Peralta Holds Forum on Campuswide Sustainability

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday March 23, 2007

A year ago, the Peralta Community College District held its first annual Sustainable Peralta Conference at its oldest and least environmentally friendly campus, Laney College, in typically blustery March weather. Sitting in a classroom that day with a gap under the doorway so large that participants had to wear coats to ward off the brisk wind blowing under the closed door, Peralta Trustee Nicky Gonzalez Yuen, chair of Chancellor Elihu Harris’ Advisory Committee on Sustainability and the driving force behind the Sustainable Peralta project, talked optimistically about moving future construction bond money in the district toward “green” building principles. At that time, Peralta’s newest campus—Berkeley City College—was not yet built, and its $390 million facilities bond Measure A was not yet on the ballot. 

Last Friday, with talk of global warming heightened by unseasonably mild late winter weather, the East Bay’s four-member community college district held its second annual Sustainable Peralta Conference at the newly-built, environmentally progressive downtown Berkeley City College campus. 

As much as anything, that stark contrast—the planet’s weather sliding slowly toward an environmental crisis while the local community college district takes small steps to reverse old environmentally unsound practices—highlighted the opposing trends taking place in the year since Peralta began its initiative. 

This year, students and teachers from Peralta Colleges attended four workshop panels ranging from Regional Partnerships with local governments and Green Job Development to Green Curriculum Infusion and Green Facilities Transformation. In between panel sessions, the conference held fifteen minutes of what was called “structured networking” in which participants were able to sit face-to-face with workshop speakers to ask questions and trade contact information. 

Speaking at the Green Facilities Transformation workshop, Alex Ramos, an energy engineer with the Siemens Corporation, defined sustainability as “the ability to meet present needs without compromising those of future generations.” 

And Mike Matson, LEED Senior Associate with Ratcliff Architects, the designers of the Berkeley City College campus, spoke briefly of the history of growing sustainability awareness within Peralta. In answer to the question of why the Berkeley City College is not “greener,” Matson said, “when Berkeley City College was first being developed, there was not a lot of awareness of what green building meant. There was a vague interest within Peralta and the community in making this a green building, without knowing exactly what that meant. The project paralleled a time when public awareness has taken a steep curve. In 2000, there were quiet questions being raised about environmental building. Now it’s a steady drumbeat.” 

He said that Radcliff is “anticipating that Berkeley City will eventually be a LEED-certified project.” (LEED, the acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the national environmentally-friendly building rating system.) 

With the successes at Berkeley City, Matson conceded that “sustainability hasn’t completely taken hold throughout the district. The comfort level and the momentum are not quite there, yet.” At the Regional Partnerships workshop, a succession of local political leaders highlighted their jurisdictions’ commitment to environmentally sustainable projects. 

Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson said that among other county efforts, the county’s two correctional facilities, the county jail at Santa Rita and the new juvenile justice center in San Leandro, are using solar panel electricity, and said that “Alameda County has had a green building ordinance on the books for ten years. We are trying to preserve our community for our children and our grandchildren.” 

Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio called protecting the environment “the most critical issue of our time.” She said that much of the environmental problems stem from practices which citizens themselves can alter, and talked of the Berkeley project in which “we trained high school students to analyze energy use in homes and to then retrofit those homes. The students get course credit for it, as well as stipends during the summer. The residents just love it. It helps build real bridges between young people and seniors.” 

Assemblymember Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), the chair of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, said that sustainability must be a “two-pronged effort,” taking in both the world and the people in it. 

“I read recently that if every person in the world sustained an American lifestyle, we would need five Planet Earths to support them,” Hancock said. “We’ve got to change that.” She also said that environmental protection also has to be expanded to include protection of the earth’s population. 

“Using people and then throwing them out when you don’t need them any more is no more appropriate than discarding a used can or newspaper or bottle on the street,” Hancock said. Stressing the need and value of increased emphasis on education in the state, she added that “there’s going to be an explosion of jobs in California because of efforts on green building and technology, and I want to make sure that all of our children are ready to take those jobs.” 

Hancock also announced that her assembly committee will be holding a hearing on greenhouse gases at Berkeley City College on April 14. 

Gayle McLaughlin, the newly-elected Green Party mayor of Richmond, said that her city is currently undergoing an update of its General Plan, adding two new components of project review: health and energy.  

“We will be looking at each new project in Richmond with an eye towards what is its positive or negative impact on our carbon footprint, as well as considering how the development will have an impact on the city’s overall health. Richmond is a city with a one hundred year industrial and manufacturing history, and we embrace that and want to continue to build on that. A hundred years from now, however, we want the new mayor in that time to be able to build on the tradition of a green industrial revolution that we are beginning now.” 

McLaughlin said that a Richmond green building ordinance is currently being prepared for consideration by City Council, and “a styrofoam ban is in the works following the lead of Berkeley and Oakland.” 

Commenting on McLaughlin’s presentation, Yuen, a Berkeley resident, told conference participants that “when you live in the city of Berkeley, you think you’re ‘all that.’ But very soon we may find that we are chasing Richmond on these issues.” 

Later, sitting on the edge of the stage in Berkeley City College’s atrium auditorium during a break in this year’s conference, Yuen noted a final comparison between last year’s conference and this: “continuity.”  

“Out of last year’s conference,” he said, “we developed curriculum and facilities committees that have been working throughout the year to develop proposals and programs and ideas for the Sustainable Peralta effort. The results are reflected in this year’s workshops. We’re not just talking about this. We’re working on it. 

“We’re also getting more corporate buy-in for the project as businesses begin to realize that this is the way to go,” Yuen added. 

To highlight that buy-in, the Pacific Gas & Electric company, a co-sponsor of the conference, presented a $120,226 oversized check to the Peralta District on Friday “for implementing energy efficient construction methods at Berkeley City College.”