Seizing the moment

Two council members introduce sweeping plan to address climate change.

Chico Vice Mayor Alex Brown, pictured, and Councilman Karl Ory have authored the Chico Green New Deal, a policy framework meant to guide the city in the coming decades.

Chico Vice Mayor Alex Brown, pictured, and Councilman Karl Ory have authored the Chico Green New Deal, a policy framework meant to guide the city in the coming decades.

Photo by Andre Byik

Chico Vice Mayor Alex Brown and City Councilman Karl Ory believe they are seizing a moment to cement the city as a regional model for tackling climate change, which they called a life-threatening crisis that could manifest locally in increasing flood and wildfire danger.

On Tuesday (Oct. 29), the pair spoke with the CN&R days ahead of unveiling their proposed Chico Green New Deal, a sweeping plan meant to guide city policies addressing climate change, housing, economic development and the local food supply. (A press conference is planned for 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 31, at the Our Hands sculpture outside City Hall.)

The document lays out three main goals: powering the city’s grid with 100 percent “clean electricity” by 2030, getting the city to climate neutrality by 2045, and instituting policies and actions for reaching those marks by 2026.

Following the Camp Fire, which Brown said was exacerbated by a changing climate, people are watching how Chico responds to the disaster.

“We have the opportunity in this moment to model for the North State,” Brown told the CN&R. “Model for semi-rural communities—or for rural communities—what participating on a local level in a global movement actually looks like.”

The 14-page document authored by Brown, a first-term councilwoman, and Ory, who served as Chico’s mayor in the 1980s, outlines seven policy areas of focus. Among them are creating local “green” jobs, developing affordable housing, rethinking water and waste management, and transitioning to a more sustainable transportation system.

For example, the plan proposes moving the city’s vehicle fleet to 100 percent electric where possible by 2030, treating wastewater to be recirculated into the city for use in greenways and other areas, and continuing to commit to the city’s 2030 general plan by promoting accessory dwelling units and other infill development, including denser and taller housing, and mixed-use development downtown.

Additionally, the plan calls for leveraging existing public-private partnerships—such as Team Chico—and the city’s relationship with local colleges to build a “green workforce” that can bolster the local economy while addressing climate action through the lens of business and economic development. It’s also important, Brown said, to serve low-income households through information outreach efforts and cost-saving initiatives.

Much like the Green New Deal proposed by leaders at the nation’s capital, the Chico Green New Deal is ambitious.

“This is not a wish list,” the plan reads. “It is a policy direction that is both bold and feasible. The Chico Green New Deal will help lay a path forward—for a better, brighter and greener future for all of us.”

It includes long-term goals, Brown said, that won’t be realized while she and Ory are in office.

“But the commitment that we have made is that by the end of the year 2026 there will at least be a plan for each of these items in place so that the next generation of leaders in our community can carry that legacy forward,” she said. “But many of these things are achievable in the time frame that we’ll be in office, so we’re going to be hard at work to bring some of those proposals forward.”

The Chico Green New Deal, which shares its name and tenets with legislation proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, is among several climate-related policies the city has taken on in the past year. In April, the City Council approved a proclamation of a climate emergency. Last month, the panel voted to create a Climate Action Commission. The council has begun the recruitment and appointment process for that commission, Ory said. The local Green New Deal document, he added, could also serve to inform various city commissions of the council’s priorities and spur community discussion.

“This adds to the ammunition we have—to the resources we have to go forward,” Ory told the CN&R. “What happens often is the disconnect between [commissioners] and the council after they’re appointed. You don’t have joint meetings. There’s … little opportunity to engage the Airport Commission or the Planning Commission.”

Ory said he believes a majority of the council will support the goals outlined and provide feedback to institute specific policy prescriptions.

“Part of the strength is its comprehensiveness,” he said. “And I think that it will get strengthened over time so that we’re not doing a piecemeal operation.”

There are aspects of the Chico Green New Deal that Brown says will not be easy to accomplish, nor will they be inexpensive. The vice mayor noted as an example the proposed additional treatment of the city’s wastewater to pump it back into the community for re-use. But the city can begin to take financial steps and identify infrastructure placement in the short term.

Some proposals may be unpopular with city residents, the vice mayor acknowledged. As an example, she noted the city’s partnership with the county to develop a community choice aggregation (CCA), which gives local governments the power to purchase and sell energy based on their residents’ needs. As part of that effort, the Chico Green New Deal proposes automatically enrolling customers into a “higher clean energy portfolio,” with the option to opt out rather than hoping residents opt in.

“You make it easier for people to do the right thing that is going to help you achieve your goals,” Brown said, adding, “I ran for office because I believe in culture change, and I think that the city of Chico has a unique opportunity right now to take this value of sustainability and climate action and really allow it to be embedded into our existing infrastructure—in our communications with the city of Chico and its residents.”