Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Climate Action Plan for Wildomar

The City of Wildomar may adopt a Climate Action Plan (CAP) that comes to us from the Western Riverside Council of Governments (WRCOG). I'm using this post to collect and criticize my position that Wildomar should adopt a climate action plan, though the plan falls short of what a city could do. I also believe that the plan is designed to fit with what a city would normally do, therefore, it doesn't ask the city to take much financial risk.

Our climate is changing at a pace that has no precedent in at least a million years and humanity is the culprit. This is reason enough for a city council to take some action to reduce our emissions. Additionally, some undesirable changes could affect our community. The current drought in the Southwestern United States is the type of climate predicted for our region and may be a result of climate change (Sewall 2005). Also, we could go from drought to flooding quickly due to how global warming is making the jet stream more prone to slow moving storm tracks (see links in this post). If this happened here, we'd quickly learn how poorly drained some areas in our community are. 

It should also be noted that global warming is a tragedy of the commons in which the commons is the atmosphere and our climate. The atmosphere is a free dumping ground for CO2 and the climate is a common asset. Wildomar, the state of California, or the USA will not avert the effects of climate change by acting alone. We can only adapt to what comes our way and mitigate (reduce) our emissions hoping the world follows suit to avert the worst of what could come our way. However, the larger the target for mitigation, the larger the dent in emissions and the better chance of persuading others to follow. Also, the smaller the target, e.g., a city, then the less we should ask of the target to spend on mitigation; a small city cannot afford to make a significant dent.

Where is the primary burden and opportunity to mitigate climate change?

State and Federal law can address transportation, energy production, and building and appliance efficiency, which constitute the lion's share of greenhouse gas emissions.

Adaptation will entail preparing for floods and securing reliable water sources during drought. After incidents such as flood or fire, conflict over the right to rebuild in flood-prone and fire hazardous areas may arise. Drought may be addressed first because it is being felt now and threatens California's agriculture and Southern California's urban pools and lawns. However, drought is already being addressed at the state level and through our water agencies. For example, my water district has given us free, low-water appliances and fixtures while promoting low-water landscaping. I think a lot more savings through a culture change from lawns to native plants and low-water landscapes has great potential to cut the water use of cities. I also wonder about the vast number of uncovered swimming pools easily seen in any Google Earth view. How much water do they lose through evaporation and how much energy heating them is lost each year?

If transportation fuels and energy generation are addressed at the state and federal level, what can a city of 25,000 with a mix of urban and rural communities do? First, Wildomar should not hurt the regional effort. It would hurt the regional effort to promote more cycling if bike lanes do not extend through Wildomar; it would hurt if city zoning maximizes vehicle use and traffic inefficiencies.

Minimal Mitigation
According to the draft Climate Action plan (See WRCOG Climate Action Plan --note, as of 4/6/14, this draft available at my website has been removed from WRCOGs website), Wildomar will be taking the following actions, which the city would integrate into its general plan:
  • Yard waste collection for areas not already served. This mitigation is intended to keep biomass from contributing to methane created in landfills. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, and after it's decade-scale lifespan, it breaks down into CO2. Another option for yard waste would be to burn it for electricity generation. Burning returns CO2 to the atmosphere, but it would be part of a loop where energy is produced, plants sequester the CO2, and then are recycled for more energy -- not as low carbon as solar and wind power, but better than burning for recreational use or letting it decay into methane. CR&R Waste Management, which serves Wildomar, provides biomass fuel to Greenleaf Power, however, most of the fuel is from clean, dry scrap wood collected from construction sites as opposed to yard waste. Therefore, Wildomar's yard waste will be used as mulch for landscaping and as soil amendment for agriculture and water retention. CR&R's outreach department could not provide me an estimate of how much green waste collection can be expanded in Wildomar. It seems that expanding yard waste collection would normally accompany the construction of new communities.
  • Mixed use developments. This allows people to live, work, and shop locally so as to reduce their use of transportation fuel. It should also help with city sales tax revenue by putting more stores within city limits.
  • Increased density. By increasing density, a community's growth will have less impact on open space. Assuming this is the goal, I don't know if this protected open space would be inside or outside of the city, or both. I also don't know how increasing density would not also increase commuting to nearby communities and especially to Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernadino, and San Diego. Increasing density may be a part of Wildomar's existing plan and not specifically a response to the Climate Action Plan. I believe our community was already encouraged to provide more low-cost housing, such as high-density apartments. Some of these are currently under construction near Clinton Keith road east I-15. So, is increasing density a natural course of Wildomar's growth or is it designed to achieve some measurable change in greenhouse gas emissions?  
  • Traffic signal coordination. This will reduce vehicle idle time and fuel use from frequent stopping and accelerating. I can't imagine a city not doing this if they have the money to do so.
  • Expand areas served by public transit. This will create bus routes to more locations within Wildomar so more people can use mass transit. This is a natural complement to mixed-use developments.
  • Expand the times served by public transit. This increases the frequency of buses to better accommodate the times when people need to travel. -- Also a natural complement to mixed-use developments.
  • Create end of trip facilities that encourage cycling to locations in Wildomar. This comprises public shower facilities so people who work in Wildomar have additional incentive bike or run to work.
  • Add bicycle parking. This supports the shift to a bicycle culture.
  • Improve bicycle lanes and road crossings. This is urgently needed in Wildomar. I would like to see walkway and cycling bridges over major roads.
What are the impacts of these measures? 
Most are encouraging a culture of local access to services, use of mass transit, and use of foot and bicycles. While reducing fuel use, these plan amendments do little to address household energy use. I suspect that the plan addresses transportation and not energy because public transportation infrastructure is the responsibility of the city, and energy supply is not. I also think that how progress is measured under the Climate Action Plan is a factor: Under the means of accountability described in the Climate Action Plan, the city can more effectively report public infrastructure improvements than it can report changes in energy generation and use. Another way to ask this is Are my solar panels counting toward the city's goals or the state or California's? I suspect the latter, if they are counted at all.

I'm speculating by making the following statements as true/false questions that I'm trying to answer. (Should anyone read these, please know that I welcome corrections; I hope to hear examples of how any of these statements are not true.)

Q: There are no significant costs in the measures because implementing these goals are consistent with normal city and staff activities. The exception may be end-of-trip facilities or bridges dedicated to foot and cycle traffic.

Q: There will be costs in having city staff draft planning amendments and ordinances to achieve the above goals, but they would be doing similar work regardless of a Climate Action Plan.

Q: Few or none of these actions need a special tax increase for city residents and business owners, because they are consistent with what Wildomar would already do in it's general plan and the city will seek funding sources described by WRCOG in the draft Climate Action Plan.

Q: Follow-up to the Climate Action Plan will be in the form of Wildomar staff creating modifications to the general plan and drafting ordinances to implement these actions. This follow-up is similar to the level of detail found in Murrieta's CAP: Murrieta Climate Action Plan (pdf)

Q: There must be some opportunity losses in shifting staff time and city revenue to CAP projects, but I don't know what activities time and money would be shifted from.

Q: Having a CAP allows Wildomar to fast-track the greenhouse gas mitigation required under CEQA for new projects. I don't know if such fast-tracking applies to emissions reductions or other environmental issues. If a development is a mixed-use facility, can it get faster approval because that's what the CAP is encouraging?

Regarding Assessing Wildomar's greenhouse gas emissions:
Q: The Western Riverside Council of Governments (WRCOG) or it's consultant has created a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions estimate for Wildomar using models as opposed to on-site surveys. In other words, WRCOG inserted the numbers of Wildomar's homes, businesses, space, infrastructure, etc. and the computer model produces an estimate.

Q: After the CAP is adopted, monitoring of GHG reductions will be implemented using the same modeled approach. No one will be directly measuring our emissions. This is why I believe a city's public infrastructure improvements are measurable while measuring changes in energy production and actual greenhouse gas measurements are not practical.

Regarding the State of California's goals:
Q: Most of the emissions reduction will take place via laws and executive orders that:
  • affect vehicle efficiency,
  • promote the development of vehicle fuels with low-carbon emissions, 
  • require utilities to use more renewable energy, 
  • and promote energy efficiency standards in building construction and water use.
Q: Regional CAPs are meant to align cities' general plans with the state's goals in emissions cuts. They are meant to ensure that the cities are putting in the infrastructure that make the larger goals achievable.

Q: WRCOG has a role to play in how cities implement CAPs as follows:
  • Help cities find public funding enabled by state and federal legislation.
  • Provide ongoing emissions assessments through their model-based approach.
  • Provide ready-to-use ordinances to reduce City staff time and drafting them.
The goals for Wildomar seem to me to be rather unambitious and chosen to fit what Wildomar could accomplish with it's anticipated budget. In addition, Wildomar would implement many of these general plan features regardless of a Climate Action Plan. If my assumptions are correct, the positive side is that there is little reason not to adopt a Climate Action Plan. I welcome proof that my understanding is wrong.

Regarding Wildomar-specific modifications to the CAP
Looking at a neighborhood suggests that the draft CAP does little to address the opportunities to mitigate the community's emissions and to adapt to changes that may be in store.

Google map view of one Wildomar block and a count of features 
relevant to climate mitigation and adaptation.

I hope to learn if there are additional measures Wildomar can afford to take, such as:
  • Using the CAP to bolster Wildomar's lighting policy. As is, the lighting policy affects new construction; but every light changed from high-light polluting to well-aimed, as desired under the lighting ordinance, also saves energy -- thus, two benefits (energy savings and dark skies) for the enforcement of one. 
  • Shade tree promotion and protection of large trees. Large trees uptake more carbon per year than smaller trees. The increase in uptake per size of tree justifies exceptional efforts to preserve of large trees. 
  • Promotion of rooftop solar and protection of its use. Utilities often try to reduce the payback for electricity generated by homes; the city could support efforts to ensure that utilities make selling back electricity worthwhile for home owners.
  • Consumer protection from predatory practices of rooftop solar companies. I believe many of the rooftop solar energy companies are establishing lease terms that eventually hurt the home owner who wasn't sufficiently wary. This is of course a case of buyer beware, but the result is that bad experiences may impair the adoption of rooftop solar.
  • A careful look at neighborhoods to identify where ordinances on future construction can improve efficiency in energy and water us, for example, requiring that pools be fitted with covers to reduce evaporation and heating costs; requiring low-water landscaping.
Regarding adaptation measures
It concerns me that I  don't see any adaptation measures in the CAP. Murrieta has added adaptation measures, but I think their policy underestimates flooding issues.
I think the following should be addressed, if not already in our general plan:
  • Water capture for drought mitigation. I capture the first 300 gallons of any rainfall on my roof that I later use to water my landscaping. My yard also has some features that allow collected water to soak into the ground. Perhaps this type of adaptation is the responsibility of the water district.
  • Flooding. Though this seems unlikely, if we get a jet stream blocking event similar to what has hammered the United Kingdom over the 2013/2014 winter, our community's drainage may not keep up with rainfall.
Lake Elsinore has a  climate action plan: Lake Elsinore Climate Action Plan
Now that I've seen two nearby plans, I hope Wildomar doesn't hire a consulting firm to write it's plan.

Additional References:

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