Challenge met, work continues
Conservation campaign wraps as environmental fellow passes baton
Last fall, after welcoming a new ally to City Hall, Chico’s Sustainability Task Force convened to bandy suggestions for getting residents energized about climate action.
The newcomer, Bryce Goldstein, had graduated recently from Humboldt State and came to the city as a CivicSpark fellow: one of 68 environmental specialists paid by AmeriCorps to spend a year helping local governments statewide implement eco-oriented projects.
Goldstein played a significant part in brainstorming that led to the Million Watt Challenge, a campaign through which the city called on homeowners and businesses to cut electricity use.
Both the goal and timeframe had vagaries. The task force chose 1 million watts because that number was both round and attainable, though group member Cheri Chastain said last Monday (Aug. 28) she felt “we set the bar too low.” Brendan Vieg of the Community Development Department, city staff’s liaison to the task force, told the CN&R in May—ahead of home-energy workshops—that the city hoped to achieve the savings by the end of 2017 but had not set a firm deadline.
Goldstein concludes her fellowship Friday (Sept. 8), so she’s tying up loose ends, such as compiling results to date for the Million Watt Challenge.
How’s Chico doing?
By the end of August, Chicoans had reduced use of electricity by over 1.6 million watts since the start of the year. That figure includes city projects as well as residences and businesses, but not Chico State, which is independent of the challenge. Also not factored in: solar installations at 445 residences and 10 businesses this year.
“A lot of those [municipal] projects have been in progress since the beginning of my term with the city, so I can’t attribute it all to myself or anything,” Goldstein said. “But that’s pretty great; the community has definitely done a lot to become more energy-efficient.”
Chastain says “Bryce is being modest” when minimizing her contribution. The task force benefited from fresh perspectives brought by Goldstein, who not only could draw on her academic background in environmental science and resources from the CivicSpark program but also knowledge of the North State, as she hails from Redding.
“Bryce laid a foundation, and she’s started the conversations with everybody in the community,” Chastian said. “And she created a face and a sense of visibility for the work that our task force has done.”
Looking at Goldstein’s contributions in the most tangible sense, “she brought time,” Chastain said. Task force members have full-time jobs—Chastain, for instance, is sustainability manager at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.—so having a person at City Hall dedicated to implementing their ideas yielded dividends.
The city now has a sustainability website (chicosustainability.org) and Facebook page (Facebook.com/SustainableChico) “populated with content and information that none of us really had the time to focus on.” Goldstein also helped organize the Sustainable Business Expo held in May.
She spent the bulk of her energy on the Million Watt Challenge, however. Goldstein reached out to the general public at Chico events such as Thursday Night Market; the homeowner workshops co-sponsored by North Valley Energy Watch and the Butte Environmental Council, nonprofits that put together tool-and-testing kits available through the Chico library; and meetings with business leaders.
Goldstein said “it’s definitely gratifying” that Chicoans surpassed the million-watt mark. “We knew we’d reach our goal, in part because we were building on the city’s projects that were already happening, but we knew there was this momentum—this number was out there in the community.”
Chastain, somewhat pleased, sees room for improvement.
“Yes, we met our challenge, and yes, we blew it out of the water, but I feel like we didn’t really reach as many people as we wanted to reach,” she said. “We met our goal because of a couple large accounts, like Sierra Nevada and the city of Chico.”
The city made the largest dent, cutting 563,000 watts by switching to LED bulbs for buildings and streetlights.
Continued Chastain: “I’m slightly disappointed that we didn’t have more residents acting on this, more residents participating, and we weren’t able to come up with this large sense of community that we were trying to accomplish.”
One reason, in Chastain’s view, is “there was nothing really on the line—we weren’t competing against anybody, and it’s kind of human nature to want to compete.” The city did offer prizes to workshop participants and survey-takers at the sustainability site. But, in the end, “it’s really hard to reach people”—and, as Goldstein pointed out, the program is voluntary.
“I didn’t realize how large of a disconnect there is between the knowledge I was gaining in college and what the average person knows about energy and climate,” she said. “Getting at least a little bit of awareness out there in the community—that these topics are not scary, they’re approachable, you don’t even have to believe in climate change to want to save energy [because] saving energy improves community health and saves money—framing all these issues is really important.”
CivicSpark’s impact on Chico will continue beyond Goldstein: She has a successor.
Molly Marcussen, a recent graduate of Chico State, began her CivicSpark fellowship this week, transitioning into City Hall as Goldstein transitions out. The two met in one of Marcussen’s classes last fall—Community Service Practice in Geography, taught by Sustainability Task Force chair Mark Stemen—but otherwise have not worked together.
Marcussen will split her time between city and county projects, focusing on climate adaptation and resiliency preparedness. She’ll compile data and projections related to extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Harvey, to assist the Chico City Council and Butte County Board of Supervisors in considering action plans.
“The climate we’ve had for the last 100 years is changing, and we’ve built all this infrastructure and our agriculture and our waterways based on the past,” she said. “What didn’t flood 100 years ago [could] flood now.
“We’re seeing Houston with an 800-year [occurrence] flood event—things like that are going to be happening.”
Whether a disaster or an incremental shift, impacts will ripple to influence food supply and health, she said. Those are just two examples she’ll bring forth to local government officials, with quantifiable explanations. Her work will help the city and county determine “how we plan for it; this is how we can mitigate and adapt to these changes.”
Even after ceding her desk to Marcussen, Goldstein will remain in Chico for a while—longer if she lands a job. Whatever the future holds, she reflects with satisfaction on the number of people who’ve come up to her saying they implemented an energy-efficiency tip they learned from her booth or a workshop.
“People telling me they’ve had successes, even with little things, is pretty cool.”