Elk Grove rejects plan to cut greenhouse gases

Published: Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3B

The carbon footprint in Elk Grove will stay the same size, at least for now.

The Elk Grove City Council last week backed off on long-range plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, saying programs to encourage sustainability might hurt businesses and job creation.

The council put aside two plans crafted by city staff to reduce the city's emissions by about 15 percent by 2020. The plans promote green building, energy efficiency, alternative transportation and resource conservation. Council members, primarily concerned about the effects of green building requirements, unanimously voted instead to meet with business leaders and discuss how to soften any harmful effects of going green.

Key points of the plans called for:

• Requiring all new city and private developments to exceed state energy efficiency standards by 15 percent.

• Requiring large new commercial developments to have electric vehicle chargers and new residential homes to be pre-wired for plug-in vehicles. The proposal called for 300 charging stations citywide by 2025

• Tree planting programs.

• Expanding bicycle parking and storage.

• Converting the city's vehicle fleet to alternative fuels.

Elk Grove's plans were inspired by state Assembly Bill 32, which mandates the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, in an attempt to slow climate change.

A centerpiece of the state legislation is the "cap-and-trade" program, which began auctioning off carbon credits Wednesday.

Vice-Mayor Patrick Hume criticized the proposals, especially green building practices that exceed the state's standards, and pre-wiring homes for electric vehicle charging stations.

"What we have before us is not the right course of action today, if ever," Hume said at Wednesday's City Council meeting. "AB 32 is horrible legislation, and (its) carbon offset auction is a joke."

In 2009, the council directed city staff to draft an overarching 20-year "sustainability element" for the city's general plan, and a more short-term Climate Action Plan, which would focus on greenhouse gas reductions through 2020.

The city used federal dollars to pay for the draft proposals, and created a citizens advisory committee for input.

AB 32 doesn't require any local action, so technically the move toward cutting carbon emissions is voluntary, said Elk Grove planning director Taro Echiburu.

But having the plans in place could actually speed development by making the city eligible for certain types of funding, and streamlining environmental permitting on projects, he said.

Echiburu said a recent change in the California Environmental Quality Act requires analysis of greenhouse gas emissions as a condition of development.

"While a Climate Action Plan is not mandated, without it, we will have to comply with CEQA on a project-by-project basis, which adds time and costs to projects for developers and jurisdictions," Echiburu said, adding that projects challenged under CEQA could be delayed or halted. "With a Climate Action Plan in place, the chances of a challenge are low."

Many cities are struggling with whether and how to cut emissions. Because the state regulations are so new, there are no solid data showing they will spur development or save money, Echiburu said. While the city and county of Sacramento and Citrus Heights have adopted Climate Action Plans, the Lincoln City Council voted down its proposed plan.

Echiburu said the controversial green building standards will be needed for the city to meet its 15 percent emissions-reduction target. But it's not clear if there will be consequences for cities that don't meet AB 32 targets.

Like Hume, Elk Grove Mayor-elect Gary Davis opposed the proposed plan, expressing worry about saddling businesses with extra costs. He wants the city to shrink its carbon footprint by bringing in new businesses, particularly in an area slated for commercial development in the southern portion of the city, to allow residents to work closer to home.

"We need to be careful about putting financial burdens on businesses that ultimately prohibits our job growth, which ultimately will prohibit us from lowering our carbon footprint," he said.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Anne Gonzales

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