By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In 2005, Santa Rosa set two goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The first was to reduce its own emissions from municipal operations to 2000 levels by 2010.
The second was to reduce emissions citywide to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2015, one of the most aggressive targets in the nation.
The city government missed the first goal and the community is almost certain to miss the second, which is less than three years away.
But under a plan approved Thursday by the Planning Commission, city officials believe they should be able to reach that second goal by 2020.
“We’ve done pretty well, but we still have a ways to go,” said Gillian Hayes, the city planner who’s been working on the city’s Climate Protection Plan for two years.
The 231-page document is described as a “road map for reducing Santa Rosa’s communitywide emissions related to transportation, land use, energy, waste, water, and agriculture.”
The Planning Commission has met several times over the past two months to understand the plan and suggest changes to the policies it recommends.
The commission removed several items, such as a ban on leaf blowers, and softened many others, such as making many mandatory policies voluntary.
For example, the original plan called for requiring new businesses with more than 50 employees to subsidize their employees’ use of public transportation. Some business leaders noted that such a measure could prove a burden to new businesses, and the commission agreed to change the language to “encourage.”
Hayes said the commission softened its stance on many mandatory items after additional research of other voluntary or incentive-based programs already under way in the city showed they were proving effective.
PG&E’s rebate program that rewards consumers for purchasing energy-efficient appliances was “way bigger than we thought,” Hayes said.
An array of other voluntary programs such as the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program also are working well, and are helping put the city on track to meet the later 2020 goals, she said.
The commission “seems like they are trying to do the right thing for the environment and for businesses,” Hayes said.
The plan calculates that if the city implements all of the measures, Santa Rosa could reduce its total emissions 42 percent from 2007 levels by 2020. That’s well ahead of the state target of 15 percent.
A key element of the plan was to analyze the city’s existing emissions to set a starting point to which it could compare future years and gauge its progress. The plan set 2007 as that baseline.
The baseline showed that the single greatest area of greenhouse gas emissions in the city is associated, not surprisingly, with transportation, which accounts for 51 percent of the city’s total emissions. That was followed by residential energy use at 19 percent, non-residential energy use at 16 percent, and solid waste at 10 percent.
Overall, the study showed the city produced 1.32 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e, in 2007. This figure excludes emissions from stationary sources such as factories because they are regulated by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
If the city and its residents did nothing to address the issue, meaning no local or regional regulations, that CO2e figure would grow to nearly 1.4 million tons in 2020 and 1.8 million tons by 2035, according to the study.
Various state programs, such as more fuel-efficient vehicles and green building standards, are expected to help the city reduce its 2007 emissions 5 percent by 2015 and 6 percent by 2020.
The single biggest hurdle preventing the city from reaching its goal by 2015 is the challenge of retrofitting buildings. There is no way the city could retrofit enough homes between now and 2015 to meet the goal. The plan now calls for 6,700 units to be retrofitted per year to improve efficiency by 30 percent.
Ann Hancock, head of the Santa Rosa-based Climate Protection Campaign, said she’s not surprised that Santa Rosa missed its initial targets. Other cities across the nation have also fallen short of such goals for many reasons, including the housing collapse and continued weak economy.
“The fact that we aren’t making the progress that we wanted to doesn’t mean the goals are irrelevant,” Hancock said. “It just means that it’s hard.”
The city has been an environmental leader for years, she said, and she hopes that commitment continues.
“Santa Rosa has an opportunity for climate protection leadership and this is a chance to be bold and do the right thing for future generations,” Hancock said.
The commission approved the plan with little discussion on a 5-0 vote. The plan next heads to the Santa Rosa City Council.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org.