Sacto sort of ready for peak oil

SustainLane.com, a Web site dedicated to promoting healthy and sustainable living, recently released a study that put Sacramento 21st out of the 50 largest cities in the United States in terms of preparedness for an oil crisis.

The study rates cities based on the city’s commute-to-work data, regional public-transportation ridership, sprawl, traffic congestion, local food and wireless-network availability.

Sacramento ranked highly in terms of local food, which SustainLane defined as farmers markets and community gardens per capita.

Warren Karlenzig, chief strategy officer for SustainLane, said, “The reason why farmers markets are so important, in relation to oil costs, is that when food is transported an average of 1,500 miles … farmers markets are a great alternative in that it comes usually from the local area and doesn’t have to travel that far. It’s likely to remain more affordable as oil and gas prices go up.”

Sacramento lost points in the transportation portion of the study, which accounted for 62 percent of its rating. Karlenzig said that as of 2004 only 3.3 percent of Sacramentans used public transportation to get to work, while nearly 34 percent of people in Washington, D.C., and 22 percent of people in Oakland utilized public transportation to and from work.

Sacramento ranked near the middle in terms sprawl and traffic congestion, two major ways cities’ populations consume gasoline, but came in at 17 in the wireless-network category.

However, California State University, Sacramento, Associate Professor Kevin Wehr says West Coast cities, including Sacramento, could have ranked higher. Wehr points out that Sacramento sits closer to more agricultural resources than SustainLane takes into account.

“Most of our food is grown pretty close by,” said Wehr, who notes that cities like New York, number one on SustainLane’s list, aren’t surrounded with as much agriculture as Sacramento or San Francisco.

Sprawl goes solar

Last week Lennar Homes announced that it will be teaming up with the PowerLight Corporation and Roseville Electric to build “the nation’s largest solar community” in Roseville.

Lennar’s 450 homes, which will become available over the next two years, will come equipped with solar roofing tiles, not solar panels, that will blend in to the homes’ exterior while providing zero-emissions energy to home-owners.

Lennar adopted the solar roofing tiles as its newest addition to its Everything’s Included program, which also comes with energy-saving features.

“With these attractive solar communities in Roseville, Lannar and Roseville Electric are demonstrating real environmental leadership and providing their customers with tremendous savings on their utility bills,” said Howard Wenger, executive vice president of PowerLight, the company that makes the tiles.

But Terry Davis of the Sierra Club says, “Solar is good, of course, but what’s more important is the kind of project that [the development] is and where it’s located.”

Davis says that Roseville, a city that has a history of approving sprawling suburban developments, has been trying to do more responsible projects. But Lennar’s Westpark Community sits on the fringe of Roseville, the very sort of development that environmentalists usually oppose.

According to the city of Roseville Web site, single-family residences account for 43 percent of the city’s land use, while multi-family residences make up only 4 percent.

“I think the problem [in Roseville] is that it’s single-family housing with a lot of land around it,” said Eric Davis with the Environmental Council of Sacramento. He went on to say that when developers build homes in that fashion, population density goes down, which makes it more difficult to provide sufficient transportation to those areas.

John Galloway, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, echoes Davis’ concern.

“You’re doing all these eco-groovy things on your home, but what eco-groovy things are you doing with your transportation,” Galloway said. “Are these people driving Priuses? Are they driving alternative-fuel vehicles? Are they taking the bus? Probably not.”

—Amanda Dyer