by Jacob Pierce on Jan 31, 2012
Former mayor Mike Rotkin says a community oversight board would amount to unneeded bureaucracy and distrust for city council.
With the 108-page Climate Action Plan awaiting final approval by the Santa Cruz City Council, environmentalists are nursing hopes that a few final items on their wish list will make it into the framework. One such item is creation of a citizens’ advisory board to make sure the city meets its own goals for cutting its emissions.
“I envisioned a working group where there were would be committees that were open the public,” says People Power’s Micah Posner, describing his democratic dream.
But some Santa Cruz politicians, past and present, are a little hesitant about such a board, to say the least.
“I think that’s a big, big mistake,” former Mayor Mike Rotkin said at a study session on the Climate Action Plan last week. Rotkin says a new advisory board would add bureaucracy and says the idea implies “a level of disrespect” for city council’s ability or willingness to stick by the goals, which aim to cut 1990-level emissions citywide 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
Rotkin was the first public commenter to address the council at the Jan. 24 session, which was filled with activists who had just changed out of their wetsuits and sea anemone costumes following a quasi-ironic underwater tour highlighting the dangers of climate change and the threat of rising sea levels.
Rotkin, who worked on the Climate Action Plan in 2010 during the last of his five terms as mayor, said one of the great things about the plan is that it forces the city council to be the source of change. “It’s not something where somebody sits outside whining or crying that things aren’t being done,” he said. Rotkin, who doesn’t plan on running for council again in the near future, says he wants the council itself to function as the citizens advisory committee.
“I can hear that,” says Posner. “The important thing is that the head staff members share how they’re implementing the plan with the public on a frequent basis. The biggest problem is the frequency.” Right now, various department heads are required to report on what they are doing to cut emissions once every one to five years, depending on the department. Posner would like to see those reports come out once every couple of months.
Posner, along with environmentalists like Transition Santa Cruz’s Michael Levy, organized the Jan. 24 underwater tour to highlight remaining concerns with the CAP. Afterward, they flooded the public comment period at that night’s meeting. They have two major remaining concerns, the first being their contention that the Public Works Department isn’t taking the climate goals into account in its plans to widen congested intersections and bridges (therefore facilitating car traffic). The other is making sure concerned residents will be able to monitor city officials’ progress on cutting emissions.
Cynthia Mathews, another former mayor who worked on the plan, doesn’t see the need for a new board. She says every new board and meeting has hidden costs for staff. (The plan already calls for one new full-time staff member in addition to filling two and a half vacant positions.)“It may not be obvious to casual observers, but every public meeting requires a lot of backup in terms of creating notices, preparing staff reports, staffing the meetings and then creating the minutes, ” says Mathews, who is considering a run for council this year. Councilmember Ryan Coonerty thinks businesses and citizens can be proactive about saving energy without a committee.
Still, there is a glimmer of hope for the citizens advisory board.
“Philosophically, I have no problem with it,” says Mayor Don Lane, who directed the staff to look at provisions for more community oversight.
Lane adds, though, that he doesn’t want people focused on the CAP to stonewall all economic development and improvement projects in the name of greenhouse gas reduction. “Greenhouse gas reduction is not the only priority of the city,” says Lane. “As important as it is, it will not override every other consideration that we have.”
Rotkin says activists should definitely have their role in following the plan, with or without a committee. “I want the public to put pressure on you to make sure that there’s reform around what’s being laid out here,” Rotkin told city council last week.
Based on last week’s underwater demonstration and deluge of public comment, local activists look like they can hold up that end of that of the bargain.