August 25, 1990

Berkeley City Council

2180 Milvia Street

Berkeley, California 94704

Re: Environmental Improvement of Berkeley


Water: I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about Berkeley's environmental situation and what to do about it. The other night I was thinking about our water use. The toilet and the shower waste an enormous amount of water. With the continuing advance of Global Warming, we cannot afford to waste water. I read a book about "low flow" and waterless toilets, but was left without a clear solution. Clearly, I would have to do a lot more research and work, to find out what to do and how to do it. One cannot simply call a number and get a good solution installed. It depends on the slope of my pipes, local ordinances, etc. And if I have these problems, probably most people in Berkeley have the same situation, or even less information.

The solution: Wouldn't it be great, if the City would do this research, and then offer a choice of toilets, together with the expert advice necessary to help us make the choice and get it installed?! You could go door-to-door, explaining the choices to all residents and businesses. We would all benefit from doing it as a group, and preserve our precious water.

Insulation, Energy Use, Transportation: Then I thought, "Why just water?" If we are going to do a kind of environmental audit of every building, why stop with water? Why not at the same time make sure everyone knows how to properly insulate their house, and does it (e.g. R-31 in every ceiling, white roofing material,etc.)? Why not make sure everyone learns the true costs of driving to work vs. using public transit (which is always cheaper, except where within bicycling distance), and how to get around on transit. Give everyone an A/C Transit route map and BART map.

Wildlife: I just finished reading an Earth First! paper on the effect of roads on wildlife, especially endangered species. Even where a species can physically cross a road, often they are afraid to do it; consequently, their habitat gets fragmented, and biological diversity suffers.

The Solution: Being a mathematician, I came up with a mathematical solution: "What is the minimal amount of road space needed in Berkeley?" Wouldn't that make a wonderful contest for our school children, and even college students? Suppose that every house should be within a certain maximum distance from a road. Or would there be some who would be happy even farther? Clearly, there is a huge amount of waste in roads: many back roads are hardly used during the day, and almost all are unused at night. That represents wasted resources. Many intersections could easily be turned back to nature without any great hardship: no building shares any frontage with an intersection; the whole thing could be turned into a park or garden. Perhaps every other east-west street could be returned to nature (or housing), giving wildlife natural corridors from the Bay to the hills. The sidewalks could be left for pedestrians and bicyclists and deliveries of goods. A few north-south streets could be left open for travel in that direction. Emergency vehicles might take a few seconds longer to get somewhere, but the cost to have every single spot instantly accessible by automobile is just too great!

Finding a transportation solution for Berkeley -- one that preserves the environmental values that make life enjoyable -- would make another great contest for our school children. I am absolutely certain that they can do no worse than their elders and our "experts", and I am almost certain that they can do better.

By the way, what is the school curriculum in these areas? Are our children being allowed to break out of the headed-for-disaster course being charted by our worse-than-useless politicians? Maybe we should poke our nose in and find out....

Let's begin with some action. Let's close an intersection on Pedestrian Day (September 13), plow under the pavement, and restore some native habitat! Perhaps one of the ones already supposedly "closed" with barriers (frequently violated by trucks and all-terrain vehicles), such as Woolsey and Hillegas, would make a good start. Please let me know when we can discuss these proposals, and when they come before the City Council. Time is a'wasting.


Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.