Friday, February 14, 2020

City Council, February 18th - Climate Action Plan - updated

The first half of this month has already brought news about record warmth in Antarctica with temperatures in the mid- and even upper-60s.

"climate change is related
to the growing extinction risk"
(February 8th)
The drip-drip-drip of other signs and alarms continues unabated.

Pinot in Peril:
Our Pinot Noir vineyards are at risk
They will likely be grafted over
to warmer climate grapes
(January 28th)
Council meets on Tuesday because of the holiday, and they'll conduct the Work Session on Council goals and policy originally scheduled for January that was postponed to address street camping and homelessness.

See previous notes on the original January agenda:
This is not inspiring and looks weak
The City's Staff Report focused on scoping and, as I read it, seemed to be more about the City's own internal processes, treating the City of Salem as a corporation and looking at its own practices, and not looking at Salem as a whole city and citizenry.

The text as written suggests way too much effort going to
reviewing and documenting the City's actions - projects, practices, programs, and plans - established over the past decade aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change.
Does that really even matter? Whatever it is we've been doing has been wildly unsuccessful. Normally that documentation would be valuable, but as I read this it is instead part of framing climate action as a messaging and PR problem, asserting that the City's already doing lots and the problem is that the citizens don't understand this and are unfairly criticizing the City. On this interpretation, the City just needs to get the message out that they are already aggressively acting.

It also stresses "mitigating the effects of climate change" rather than reducing emissions.

This is a trend for accommodation rather than emissions reduction.

We have to grapple with this 53% from cars
In light of that, it might not be surprising that the largest source of emissions is not mentioned at all.

But this seems all wrong.

I do not read this Staff Report as setting the table for a strong Climate Action Plan.

Our group disagrees somewhat:
350 Salem OR is requesting that a Salem Climate Action Plan be completed in the FY 2021 fiscal year....[A] staff recommendation that funding be requested for "developing a climate action plan" in FY 2021...would satisfy our request. The "scope" is already defined in the Salem Strategic Plan (2017) as being a "community-wide environmental strategy" that "prioritizes reductions of greenhouse gas emissions." The Strategic Plan also speaks to making a "measurable impact" and to "emphasiz[ing] equity in terms of access to resources to help all members of our community reduce their individual impact." 350 Salem OR will certainly insist on this broad scope that was adopted in the Strategic Plan in 2017. We like the Climate Action Plan developed by the City of Milwaukie and have advocated that it be used as a model for Salem's plan.
They may have a better reading of it all. It is hard to say, and it is not wise to be too dogmatic about things.

Still, the language in the Staff Report is bland and dull rather than urgent and assertive, and this bears watching.

For notes on the other bits, again see "Council Goals and Strategic Plan, part 2."


There's an update
Paging through the Staff Report, "Policy Issues in Depth," it did not appear to have been significantly updated. But the one on climate was updated just yesterday, and I missed this.

Its recommendations have been strengthened, though the body of the piece does not seem to have been revised. The "Climate Actions Audit report (shown below)" does not seem to have been included, and is not in fact shown below. So I'm not sure what that means. The analysis and recommendations here still do not seem to be fully considered and integrated into a coherent perspective. (Update: See addendum below for a few notes on the Audit, which is published now.)

There is room still for a much stronger approach to a Climate Action Plan.

Coalition for Urban Transitions (red comment added)
h/t City Observatory and our group

Addendum 2

A reader sent along an internal City memo, and it appears to confirm that the City is approaching the problem mainly as a messaging and PR action.

"Salem community is mostly unaware of the overall progress"
They sent along some other documents as well, and they mostly point to a narrow understanding of a Climate Action Plan:
  • More than anything, it would be focused on the "municipal corporation" that is the City of Salem, and not on wider actions and benchmarks about all activity conducted by Salem residents or other people and entities inside the city limits. (It may be useful going forward to conform to the usage of "municipal corporation" for the City of Salem itself and "the city" for the wider community.)
  • We continue to talk about marginal improvements to walking, biking, and busing, but nothing about the primary action to curb driving and emissions from driving. It's all carrot and no stick.
  • Language in the memos about the Transportation System Plan consistently treats aspirational and guiding language as action accomplished. We have all kinds of juicy language about reducing reliance on the single occupant vehicle. But we have done very little to alter that reliance in measurable ways. We are all talk, no action; all hat, no cattle. It's time to ditch the virtue-signalling in climate action and to have measurable goals, actual measurement on those goals, and decision trees with associated, ratcheting actions for when we fail to meet those goals and intermediate milestones.
Oregon Global Warming Commission 2018 biennial report
to the 2019 Legislature (yellow highlighter added)
Conceptually, we need a major change in the way we understand and attack the problem. Instead of looking at what we are already doing and trying to nudge those actions a little further, we should be looking at the 2050 goal and backing into what we need to do now to achieve that goal. This will result in a more sweeping set of proposals for change, and some will not immediately be popular. But this is what we must do, otherwise we're just fiddling while the world burns.

Addendum 3, February 15th

The City's published the audit finally, and it is Pollyanna-ish. In tone it nearly assumes changes in language and policy have achieved the desired affect already. We've legalized ADUs! We're done. Never mind that the number of them can be counted on one's fingers and toes. Look at our Safer Crossings Program! We're done. Never mind that the number of walking and biking trips remains flat. Measurement, proportion, and scale are consistently minimized, and the performance of policy and procedure stressed instead.

I am not persuaded it seriously grapples with the nature and scope of the problem, and the nature and scope of necessary corrective action.

The audit summary - we're 26% done!

Badly understates that we are "not on track"

This is more procedural, more about policy than
actually about reducing emissions and driving

In "completed actions" we misunderstand scale:
ADUs round to zero, bike trips still at around 1%.
What is the efficacy of these completed actions?


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Added note on the revised Staff Report's recommendations and a clip from a report discussed by City Observatory.)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Added a few more notes, especially on the Climate Audit.)

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I am interested in hearing some specific 'carrots and sticks' that should be included in an effective Climate Action Plan. How do we force people to make different choices? How do we ensure things change? I think that in a democratic and free society....that likes to complain and or sue, it is hard to make real progress through just creating 'plans.'

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The "stick" side isn't really about "forcing" anything. It's about aligning incentives so that a larger proportion of a desired thing happens because the desired thing is more attractive. Ending the subsidies and mandates for free parking, and pricing parking is an important example and relevant at this moment. When we price parking more accurately, things like walking, biking, and busing will be more attractive. People who still need to drive will be able to do so because when we price parking right, convenient parking will always be available.

The flip side is that because we have this enormous set of interlocking subsidies for drive-alone trips, we have essentially "forced" people into autoism. The whole rhetoric of "forcing" hides a great deal, and does not often help advance the conversation.

(Maybe it will be better to talk about "positive and negative incentives" rather than "sticks and carrots." Or perhaps there is some other language that doesn't sound so punitive as "stick." Will think on that!)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Over at our group, they've published a video clip from the Work Session and add:

"Great news from the City Council work session on Tuesday night. The City Manager will recommend spending $150,000 to complete a the long-awaited Climate Action Plan for Salem. Here is some of the discussion from the meeting. Because $50,000 was already appropriated for the project in this fiscal year, there was interest in not waiting until July to get started. 350 Salem OR was represented at the meeting and we thanked the City Manager and his staff for their recommendation. It was good to hear the discussion of public engagement with the planning which will be key to its success."