City Council to Consider Climate Action Plan Tuesday

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday April 17, 2009 - 09:37:00 PM

Creation of Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan heads into its final phase Tuesday night when the City Council will consider whether to send the 139-page document for environmental review. 

The council will also hold public hearings on applications for state and federal funding for community agencies and for a neighborhood stabilization program to address home foreclosures. 

The City Council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 21, at Old City Hall on Martin Luther King Way in downtown Berkeley. 

Passage of the draft Climate Action Plan (CAP) by the council would not mean final approval of the plan itself, but is necessary in order for the draft plan to begin the environmental review process under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The council is tentatively scheduled to consider the final version of the CAP—once the environmental review process is complete—at the council’s May 19 meeting. 

And even if council passes the plan, expenditures to implement it—expenditures which are not already in the city’s budgeted mandates—will have to come back to the council for individual budget votes. 

Few have taken issue with the CAP’s targeted goal of an 80 percent reduction in the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. But the details of the plan’s implementation have been the subject of much debate. 

“I support most of this plan,” first-term Councilmember Jesse Arreguín told the Daily Planet. “But the land-use section is controversial. I’m concerned about its vagueness. If that section was taken out, I don’t think there would be any objection to the overall plan.” 

The genesis of the CAP was Measure G, passed by Berkeley voters in November 2006 by an 81-19 margin, which set the 2050 goal. The CAP was then developed by city officials to provide detailed plans through the year 2020 to get the city on track for 2050. The version of the CAP to be considered by the City Council Tuesday night is the third version. The second version of the plan was reviewed by the council in September 2008, and by the Planning Commission the following month. 

The third draft of the CAP, which is available online at http://www.berkeleyclimateaction.org/docManager/1000000251/BCAP_April%2009.pdf, sets recommendations for action in three specific areas: sustainable transportation and land-use, energy use in buildings, and waste reduction and recycling. 

Councilmember Arreguín says it is the land-use portion that concerns him. 

“Basically, the proposals make it easier for buildings of more substantial height to be built throughout the city,” Arreguín said. “In some of the areas of the city, such as the downtown area, that makes sense. But the plan only talks about this from a broad perspective, and it doesn’t measure the potential impacts of high-rises in all instances.” 

Arreguín said that one of those potential impacts, brought to his attention by a citizen at a recent meeting, concerns the possibility that building high-rises that throw shadows over single-story dwellings could then prevent those smaller dwellings from installing solar panels, thus increasing, rather than lowering, the overall carbon footprint in that area. 

Calling this one of the unintended consequences of some of the recommendations in the current version of the CAP, Councilmember Arregúin said, “I hadn’t thought about that one before until it was brought to my attention.” 

Arreguín said that he was afraid that “while the CAP is an exciting opportunity for the city to exert our leadership in environmental preservation,” some of the provisions of the CAP “might be used in a way that would have a detrimental environmental and quality-of-life effect.” 

Another critic of a portion of the plan is Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who says that a potential source of revenue to fund many of the plan’s ambitious goals is being put on the back burner. 

The CAP sets out its various goals in three separate categories: long-term, medium-range, and immediate. And in fact, City Manager Phil Kamlarz has already identified $3.5 million in proposed budgeted city funds for the CAP’s “immediate goals” that Kamlarz says he will recommend for council approval in the upcoming budget process. 

Worthington says one of the plan’s goals is to set up a service fee that developers must pay to account for transportation impacts of proposed developments. Worthington says this proposed fee, which Berkeley does not currently have but which is the policy of several other Bay Area cities, was moved in the various CAP drafts from long-range to medium-range, but he wants it made an immediate goal. 

“Many of the things we’re looking to do in the Climate Action Plan, we’re already asking where the money is going to come from,” Worthington said. “If we create this transportation service fee fund, the money will be there. It’s a potentially large source of revenue.” 

Worthington also said he wants the plan to be more specific about implementation for an Eco-Pass system, which provides free bus passes for workers. Berkeley already has such a plan for its own city workers; Worthington says the draft Climate Action Plan speaks vaguely about putting in place such a plan for all Berkeley residents. Worthington says that would be cost-prohibitive, but a more realistic plan would be for the plan to call for Eco-Passes for all workers in downtown Berkeley and along the Telegraph Avenue corridor. “This would allow the Eco-Pass proposal to be included in the overall Alameda County corridor plans for those areas,” Worthington said, “and would make the proposal eligible for county, state, and federal funding.” 


Public hearings 

In other significant action scheduled for Tuesday’s meeting, the council will hold public hearings on funding applications. 

These are: 

• $177,335 in Neighborhood Stablilization Program (NSP) funding through the State of California. NSP funds are available to solve the problem of abandoned and foreclosed homes. Included activities in the proposal will be establishing finance mechanisms for purchase and redevelopment of foreclosed homes and residential properties, outright purchase and resale of abandoned or foreclosed homes, demolition of blighted structures, and redevelopment of demolished or vacant properties. Because the state has set up a $1 million minimum for application funding, Berkeley is proposing bundling its application with five other Alameda County cities: Alameda, Fremont, Livermore, San Leandro, and Union City. 

• Allocations of funds for the city’s community agencies through Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), Emergency Shelter Grant (ESG), and Home Investment Partnerships (HOME) Program Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) operating programs. $3.3 million is available from CDBG, $142,897 for homeless services and facilities through ESG, and approximately $1.2 million is available through HOME funds. Proposals from the city’s 69 community agencies were submitted to city staff late last year, with reviews of those proposals (including oral presentations and site visits) taking place between January and March.