Close to Home: Four climate friendly steps for Santa Rosa

With the catastrophic wildfires of 2017, climate change has already had a devastating impact on Sonoma County. Because Santa Rosa already has an excellent Climate Action Plan, here are four cost-neutral steps that the City Council can take this year to prepare for further climate emergencies while at the same time reducing our carbon footprint:

- Elevate the climate crisis to the tier 1 priority, so that any project before the council must be in compliance with the Climate Action Plan before a vote is taken.

- Establish a council subcommittee on climate to manage the plan so that future climate-related policies can be more readily enacted.

- Pass an electric-ready building ordinance as a first step to requiring all-electric homes.

- Update the Climate Action Plan to reflect current science as staffing and financial resources permit.

However, the climate crisis isn't even on the council's radar.

Recently, the council was given a lengthy report on the city budget that was followed by a public hearing on budget priorities. Chuck McBride, the city's chief financial officer, reported on the sobering challenges our city faces. He pointed out that we need to come up with $6 million to $7 million to balance the budget. The primary reasons for this are lost property tax dollars because of the fires and unfunded pension liabilities.

Another sobering fact is that the city's mandated reserves is 15 percent of general fund expenditures. That means the city should have about $25 million in reserves. Today, the amount of money stands at about $4 million. Again, this is largely because of money spent after the fires.

Surprisingly, no mention was made of the fact that the fires were the result of the climate crisis.

Referring to the wildfires, a Press Democrat editorial on Aug. 1 said: “As the skeptics are quick to point out, it's hard to tie any one event to long-term, global climactic change. Fine. It's also hard to ignore the trends and the evidence in front of one's face. California for the past few years has suffered through hotter than average weather, drought and more weather extremes, precisely what to expect from climate change. … We need to reduce our emissions to prevent the worst climate change impacts” (“Fires, sea levels point to climate change failure”).

The serious problems of homelessness, unfunded liabilities and limited reserves cannot outweigh the problem of the climate crisis. Our council must give these problems equal weight, and they must be addressed in unison.

The city's Climate Action Plan Implementation Team or an appointed department head must provide timely and detailed reports on specific steps the city is taking and the progress we are making to prevent and mitigate further climate-related damage. Until and unless this happens, we are failing a sacred responsibility to future generations.

The steps listed above don't require additional funds, merely a realignment of priorities. The fires are costing the city a fortune, and by taking these steps, the city would demonstrate the ability to absorb and respond to the hard lessons the climate crisis is forcing us to learn. In addition, we would be addressing this crisis without further aggravating our financial predicament.

Kevin Conway and Mike Turgeon are members of the Friends of the Santa Rosa Climate Action Plan. They are residents of Santa Rosa.

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