CAP and no trade
Council majority can’t wait to approve climate plan
The fault line running through the Chico City Council was evident at the panel’s meeting Tuesday (Nov. 6), when it adopted the city’s first Climate Action Plan (CAP) by a vote of 5-2.
The council members who dissented, Bob Evans and Mark Sorensen, did so not because they opposed the plan, per se, but because they wanted the council to hold off on voting to give business owners more time to study it.
As Linda Herman, General Services administrative manager, explained, state legislation mandates that the city develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gases in the urban area. Fortunately, the city recently drew up its 2030 General Plan and in doing so conformed to that legislation. The CAP is thus a companion piece to the general plan.
The plan is divided into two phases. Phase I covers the period through 2015 and describes the actions taken to reduce GHG emissions by 10 percent below the emissions level of the base year, 2005. Herman called these actions the “low-hanging fruit” that was easy to pick and quantify.
Phase II, whose goal is to reduce the base-year GHG emissions by another 15 percent in the years 2016-2020, will be more difficult to achieve, Herman said. “It’s kinda like losing weight,” she said. “The last pounds are the hardest to drop.”
The actions taken during Phase I are incentives-based and won’t have any immediate impact on local businesses. Indeed, she said, passage of the CAP will be good for many developers because it will make it easier for them to meet California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements.
Also, approval of the CAP will not give the council automatic leverage to implement more burdensome regulations during Phase II, Herman said.
Evans was nevertheless concerned that members of the business community hadn’t had sufficient time to study the plan. He asked the council to continue the hearing to its next meeting on Nov. 20.
Three members of the business community, including Roger Hart, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, also asked for more time.
But Mayor Ann Schwab, who chairs the Sustainability Task Force that oversaw creation of the plan, noted that it has been in the works for years, that the STF had held several hearings, that the Planning Commission had held a hearing, and that at least one member of the chamber board sat on the STF.
“I’m ready to take action on this plan tonight,” she said. “There are no new actions in the CAP that aren’t in the general plan.”
Councilman Scott Gruendl agreed: “We’re establishing a framework tonight; we’re not passing a law.”
Is the TRIP over? Capital Project Services Director Tom Varga had some bad news for the council. Funding from the Total Road Improvement Program (TRIP) meant to match state grant funds to widen Highway 32 east of the freeway was being held up, and the city needed to find an alternate source in a hurry or risk losing up to $10 million of the “use it or lose it” grant money.
The widening is crucial to future development, including Meriam Park, Varga said. It’s also a CEQA mitigation project in the 2030 General Plan, and its failure could put the plan at risk.
Varga said his staff had come up with an alternate construction schedule that reduced the matching funding needed this fiscal year to $1.4 million, but there was a risk that the city might have to dip into its reserves to come up with some of the money, he said.
Several of the council members said they had “sweaty palms” trying to decide whether to risk it. The decision was especially hard for Evans, whose highest priorities are restoring the reserves and fostering economic development.
“My palms are sweaty too,” he said. “I’m the one worrying about reserves, but we’ve just got to do this.”
A motion authorizing Varga to move forward passed unanimously.