Berkeley's Climate Plan - the City Council weighs in
Measure G, the Berkeley initiative that passed by 81% in November 2006, launched an elaborate process that led this April 6 to the third version of the city's Climate Action Plan (CAP). During the preceding 2-1/2 years, city staff organized at least 50 community meetings on the CAP and dozens of presentations to the city council, community groups, neighborhood associations, and churches. All these meetings had two primary purposes:
- to give community members and elected officials an opportunity to contribute to the city's climate-protection policy;
- to educate and engage the community regarding the role everyone can play in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, the primary goal of Measure G.
But not until its April 21 meeting did the Berkeley City Council get a chance to take formal action on the plan. When the item, the last on a crowded agenda, came up for discussion at about 10 pm, 60-plus speakers lined up to state their views. Many were concerned about an April 18 article in the San Francisco Chronicle saying that Berkeley homeowners would shortly be forced to retrofit their homes at great expense for energy conservation. Several councilmembers assured the audience that this was not the case and that the language of the plan would be changed to clarify the point. Most speakers supported the plan enthusiastically, while a minority voiced some concerns and criticisms. Several speakers asserted that the plan's targets for lowered emissions were nowhere near stringent enough.
Following public comment, the councilmembers began a discussion that lasted until after midnight. At that time the meeting adjourned without a vote on the plan. It was scheduled to be continued as an "old action item" at the next Council meeting on May 5. Council insiders predicted the plan would then be approved, although they expect minor modifications recommended by various councilmembers.
The Council vote on May 5 will not be the final word. At a subsequent meeting the Council will be asked to approve an analysis of the plan's environmental impact under the California Environmental Quality Act. At that point a "negative declaration" is likely, meaning that the plan will be deemed to have no significant negative environmental impact. If that is the case, the CAP will be formally adopted. Otherwise, a full Environmental Impact Report and many more months of study would be required.
Even when the environmental analysis is approved, the evolution of Berkeley's climate-action policies will be a process of years or even decades.
Key components of the plan, spelled out in its "Vision for the year 2050", include:
- an increased emphasis on sustainable food systems, including ways to create and distribute food either in or near Berkeley, thus reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled to put food on Berkeley's tables;
- more local "green jobs" that will match local residents with job opportunities in the rapidly emerging energy-services sector;
- new and existing buildings with zero net energy consumption through increased energy efficiency and a shift to renewable-energy sources such as solar and wind;
- increased density near public transportation, including creation of green and open spaces;
- public transit, walking, bicycling, and other sustainable modes as the primary means of transportation for Berkeley residents and visitors;
- personal vehicles that run on electricity produced from renewable sources or other low-carbon fuels;
- zero waste sent to landfills.
The most recent version of the CAP is noteworthy for proposing implementation steps, including short-term actions to be taken before 2010. These include:
- an implementation timeline with specific measurable actions;
- monitoring and reporting to gauge progress toward the plan's goals and to continually evaluate implementation priorities;
- identification of funding opportunities and revenue streams;
- establishment of a stakeholder "infrastructure" that facilitates information sharing about CAP progress.
"We're already in the implementation phase," says Berkeley's climate-action coordinator Timothy Burroughs. "Staff is already using the plan as a guide for projects related to energy use, waste-related strategies, and transportation planning. The plan also helped to shape our application to the Department of Energy for stimulus funds."
Although two previous drafts of the CAP were released in 2007 and 2008, the final draft was made available only on April 6. The Sierra Club did not have time to consider it before the April 21 Council meeting; nor had the Club taken any official position on the previous drafts. The Northern Alameda County Group is scheduled to discuss the Berkeley CAP at its meeting of Mon., April 27.
The Climate Action Plan is available at all Berkeley public libraries or online.
During the summer of 2009 the city will launch a companion web site to track implementation of the plan.
Ultimately the success of the plan will hinge on individual actions people take to reduce their carbon footprints. The Ecology Center is offering free workshops for individuals and neighbors interested in forming Climate Action Groups. Appendix C of the CAP offers useful guidance in the form of a chart titled "My Very Own Climate Action Plan".