10 Things Fremont Can Do to Be Greener

The word “sustainability” is being thrown around a lot lately. As a serious environmentalist, this is not just a buzzword for me. I would like to see Fremont take strong steps to make Fremont a leader in being a “green” city.

(Click here to comment on this position paper on my blog.)

Ex-Mayor Bob Wasserman once admitted at a City Council meeting that “designing Fremont around the automobile seemed like a good idea 50 years ago.” Fremont’s history of car-oriented city planning has resulted in high-speed six-lane avenues, sprawling parking lots, a focus on big-box retail by the freeway, and very little walking and bicycling among the City’s 213,000 residents.

Our current Council occasionally talks about taking measures to reverse this. However, when it comes to concrete actions to accomplish this, the City has done a poor job. For example, the recent large scale development at Pacific Commons is basically inaccessible by bike or by walking. The approval of the East-West Connector continues the trend of trying to solve transportation problems by building bigger roadways (which has been shown not to work anyway).

This article focuses on other measures that Fremont take to move towards a more sustainable future, one in which we can meet our needs without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. We need to retrofit the city for a healthier lifestyle, one that is less dependent on cars and trucks. The sustainability element in the City’s General Plan 2030 is an ok start, but we need specific proposals to move us forward.

Below are ten ways the City can encourage healthier lifestyles for a more sustainable future. Many of these could be implemented with little cost to the city.

    1. Roll costs for energy efficiency and renewable energy systems into property taxes: Working with Alameda County, the City can develop a program that allows property owners to pay for energy efficiency improvements and solar system installation as a voluntary long-term assessment on their individual property tax bill.
    2. Require residential construction to be green: New homes built should be certified LEED Silver green buildings. The owners of these green homes will save money on their energy bills and have a healthier living environment for their family.
    3. Encourage every resident to plant at least one tree: Trees increase property values, clean the air, provide habitat for wildlife and cool down surrounding areas in the summer.
    4. Develop public shared offices with video conferencing systems: Transportation emissions contribute 52% of Fremont’s greenhouse gas emissions according to a study done by ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability in 2008. Many people would like to reduce their commuting time. Having a quiet workspace in Fremont with WiFi and videoconferencing would help them be productive, stay connected to the office and still feel like part of a community.
    5. Orient future development in Fremont around pedestrian-friendly villages: Encourage development in historic town centers and around transit hubs – We need more pedestrian-friendly public spaces where people want to spend time. Residents should be able to walk to shops, restaurants and parks located within ½ mile of their homes. There are many good examples of such development right here in the Bay Area.
    6. Encourage bike culture 2.0: Copenhagen residents use bikes for 37 percent of all their transit trips. I’ve visited Copenhagen and the streets, some very wide, always make bikes and pedestrians feel like they’re part of the equation. Paris offers a very popular Velib bike rental system where bikes are usually less than a ¼ mile away. Here in Fremont few people bike around the city even though there are low-traffic secondary streets that run through major sections of the city. The City of Fremont could help by:
      1. painting bike lanes on more key secondary streets
      2. providing more bike racks
      3. hosting bike safety classes
      4. encouraging community groups to organize community rides
      5. challenging citizens to bike for errands one day/week
      6. posting signs asking drivers to watch out for cyclists on the streets
    7. Encourage more organics at Farmers Markets: Ask the companies that run Fremont’s farmers markets to encourage vendors to sell organic fruits and vegetables. Currently about one in ten vendors offer produce that is organic.
    8. Provide public land to citizens who want to create community gardens: Learning tips on how to grow food will make Fremont more locally self-reliant. Gardening with others to provide food for homeless shelters will bolster civic pride.
    9. Go for Zero Waste: The City of Fremont offers recycling and composting for a wide range of materials. Encourage residents to take a look in their garbage cans and see how much they can divert. Most of what is in the trash is recyclable or compostable.
    10. Create neighborhood green outreach groups: Find a coordinator for each neighborhood who can spread word about new green programs in the City: an option to roll renewable energy costs into property tax, a new carbon calculator widget on the City’s website, or a new bicycle rental system throughout Fremont.

What ideas do you have to green Fremont? Share them with us in my blog.

Vinnie is a proud Prius owner.