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Greenhouse Gas Measure Heading Toward Ballot

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday July 04, 2006

In Berkeley, it seems most everyone wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop global warming, but few want to stop driving, eating refrigerated food, reading by electric lights and watching TV. 

Which is why the City Council wants to engage the community in a process to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, created mostly by burning fossil fuel, by putting the Berkeley Climate Protection Measure on the November ballot. 

The council approved the measure by unanimous vote last month—despite comments by Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring who would have preferred stronger language—to name 2007 as Stop Global Warming Year, “support aggressive efforts to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions,” and create a community process to meet a goal of reducing community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

The council will vote on final language before the summer recess that begins at the end of the month. 

Cisco DeVries, chief of staff to Mayor Tom Bates, said the simple act of voting for the measure will make Berkeleyans more conscious of their personal responsibility to combat global warning. 

“It gets people to make a public commitment,” said DeVries, who helped craft the referendum. 

If approved, the measure will also give the green light to the city to write forceful policy to attack the problem, he said. For example, the city could raise the RECO (Residential Energy Conservation Ordinance) standards that mandate energy-saving measures, DeVries said, underscoring that this is an example of what the city could do and not contained in the ballot measure. 

“There is little time to save the planet,” DeVries said. 

Environmentalist and East Bay Regional Parks Board Member Nancy Skinner, who also helped put together the measure, points to the importance of its “community process.” 

While the ballot language does not spell out what that process will be, it could mean setting up a task force of limited duration—this would be less costly than creating a new commission—or combining several commissions to work on the issue, she said.  

Skinner points to Seattle where the mayor created a “green-ribbon task force,” combining the efforts of the city, residents and businesses. One result was that key businesses, such as Seattle-based REI (Recreation Equipment, Inc.) set internal goals for reducing emissions. 

Worthington said he intends to try to strengthen the measure when it comes back to the council on July 12 or July 19. He said he would like to see it include a way to broker financing for solar energy and also include making the city’s fleet of vehicles run on biodiesel.  

Many city vehicles had run on biodiesal until January 2004. The program was halted when bacteria mold from the biodiesel fuel was found to have clogged engine filters and fuel injection. 

Worthington said the problems encountered have been fixed and that he hopes through this measure the city will “recommit to a better version of biodiesel.” 

Worthington noted, however, that the present version of the ballot measure was much improved over previous ones that lacked the specific goal of emission reduction of 80 percent by 2050. “It gives it a bit of substance, something to work toward,” he said.