Fiona Ma for State Assembly

My Walkabout Down Under

fiona in australiaIf you're looking for no crowds and hassle free air travel, try flying on Christmas Eve!  And if you're looking to skip Christmas Day and get right to the after holiday shopping deals, hop on a plane to Australia to partake in Boxing Day...the biggest shopping day of the year! Also, you can be one of the first people in the world to welcome in the New Year. Obviously, Paris Hilton had the same idea as she was behind me on my flight from the States.

Melbourne is the perfect city to unwind in. It’s the summer in the Southern hemisphere and the weather is in the 70's.  The people are super friendly, and the city is very pedestrian friendly and clean. The Yarra River divides the city and the architecture blends the old with the new. I walked around Flinders Station and Federation Square, St. Kilda and Chapel Street where I paid tribute to home grown locals Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman in the film, "Australia," and experienced the "Gold Class" treatment in huge comfy recliners with full food and bar service before and during the movie. We need this in the US!

By contrast, San Francisco’s sister city, Sydney, is more metropolitan and buzzing. The topography is hilly (similar to SF) and both the air and streets are clean.  Various buildings dazzle the skyline and the historic preservation of the buildings and piers create unique live/work masterpieces (IE the Taj Hotel and the restaurants at Woolloomooloo Pier).  There were lots of fabulous outdoor eateries and pubs. Ferries are a major means of transport around this water city...which amazingly never smelled like the sea/ocean. During these summer months, people head for the beaches.  Bondi Beach is the favorite for tourists while the locals head for Manley, Shelly and Balmoral beaches.  I hopped the ferry to check out the koalas and pygmy hippo (Minofa the baby hippo was no where in sight) at the Taronga Zoo which had million dollar views of the landmark Sydney Opera House, the Harbour and the downtown city skyline. Chinatown was one of the larger ones I've been to, complete with an indoor market for souvenir shopping. And the grand finale....New Years' Eve!  Since Sydney is 19 hours ahead of SF, I've watched many a snipets of fireworks displays on TV over the years however nothing compares to seeing things first hand. I marveled at the colorfully lit Parade of Boats that sailed around the Harbour all night and the midnight extravaganza of fireworks that was set off from the Harbour Bridge, seven city rooftops and seven barges. The entire 12 minute experience was mesmerizing and an once-in-a-lifetime experience!

I was grateful to have a clear beautiful night to see the fireworks in Australia but was also reminded that we need to change the way we live or risk losing these beautiful vistas forever. California is the world's 12th largest producer of green house gases.  Although we're leading the nation in setting CO2 reduction goals, I'm afraid we're not going to hit our targets unless we dare to be different (IE high speed rail), especially in the commercial building sector.  On the other hand, Australia is emerging as one of the leaders in the Green Tech revolution.  I had an opportunity to visit Australia's first commercial/condo development built to a 5-Star Australian Building Greenhouse Rating (similar to our LEED Platinum).  This "Sustainable Evolution" model consists of solar panels, harvested rainwater, motion sensors, lots of natural lighting and cross flow ventilation (versus a central cooling tower), fiber optic network and waterless urinals (using vegetable oil). The goal is to move workers to a "node versus hub" system designed around the needs of people.  This method empowers choice and flexibility in the consumption of energy and water and how, where, and when people work or "Lifestyle Working," as coined by Ed Horton, CEO of Stable Group (  If California is serious about reducing CO2 and meeting our AB32 (The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) goals, we need to encourage and provide incentives for responsible and sustainable advances in the commercial property sector.

So in this New Year, may all your dreams come true in 2009!