K.J. goes green

Mayor focused on clean-energy jobs

Mayor Kevin Johnson will introduce his new green team later this month.

Mayor Kevin Johnson will introduce his new green team later this month.


Mayor Kevin Johnson is getting ready to roll out details of his new “green initiative,” and while the details are scarce, supporters hope he can bring some new energy and attention to the city’s green agenda.

On May 18, Johnson is expected to announce the formation of the mayor’s green task force—including local notables from the business, development, academic and environmental communities.

It looks like the green initiative will come with all the pomp and packaging that marked Johnson’s earlier initiatives. (Think of the “Sacramento First” arena task force, or the “Unlocking the Grid” process for redeveloping K Street.) In fact, the mayor’s already been trying out some branding possibilities.

“Can we transform Sacramento into the Emerald Valley, the greenest region in the country?” Johnson asked at a recent city council meeting. Similarly, the mayor’s special assistant, former journalist R.E. Graswich, put together a short YouTube video on the green initiative, which he signed off with the words, “Green ideas, personal involvement and new jobs. That’s the green wave in the Emerald Valley.”

Sure, that kind of sloganeering can make you wince, but a little of the K.J. showbiz may be what Sacramento needs in this area. “From what I’ve heard, I’m very excited,” said Panama Bartholomy, who is a serious policy guy, a city planning commissioner and an adviser to the California Energy Commission.

Bartholomy sees Sacramento as being in a unique position to develop as a “second-generation green” city.

“There’s a saying: The pioneers get the arrows and the settlers get the land,” Bartholomy noted. Sacramento is probably more of a settler than a pioneer—part of a new wave of cities that now see green jobs and energy efficiency as a way to goose the local economy.

And Johnson’s selection of “green” as his single new initiative for the year underscores support that’s been building in City Hall and in the business community. (See “Sacramentans lobby for more federal money” by Jeff vonKaenel, SN&R Greenlight, in the Related Stories box above.)

And several significant new initiatives are already underway by the city and county.

Both started work late last month on a joint “green building” task force. Over the next year, that group will write rules setting energy-efficiency standards in buildings, and explore local incentives for environmentally friendly design.

And just last week, city staff held the first public meetings on the city’s climate action plan, which will generate ideas on how the local community can cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

Perhaps the biggest environmental initiative happening in the region is the summer arrival of the CaliforniaFirst program. Sacramento and Yolo counties are among the first to implement the state initiative, which will help local homeowners make improvements—like new windows, insulation, even solar panels—and cut their energy costs by at least 10 percent every year.

“The hope is that we can remove the big barrier to energy efficiency, which is the high upfront cost,” said Cliff Staton, vice president of marketing for Renewable Funding, the nonprofit organization that is administering the program, which uses a unique financing mechanism—different than the typical loan.

Applicants will instead opt in to a countywide “assessment district” and have the cost of their energy-efficiency improvements spread out over 20 years and added directly to their property-tax bill. The bill stays with the property, not the property owner. So, if you decide to sell your house, the new homeowner takes over the costs. The hope is that these assessments will be more appealing to consumers than large loans, or high out-of-pocket costs.

“This has the potential to transform the market,” said Staton, who added that most homeowners who have been current on their mortgage and tax payments, and who don’t owe more on their property than it’s worth, are likely to qualify for CaliforniaFirst.

These are just some of the programs that are likely end up under the mayor’s green umbrella. One city staffer told SN&R that the city would be pursuing most of these policies with or without Johnson’s green initiative, but that his support “could be a game changer.”

Bartholomy agreed. “The beauty is that this mayor can bring a lot of needed energy and excitement. If done right, this could be an amazing opportunity.”