Last July, the Menlo Park City Council approved an ambitious new goal – for the city to go carbon neutral by 2030.
On Tuesday, it launched discussions about how to start working toward that goal this year. The details, in short, are complex.
To attain carbon neutrality, the city aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 90% from 2005 levels and focus on carbon removal efforts for the remaining 10%.
So far, the council has adopted six goals to help the city reach that goal.
• 1. Explore policy and program options to convert 95% of existing buildings to all-electric by 2030.
• 2. Set a citywide goal to increase electric vehicle and decrease gasoline sales.
• 3. Expand access to electric vehicle charging for multifamily and commercial properties.
• 4. Reduce vehicle miles traveled by 25% or an amount recommended by the Complete Streets Commission.
• 5. Eliminate the use of fossil fuels from municipal operations.
• 6. Develop a climate adaptation plan to protect the community from sea level rise and flooding.
For the first goal, an enormous proposal to convert the vast majority of city's buildings to all-electric power by 2030, the council was split 3-2 over what to do next. By May, staff hopes to complete an analysis of the cost effectiveness and potential policies to facilitate the switch to electric power. Then, over the summer the Environmental Quality Commission would weigh in on potential policy options and the City Council would review its recommendations. After that, the city would launch a public engagement campaign to educate people about the policies or ordinances and identify any needed exemptions, with the goal of adopting ordinances sometime in 2022.
Council members Jen Wolosin, Cecilia Taylor and Vice Mayor Betsy Nash favored doing so by June 2022, and developing additional information about the building permitting process for electric systems, while Mayor Drew Combs and Ray Mueller were opposed.
Mueller said he favored having the council more clearly lay out what options it is considering for moving forward from the outset, including creating ordinances following public engagement and the recommendations from the city's Environmental Quality Commission, putting measures on the ballot related to the city's electric building conversion goal, or creating incentive programs to encourage converting buildings to all-electric power systems.
"I believe tonight we should recognize that some of the measures contemplated to achieve the goals contained in Climate Action Plan, frankly exceed the expectation (of) power we would use, when our constituents voted us into office," Mueller said, adding that he wanted to see "the most intrusive CAP actions be presented to the public as a measure or series of measures, for public vote."
Nash declined Mueller's suggestion, noting that she neither wanted to preclude nor specify which options the council would consider in the future. "Let's move this ahead and see what happens," she said. "We know we need to get to a point where we're all electric. ... This really is a big issue, especially for Menlo Park."
Combs added that he favored the use of incentives rather than regulatory measures, wanted to see caution in making sure there is community support for such policies, and raised some concerns about how potential policies to convert the power systems to electricity citywide could impact people.
Council members were more aligned on the next four goals of the climate action plan, and approved the following next steps unanimously.
For the goal of increasing electric vehicle sales, the council approved plans for the city to work with the Beyond Gas Initiative, run through Joint Venture Silicon Valley. It is a collaboration between Joint Venture Silicon Valley and the nonprofit Coltura, working to speed the transition from gasoline to cleaner alternatives, including halving gasoline consumption in Silicon Valley by 2030, according to its website.
For the goal of expanding access to electric vehicle charging at multifamily and commercial properties, the council agreed to support outreach to property owners of multifamily properties and connect them with incentive programs offered by Peninsula Clean Energy and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
The goal to curb the number of miles that drivers travel is already a part of one of the projects that the city's Complete Streets Commission is working on, aimed at studying how projects in the city's recently adopted Transportation Master Plan should be prioritized to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The council voted unanimously to support work already underway and next year provide additional professional guidance to help the commission set a goal for how much to reduce vehicle miles.
The goal to halt using fossil fuels in municipal operations is expected to move forward next year when the city develops new master plans for maintaining facilities and its corporation yard. Future bids should include plans to replace gas powered equipment, the council agreed.
The last goal, to develop a climate adaptation plan, will wait to see if Menlo Park gets a grant it has applied for from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to build 3.7 miles of flood control and sea level rise barriers along the Bay shoreline to protect nearby residents and businesses and continue to participate with OneShoreline, the San Mateo County Flood and Sea Level Rise Resiliency District, on projects to protect the county's shoreline from flooding and sea level rise. They also agreed to have a discussion, likely in the summer or fall, about creating a hazard mitigation plan to address climate change impacts the city could face, such as sea level rise, flooding and wildfires.