Public Comment

Greenwashing in Berkeley--again

Russ Tilleman
Thursday February 12, 2015 - 04:29:00 PM


From my experience working on environmental issues, there are two different approaches to combating global warming. One is to support projects that science shows will help the environment. The other is to support any project that anyone claims is green, even when the science shows it won't help.

I am a strong supporter of projects backed up by science, but I am an equally strong opponent of greenwashed projects that won't help the environment. This has frequently brought me into conflict with people who, for some reason, support such worthless projects.

I suspect they support these projects because they have a financial incentive to do so, or because they don't have the technical knowledge to know a bad project from a good one.

This is a major issue in the fight against global warming, not just in Berkeley but across the country and around the world. If we as a species are going to do anything about greenhouse gases, we are going to have to learn to recognize and support effective projects. 


From 2008 through 2010, I opposed the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal for Telegraph Avenue. This 250 million dollar project was presented by AC Transit as being green. But their own numbers indicated that BRT would require 5000 years of operation, longer than the time since the Fall of Troy, to remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as could quickly be removed by spending the same money on solar panels or wind power. 

Fortunately Berkeley saw through AC Transit's greenwashing of BRT and did not allow it to be built here. I was very proud of my contribution to that decision, because $250,000,000 is a lot of money to just throw away. Money that could be used to actually fight global warming. 


After the BRT project was defeated in Berkeley, The New York Times ran an article bashing my neighbors and me as being anti-environmentalists even though this was not true. I contacted the author of that article, explained that the BRT project in Berkeley was not green, and asked for an opportunity to present our side of the story to their readers. But The Times never even responded to me. 

Here in Berkeley, Charles Siegel responded to the New York Times smear with an article of his own in the March 22, 2011 issue of The Berkeley Daily Planet: "BRT, NIMBYs, and the New York Times"

He correctly pointed out that "The overwhelming majority of BRT opponents were people who had never been active in the past on environmental issues or on transportation issues". 

This was because BRT was such an obviously bad project that people who had never been active before got involved to defend our neighborhood. 

He then went on to write "What do we usually call people like the majority of BRT opponents?" 

I'd call them concerned citizens. But Siegel just called us "NIMBYs". 

I viewed being bashed in The New York Times and attacked by Charles Siegel as the price of defeating BRT. And I wasn't too surprised about Siegel's attack, because Charles Siegel was perhaps the most extreme supporter of BRT. 

He and his "Friends of BRT" co-bloggers Hank Resnik and Len Conly had argued extensively with me about BRT in the Reader Commentary section of The Planet for years. 

Of the 84 posts I counted on their blog, from August 2006 to February 2010, 53 were by Charles Siegel. They seemed to not understand, or not care, that BRT really wasn't green. Resnik even wrote in a letter to the Editor of The Planet that I should move out of Berkeley. 

AND NOW IN 2015... 

Now I find myself involved in a smaller version of the same conflict. AC Transit has greenwashed another project, this time the relocation of a very loud bus stop closer to my home. 

AC Transit initially claimed that this relocation would speed up the operation of the 51B bus, and thereby increase ridership, reduce car use, and help the environment. 

But now AC Transit has admitted that they lied to the City Council and the citizens of Berkeley on their application. They admit that moving the bus stop will not result in any speedup in the 51B, or help the environment in any way. 

But they are planning to move the bus stop anyway, for no good reason and over the objections of the people in the neighborhood. 


I talked to the new City Council member for District 8, Lori Droste about this. It seemed to me that since Berkeley wants to be green, and this relocation isn't green, that she might be interested in helping me stop this. But so far she has done nothing to really help. She hasn't even agreed to meet with me to talk about it in person. 

I read her Candidate Information statement on the City of Berkeley website and I noticed that one of the 20 Berkeley Residents she refers to as supporting her is: 

Charles Siegel, author & environmental advocate 

I don't know if that has anything to do with her refusal to even meet with me. I assume it does but there is no way to know for sure. Maybe needlessly moving a bus stop close to my house, so I have to listen to the loudspeakers on 96 buses a day, is retaliation for the defeat of BRT. 


AC Transit admits to lying on their application, and admits that moving the bus stop will not speed up public transit, increase ridership, or help with global warming. And the City of Berkeley has agreed to give AC Transit the permit to move the bus stop, even though the City agrees that AC Transit lied and that the move won't help the environment. 

It is really sad that this is the best Berkeley can do, to pretend to do things that help the environment while making life harder for a disabled person like me. My health problems are very sensitive to me not sleeping well. 96 buses a day from 5am to midnight isn't going to help with that. I explained all that to Lori but she doesn't seem to care. 

If having my health damaged is another price I have to pay for helping to defeat BRT, I guess it is worth it to me. But I am no longer going to consider Berkeley to be disability-friendly. Or believe Lori Droste when she says "I am running for City Council to bring a fresh perspective and to ensure we provide needed services to all, from youth to seniors" 

Maybe I should have donated some money to her campaign