Long-range planning

City of Chico hires former CivicSpark fellow to work with newly-created Climate Action Commission

Molly Marcussen, associate planner for the city of Chico, says extreme heat has become the city’s greatest environmental vulnerability.

Molly Marcussen, associate planner for the city of Chico, says extreme heat has become the city’s greatest environmental vulnerability.

Photo by Andre Byik

Next up:
Chico Climate Action Commission meeting, Thursday, Feb. 13, 6 p.m., City Council Chambers, 421 Main St.

Molly Marcussen found a dream job.

In December, the city of Chico hired her as an associate planner. Marcussen’s focus is on long-term growth and sustainability—things that checked her career-goal boxes of public service and environmental stewardship.

Marcussen graduated from Chico State in 2017 with a bachelor’s in social science and a focus in environmental planning. She went on to become a CivicSpark Climate Fellow—part of the Governor’s Initiative AmeriCorps program to help local agencies address climate change—working for both the city of Chico and Butte County before landing a planning position with the city of Corning.

Currently, she’s a staff member assigned to Chico’s newly formed Climate Action Commission, which held its first meeting in January. Its focus over the next 14 months will be overseeing an update to the city’s Climate Action Plan, which is being developed in coordination with a consulting firm.

Marcussen’s position with the city is relatively rare.

“I’m one of the first long-range planners that they’ve had on staff besides the deputy director,” she said. “I don’t hear [about] a lot of long-range sustainability planning positions in the North State in general, so I’m definitely grateful for this opportunity.

Marcussen recently sat down with the CN&R to discuss the work she’ll be doing with the city and the Climate Action Commission. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

What are your day-to-day duties?

A lot of my main focus is the Climate Action Plan. Right now, I’m working in a project manager capacity, making sure that [Sacramento-based Rincon Consultants] has the documents it needs, meeting with other city departments, conducting informational interviews. Seeing what staff is doing in its departments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Do city departments understand the need to control greenhouse gas emissions?

Definitely. City staff is all on the same page. Climate change is real and we need to do something about it. That’s something really fortunate about working here. Everyone is on that same page and understanding. There’s not a lot of climate denying in city of Chico government.

What is the Climate Action Commission’s role?

Previously, we had the Sustainability Task Force, whose members were a lot more hands on. They really helped the city and the person who was writing the Climate Action Plan at that time. This is going to be a little different. Commissioners are not actually writing the Climate Action Plan—they’re implementing it. The commission’s role is to 1) help the consultants understand what Chico wants to see in our Climate Action Plan, and 2) review the measures and prepare them for recommendation to the City Council. They’re the voice of the community.

How will the Climate Action Plan inform the city going forward?

It really is supposed to guide the city in meeting reduction efforts. What is said in the plan, the city essentially needs to carry out. So, when reviewing development proposals, we’re going to make sure what’s proposed is in line with our general plan and Climate Action Plan. We’re developing this per California state standards, and whether the commission or council chooses to go beyond that is up to them.

What was included in your climate risk/vulnerability assessment for the city of Chico when you were a CivicSpark fellow?

The assessment included looking at, What are future climate projections going to be? So, What is the weather going to be like in 2050? Heat, flooding, fire and snow. And we used Cal-Adapt to model those projections. It’s an amazing tool that is able to create climate projections through 2100.

Did you draw any conclusions?

It’s going to be really hot. (Laughs.) Knowing our vulnerabilities is going to help to better understand what we need to mitigate, and how we can mitigate and adapt at the same time. There’s a lot of strategies. Tree planting, for instance. Tree planting is going to make it cooler, but also it’s going to suck in that carbon dioxide. So you’re mitigating and adapting at the same time. Our main vulnerability is extreme heat. We also have flooding issues. A lot of it happens just outside the city limits. What Cal-Adapt is predicting is we’re going to have years when we don’t get any rain, and then we’ll have years when we’ll get a ton of rain in 30 days. That’s where we’re going to experience that flooding. The rain doesn’t have a chance to percolate back into the ground.

What else should the public know about the commission?

I just want to emphasize that this is a new commission, and a new process. City staff is figuring this out with our commissioners and how this is going to work and be sustained. There’s a lot of work for the commission to do, but there will be even more work once we actually have a plan to implement. And I’m really excited to get to that point.