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.

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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.”