Faced with the increasingly real and local threat of climate change, the Menlo Park City Council hosted a discussion on Tuesday, Dec. 10, to talk about developing a new climate action plan that better reflects what scientists say is an urgent need to decrease carbon emissions.
The council expressed openness to exploring a far bolder goal than its current climate goals, which has been recommended by the city's Environmental Quality Commission: to make Menlo Park carbon neutral by 2030.
Currently, the city's goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 27% below 2005 levels by 2020. The most current data, from 2017, indicates the city has reduced emissions by about 18.6%.
Much of the reduction achieved so far has to do with the city switching to Peninsula Clean Energy, which offers 90% clean and renewable electricity; reducing emissions due to building energy usage policy changes with PG&E; and the installation of efficient gas-capture devices at Ox Mountain Landfill, according to Rebecca Lucky, Menlo Park sustainability manager.
Lucky said that in the next climate action plan, the city can focus on three main areas: shifting transportation to low carbon fuel alternatives, which could prevent 200,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions; achieving the city's zero-waste goal by 2035, which could prevent 100,000 tons of emissions; and reducing natural gas use in existing buildings, which could prevent 80,000 tons of emissions.
Further recommendations for local governments, put forward by the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, are to: adopt a zero-emissions standard for new buildings; build electric vehicle charging infrastructure; mandate composting of organic material; electrify heating and cooling systems in buildings; designate car-free and low-emission vehicle zones; support local producers and buyers of renewable electricity; and set a city climate budget to support eliminating carbon emissions.
In addition, the Environmental Quality Commission has developed its own set of recommendations for the new climate action plan, which includes a proposal to obtain 100% carbon-free electricity citywide through Peninsula Clean Energy. Currently, households have to "opt up" to get this type of energy mix, which is slightly more expensive than PG&E offers, instead of the 90% clean mix that is slightly cheaper.
The commission also recommends electrifying as many existing buildings as possible; reducing the miles vehicles travel; supporting electric vehicle purchasing and increasing infrastructure for electric vehicles; reducing carbon emissions from construction; electrifying municipal buildings and fleet vehicles; implementing a zero-waste plan; deterring the installation of appliances that emit carbon, like gas water heaters, in new buildings; planting more trees and landscaping; and developing adaptation measures to prepare the city for climate change.
A number of residents spoke in favor of the more stringent carbon emission restrictions.
"The future begins in Menlo Park," said Mitch Slomiak, former Environmental Quality Commission member and a founder of Menlo Spark, urging the council to get the community to carbon neutrality as fast as possible. "That's the role we can play as a small community, by going far beyond our numbers," he added.
Speaking as an individual, Environmental Quality Commission member Tom Kabat commented that over the past 12 years, "things have gotten more serious," when it comes to climate action. Our leadership can inspire others."
Other cities have also been updating their climate action plans, putting additional resources toward implementing strategies to reduce carbon emissions. For instance, Mountain View has committed to spending $4.6 million over the next three years on 10 new staff positions, plus $3 million to support and implement climate action programs.
The City Council is expected to consider adding a project to update the city's climate action plan to its work plan at its annual goal-setting meeting in January.