Commentary | Piedmont’s housing plan on course to increase greenhouse gas emissions

Pardon the pun, but the current burning question among climate scientists is whether the global temperature increase caused by green house gases (GHG) is increasing faster than expected.  What has climate scientists so concerned is that the temperature increase for 2023 was the highest on record and topped out at just under 1.5 degrees C above baseline, the threshold to maintain the current climate conditions we are experiencing. 

Some scientists attribute this large increase to “positive feedback loops”– changes induced by climate change that cause the planet to heat up faster than expected.  In this context, “positive” is a negative and climate scientists are increasingly concerned that their model predictions for climate change over this century are underestimating the true threat.

So if there ever was a time to apply the precautionary principle in regulating GHG emissions, now is it.  That is where the city’s current Housing Element comes in. The EIR for the Housing Element has revealed that the city’s housing policies and initiatives are being developed to achieve housing growth of 1048 units.  This is nearly double the 567 units mandated under RHNA by the California Department of Housing and Community (HCD) development.

The EIR also revealed that this growth in housing will have a “significant and unavoidable” impact on the city’s GHG emissions. The EIR presents the GHG emissions for implementation of the higher housing number and indicates that GHG emissions from this growth will substantially offset the reductions the city has achieved through its Climate Action Plan.  The EIR does state that implementation of just the HCD housing mandate is an alternative that will have a lesser impact on Piedmont’s GHG emissions. 

The reason for the higher housing number is the city’s intent to comply with the state’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) policy that requires local agencies to “facilitate deliberate action to explicitly address, combat, and relieve disparities resulting from past patterns of segregation to foster more inclusive communities.” Just complying with the RHNA targets achieves some of the AFFH goals.

Can AFFH goals be achieved without additional housing development and the associated GHG increases? One option could be rent control which, while not very popular, could provide affordable housing without the GHG increase.  And are the AFFH and HCD targets over-stated given trends in the California population and housing prices?  The state’s population and housing prices have declined over the recent past so adopting housing policies that increase GHG  may not be necessary at this time.

California faces climate and housing crises and should plan growth so as not to worsen either of the two. Will Piedmont City Council seriously consider the lesser housing alternative (just meeting the HCD mandate) to minimize the increase in city GHG emissions?  The ‘significant and unavoidable” impacts of climate change certainly outweigh those of the housing shortage and can only be mitigated though GHG reduction

3 thoughts on “Commentary | Piedmont’s housing plan on course to increase greenhouse gas emissions

  1. GHG matter which is precisely why new housing growth should be smart – placed in proximity to transit and services and be bike/ped friendly. The new housing may be efficient but is adding to Piedmont’s GHG. Is rent control and conversion of underutilized commercial existing space a viable option for producing affordable housing? As Michael suggests, the development-driven HE process does not consider this.

  2. Garrett has raised several good points. In particular, the fact that the state’s population growth forecasts, done about 5 years ago, have not materialized. Instead, there have been 4 straight years of population decline. Nevertheless, the legally mandated bureaucratic framework from the state HCD, through ABAG, and down to each jurisdiction, is plodding along, using erroneous numbers, as though California will be needing housing for 6 million new residents by 2031.
    Unfortunately, this developer-driven Housing Element process still holds sway in Sacramento. So cities will have to play along or be penalized by several possible means.

  3. Greenhouse gas emissions matter wherever they occur. Reducing housing in Piedmont does not prevent such emissions, they merely occur somewhere else. The housing being proposed is small and new, exactly the most efficient type of housing that can be provided for greenhouse gas reduction.

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