Menlo Park has a new plan to address the issue of climate change.
How aggressive the city will be in pursuing some of the measures outlined in its "climate action plan" -- and how some of those measures might get funded -- is yet to be determined.
Among the proposals: installing solar panels and reflective roofing on city buildings, giving residents loans to make energy-efficient home improvements, and expanding the city's shuttle service.
The City Council approved the plan in a unanimous vote at its May 19 meeting. Prepared by a consultant that specializes in creating climate strategies for local jurisdictions and revised by city staff members, the plan expands upon and fleshes out a dense list of recommendations prepared by the volunteer Green Ribbon Citizens' Committee in late 2007, council members say.
They acknowledge, however, that it's incomplete. The city exhausted the $38,000 it expects to receive in grant money to prepare the plan before it had a chance to fully revise the document, and council members look poised to allow a city commission to work on the plan -- possibly in consultation with the Green Ribbon committee.
Much of the discussion at the May 19 meeting centered on how the city could quantify its efforts to rein in the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the Earth's atmosphere. In an impassioned speech to the council, Mitch Slomiak, head of the Green Ribbon committee, urged the city to set measurable goals in reducing emissions, and to treat its "carbon budget" in the same way it regards its general operating fund budget.
But council members struggled with how to make the issue tangible. Unlike most of the line items in the city's budget, a decreased carbon output won't provide a direct benefit to the city.
"One might almost conclude that anything we do here is basically symbolic, and setting an example," said Councilman Andy Cohen.
Council members agree that the city should think seriously about the issue, but it remains to be seen how the plan will affect the city's operation. The council has tentatively approved spending $28,000 from the city's general operating fund to flesh out the plan, and to seek funding that would provide for a city climate coordinator position.
Gail Slocum, a former councilwoman and a member of the Green Ribbon committee, said the city would do well to invest early in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
"The key to my mind is that Menlo Park establish a paradigm for how a city can keep in mind its budget, and also the carbon metric, in a way that marries the two," Ms. Slocum said at the May 19 meeting.
Councilman John Boyle said he was struggling with the idea of how the plan would fit in with the city's budget. He noted that even actions that would pay for themselves, such as installing solar panels on city buildings, often take decades to recoup their costs.
The plan leaves much to be desired, but council members say that approving it is an important gesture -- and that its existence may help the city in competing for grants, especially through the federal stimulus bill.