When I ran for mayor four years ago, I promised to put the environment at the top of my agenda. Earlier this month, two of Berkeley’s innovative energy and environmental programs were highlighted in “New Energy for Cities,” a national report released by the Apollo Alliance.
This is just the latest recognition that Berkeley is now leading an emerging environmental revolution among cities. The Apollo Alliance report follows Berkeley’s recent ranking as the third most sustainable city in the country in a peer reviewed study by SustainLane, a national environmental organization. Earlier this year the Green Guide ranked Berkeley the seventh greenest city in the country.
We are making great strides by working to green our economy, our homes, our city operations and our region.
First, we have worked to put “green” at the center of Berkeley’s economic development strategy. Shortly after taking office, I put together a Sustainable Business Working Group of over 100 business and organization representatives to develop a Sustainable Business Action Plan. That plan was unanimously adopted by the City Council and now serves as the backbone of our efforts.
Small businesses can get a free energy audit and a major subsidy on their energy retrofits through our partnership with Smart Lights. We have just launched a new initiative, funded through a grant from PG&E, to help our 100 largest businesses reduce their energy use and save money.
In part thanks to this collaborative work, Berkeley is now home to more than 200 green businesses and organizations—from small printing shops to international solar power firms. With dozens of green hotels, restaurants, and retail shops, Berkeley boasts one of the greenest hospitality industries in the United States. We are building on that with a new effort to green certify 20 new restaurants in our downtown by the end of the year.
We have also instituted a new “sustainable development” fee on all new building permits. This fee funds a number of important programs, including a requirement that all major new developments work with our green building experts on ways to improve the environmental performance of their buildings.
We are far from done. I plan to redouble our efforts to promote green businesses and dramatically improve our efforts to attract and retain the spin-off businesses from UC Berkeley and the Berkeley National Laboratory.
Second, we are working to help people green their homes. Homeowners have a number of programs available to them to help cut their energy costs, including free home energy retrofits as part of a city partnership with Community Youth Energy Services. (This program is available during the summer and is performed in large part by local high school students who have been trained in energy conservation techniques.) Homeowners planning to renovate or expand their homes can get free expert help through our partnership with Build It Green (www.builditgreen.org).
Third, we have worked hard to green our city operations. One of my favorite programs is the innovative partnership with City CarShare that allows us to share part of our city fleet of hybrid cars with the community. That program, which was named one of the most innovative in the country by the Harvard University, is saving about $150,000 a year while reducing emissions and reducing the number of cars on the road. There are many more examples—from our requirement that all new city buildings be built to a high green standard to our use of biodiesel for the city fleet. With innovative green programs like these, we have reduced municipal greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent—double of the 7 percent goal in the Kyoto Protocol.
Lastly, Berkeley has taken the lead among our neighboring cities by creating a regional greenhouse gas reduction partnership. During my term as president of the Alameda County Conference of Mayors, I spearheaded the formation of the Alameda County Climate Protection Initiative. As part of the initiative, 10 cities with a combined population of more than a million people have now agreed to do full emissions inventories, set reduction targets, and adopt plans to meet those targets. This program, which is run in partnership with ICLEI—Local Governments for Sustainability, has already been cited as a national model that other regions are looking to follow.
In November, we are asking the voters of Berkeley to take all of our efforts a big step further by passing Measure G which would set aggressive targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and launch a year-long community process to create a plan to meet those targets. Berkeley would become the first city in the nation to pass such a measure and it would place us firmly in the lead among cities working to reduce emissions and improve air quality.
Working together over the past few years we have made significant progress to protect our environment. I am running for re-election to ensure we continue to make Berkeley as green as it can be.
Tom Bates is the mayor of Berkeley. Previously he served for 20 years in the state Assembly representing the East Bay.