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Sustainable Berkeley Contract Questioned

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday February 20, 2007

Next week is Timothy Burroughs’ last week as program officer for a nonprofit that works with cities to address global warming. March 5 will be his first day with Sustainable Berkeley, a collaboration among the city, university, nonprofits and business groups aimed at “keep[ing] Berkeley a national environmental leader.” 

While the City Council is not slated to vote on the $100,000 to fund the project until Feb. 27, the Sustainable Berkeley steering committee has already hired Burroughs, a program officer for ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, now known by its initials) for two years. 


Community concerns 

On Feb. 27, the council will be asked to approve a sole-source contract—one with no competitive bidding—with Sustainable Berkeley. Details of what is to be expected will come later.  

“Was this grant open to competitive bidding? If not, why not? If so, who were the other applicants, what were their qualifications, and why was SB chosen?” asked community watchdog Sharon Hudson in a Feb. 18 letter to the mayor and City Council. 

One could also ask why Burroughs was tapped by mayoral aide Cisco DeVries for the position, which was apparently was not open to others. While city of Berkeley employees’ salary ranges are posted on the Internet, Burroughs’ salary is not public and he declined to divulge the salary he was offered. 

Few contest Mayor Tom Bates’ commitment to the environment—his role as assemblymember in creating the Eastshore State Park along Berkeley’s shoreline is well known, and more recently, the mayor has focused his attention on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, known to affect global warming.  

But that’s not enough, said Councilmember Dona Spring. “This seems to be a vehicle for Tom to have another private task force, like his health group.” (In addition to the Health Commis-sion, Bates has his own health task force.) “Now he’s got some real dollars, but no budget and not a clear explanation about what this group’s about,” Spring said. 

Councilmember Kriss Worth-ington said Sustainable Berkeley meetings should be noticed to the public just as city commissions are. 


Burroughs responds 

In an interview Monday, in response to criticisms that Sustainable Berkeley would shut out the community, Burroughs said, “The reason [the position] is housed in Sustainable Berkeley is to address those concerns. We will make the process as inclusive as possible.”  

He added, “I think most of the meetings will be open to the public.”  

Councilmember Betty Olds told the Planet that, while she knows little about Sustainable Berkeley, she questioned why the city needs another plan at all with others on shelves collecting dust. “What bothers me [about the proposal to write a plan] is that there is so much talk,” she said, arguing that what is needed is action. 

Burroughs, whose expertise includes both community involvement and the technical side of global warming, said he understands that concern, but one needs a cost-benefit analysis to evaluuate what elements of emission reduction the city should tackle first. Burroughs said at this point he does not know how much money the city has to implement the plan he will spend almost a year writing. 


Bates Supports People’s Will 

In his public statements, Bates says he is following the will of the people in putting forward this initiative: the Berkeley electorate went to the polls in November and voted by 81 percent to set a community goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. More specifically, the measure was to “advise the mayor to work with the community to develop a plan for council adoption in 2007, which sets a ten year emissions reduction target.”  

“The ballot measure was advisory, but I will act as though it is legally binding,” Bates said in his Feb. 13 state of the city address  

Also at the Feb. 13 meeting, the city manager made a number of recommendations on how to spend $3.3 million in above-anticipated revenues. Some councilmembers demanded details: Councilmember Linda Maio asked to see a plan before she approved the $500,000 recommended for economic development and Councilmember Laurie Capitelli said he did not want to commit new funds to Telegraph Avenue until he saw a report on how city funds had been expended in the area. 

The council was silent at that time around the $100,000 recommended for Sustainable Berkeley.  


Sustainable Berkeley Explained 

The funds will not go directly to Sustainable Berkeley, which is not a nonprofit corporation. 

They will go to the group’s fiscal sponsor, the Community Energy Services Corporation, a nonprofit created by the city, whose board of directors is the city’s Energy Commission. The CESC will charge a fee as the fiscal agent for the project. 

When the Daily Planet first looked at the steering committee Friday morning, there were 10 members, but by the afternoon, there were eight. One member is a CESC representative, two are from UC Berkeley—one from the business school and one from Capital Projects—and there are one each from the Ecology center, Teleosis, a “green” healthcare agency and Livable Berkeley. Another is described on the website as a “trancendentist,” and a former employee of the city’s Division of Energy and Sustainable Development, now turned consultant, is also on the steering committee.  

There had been two steering committee members who still work in the Energy Division, but after a reporter made requests for previous Sustainable Berkeley contracts and follow-up documents, both city employees stepped down from the steering committee and their names disappeared from the Sustainable Berkeley web site. According to Billi Romain of the City’s Energy and Sustainability division, she and the other city employee in the division, Jennifer Cogley, decided that they should resign, given that it could appear a conflict for them to serve on the steering committee. 

In fact, Romain told the Daily Planet, oversight for contracts to Sustainable Berkeley is in the hands of the Energy division. Romain is the person who verifies execution of the contracts. 

Sustainable Berkeley’s first contract with the city was approved by the City Council July 18, 2006. The $133,000 Sustainable Berkeley contract established the entity described in a staff report written by Housing Director Steve Barton, as “a multi-stakeholder partnership between the city, business, civic and education institutions…[to leverage] resources and improve coordination among Berkeley’s sustainability efforts, and to implement the [2004] Sustainable Business Action Plan.”  

The July single source contract to Sustainable Berkeley was accompanied by specific goals that include: greenhouse gas reduction goals for businesses by sectors, an outreach and marketing plan, linking 100 businesses to food waste recycling services, creating “stakeholder coordinating councils,” and “Develop[ing] a five-year strategic plan that draws upon the mayor’s sustainability working group’s Action Plan and existing resources.” 

Asked for documentation showing whether Sustainable Berkeley had met its goals, Romain said, in actuality, the contract had not been signed until November and that there were a few invoices, but no actual report on the goals. She said it is not unusual for a contract to begin execution several months after its original approval. 

Another question Hudson had asked in her Feb. 18 letter was: “Why cannot our green plan be researched and written by our own city staff under the direction of existing city commissions and the council?” 

Tim Hansen, a member of the Energy Commission, answered the question when he told the Planet that the complexity of the task Sustainable Berkeley would be undertaking was beyond the scope of the work being done by the Energy Commission 

“The energy commission has a whole lot on its plate,” he said. “When things are broken down to smaller bits, the public is more willing to participate.” 

Similarly, James Kibbey, chair of the Community Environmental Advisory Commission, said it would not be wise for the commissions to take on the task of reducing greenhouse gases. “Nonprofits are more flexible” and can hire people with the expertise to write a report, he said.  

Many people are enthusiastic about the initiative, including bicycle activist Jason Meggs who in a phone message, called the initiative “very exciting” and said “I hope this will make the city a paradise for bicycling, walking and transit.” 

Meggs was among the some 30 people who came to an invitation-only Sustainable Berkeley meeting last week. (Bates’ aide Cisco DeVries, who will work 50 percent time with the initiative through the mayor’s office, said he did not have time to put out the notice of the event publicly.)  

Transportation Commissioner Rob Wrenn, initially skeptical of giving Sustainable Berkeley the contract because transportation experts are absent from the steering committee, said he was satisfied that these issues would be addressed. “I have a feeling they understand the importance of transportation.”  

Noting, however, the plans that have not been implemented, such as developer fees to fund public transportation and trip reduction, he asked, “Will the city have the political will to follow through?”