Spare the air day. Who decides. Who is spared and at what cost?

I have always wondered who runs “Spare The Air Days”. Do you know? Is it an individual, a computer program, or a committee that determines if we can burn fire wood or operate gas-powered lawn mowers to maintain our yards. Who decides these things, anyways?

In researching this matter, I was relieved to learn that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District does not have a special police force or “Mod Squad” that goes door to door arresting people who violate their edicts. While dealing with air pollution is important, I am not sure burning wood is going to worsen atmospheric conditions very much compared to the millions of cars that pollute the highways each day.

To me, most of these well intended spare the air type of regulations amount to “spitting in the wind” so to speak.

Even dire warnings about “When wood fuels are burned, the smoke contains fine particulate air pollution (also known as PM2.5 and these tiny particles about 1/7th of a human hair) can pass deep into lungs and cause serious health effects to the public,” seems to me to be an unsubstantiated “leap of faith”

If these spare the air guys were around earlier, the song “Smoke gets in your Eyes” would have been banned. Camp fires, historically a main stay of the Boy and Girl Scout outings, might have been outlawed for being hazardous health risks.

One can salute the efforts of Federal and State agencies to reduce carbon emissions (especially with motor vehicles) and manufacturing—what little is left in California (sigh). It is a remarkable feat, considering population growth has brought more congestion to the highways of the “Golden State.” But have California’s regulatory agencies jumped the shark?

Are strict pollution regulations, long permit processes, and duplication of tasks by state, federal, and local creating such a bureaucratic mess that job creation and personal freedom have suffered?

With this in mind, most communities have accepted the notion of transit villages and high rises near BART stations and transportations hubs. However, the “Field of dreams” notion “Build it, and they will come” should not be construed as the choice everyone wants to make. Each community is different and deserves a voice in making urban planning decisions.

Then there is te common sense side of the equation. Currently, theCalifornia Capital and Investment Group, which is in charge of developing the 1600 acres of land being transferred to the city of Oakland from the Army, is evicting warehouses that are being utilized to load and unload international cargoes at the port. The rationale for doing this is if these facilities are not removed, the City of Oakland will somehow lose $174,000,000 in redevelopment funds from the Federal Government.

Just a sec, can we talk about this? Something is wrong with this picture. Were the warehouses and staging areas to be removed from the port area (where they always have been)it would mean additional diesel burning big rigs on the highways, more fuel being burned, and a major increase of traffic near the Bay Bridge.

Not to be lost in this equation would be added transportation expenses that would be passed on to consumers. At the end of the day the struggling port of Oakland will most likely lose business and some high paying jobs that support the maritime industry. All for some promised redevelopment funds that may never happen.

So I am asking where the hell are the “spare the air” guys when you really need them? It would appear to me, a non-scientific mind who is more skilled in figuring out “point spreads” than determining carbon foot prints, that various public agencies on all levels of government get together and stop this travesty at the port.

This debacle has not been lost with Oakland City Council President Larry Reid, who has openly questioned the closure of the warehousing facilities at the port. At a recent meeting, Reid said “I have never been a fan of this whole process” He later concluded, “i’m really disappointed in the way we have treated these businesses”.

Unfortunately, Oakland is not the only city in the Bay Area dealing with interference in local decision-making from beyond their borders. As such, do local planning agencies have a right and duty obligation to stand their ground when the State and Federal governments want to impose their will?

This has recently come into play with opposition in Orinda, Danville, and other East Bay cities that have fought development plans by The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to construct dense high-rise housing projects that it is felt don’t fit in their communities.

Most people on a local level, don’t like outsiders, however well-meaning, telling them what to do. Much like with the Oakland port situation, there is growing concern of black mail threats by the State and Federal Governments to take away funds from communities who don’t adhere to their policies. If this sounds a bit like the “five-year plans” of the old Soviet Union, than we are looking at a “If it walks and quacks like a duck” situation.

Being in a similar situation to what Oakland faces with the Army base lands, Concord should be watching this closely as they try to convert the Port Chicago Naval Weapons Station lands to civilian use. As Oakland is learning, there are a multitude of interests trying to make their presence known. Long delays in getting anything done seem to be the norm.

Thus far Concord appears to be doing a better job in dealing with the Feds on the Port Chicago development than their East Bay neighbors. There seems to be amore of a united front among local private and government than in these other places. (Fewer wackos in Concord) Planning and doing required environmental impact reports have been meticulously been done. However, how soon the land transfer at Port Chicago will be done is anyone’s guess.

In the meantime we can concern themselves with ABAG, Spare the Air Day, and various governmental agencies trying to tell us where and how to live.

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Comments

  1. Patricia Perry says

    And, a Spare the Air Day covers the whole Bay Area, not just Marin for example, if I am correct. And, on that day, even if the only air quality problem may be in Marin, those living in Santa Clara County or Livermore cannot have a fire in their fireplaces.

    • Wendy Lack says

      @Patricia:

      I have confirmed with the BAAQMD that your understanding of “Spare the Air Days” is correct. If one location in the region is forecast to have “unhealthy air quality” then the entire 9-county region is subject to wood burning restrictions per the “Spare the Air Day” program.

      Note that the District’s jurisdiction encompasses all of seven counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Napa; and portions of two others: southwestern Solano and southern Sonoma.

      Here is the response I received from the BAAQMD:

      “Spare the Air days are declared for the entire region, even when only one part of the area is forecast to have unhealthy air quality. That is the District policy.

      “Air District meteorologists issue a forecast each day by 2 PM or earlier and make a prediction for the following day. The use a variety of data and forecast models to estimate what air pollution will be like in that period.”