look at Mayor Newsom's newest green initiatives


GREEN CITY Mayor Gavin Newsom has made a high profile push for several new green initiatives in recent weeks, a concerted political move that comes just as he and his political team are aggressively working to subvert a city ballot measure that would make far bigger gains in combating climate change and greening the city's energy portfolio than anything he's proposing.

"San Franciscans should be ashamed that they have a mayor who is greenwashing and gay-washing his way to the governor's mansion," Julian Davis, campaign manager for Proposition H, the Clean Energy Act, told the Guardian.

Newsom opposes Proposition H, which would direct the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to figure out how to provide clean and renewable energy to the city, and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has hired Newsom's chief political strategist, Eric Jaye, to lead the multimillion dollar campaign to defeat the measure.

Davis said the steady stream of green initiatives from the Mayor's Office are simply a means to make up for the mayor's severe deficiency in environmental credibility. "You can't call yourself a green mayor when here is a genuine green measure and you're against it," Davis said.

The array of press releases issued from the mayor's office include a partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative to transform the Civic Center into a green model of sustainability by reducing water and energy use, and installing solar panels as well as living roofs.

Further green city visions include installing solar paneling on 1,500 commercial buildings within one year, and giving building owners rebates of as much as $10,000 as part of the solar rebate program launched in July.

But some supervisors take issue with the direction of the program, which they say would only make solar installation companies become rich people overnight. "There are a lot of flaws in that thing," said Sup. Jake McGoldrick. "It should've been steered toward low-income folks, nonprofits, schools — stuff like that."

Sup. Gerardo Sandoval said the mayor's program would lead to an unequal distribution of wealth with an already small pool of resources — something he is trying to combat with a loan program that would offset the cost of solar installation for residences. "If we don't help residences, families will be left to their own devices," he said.

Moreover, the mayor has set aside $1 million for the Environmental Service Learning Initiative (ESLI), which would integrate environmental community service into K-12 schools, and hired a Director of Sustainability, with $150,000 salary, to develop curriculum and help the district become more energy efficient and environmentally conscious. And last week the Mayor's Office promoted rainwater harvesting for the purposes of outdoor irrigation and indoor toilet use, and sent out press releases touting the SFPUC's Big Blue Bucket eco-fair held Oct. 11 to educate people about this concept.

Brad Johnson, legislative coordinator at the Sierra Club, called on Newsom to do more than use green events for media opportunities, stating that the mayor's initiatives are "not a truly visionary policy, like Prop. H is a visionary and sweeping policy."

When the Mayor's Office was contacted about the statements made by the supervisors and the Sierra Club as well as the contradiction in policies, Nathan Ballard, Newsom's director of communication, replied tersely: "They're not experts." Attempts to elicit further clarification yielded no reply from Ballard.

But Jared Blumenfeld, director of the San Francisco Environment Department, and interim director of the Recreation and Park Department, provided broader insight to the mayor's environmental politics, insisting that the green calendar of events is nothing out of the ordinary.

"Every week we do a great number of events around the environment.

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