By Cynthia Kaufman, Pacifica Climate Committee
On July 14, Pacifica City Council passed a weakened Climate Action Plan (CAP).
The Pacifica Climate Committee, a local citizens group working on climate change issues, lobbied the city to start working on a plan in 2009. The council appointed a task force in 2010 that worked for two years to develop the plan. After much effort, the plan has strong goals but is rather weak in what it asks the city to do.
The Pacifica Climate Committee hopes that the city will follow through and begin work to achieve the goals set out in the plan. The city should appoint a staff person in charge of implementation as promised at the council meeting, when it cut the dedicated half-time staff person that the plan originally called for. Council should take quick action on near-term measures in the plan.
The CAP calls for a 35 percent reduction in Pacifica’s greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, which is consistent with State of California targets. These are very ambitious goals. Pacifica’s plan calls for encouraging new development to be near transit, improving walking and biking infrastructure (e.g., safe routes to schools, bike lanes), setting a waste diversion goal of 75 percent away from the landfill by 2020 and zero waste by 2030, and supporting state law requiring commercial recycling. The plan also calls for improving public transit but without any specific measures.
Originally, the CAP called for residential and commercial energy efficiency ordinances that would have required sellers or buyers to make basic energy efficiency improvements to homes and commercial buildings when they were sold. This part of the plan was cut by council due to opposition primarily from real estate interests, most notably the San Mateo County Association of Realtors (SAMCAR).
While Council supported the ambitious goals set out in the CAP, it appears that that the current plan will not actually achieve those goals. In a July 14, 2014 letter to the city’s Associate Planner Lee Diaz, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) staff commented that the plan, as currently written, is not strong enough to reach those targets.
BAAQMD staff also questioned various inconsistencies in the CAP and criticized the methodology the city’s consultant used to calculate some of the projected emissions reductions. For example, staff commented, estimated reductions from adoption of a water conservation ordinance were “grossly overestimated,” and other estimates were similarly flawed.
BAAQMD staff strongly recommended (among other things) that the city should reinstate the residential and commercial energy conservation ordinances to ensure that short- and long-term goals of the CAP will be met.
In another peculiar exchange, council member Karen Ervin asked whether the city could encourage the adoption of residential solar energy by lowering solar permit fees. Planning Director George White responded that the city had investigated this and determined that Pacifica’s solar permit fee is already among the lowest in the area. But according to a study done by the Sierra Club, Pacifica’s $335 solar permit fee is the second-highest fee in San Mateo County, second only to Daly City's. Pacifica’s permit fee is well above the $257 average for Northern California cities. We hope council can be persuaded to lower solar permit fees in the future.
It will be up to the public to make sure that the city dedicates staff time needed to accomplish the actions called for by the plan so that the ambitious goals set out in the CAP are achieved.