More San Jose apartments coming with $40M downtown student project set for June

screen-shot-2013-12-30-at-85749-am-600by Nathan Donato-Weinstein –

Symphony Development is targeting a June start date for construction on a student apartment project in Downtown San Jose after receiving all city approvals and lining up financing.

The Southern California developer will build 119 market-rate apartments targeting San Jose State University students. David Hilliard, Symphony’s CEO, declined to disclose his firm’s capital partner but called it a $40 million project.

The complex will rise a total of seven stories — five stories of apartments over two stories of garage — at 51 N. Sixth St., around the corner from City Hall and just behind the Art Deco Vintage Tower. The 1.09-acre site is currently a parking lot owned by First United Methodist Church, which just built a new church at the corner of North Fifth and East Santa Clara streets.

Downtown San Jose has seen strong interest lately from apartment builders. Until now, all proposals have been targeting upper-income professionals. This would be the first private project to target students in some time.

Symphony works in student housing, market-rate multifamily, mixed use and retail. One of its signature projects is West 27th Place, an upscale 161-unit, 150,0000-square-foot mixed-use student housing building next to the University of Southern California.

Santa Monica-based Van Tilburg, Banvard & Soderbergh are doing the design.

Rentals push U.S. home permits to 5-year high

By The Associated Press –

In this Nov. 11 photo, carpenter Will Hostetler carries trim downstairs at a home under construction by Larry Block Builders in Pepper Pike, Ohio. (AP photo: Tony Dejak)

In this Nov. 11 photo, carpenter Will Hostetler carries trim downstairs at a home under construction by Larry Block Builders in Pepper Pike, Ohio. (AP photo: Tony Dejak)

WASHINGTON — U.S. developers received approval in October to build apartments at the fastest pace in five years, a trend that could boost economic growth in the final three months of the year.

Permits to build houses and apartments were approved at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.034 million, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That’s 6.2 percent higher than the September rate of 974,000 and the fastest since June 2008, just before the peak of the financial crisis.

Nearly all of the increase was for multifamily homes, a part of residential construction that reflects rentals and can be volatile from month to month. Those permits rose 15.3 percent to a rate of 414,000, also the fastest since June 2008. Plans for construction in the U.S. south drove much of the increase.

Permits for single-family houses, which make up roughly two-thirds of the market, rose 0.8 percent to a rate of 620,000. That’s still slightly below the August pace of 627,000. And it suggests that higher prices and borrowing costs are weakening buyer demand.

Data on homes started in October and September were not included in Tuesday’s report. Those figures have been delayed because of the government shutdown and will be released on Dec. 18 with the November home construction report.

The increase in permits suggests those figures will rise. And it indicates that “housing construction will make a much bigger contribution” to economic growth in the final quarter of the year, said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

But the sales of single-family homes could soon slow in the coming months, if developers don’t see greater demand soon, Shepherdson said.

“The flat trend in single-family is ominous,” he said in a client note.

Construction of apartments has increased in the aftermath of the Great Recession, as the rate of homeownership has fallen from its 2006 peak of 69 percent to 64 percent. Lingering unemployment and stagnant incomes for millions of Americans have increased demand for rentals, which are at their lowest vacancy rates since early 2001.

Builders are also benefiting from a low supply of homes for sale, which has increased prices for sellers.

The rise in permits also suggests builders mostly shrugged off the partial government shutdown, which lasted from Oct. 1 through Oct. 16. The shutdown was blamed for delaying the release of the October and September housing data. And it continued to effect the government’s reporting on homes started for those months.

Most economists expect the housing recovery will withstand an increase in borrowing costs. But the higher costs have slowed home sales in recent months.

Fixed mortgage rates have risen almost a full percentage point since late May, when borrowing costs were near record lows. Last week, the average on the 30-year loan was 4.22 percent, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac.

Mortgage rates are still low by historical standards. And steady job gains have made it possible for more Americans to buy homes.

Homebuilder confidence tailed off slightly after the government closed in October, according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders. Their optimism flagged slightly out of concern that the shutdown and possibility another fiscal crisis at the start of next year will keep potential homebuyers on the sideline.

Though new homes represent only a fraction of the housing market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to NAHB statistics.

Read more:

5 Things We Learned in 2013 That Could Move the Needle on Sustainability

Arctic Report Card

Two and a half millennia ago, Plato announced that “Human behavior flows from three things: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” Unfortunately, our human and corporate behavior on climate change is not even close to where it needs to be. But if the great philosopher was right (and he usually was), 2013 may have been a game changer.

Gains in “desire” and “emotion” were modest but real — with polls generally showing greater concern for the planet, Americans broadly supporting President Obama’s climate change announcement in June, Chinese citizens and authorities concluding that life-shortening air pollution is an unacceptable price to pay for economic growth, and citizens of the Philippines and the world grieving the loss of 6,000 lives from Typhoon Haiyan.

But the big news from 2013 came from gains in knowledge. Our understanding was deepened in several key areas. Consider the following, for example:

Overspending the Carbon Budget

This year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report once again confirmed the overwhelming scientific consensus that the world is warming, and that it’s caused by human activities. For the first time, these scientists also identified a “carbon budget,” the emissions the world can release while still having a likely chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F). At present, we’re on track to burn through this budget within the next 30 years. According to a statement from leading scientists, this means that nearly three-quarters of fossil fuel reserves — especially coal — must remain unused if the world is to limit temperature rise to 2°C.

This year’s new climate dictionary entry is “stranded assets,” the idea that physical assets (whether coal reserves, or carbon dioxide-emitting plants and equipment) may need to be revalued significantly downwards, as governments finally (and unpredictably) adopt policies to address climate change. This could lead to a “carbon bubble” being popped, with serious economic disruption. The implication is clear: A modest price on carbon should be established now, with a pre-announced escalation. This kind of predictability will lead to more, not less, investment and jobs.

Losing Forests 50 Soccer Fields a Minute

new report in Science by Professor Matt Hansen showed that the world has been losing 13 million hectares of forest each year. That’s equivalent to the size of England. That’s a tragedy for ecosystems and for the businesses and communities that rely on forest products. There’s an upside, though: Using satellite data, this research provides the first-ever high-resolution, global picture of forest cover change over the last 13 years.

WRI’s Global Forest Watch, to be launched in early 2014, will use satellite imagery as well as crowd-sourced information to chronicle forest cover change on a free, online mapping application. This up-to-date, transparent data can help improve forest management and cut back countries’ deforestation rates.

When citizens realize that 50 soccer fields’ of forest cover are being lost every minute of every day — and that reversing this can be good for jobs and the planet — will they insist in a change of direction?

Energy Subsidies: $2 Trillion (with a T)

This year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), one of world’s most trusted financial institutions, quantified the extent of energy subsidies. Governments are spending $500 million each year to encourage the wasteful use of fossil fuel. That number wasn’t new — although coming from the IMF, it still got the ears of the financial community. But the Fund had the courage to go further. When taking into account the level of taxation on other goods and the fact that energy has an adverse impact on climate, the true subsidy amounts to $2 trillion a year.

Eliminating energy subsidies can reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by an impressive 15 percent, while also increasing economic growth, lowering budget deficits, and spurring private sector energy investments. Hmmm. When are we going to wake up?

Wasting Food: It’s Worse than We Thought

Sustainably feeding 9 billion people by 2050 is one of the greatest challenges of our era. According to WRI analysis, we will need to produce 69 percent more food calories to achieve this goal. And yet, at present, the world wastes or loses around one-third of all food by volume, and around one-quarter by calorie value. By reducing the amount of food we lose and waste each year by half, we can close the food gap by about 20 percent. This would dramatically improve nutritional standards, and would also make addressing climate change much easier. (Agriculture accounts directly and indirectly for around 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.)

This year saw major food processors and retailers taking the issue more seriously. For example, Tesco, the world’s second largest food retailer, announced the results of a major audit of food loss and waste within their jurisdiction. As a result, the issue is rising rapidly in the public’s and governments’ consciousness.

There hasn’t been a consistent international method to account for and reduce this waste — until now. In October, WRI and partners (World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Waste and Resources Action Programme, FAO, UNEP, and more) kicked off a process to develop the Global Food Loss and Waste Protocol, an initiative that will create a standardized methodology to help companies and countries measure how much of their food goes uneaten. By identifying the extent of their food loss and waste problem — and where it’s occurring — countries and companies can take steps to prevent it.

Risky Water

In the 2013 World Economic Forum’s survey of top risks, leaders chose water risk in the top three of 50 risks. More than 1.2 billion people currently live in water-scarce regions. Others battle pollution, flooding, and variable supplies. Yet most countries and businesses lack high-quality data on the water risks they face.

New technologies enable water risks — drought, floods, pollution — to be measured and predicted much more accurately than ever before. Thus, for example, WRI released thefirst-ever assessment of national water risks this month, examining 181 countries’ exposure to floods, droughts, baseline water stress, and supply variability. Researchers found that 37 countries face “extremely high” levels of water stress, where at least 80 percent of the supply available to domestic, agricultural, and industrial users is withdrawn annually. Business and national leaders can use this advanced information to come up with strategies that mitigate their water risks and ensure a water-secure future.

2013: The Year of Better Information

We are leaving 2013 will less ignorance and more understanding. New tools and research are opening our understanding much wider than before. But will we act on this? Knowledge can spur action, but this path is not guaranteed.

Former U.S. President James Garfield (1831-1881) wisely noted that “The truth will set you free – but first, it will make you miserable.” While we can demonstrate convincingly that citizens as a whole — well as our long-term economic future — will benefit from a different course, we can’t guarantee that existing vested interests will all gain. Tough choices will need to be made by political leaders, and the bravest and best will face severe opposition from those who benefit from the status quo.

The achievement of 2013 has been that, if we fail to act, we can longer say that we didn’t know.

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Man


The Blessings of Peace
The Beauty of Hope
The Spirit of Love
The Comfort of Faith
May these be your gifts this Christmas!

10 sustainable energy trends that shook up business in 2013

10 sustainable energy trends that shook up business in 2013

With the New Year upon us, let’s take a few moments to consider the major sustainable energy trends in business from the past year. Many of these 10 trends represent milestones achieved in 2013 as the result of years of dedicated efforts. Others are of a more short-term nature. Each, however, played a big role in 2013.

1. 100-percent renewables: Why go halfway?

At least some degree of reliance on renewable energy belongs in virtually every corporate sustainability strategy. But for a growing number of companies in 2013, nothing less than 100 percent would do.

The U.S. EPA’s Green Power Partnership includes more than 700 organizations — from Fortune 500 corporations to mom-and-pop shops to the public sector — that rely exclusively on renewable energy to cover their electricity use in the U.S. through a combination of green power purchases and on-site renewable energy systems. The EPA’s growing list of 100 percent green energy users includes only the U.S.-based operations of organizations partnering with the agency, but it shows a cross-section of those whose bold sustainability strategies are setting the trend.

Joining the EPA’s 100 percent club for the first time in 2013 was chipmaker Intel Corp., which also ranks as the top renewable energy consumer in the program by using more than 3.1 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) annually. Other notable names on the all-green starting team are Kohl’s Department Stores, Staples and Whole Foods Market.

In addition to companies already at 100 percent, many businesses in 2013 added all-in renewable energy targets to existing sustainability strategies, or made serious progress toward meeting previously stated 100 percent green power targets.

Lisa Jackson, who as EPA administrator took responsibility for building closer relations between the agency and the private sector, now is helping Apple on its own road to 100 percent renewables, which she recently discussed at VERGE SF in her first appearance before a business audience, and also in a one-on-one conversation with GreenBiz chairman and executive editor Joel Makower.

Leading cloud computing provider Salesforce this year announced its new goal of sourcing all of its power from renewables, while Google and Microsoft also made headway toward existing all-green goals. Meanwhile, IKEA completed its 39th solar electric rooftop system in the U.S., as part of its push to attainenergy autonomy by 2020.

2. EVs in the fast lane

Efforts to enable smarter, more efficient transportation systems received a palpable jolt from the success of electric vehicles in 2013. According to the most recent sales data, all-electric vehicle purchases were up about 300 percent on the year through November, with Nissan’s Leaf and Tesla’s Model S leading the charge. This fall, automaker Nissan delivered the electrifying news that moving the manufacture of the Leaf from Japan to the U.S. helped cut the sticker price on its all-electric car while still making a profitTesla’s Model S EV (Credit: Tesla)

BMW delivered its first EV in Germany in 2013, ahead of its planned U.S. sales launch in 2014, while Volkswagenannounced that it will introduce 14 models of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles next year. As part of its imminent electric debut in the U.S., BMW says it will partner with California-based SolarCity to give EV buyers easy access to solar-powered charging via SolarCity’s most affordable solar financing package.

Such corporate partnerships are paving the way for the continued success of EVs. In other examples, IKEA teamed up with Nissan and Ecotricity this year to install charging stations at all of its U.K. stores, whiledozens of U.S. corporations — including Coca-Cola, Duke Energy, Ford, GE, GM, Google, NRG Energy and San Diego Gas & Electric — joined the Department of Energy’s Workplace Charging Challenge. The collaboration seeks to vastly expand the EV charging infrastructure in the U.S. The governors of eight statesadded to this momentum in October when they pledged to increase the use of EVs by adding 3.3 million new electric cars by 2025. The states — California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont  — account for about a quarter of U.S. car market.

Progress for EVs and their charging infrastructure is great news for cities. Smarter, cleaner transportation systems reduce emissions in traffic-congested urban centers and could provide a clean, distributed source of peak power by tying EVs to the grid.

3. Solar after dark: storage shines

Typically, solar electric systems produce power only during daylight hours. But 2013 wasn’t a typical year. A host of energy storage projects completed and initiated in 2013 could have lasting impacts on new energy systems and next-generation buildings.

In the Southwest, two new large-scale solar projects are showing one approach to enable solar electricity after dark. In Arizona, Abengoa’s 280 MW Solana Generating Station came on line in October, providing up to six hours of power after the sun goes down by storing concentrated solar radiation in molten-salt tanks. In neighboring Nevada, SolarReserve, Santander and ACS Cobra Group say they are set to begin commissioning their 110 MW Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project in Tonopah, which provides 10 hours of molten-salt storage.

While the future of such massive central station solar plants is uncertain, advocates argue that large- to mid-sized storage projects will become necessary as more intermittent solar and wind resources are added to electricity grids in coming years. In Japan, where PV grew at a record pace in 2013, numerous storage projects got under way, such as Toshiba Corp’s recently announced 40 MW lithium-ion battery project in Tohoku. The project is aimed at relieving frequency fluctuations caused by variable solar power. California’s new energy storage mandate also seeks to support primarily large- to mid-sized projects.

However, a more distributed vision of energy storage also advanced in 2013. In an elegant example of systems thinking (and action), Maryland’s commercial microgrid combines distributed PV, battery storage, EV charging stations and LED parking lot lighting. And in California, SolarCity launched its DemandLogicservice, which stores the output of rooftop PV panels in lithium-ion batteries made by Tesla Motors.

Whether large, medium or small in scale, storage was a major sustainable energy trend this year — one that appears to be just scratching the surface.

According to Navigant Research, while the annual global market for solar and wind energy storage systems was less than $150 million in 2013, it could grow to more than $10 billion over the next decade.

4. Energy efficiency building momentum

Energy efficiency gained momentum in 2013, with positive signals coming in the form of new building codes, fresh investments, new corporate commitments and innovative products cutting across industries. The efficient use of electricity “is finally starting to pull out of its decades-long doldrums,” noted Amory Lovinsof the Rocky Mountain Institute earlier this year, even if it is difficult to pin down actual energy efficiency spending dataWest Village at the University of California at Davis (Credit: UCD West Village via Flickr)

The Johnson Controls Institute for Building Efficiency’s 2013 Energy Efficiency Indicator finds that interest in energy efficiency rose sharply this year, as companies around the globe increased investments in order to save cost, while enhancing brand image and property value in the process. Established companies such as GE, Honeywell, Siemens, Tokyo Electric and Whirlpool rolled out — or committed to rolling out — smarter, more efficient appliances, lighting and energy management systems, often in partnership with innovative smaller companies, such as Nest and Opower.

Among the major trends identified by Johnson Controls is the emergence of net-zero energy buildings, such as the new West Village at the University of California at Davis, which hopes to become the largest planned zero-net energy community in the U.S. With California’s reinvigorated Title 24 building code set to take effect in 2014, new construction and restorations in the state will continue to be among the most efficient buildings in the country. And it’s not just California. In October, Dallas, Texas, put the finishing touches on its new green building code. And as more architects and builders embrace green buildings in pursuit of LEED certification, the U.S. Green Building Council is also raising the bar on a new version of LEED certification.

This momentum points toward more efficient buildings designed for more resilient cities.

5. Greening the old grid

This year featured some critical milestones on the path to greening the existing power infrastructure. In Germany, wind and solar power peaked at 59.1 percent of hourly nationwide production on one particularly beautiful but blustery day [PDF] in October. In California, the state’s wholesale grid operator, the California Independent System Operator (ISO), this summer recorded a record for solar [PDF] with an all-time high of 2,071 MW, or enough energy to power more than 1.5 million homes. Not coincidentally, Germany and California both seek to promote energy storage as a way of softening the impact of intermittent solar on the grid. Other countries, such as Japan, are doing the same.

Because new intermittent power capacity is still far outpacing installation of storage, operators of the old grid are turning to regulatory innovations to keep things operating smoothly. For example, California’s ISO is seeking to partner with other grid operators in the Western U.S. to create the so-called energy imbalance market (EIM), in part to address increased wind and solar by sharing dispatchable resources. A rollout of the new market design was approved in November [PDF] and is set to begin together with PacifiCorp’s neighboring grids in 2014.

Transporting large-scale renewables long distances in order to meet portfolio standards in the western U.S. is a major driver behind the estimated $163 billion transmission investment currently under way in North America. This includes San Diego Gas & Electric’s Sunrise Powerlink and Southern California Edison’s Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project.

6. Micro-sizing a new grid

Efforts to completely reinvent the grid also grained traction. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, several northeastern utilities increasingly reference smarter, more flexible, renewable and resilient microgrids. Konterra Realty completed one of the first commercial microgrid projects in the U.S. on the island community of Laurel, Md., this fall. The project combines advances in electric vehicles, distributed PV, energy efficiency and battery storage. Oracle Corp.’s Larry Ellison also announced plans to build a microgrid in Hawaii, while many tech firms continue to covet microgrids to power data centers.

According to Navigant Research, a total of 4,148 MW of microgrid capacity is planned or deployed throughout the world, with most activity in North America. Such projects are building momentum, with major corporations such as ABB, GE, Johnson Controls and Siemens creating software and hardware.

7. Evolving utilities: adaptation = survival

The old utility business model (making money by selling more electrons) is already being undermined by the growth of on-site, distributed energy systems and energy efficiency. A few notable utilities and energy suppliers are not only accepting this transformation, but actively pushing it forward. NRG Energy wind turbines at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia (Credit: NRG via Flickr)

One such company is NRG Energy, a diversified power generation and retail electric supplier, which complements its large fleet of big wind and solar projects with a growing portfolio of disruptive distributed energy projects, electric-vehicle charging stations and urban renewal efforts. NRG Energy’s Robyn Beavers recently discussed the transformation of the anything-but-traditional energy company at VERGE SF. Another evolving utility is the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which is rolling out a variety of smart-grid technologies and services, including an entire solar-powered community coupled with battery-back-up.

Other large utilities, including players such as Duke Energy and PSE&G, also insist that the new distributed power paradigm is not all doom and gloom.

But the recent battle between Arizona Public Service and solar advocates over net metering this summer reinforced the notion that distributed energy is simply from Mars, while utilities are from Venus. Eventually, in November, net metering was preserved, sort of.

8. Clean energy IPOs make comeback

Global clean energy investment this year likely will fall below the $281 billion spent in 2012, according to most current data. This would be the second-consecutive year of investment decline. But one big bright spot this year was the return of clean energy investments via the public markets.

Indeed, renewable energy IPOs made a major comeback in 2013. Through September, $7.5 billion was raised in the stock-market debuts of companies such as Bluefield Solar Income Fund, Greencoast UK Wind, Infinis, NRG Yield, Pattern Energy Group, Renewables Infrastructure and TransAlta Renewables.

9. Tech giants drive renewables

Even though overall global investment in renewable energy likely was down in 2013, tech giants such as Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft continued to make huge commitments this year, driving renewable energy investments and installations as part of their ongoing sustainability efforts. Google was especially active in late 2013. In November, the company announced its 14th major investment into a renewable energy project by committing together with investment firm KKR $80 million to six Recurrent Energy PV projects in California and Arizona. That came on top of the $103 million that Google invested into Silver Ridge Power’s 265.7 MW PV project in Imperial County, Calif., just a month earlier. In only four years, Google has invested more than $1 billion into 14 renewable energy projects.

With energy-hungry data centers, tech giants in 2013 inked many deals for renewable energy deliveries from local utilities where their data centers are housed. In September, Google signed an agreement for the entire output of the 240 MW Happy Hereford wind farm near Amarillo, Texas, for its data center in Mayes County, Okla. Microsoft signed up for all the power from the 110 MW farm near Ft. Worth for its data center in San Antonio. In addition, many technology giants are building green data centers incorporating energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy.

10. New finance models expand rooftop solar

Thanks to the financial whiz kids at San Francisco Bay Area solar companies such as SolarCity, Sungevity and others, many people who otherwise would not be able to put a rooftop solar system on their home now have one. That’s because rather than selling an expensive solar electric system outright, these companies allow their customers to purchase just the energy the system produces, thus foregoing the expensive upfront equipment cost. Ownership of the system remains with the company. The response among homeowners has been overwhelming, helping the residential sector power the solar industry to its current“record-shattering year.”

Mosaic extends the scope of solar power by connecting investors with solar projects in need of financing. Once the project comes online, it generates revenue by selling power, then pays back investors as revenues accrue.

Netflix campus project wins latest court battle, stifling critics

Netflix campus project wins latest court battle, stifling critics

by  –

Netflix Inc.’s Los Gatos headquarters expansion survived its latest legal challenge, clearing another cloud from the horizon for the project.

A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge on Friday ruled the project’s approval was consistent with the town’s general plan. That’s a major win for the town and the Albright Way project’s development team, LG Business Park LLC, which has leased the first two buildings of the four-building, 485,000-square-foot campus to Netflix Inc. The project, which is already under construction, is a joint venture of Sand Hill Property Co. and the Carlyle Group.

The project — located across the freeway from Netflix’s longtime home at 100 Winchester Circle — has been dogged for years by legal challenges. An earlier fight based on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) forced the town to re-approve the project, delaying it. Proponents said all along that opponents represented a small minority in Los Gatos, and risked causing Netflix to expand elsewhere or even leave Los Gatos.

The ruling on Friday comes just days after supporters of the project turned in signatures in hopes of putting an initiative on the ballot. We Support Los Gatos’ initiative would enshrine approvals for the Albright Way project directly in the town’s general plan, in effect short-circuiting future court challenges.

“Once again, the court has ruled against the desperate legal maneuverings of the few local residents who continue their attempts to kill the Netflix expansion through the courts,” said project representative John R. Shenk. “This ruling, combined with our submission of more than 4,000 signatures on our initiative petition (last) week, gives us great optimism that this issue will be decided favorably once and for all by Los Gatos voters in June of 2014.”

The opposition group, Los Gatos Citizens for Responsible Development, led by residentsJohn Shepherdson and Andrew H. Wu, challenged the town’s June approval, claiming it overstepped its authority in green-lighting buildings taller than what’s provided for in the town’s general plan. The town approved four buildings, two 65 feet tall and two 50 feet tall.

But Judge Joseph H. Huber disagreed, ruling that the town’s approval was in keeping with the general plan, which “is intended to meet multiple and sometimes competing policy objectives. Therefore the Town may not be able to adhere to every policy in every decision that it makes to implement this General Plan.”

“The Town Council has final discretion over which policy objective will have priority instances where there are competing policy objectives affecting a single decision,” the judge wrote.

He continued: “To the extent Petitioners cannot reconcile themselves to such land use determinations, their energies are better directed at the ballot box than the courthouse,” Huber wrote.

In an email on Friday, Rose Zoia, the attorney for Los Gatos Citizens for Responsible Development, said that her clients “are disappointed by remain confident and assured in their legal analysis of the General Plan inconsistency issue. Citizens are weighing their options at this time.”


shutterstock_62613079-299x300The University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) and its Program on International Policy Attitudes recently polled nearly 1,500 Americans in a study called “Faith and Global Policy Challenges: How Spiritual Values Shape Views on Poverty, Nuclear Risks, and Environmental Degradation”. This study polled a large amount of Catholics and Evangelicals, and documented their feelings on the environment, greenhouse gas emissions and nuclear war.

The poll was conducted using a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. First, participants were chosen scientifically by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses. Then, an oversample of 330 Catholic individuals were chosen to participate as well. Results were weighted accordingly so there was not bias in the statistics, however since this study was one of the relationship between spiritual obligations and policy preferences, those who were identified as “believers” were the ones who were asked most of the questions.

In the study, “believers” were defined as those who answered ‘yes’ as to whether they believed in God or not. 85% of those interviewed answered that they did believe in God, while 14% said they did not. Additionally, “believers” were also considered those who do not believe in God, but feel spiritually obligated to act certain ways – a mere 4%. When respondents were asked whether they felt “there are spiritual obligations to act in certain ways,” or whether they did “not think in these terms,” 67% said they felt there are spiritual obligations; 32% said they did not think in these terms.

Specific findings from the study:

  • Spiritual Obligations and Public Policy Issues: A large majority of believers said that they see a spiritual obligation to seek to reduce poverty and hunger. But when asked initially, only about 1 in 5 believers said they think in terms of a spiritual obligation to protect the environment or to reduce the risk of nuclear war.

· Responding to the Idea of Stewardship of the Environment: Though less than half of all believers and a bare majority of Evangelicals are familiar with the idea of a spiritual obligation to act as good stewards of the environment, when presented with this concept, 3 out of 4 believers embraced it. Most rejected the counter-argument that out of humility one should leave the environment in God’s hands. Among those who embraced the obligation to be good stewards, an overwhelming majority said that it applies to preserving the natural world as well as humans from the effect of environmental degradation. A majority of this group (4 in 10 of all believers) also said that the obligation to be a good steward of the environment includes the obligation to prevent nuclear war.

  • Caring for God’s Creation: 4 out of 10 believers said that preventing environmental degradation is part of an obligation to protect God’s creation. However, an overwhelming majority said that it is an important goal. Further, when presented the affirmative argument that there is an obligation to care for God’s creation by supporting environmental laws and regulations, 2 out of 3 believers agreed.
  • · Spiritual Obligations of Nations: When presented the argument that nations have spiritual obligations, large majorities found the argument convincing. When presented with the counter-argument that nations have only an obligation to protect their own citizens and national interests, views were generally divided, except that a modest majority of Evangelicals rejected it. If a nation fails to act on its spiritual obligations, only 4 in 10 said that this would be a sin, but among Evangelicals, 6 in 10 took this position.

· America’s Spiritual Obligations: When asked about America’s spiritual obligations a large majority endorsed the view that America has some such obligations, especially in regard to alleviating poverty. But less than half said it has such obligations related to protecting the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war.

  • Golden Rule in International Relations: 2 out of 3 believers—and the same number of non-believers—said that America should abide by the Golden Rule in its relations with other countries, while only a third said that this would impose too many limits on America’s options.

· Binding International Agreements: Overwhelming majorities approved of the U.S. entering into binding international agreements aimed at protecting the environment (including by reducing greenhouse gases) and reducing the risk of nuclear war, with support being especially high among Catholics.

· Working to Prevent Nuclear War: As discussed above, overwhelming majorities of believers endorsed binding international agreements to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to generally reduce the risk of nuclear war.

· Working to Prevent Climate Change: Only a small minority of believers said preventing climate change is a spiritual obligation, and 1 in 3 said it is part of an obligation to protect God’s creation. Nonetheless 3 in 4 said it is an important goal to prevent climate change, and two thirds said there is at least a moderate risk that climate change could harm God’s creation. 8 in 10 said it is an important goal to reduce their own carbon footprint.

· Perceptions of Scientific Consensus on Climate Change: Only 4 in 10 (3 in 10 among Evangelicals) think that there is a consensus among scientists that urgent action on climate change is needed and that enough is known to take action. Not surprisingly, those who perceive such a consensus are more supportive of taking action on climate change. Interestingly, those who perceive such a consensus are also more likely to see it as a spiritual obligation.

“This research challenges common political stereotypes that pigeonhole religious Americans as liberal or conservative on environmental and nuclear proliferation issues,” says University of Maryland Public Policy Professor, CISSM director, and co-author of the study John Steinbruner.

The researchers pointed out that historically, Christian religious traditions addressed poverty issues, but have given less attention as to whether and how spiritual values apply to the environment and the issues related to nuclear war.

However one labels or determines their feelings of obligation towards environmental, nuclear, or poverty issues in my opinion, is not as important as the desired goal. As long as we are all working towards a common goal of global safety, reduced poverty, and a healthy environment, I think we are on the right track.

For the full study, see Faith and Global Policy Challenges.


By Ariel Nagel –

There are few seasons in the course of the year that are so closely tied to feelings of both joy and dread. Each holiday season, we anticipate time spent with loved ones, great food, and perhaps a present or two. Any fears we experience are likely concerned with the balance of our checking accounts on December 26th, or perhaps with the expense associated with lighting that Christmas tree for several weeks or heating all that hot water for our in-laws’ baths.

We can’t help you with the in-laws, but there’s good news where your Christmas tree is concerned. Fiber optic Christmas trees have become a welcome alternative to traditional Christmas tree lights, and offer a solution that’s kind to your pocketbook as well as to the planet.

Why Fiber Optics?

When most people think of fiber optics, they likely associate the term with high-speed Internet, thanks to tech companies like Verizon and Google, who have brought fiber optic Internet mainstream attention. The truth is, there are a number of unexpected applications for fiber optic Internet, and one of them can make its way into your living room this holiday season.

The leading providers of fiber optic Christmas trees claim that the average household could save a great deal on their holiday energy bills: fiber optic trees can boast up to ten times the savings as traditional incandescent Christmas tree lights.

A Ready-Made Holiday Solution

Fiber optic Christmas trees offer a host of other benefits as compared to traditional trees: to begin with, they’re not as messy. Most fiber optic trees are artificial, and come with the lights already strung. What this means is that you won’t be picking pine needles out of your socks until next April. Artificial trees help to slow down our consumption of trees during the holiday season, and save you some of the headaches you’ve come to associate with post-Holiday cleanup.

Best of all, these trees offer just as much variety as traditional Christmas trees, with a multitude of colors and adjustable lighting levels available. In other words, personalizing your family’s tree will be easier than ever.

During a season where we’re already expecting to face a great many expenses, doesn’t it make sense to save where we can? If you’re looking for a way to keep a little extra cash in your wallet, while at the same time doing something good for our planet, then a fiber optic Christmas tree might be just what you’ve been looking for.

Christmas tree image via Shutterstock.

Europe’s biggest renewable energy plant completes switch from coal to biomass

Britain’s largest coal-fired power station is set to become one of Europe’s biggest renewable electricity generators today, with the potential for new future generation on the site to be based on truly clean coal.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey opened the Drax coal-to-biomass conversion plant, and announced the Government was awarding funding to further the White Rose CCS project, also based at the site.

At Drax, the £700 million planned conversion project will burn wood pellets rather than coal. Its operators calculate that this will reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent compared to coal. The facilities opened today will provide enough low carbon power to supply the equivalent of around 1 million homes, and help to safeguard 1,200 jobs and many more in the supply chain and in local communities.

The Government is looking to fill an emerging energy gap as coal-fired power stations come offline with a mix of renewables, Carbon Capture and Storage technology, nuclear and some gas.

It believes this will help to protect consumers from price spikes caused by importing expensive gas, and will lower people’s bills in the long-run with households getting £50 off their bills a year by early next year.

The multi-million pound FEED study funding will support the White Rose project, which is designing a £2 billion state-of-the-art coal power plant with full CCS that will be able to provide clean electricity to more than 630,000 homes.

It also includes the planned development of a CO2 transport and storage network — the Yorkshire Humber CCS Trunkline — which would have capacity for additional CCS projects in the area.

This innovative project has the potential to create up to 2,000 jobs and safely capture 90% of the plant’s emissions.

Together, the two projects could support 3,200 jobs in Yorkshire and the Humber, and provide carbon transport infrastructure to help build a clean energy industry in the region.

Mr Davey said: “It’s crucial that we safeguard our energy security by generating green electricity on UK soil that protects bill payers from volatile foreign energy imports.

Our coal industry has powered Britain for more than a century, and today we’re seeing a clear roadmap for its future — whether by converting existing coal plants to cleaner fuels, or building state-of-the-art power stations that mean coal is truly clean. While at the same time creating new green jobs for Yorkshire.”

Read more from our affiliate, ClickGreen.

College endowment managers get schooled on climate change

By Michele Madia –
College endowment managers get schooled on climate change

A positive trend in higher education has been the development of robust strategies to embracesustainability education through campus operations and community outreach. One of the most significant examples of this is the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, involving more than 675 member institutions.

However, there hasn’t been much focus on the impact of the $400 billion in endowment funds held by the nation’s higher-education institutions. Many argue that institutional sustainability strategies are not comprehensive if they excludeendowment-investing practices. Moreover, some of those assets are at risk as a result of a changing climate, threatening the financial health and viability of campuses.

Second Nature guides the way

Second Nature, the supporting organization of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, has released a guide aimed at individuals with fiduciary responsibility for college and university endowments, arguing that climate change presents investment challenges due to a variety of risks that are unprecedented and poorly understood. These individuals, including governing boards and trustees, presidents, chief financial officers and chief investment officers, should be assessing and addressing climate risk and opportunity in their portfolios. Doing so is consistent with being a prudent investor and exercising responsibility.

“Assessing climate change as an investment risk is not about taking a position on the science of climate change,” noted David Hales, president of Second Nature, “but rather an important aspect of any fiduciary’s responsibility to the institution’s endowment.” Given that more than 70 percent of colleges and universities do not include environmental considerations (including climate) in their current investment portfolios, more college leaders seek balanced guidance that will help support decisions in the short-term, while forming the basis for further guidance for the higher-education sector.

Second Nature’s new report provides basic steps fiduciaries can take to minimize climate change investment risks and seize industry opportunities.

Getting started

As a first step in exercising fiduciary responsibility, endowment managers should come up with measures to understand risks, clarify governance and develop initial policy statements. They can do this by: University of Vermont (Credit: jiawangkun via Shutterstock)

• Identifying who in the endowment governance structure has responsibility for considering climate risks and ensure that they are educated on those risks. For example, the University of Vermont has created a Socially Responsible Investing Advisory Council that “supports the Vice President for Finance and University Treasurer in fulfilling his/her responsibility as liaison to the Investment Subcommittee of the Board of Trustees.”

• Developing a clear statement outlining the endowment’s policy on climate risk. Many institutions address climate risk under the broader rubric of environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks in their portfolios. Hampshire College’s policy on ESG investing says that “poor business practices related to human rights, the workplace, and the environment pose reputational, financial, operation, and legal risks to the College’s investments and therefore the future financial security of the College.”

• Assessing risks and opportunities across all asset classes, including stocks (equities), bonds (fixed income), real estate and commodities.

• Encouraging college and university leaders to communicate transparently any climate risk in their portfolios through publicly available annual reports. For example, The New School’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility publishes an annual report about its yearly achievements.

Next, endowment managers should change their investment policies to lessen risks and seize opportunities. These steps include:

• Engaging with companies to identify climate risks

• Improving the energy performance of real estate portfolios and investments

• Investing in clean, high-performing technology

Engaging with investors and public policy

Many investors have joined with other investors to, among other things, develop and share best practices on climate risks and raise awareness. Brown University, Swarthmore College, Temple University and the University of Vermont are members of the Investor Network on Climate Risk, which has engaged institutional investors in a wide array of practices on climate risk. Brown University (Credit: aastock via Shutterstock)

Additionally, many investors encouraged the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to guide companies on how to disclose financial risks in their financial statements, which the SEC agreed to do in January 2010.

Higher education’s leadership opportunity

Many higher-education institutions are grappling with the question of whether and how to align institutional investment policies with educational values. For most institutions, this is uncharted territory. Second Nature has teamed with Hampshire College, a leader in aligning its investment portfolio with its educational mission and values, on a project to work with higher education institutions to explore how endowments should consider ESG factors — and how they relate to risk and fiduciary responsibility.

The invitation-only Intentionally Designed Endowment Conference, scheduled for April 3-4 in Boston, will help senior higher education leaders appropriately respond to growing scrutiny about endowment policies and practices. It also will enable leaders to identify the most effective strategies to ensure investment strategies align with each institution’s values. And it will encourage a pragmatic focus on the need for maintaining strong financial returns.

The event is intended to provide a venue to examine the issues and develop new strategies, not to advocate any specific action or approach. Determining how to include ESG criteria has many benefits, including reducing risks associated with regulation, litigation, resource scarcity and costs, as well as consumer preference that can threaten companies with sub-optimal sustainability performance.

To learn more about the event, please contact Michele Madia at

Graduation photo by sippakorn via Shutterstock