[Please note: I have submitted this document on behalf of the Menlo Park Green Ribbon Citizens' Commitee. Mitch Slomiak, Co-Chair]
Menlo Park’s Draft Climate Action Plan:
Menlo Park Green Ribbon Citizens’ Committee Viewpoint and Recommendations
February 27, 2009
The Menlo Park Green Ribbon Citizens’ Committee (GRCC) is delighted and gratified by the City staff’s Draft Climate Action Plan (CAP) for our community. The GRCC’s November 2007 Climate Action Report & Recommendations, which addressed risks of climate change for Menlo Park, called for the creation of a Climate Action Plan for Menlo Park, with an aggressive goal of neutralizing our community’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. That goal requires significant initiatives for energy and water efficiency, reduction in single rider car trips, waste reduction, sustainable building and land use measures, adoption of renewable energy technology, and purchase of offsets to neutralize remaining GHGs. The following three sections describe the GRCC’s CAP recommendations:
· Setting a Menlo Park GHG reduction target
· Using the CAP as a budgeting tool by Council and City staff
· Specific CAP project recommendations
1. Setting a Menlo Park GHG reduction target
We recognize that the need for a community CAP may be unclear to some residents, as the scale of Menlo Park’s municipal GHG emissions, as well as our entire community’s contribution to global GHG, is so small. However, GHG emissions are generated at all levels of society (national, state, municipal, commercial, residential, etc.). Every single person and institution in our energy-intensive society contributes to climate change and should be part of the solution, which is to dramatically reduce GHG emissions and conserve natural resources, and to thereby avert catastrophic environmental and economic consequences. Menlo Park can have an influence far greater than its size because it is a world renowned center of venture capital, technological innovation and progressive leadership. We first urge City Council to allocate time for sufficient dialogue so that community members and our City Council can have their concerns addressed and understand the need to support the CAP. Yet, the timeframe for this dialogue needs to be balanced by a sense or urgency to avoid inordinate delays in realizing the GHG reduction benefits within our CAP. Climate change science and policy can be challenging, and so requires continued public education and outreach.
We also recommend that the introductory section provide a brief context for our community’s CAP and targets. It is important to highlight the emerging consensus regarding necessary GHG reductions required to effectively mitigate the worst consequences of climate change. This consensus includes the great majority of climate scientists and related disciplines, national political leaders (nearly all countries have signed the Kyoto Protocol and President Obama is committed to aggressive action), and California’s Governor. While there is no exact target, the consensus appears to be that a reduction of global GHG emissions by at least 80% below 2005 levels by the year 2050 is imperative. Such a brief discussion will provide context for Council to select a meaningful CAP target.
The target discussion within the current CAP is confusing and does not provide a useful decision making framework. We suggest that the target designated by Council be defined as an “aspirational” target for the entire Menlo Park community. The target would be the sum of actions anticipated from these sources:
· Federal initiatives are evolving, primarily because: GHG emissions are just now, apparently, going to be treated as regulated pollutants; new international targets and cooperative efforts are now underway. While these changes are encouraging, the lack of support in earlier administrations for controlling GHG emissions means the problem has become even more pressing today.
· State initiatives, as described in the CAP, will result in substantial GHG reductions within our community. (The estimate in the CAP is more than 120,000 metric tons of CO2e annually by 2020.)
· City initiatives, for both municipal operations and the community, as described in the various CAP strategies and tables. This portion of the target could most reasonably be based on a subset of the strategies that have been identified within the CAP. (We further recommend that a rough estimate be determined for the strategies that have not yet been detailed so that the subset will be based upon a larger potential CO2 reduction outcome.)
· Voluntary community initiatives. By setting a CAP target that assumes some voluntary action independent of City and State initiatives, City Council can motivate residents, business, and institutions within our community to reduce their carbon footprint. The GRCC will continue to support and extend such action.
Since Menlo Park’s GHG inventory indicates that 75% of our community emissions are from transportation or commercial/institutional, we recommend that initiatives be prioritized to target GHG reduction in these two areas. These overall emission percentages and priorities are similar to California as a whole.
2. Using the CAP as a budgeting tool by Council and City staff
We would like to see the CAP used, by Council and City staff, as a framework for selecting or prioritizing projects with the greatest potential for reducing Menlo Park’s carbon footprint. By combining CAP’s initial cost and CO2 reduction estimates with other budget criteria, successive Councils will have an objective planning tool for integrating climate change initiatives with other priorities. The simplest approach is for CAP projects to be evaluated individually as part of the yearly budgeting process. Also possible is to look for projects that contribute to long-term City development strategies, such as the El Camino Real Specific Plan process, and to evaluate the GHG impacts. Such a broader strategic approach helps place the environmental value of emissions reductions in the context of other City benefits and goals.
The current measurements or metrics used within the draft CAP appear to be inconsistent, as several measure the cost of an investment yielding multi-year benefits versus the impact of only the first year’s CO2 reduction benefit to derive cost per metric ton of CO2 mitigated, while others measure full lifecycle costs versus full lifecycle benefits We do agree that “cost per metric ton of CO2 mitigated” is a critically important metric. This metric will be particularly meaningful when lifecycle costs of an initiative are consistently compared to lifecycle CO2 mitigation benefits. GRCC member Tom Kabat has developed a lifecycle calculator that he has shared with City staff that enables lifecycle costs to be compared with lifecycle mitigation.
When determining investment costs for purposes of calculating these metrics, it is important to state costs after deducting anticipated rebates or other benefits from PG&E and the local water district for energy and water conservation actions. If not already included in the cost calculations, this will provide more accurate, and in some cases more favorable, metrics for applicable strategies within the CAP.
In setting CAP budgeting priorities, it is important to see that many CAP projects provide benefits other than GHG emission reductions. Many energy use reduction projects have ongoing cost saving components, especially for municipal and commercial buildings. Transit management opportunities have quality of life benefits associated with a more walkable and bikeable community. Lower-income families spend a disproportionate part of their time and income on transit, so projects making public transit easier, less expensive and more reliable address an important economic inequity. Maintaining and enhancing Menlo Park’s considerable foliage has obvious aesthetic benefits but also acts as a “sink” for GHG emissions. Increase in long-term commercial and residential real estate values, while indirect, may in turn accrue from such changes. In general, all these benefit categories — environmental, cost savings, quality of life — can be considered when evaluating CAP projects.
Some projects contribute directly by reducing energy consumption or vehicle miles driven. Some projects involve operations or infrastructure needs faced by the City; the CAP can help evaluate different options in terms of their emissions reduction benefit. Other projects, particularly CAP management, are needed to create a long-term foundation through Staff support and training, project evaluation criteria, and community communication essential to successful implementation. Those activities do not need to be evaluated as having their own “reduction”, but should instead be thought of as part of a strategic plan to integrate climate reduction goals into City planning and decision-making.
The success of many projects, such as bicycle lanes or residential energy audits, depends on individual participation. Council or other decision-makers can consider whether additional supporting communication or motivation is needed to ensure high levels of participation, or if gradual adoption is to be expected. For budgeting or priority-setting, the estimates provided here should be considered a starting point which can be easily scaled based on different assumptions or City scenarios, including those for projected growth.
Several other strategic perspectives are useful for considering CAP project opportunities:
· New and existing development strategies. Starting from scratch, new development along the El Camino Real corridor offers considerable opportunities for energy efficient building design and transit-oriented development. A challenge will be to ensure new development contributes to a net reduction of GHG from the 2005 baseline. Higher density in the downtown area may then motivate approaches to improving Menlo Park “connectivity” as a whole. Ultimately, Menlo Park’s large existing housing stock of “drivable suburban” neighborhoods will require different, but complementary, strategies to reduce vehicle miles traveled by residents or commuters.
· Energy savings and transit strategies. As for the rest of the nation, the State and Peninsula, these are the two areas where significant emissions reductions are both needed and possible. Two “bottom lines” — energy use and vehicle miles traveled reductions — can be thought of as major measurable targets. City departments, programs and budget strategies can all be thought of in terms of having greater or lesser roles for these two major types of emission reduction approaches.
· Municipal projects. As documented by the CAP, municipal contributions to CO2 emissions, though significant, are modest in comparison to community-wide energy use and transportation. However, the City does have direct control over its many operations, providing opportunities for relatively efficient and cost effective emission reductions. It also has a unique opportunity to address its largest GHG contributor, the Marsh Road Landfill. In addition, Menlo Park’s own actions can be taken as a model of municipal level environmental responsibility.
· “Nudge.” Some activities described in the CAP can be initiated by individual developers, building owners, and/or residents, regardless of City policies. In those situations, the City always has opportunities for encouraging the use of various technologies, building practices, or even personal behaviors (e.g. commuting or auto use), through voluntary standards as well as explicit regulation. Through proactive communication, including community forums, the City can “nudge” individuals and businesses toward CAP outcomes.
A particular challenge for CAP implementation is the consideration of the current financial crisis facing both California and the nation’s economy. Here too there are options. Many projects can be scaled to create “pilot” versions during lean budget times to learn how they can be implemented, and to obtain business, developer, or community feedback. Additionally, success stories of positive cost/benefit measures can be identified and shared to inspire action.
A theme of the national fiscal stimulus package is to invest now in developing a new energy economy in order to reduce oil demand. Federal, state and municipal governments all have important roles to play in achieving energy independence. The projects described in the CAP are very much like ones either being considered, or already being implemented, by municipalities with similar demographics, and suburban transit styles characteristic of Menlo Park.
3. Two specific recommendations
ii) The GRCC strongly recommends creating and filling a Climate and Energy Coordinator position, as described in the CAP. This role is critical to our community’s success in reducing GHG emissions cost-effectively and in ways supportive of the City’s residential, commercial, and social objectives. The Coordinator’s primary role is to facilitate CAP project or program implementation and execution in the context of City government and financing. A staff member with sufficient overview can champion the CAP, be the key community contact, and implement CAP in the context of Menlo Park’s ongoing development. Because ICLEI has already identified a grant funding source for Menlo Park, we recommend that this grant option be pursued in 2009 by City staff. The individual hired can also be tasked to obtain longer term grants, matching funds, or similar means to avoid undue pressure on the City’s general budget during the current financial recession and eventual recovery.
In conclusion, the GRCC is very proud of our City Council, staff, and community for moving forward with coordinated and concerted action to address climate change. In addition to doing our part to address this pressing societal need, these actions will also undoubtedly improve the quality of life in our community for subsequent generations.
Submit your own comments about the Climate Action Plan by March 1st to climateactionteam@menlopark.