Oakland’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were the focus of a special City Council workshop last night, marking another milestone for the city’s forthcoming climate action plan that has been in the works since July 2009. Around 150 residents, advocates and councilmembers gathered to rally in front of City Hall to publicly support the plan. Inside the chamber, City Council members heard a presentation from city staff that offered early hints on what the first draft of the plan will contain when it is released in late April.
“The point of tonight was to provide the council with a preview of what would be in the draft plan,” said Garrett Fitzgerald, the city’s sustainability coordinator who is leading the formation of the plan. “We wanted to summarize the big picture story before we release the plan and start dealing with the individual actions.”
The Energy and Climate Action Plan, the first draft of which will be released to the public, fittingly, on Earth Day (April 22), will offer specific policy recommendations that will get Oakland to its aggressive goal of reducing emissions to 36 percent of what they were in 2005. The plan has been in the works since July 2009, and Fitzgerald said that the first draft will recommend over 100 specific actions that could be enacted by 2020, and approximately 40 actions that could be set into place within three years. Fitzgerald and other staff from the Public Works Agency previewed potential actions that would reduce emissions by 36% in each of the three broad areas of focus: land use and transportation, building energy use and material waste.
The meeting was preceded by a rally in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza organized by the Oakland Climate Action Coalition, an initiative of the Ella Baker Center. An enthusiastic crowd gathered in front of City Hall, holding signs that read “Oakland is ready” and chanting “Green jobs now!” Many of the rally speakers sought to link the city’s climate action to job creation, with some holding caulking guns to represent an alternative to “killing guns.”
“If we stick together, we can assure that the green economy is really going to benefit all of us,” said Andreas Cluver, secretary-treasurer of labor group Alameda Building Trades Council.
Rally attendee Timothy Stout, a San Leandro resident who is training with Energy Conservation Options to conduct energy audits and certification, said he was ready to see all the enthusiasm translated into action.
“It’s like my dad used to say: It’s not time to talk about it, it’s time to be about it,” said Stout, who upon leaving the military was unable to find a job for seven months before finding Energy Conservation Options.
Councilmembers Jane Brunner, Nancy Nadel, Jean Quan, Larry Reid and Rebecca Kaplan all addressed the crowd, thanking them for their enthusiasm and urging them to keep up the political pressure.
“Here in Oakland, we’re all at the table,” said councilmember and mayoral candidate Jean Quan. “The recommendations we’re going to look at are some of the toughest in the country. It’s not an accident that this is happening in Oakland.”
In addition to the climate action plan workshop, the council also heard presentations on community choice aggregation from San Anselmo mayor Barbara Thornton and from Dave Room of the Local Clean Energy Alliance. In community choice aggregation, a city or county, instead of a utility company like PG&E, would purchase or generate electricity; the utility company would still distribute the electricity and provide maintenance and customer service. Proponents of community choice aggregation say it gives cities and counties greater choice to obtain power through renewable energy projects.
“There is opportunity here for allowing the electricity sector to become part of the solution,” Room said after his presentation.
But the program has encountered resistance in Oakland and other Bay Area cities, particularly in the business community. Joseph Haraburda, president and CEO of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, has described the proposal as “risky” in a December 2008 op-ed in the Oakland Tribune. And at yesterday’s meeting, Gregory McConnell, president of the business advocacy group Jobs and Housing Coalition, said the presentations did not discuss the downsides of community choice aggregation, which his organization opposes.
“I don’t think there was a discussion about the cost,” McConnell said. “It was more of an attempt to sell the program instead of explain the program.”
Community choice aggregation is likely to factor into the three-year priority list of the climate action plan, albeit in a limited way. Fitzgerald said the plan will recommend that Oakland track the progress of community choice aggregation plans in Marin County and the city of San Francisco, to see if lessons can be learned from the city’s neighbors.
“We’re out front on some things,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re happy to not be all the way out front in this one.”
McConnell said his group was encouraged by other climate action proposals, particularly the emphasis on transit-oriented development. But in his public comment, he reminded the council of Oakland’s troubled fiscal outlook.
“I’d like the council to acknowledge again that there’s a $46.2 million deficit,” McConnell said. “The city that attempts to take on everything at one time will do nothing effectively.”
Oakland Climate Action Coalition’s Emily Kirsch, who donned a green plastic construction helmet for the duration of the rally and meeting, agreed that the city faced significant challenges. “The deficit is real,” Kirsch said. “But we need to do what we can in that challenge. The more we invest in the green economy, the more the green economy gives back to us.”
But to reap the benefit of job creation and cleaner energy, the climate action plan must continue advancing—first released as a draft on April 22nd, then open for public comment until June 11. Kirsch believes all the ingredients are there for action.
“The energy’s there, the organizations are there, the expertise is there,” Kirsch said. “What we need now is the political leadership.”