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Oakland plans to become an environmental leader

on December 14, 2010

One of the City of Oakland’s goals is to become a model green city, according to its sustainability program. For the past year and a half, the city has been hashing out an Energy and Climate Action Plan (ECAP) to identify and prioritize what it can do to lower its greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy use. The first draft of the plan was launched on Earth Day 2010 in April, and focused on reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than a third of what they were in 2005 by the year 2020.

Since April, the plan has since gone through different reviews, iterations and workshops, and on Tuesday, the City Council Public Works Committee reviewed and discussed the newest draft of the action plan and heard from members of local nonprofits about their take on it. During the morning meeting in the council chambers, members of the committee—District 3 councilmember Nancy Nadel, councilmember at large Rebecca Kaplan, District 6 councilmember Desley Brooks and Patricia Kernighan of District 2—started by listening to Garrett Fitzgerald, the sustainability coordinator for the city, outline the plan.

“Success on the 36 percent reduction by 2020 project depends on all of the Oakland community,” Fitzgerald said. This project has enlisted hundreds of local residents to contribute their ideas and participate. “Community input is critical to the development of this plan,” he said.

The plan identifies the primary sources of Oakland’s greenhouse gas emissions—including transportation, electricity and waste—along with a list of 150 actions that the city can take to achieve its emissions reduction goal, like adopting a green building ordinance for private development, developing regulations to more easily enable urban food production, planning for electric vehicle infrastructure and applying zero waste practices in city operations, facilities, capital improvement and maintenance.

As Fitzgerald concluded his presentation, representatives from nonprofits got ready to present their views on the plan. The majority of these non-profits are members of the Oakland Climate Action Coalition, which is a committee tasked with giving the city input on the proposed plan. Speakers included representatives from Urban Habitat, a environmental, economic and social justice group based in Oakland, who talked about transportation related pollution, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, a group that works to empower low-income Asian Pacific Islander communities in the Bay Area, who talked about gentrification near transit hubs like the Lake Merritt BART station, and the Local Clean Energy Alliance, a coalition of Bay Area non-profits working on climate protection and green jobs, who talked about the need for Oakland to diversify its financing options.

“What’s rationally needed is bold and creative action,” said Ian Kim, director of the Green-Collar Jobs Campaign at the Ella Baker Center, which is an Oakland-based group that works on environmental, economic and social justice campaigns. “Oakland has the potential to lead many cities in the U.S.” He said that in order for the plan to succeed, changes needed to be made to better consider “green collar” jobs, which create work opportunities–like green building, habitat restoration and sustainable agriculture–for low-income communities.

Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan, strategy initiatives director for the Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project, an Oakland-based group that provides information and analysis about food, agriculture and the environment, spoke about the importance of food production and transportation and water treatment and transportation in reducing emissions. “Food is globally responsible for a third of green house emissions,” she said. Although the plan has several provisions addressing local food production and waste management, Mascarenhas-Swan says it could go even further by supporting more local food production. “Food prices are going up,” she said. “A climate plan needs to incorporate a long range adaptation.” She then handed out maps to the council members showing where there is farmable land in the city.

Emissions produced by the Port of Oakland were also brought up during the meeting, even though the port is specifically mentioned in the current draft of the plan. “The port is responsible for 10 percent of the greenhouse gases committed to the city,” said Al Weinrub, who is on the conservation committee for the local Sierra Club chapter. “The ECAP has no expectations for the port.” He was referring to the fact that emission standards have not yet been set for the port–the plan only says that the port must set goals in alliance with the 36 percent reduction objective. Weinrub said that the port is not taking enough responsibility in lowering its emissions and that the city should pay more attention to it. “The port has missed the boat and the city is missing the boat with it,” he concluded.

While each speaker had criticisms and recommendations, they all said they were glad the city is working on the plan. Once the open forum finished, council members addressed the audience. Kaplan focused on coming up with actions the city could undertake for little money, like prohibiting fuel-powered leaf blowers and easing restrictions on residential greywater systems. “We can have a lot of impact with little money spent,” she said. She also said it was important for the city to work on getting the plan implemented, rather than just focusing on discussion. “We don’t want to spend all this time and come up with a lovely plan that just sits on the shelf,” she said.

Brooks said she was worried about how the city would manage to finance such an extensive plan. The estimated cost to the city to fulfill the ECAP’s list is $9 million a year but according to Brooks there’s only available funding for $2.5 million a year. “That gives me pause,” she said. “We have to look at the total picture and figure out how it’s going to get implemented.”

Kernighan echoed Kaplan’s focus on low-cost solutions and Brooks’ concern that the city is in a financial crisis. “It seems like we can definitely make some progress,” she said. “Some of these issues are going to continue to be debated. We aren’t going to resolve them in one more meeting or two more meetings.”

Nadel concluded the meeting by saying that the committee will work on a list of what could be done in the short term for less money. The next committee meeting will be scheduled in February.

Image: Oakland’s goal is to lower greenhouse gas emissions 36 percent by 2020. Photo by freefotouk via Flickr Creative Commons.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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