Climate Action Plan: Chronicle Got it Wrong, Say Berkeley Officials

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday April 21, 2009 - 10:50:00 AM

Berkeley city officials are hitting back swiftly against a recent San Francisco Chronicle article which the officials say “mischaracterized” the city’s proposed Climate Action Plan (CAP). 

The CAP is an ambitious plan to meet the goal—established by Berkeley’s 2006 Berkeley Measure G—of reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. The plan sets recommendations for action in three specific areas: sustainable transportation and land use, energy use in buildings, and waste reduction and recycling. 

The City Council is scheduled to take its first look at the CAP at tonight’s regular meeting at 7 p.m. at Old City Hall in downtown Berkeley. If the council recommends moving forward with the CAP, the plan will go through an environmental review process under the California Environmental Quality Act and will come back to the council for final approval May 19. 

On Saturday, April 18, the San Francisco Chronicle printed a front-page story on the council’s upcoming CAP debate, saying that energy standards upgrades mandated by the plan could cost individual Berkeley homeowners “upward of $33,800.” 

“Within the next few years,” the Chronicle article said, “the city is likely to mandate that all homes meet strict energy standards. In many cases this would mean new double-paned windows, insulation in the attic, walls and floors, a new white roof that reflects heat, a forced-air furnace and high-efficiency appliances.” 

In a letter to the editor released to the public Sunday, April 19, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates took issue with the article’s contention that Berkeley homeowners “would be forced to do extensive energy retrofit work on their homes. While it is true that Berkeley does require energy audits at the time of sale or when extensive remodeling takes place, and requires wrapping water heaters and caulking windows and doors,” the mayor wrote, “no one is required to do expensive work. It is usually in people's best economic interest to make these upgrades to their home, and they are quickly paid back through energy savings. Berkeley has required these energy audits since 1989 and is now considering upgrading the requirements of the audit. It will also establish strong green building standards for new construction.” 

In a letter sent Monday to Mayor Bates and members of the Berkeley City Council, City Manager Phil Kamlarz said that, contrary to the Chronicle article’s contention, the Climate Action Plan contains no mandates, only energy efficiency goals, with the details “to be developed through a collaborative process with the community and subject, ultimately, to the City Council’s review and consideration.”  

Kamlarz said that the Chronicle’s report of mandated homeowner costs of upwards of $33,800 to meet the city’s energy standards was “false,” saying that such a cost would “contradict one of the fundamental goals of the CAP—to lower the cost of energy upgrades in homes and businesses.” 

“In the beginning,” the Chronicle article said, “the city will offer incentives, such as rebates and financial assistance, for homeowners to comply. But within a few years, the city will start imposing penalties for those who don't meet the standards, said Timothy Burroughs, the city's climate action coordinator.” 

In his letter to Bates and the council, Kamlarz said that it was “inaccurate” for the article to say that “the city would start imposing penalties within a few years for those who do not meet the energy standard.” Kamlarz said “the CAP does not recommend imposing penalties,” but, instead, “emphasizes the need for incentives to encourage the installation of these types of improvements.” 

Kamlarz also wrote that the Chronicle’s claim that compliance with the city’s energy standard would require extensive home renovations was “misleading.” “While staff may recommend some types of cost-effective energy efficiency improvements,” the city manager said, “those will not include replacement of roofs or single-pane windows that are not otherwise being replaced, as that would not be a cost-effective improvement.”