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City Rebuts Chronicle’s Climate Plan Article

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday April 23, 2009 - 07:08:00 PM

While Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and City Manager Phil Kamlarz were hitting back swiftly against a recent San Francisco Chronicle article that the officials say mischaracterized the city’s proposed Climate Action Plan (CAP), Councilmember Linda Maio, a veteran Bates ally on the council, was indicating that some of the Chronicle’s concerns may have actually been prompted by suggestive language in the plan itself. 

The City Council took its first look at the most recent draft of the CAP at Tuesday night’s regular meeting.  

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.” 

The article prompted a flurry of letters to councilmembers, the mayor, and the Daily Planet from Berkeley homeowners concerned that the estimated cost that was characterized as the CAP’s “mandates” could price them out of their homes. (See Page 11.) 

In a letter to the Chronicle 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.” The full text of Kamlarz’s letter is online at 

But during Tuesday night’s council debate on the proposed Climate Action Plan, Councilmember Maio suggested replacing language in the CAP that could be construed as authorizing expensive homeowner energy-saving mandates. 

At issue were three separate lines in the CAP that suggested such mandates as a possible alternative city strategy. 

In one section, the CAP said that to reach targeted energy efficiency residence goals, the city “could set a date by which all residential buildings must be in compliance with local energy standards.” In another, the CAP suggested one “implementing action” for home energy efficiency was “establishing a date certain by which all residential units must adhere to the standard.” Another “implementing action” said the efficiency standard could be reached “by establishing a date certain by which all [residential] units must adhere to the standard.” 

While none of these suggestions would be legally binding even if they were included in a finally passed CAP, and they could go in effect only if future City Councils passed measures to implement them, the CAP is intended as a guideline for city action, and inclusion of such mandates opens the door for their possible implementation. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilmember Kriss Worthington called the provisions “clumsy wording,” and Maio offered revisions taking out the mentions of residential mandates and substituting non-mandated goals and benchmarks. 

“We went back over the last couple of days and looked over the plan itself,” Maio said, “and some of the provisions were pieced together because the newspaper needed a headline … [but the article’s publication] gave us the chance to clarify the language, and that’s a good thing.”