Green Chico

Sustainability Task Force takes off

Six months after its whirlwind creation, the city of Chico’s Sustainability Task Force has made headway toward making the city a more sustainable place to live and work.

Authorized in October 2006, when the City Council voted, 4-3, to sign onto the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, the 15-person task force has been striving to fulfill its purpose of studying local climate-change issues and suggesting possible courses of action.

Just two weeks before the November election, the agreement passed by a controversial 4-3 vote, with Councilmen Dan Herbert, Steve Bertagna and Larry Wahl opposed, despite the exhortations of people who had packed City Council chambers to support the agreement. Herbert was then running for re-election, and Bertagna was running for a seat on the county Board of Supervisors, and the proposal put them on the spot. Balking, they charged that they did not have ample time to make an informed decision, but then-Mayor Scott Gruendl pushed for the city’s approval of the agreement so it could be signed at the Chico State Sustainability Conference two weeks later.

Herbert and Bertagna both lost.

Despite the controversy surrounding the vote, the signing of the agreement and subsequent creation of the Sustainability Task Force has been a forward movement for the city of Chico and a step in the right direction for making Chico a greener city, Vice Mayor and task force Chairwoman Ann Schwab said during a recent interview.

Schwab, along with Gruendl, was a driving force behind the signing of the agreement, which requires that Chico strive to meet or beat the targets of the Kyoto Protocol by reducing greenhouse-gas production 7 percent by 2012.

The urgency with which the agreement was passed reflects the urgency of global warming, Schwab said, noting that 2012 is only five years away.

The committee, consisting of seven permanent seats and eight at-large positions, started meeting at the end of March. Each current councilmember nominated a permanent member to the committee, with Mayor Andy Holcombe selecting the eight remaining at-large members.

The greatest strength of the committee, Schwab says, is its diversity of members. They include Ken Grossman, owner of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Tom DiGiovanni of New Urban Builders, and Scott McNall, provost of Chico State University. Also on the committee are weatherman Anthony Watts, Building Industry Association head Jason Bougie, Habitat for Humanity Director Tami Ritter, and Planning Commission Chairman Jon Luvaas, among others.

“We have members representing such a wide array of the community,” says Schwab. “We really have no weaknesses—just a lot of enthusiasm.”

Since its inception, the committee has “reviewed what has happened in other cities” concerning sustainability, particularly Portland, Ore., and San Diego. With this knowledge, the group then inventoried Chico’s own progress toward sustainability and meeting the goals of the agreement.

Speaking at the Chico Women’s Club on Thursday, May 24, Schwab detailed the projects currently going on in the city that promote sustainability. She highlighted the solar array at the city’s wastewater treatment plant, implementation of solar panels on bus stops and on the downtown parking garage, and the new CSUC Student Services Center, which when completed will be the first certified green building north of Sacramento.

The creation of the Sustainability Task Force also is a key step toward sustainability, Schwab said.

Now the task force is collecting more quantifiable data, especially concerning energy use. At its May 29 meeting, members considered a recommendation that the city audit its energy use. It came from Johnson Controls, a company that assesses energy use and then helps to implement changes to reduce that use. The formal recommendation for this audit will likely be decided during one of the committee’s next two meetings, Schwab said.

In the immediate future, the task force will form a working group to outline its long- and short-term goals for the city and request specific action. Any action suggested by the task force requires approval and financial appropriation from the City Council.

Schwab says the committee has spent necessary time on analyzing the city’s sustainability, but now she is eager to move forward.

“We have an overview of where we are,” she said. “Now it’s time to get started.”