Our air does not need to be ‘spared’



By Roger Hartley

The Index-Tribune’s Jan. 3, front page story about the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) and wood burning rules deserves some closer scrutiny and more objective analysis.

As noble a goal as this appears to be, the Bay Area already has air quality that meets or exceeds the standards set by the state and federal EPA, yet this organization has declared a record-setting 20 “Spare the Air” days since November of this year. How can this be if the same organization declared only four Spare the Air days between 1993, when they first started the practice, and 2006? That is four out of 4,745 days, versus 20 out of 60 days, or .08 percent of the time versus 33 percent of the time. Did the air get that much worse? No, the answer is that the standard of measurement has changed.

BAAQMD has changed the definition of what they deem acceptable air quality, and has done so in violation of the normal CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) guidelines for issuance of threshold standards. Furthermore, a former employee of BAAQM has alleged that the system for monitoring air quality is intentionally rigged to produce more alerts. For example, the air sensor in Napa is on top of a Mexican bakery a few feet downwind from a BBQ restaurant. Another one in Berkeley is next to a dry cleaner (Google “whistleblower BAAQMD”).

Even worse, there is no system of accountability with this group. They don’t have to prove anything in order to issue an alert. They only have to predict that there is a chance the particulate matter may exceed their standards. And they can change the standards at their own whim.

BAAQMD has 350 employees who are monitoring the quality of our air and our activities. Let’s do some math: If the average BAAQMD employee travels 20 miles round trip per day to go to work, that is 7,000 commute miles per day or 1.75 million miles per year just so they can prevent us from using our fireplaces, barbeques and lawnmowers on some of those days.

Add to that the total life cycle carbon footprint for this organization, including rental properties, utilities, maintenance, equipment, printing, administrative and legal staff and more.

Does anyone seriously think that this massive carbon footprint by BAAQMD is justified by its lofty goals?

I have a better idea. Take the district’s $89.44 million annual budget and invest it in clean air technologies for small businesses that can’t otherwise afford it and make a real difference in air quality. Better yet, invest it in solar systems for large users of electricity. Better yet, lease the solar arrays so the energy savings can be reinvested in more solar. I am sure an economist can figure out the future value of a $90 million annual investment yielding a 20 percent return on capital.

Then send at least 300 BAAQMD employees home and leave the rest of us the hell alone.

It is unbelievable what a docile population will put up with. An uncontrolled bureaucracy has criminalized our quiet enjoyment of life and in true Orwellian fashion has turned neighbor against neighbor with an anonymous tip hotline to report any suspected criminal activity. From a Constitutional point of view, the real criminals are BAAQMD and the 22 politicians that sit on its board.

• • •

Roger Hartley is an architectural engineer who lives and works in Sonoma. He began his career working with visionary architect Paolo Soleri on his Arcosanti project in Arizona, a sustainable “city of the future.” Because of that experience, he says, “real solutions require honest and verifiable assessment of the facts.”


  • Lank Thompson

    Amen. The only reason this organization was started was to provide wonderful salaries for useless work. Our tax dollars down the drain.

  • John Kelly

    The Napa monitoring station’s across from Napa High (the air kids breathe being rather important) and has been there for 40 years. Science (documented) backs up BAAQMD’s decision — the Napa station actually understates ozone pollution. The I-T never should have run this hit piece.

    I blogged about it, but sorry, no hyperlink —- the I-T’s moderator apparently won’t allow them.

    • Phineas Worthington

      Hit piece? Its in the opinion section. Don’t know why you think opinions should not be written and printed unless you don’t value that freedom.

      The links work some times and not others in my experience. The commenting rules are unclear and inconsistent from site to site on the disqus platform.

      • John Kelly

        Hartley’s gaming the public’s trust in government. He can think and write “whatever.” The I-T shouldn’t give him a megaphone.

        The editors pick and choose what to run, and under any objective editorial criteria, Hartley’s piece doesn’t make the cut. The I-T should tell us why it won’t happen again.

        • Phineas Worthington

          I’ve been saying for over 20 years Americans no longer value freedom. Your comments are a sad reminder of that.

          • John Kelly

            Americans love truth — and at the intersection of the freedom we cherish and the truth we pursue sits responsibility. Every editor has known they bear that responsibility since Benjamin Franklin, who wrote:

            “Printers do continually discourage the Printing of great Numbers of bad things, and stifle them in the Birth … I have also always refus’d to print such things as might do real Injury to any Person, how much soever I have been solicited…”

            Hartley called scientists and elected leaders criminals with no factual basis. That’s a real injury to real people. Franklin wouldn’t have condoned it, we shouldn’t condone it, and the I-T should tell us why it won’t happen again. And Phineas, when you feel that urge to answer this comment, know that I will not elevate you further with a response — your comments are now clearly intended to be as injurious as those of Hartley.

          • Phineas Worthington

            If you can objectively measure the harm done, I will concede your point.

  • Lank Thompson

    Frankly I dont consider Sonoma or Napa the Bay Area.

  • Phineas Worthington

    Outstanding letter, thanks.