California tops in green city rankings, but can it stay there?

The Golden State may be strapped but its clean, green reputation remains intact. New rankings of the cleanest and greenest cities from the National Resources Defense Council gave California cities six of the top 15 rankings, including four of the top 10, as part of its annual SmartCities research project.

San Francisco, ranked second only behind Seattle, was the highest ranking California city. Other California cities in the top 15 included Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Jose. Factors measured in the rankings included air quality, recycling, green building, sufficient amounts of green space and energy production, among others. But the dark cloud of the budget crisis and subsequent cutbacks could threaten California's clean, green reputation.
Many of programs, such as recycling, can be costly to operate. Collection and sifting of recyclables is far more expensive than simply heaving the whole lot into a landfill. That's even more true in the current environment, where recycled materials such as paper and cardboard are now worth so little on global markets that they don't justify the shipping costs to bring them to plants in China or elsewhere for reuse.

Likewise, green building projects are often more costly to pursue up front compared to conventional building projects, even if the long-term savings in terms of energy and water might be greater. To date, most green building standards have been voluntary. So strapped contractors can be expected to start cutting back on anything that can reduce up front prices of projects.

The Bay Area, in particular, appears vulnerable. It's transportation budget will likely face significant cutbacks, resulting in the likely reduction of hours of operation or routes of everything from cross-bay ferries to commuter rail to buses and subways like the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) lines. According to the Los Angeles Times, cities and counties should expect a $1 billion cut in transportation spending by the state. Since all of these public transit projects are government subsidized, either through Federal or state funds, they all could face some sort of spending cuts.

True, in some areas of the NRDC rankings, such as renewable energy production, California will likely benefit from Federal stimulus funding in the pipeline. Ditto for new transportation projects such as extensions of rain or trail lines or even the much vaunted but still undecided California high-speed rail line. Proposals for this line would reduce travel times from L.A. to San Francisco to two hours each way, more or less.
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