Friday, September 17, 2021

City Council, September 20th - Climate Plan is a Dud

On Monday Council will hold a formal Work Session on the Climate Action Plan. But at the moment it's a dud, a sophisticated kind of climate delay discourse rather than a plan for reducing emissions.

The three main kinds of delay in our plan process
(comments added, "Discourses of Climate Delay")

If the plan is going to be at all serious, more than a Potemkin plan for show, it's clear that Council needs to stage an intervention and redirect the planning process to ensure the plan is reasonably likely to meet the goals.

Principals and an Enthusiasm Gap?

One of the biggest problems with the Climate Action Plan process has been demonstrated recently. The principal City planners don't appear to believe in it. When Staff have been given the opportunity to lean into the plan, they leaned away. They may say "climate matters," but their actions show they may not actually believe this.

In one case, when City Staff had a direct opportunity to coordinate and integrate climate planning with other formal planning activities, they not only passed on that, they acted as if climate didn't matter and even hindered other, more important activities.

Primary frame: Emissions or Parking demand?

One of the principal City planners on the Climate Action Plan also led the Geer Park Master Plan update, and given every opportunity to advocate for climate action, they showed they may just be going through the motions only and did not believe in the climate action plan. By their actions, they seemed to disparage the Climate Action Plan

Is there still this lack of clarity about emissions?

Separately, in a Salem Reporter article on climate, the other principal City planner had every opportunity to say, "here are the most important things we can do to reduce emissions," and instead they said we "need to build more resiliency." We need to endure and adapt to the climate emergency, not prevent its worst excesses, they appear to think. From the piece:

The city of Salem started working on a climate action plan in Aug. 2020 and is close to completing it. There’s a work session with the Salem City Council on Monday, Sept. 20.

Patricia Farrell, Salem’s parks and natural resources planning manager, said not many of the people the climate task force has talked to commented pessimistically, “though the subject is daunting.”

“Instead, people are more inclined towards the urgency of doing something. People want to know what they, as individuals, can do and how their choices matter,” she said in an email.

She said the results of the survey show the need to build more resiliency in the community, which is part of the Climate Action Plan.

With the Geer Park plan and in comments to media, City Staff in charge of the Climate Action Plan have chosen not to advocate for climate, not to advocate for reducing emissions, not to advocate for the plan.

Apart from City Staff, the Consultant also does not seem to advocate very strongly for reducing emissions. While the Staff Report says the Consultant specializes in "in climate action planning," we have seen from the start that this is not so. They are primarily interested in resiliency, not in reducing emissions. In the selection of Consultant the City also undermined the plan.

So between the City's choice of outside consultant and the City's internal choice of principal planners to lead the effort, the City has assembled a team that does not seem very interested in any real climate action. The lack of interest and engagement is striking. Because Councilor Andersen introduced and got passed some more specific language, the project team keeps saying "we have a goal to reduce emissions by 50% in 2035" but the way they want to "meet" that goal is by repeating the words that we have this goal, not by doing anything that will actually reduce emissions. It's all Potemkin Performance, an incantation by words rather than any action. The wrong people may be in charge at the moment. At the least, they are working at cross-purpose, and more consistent direction is needed.

Nowhere Near a Plan for 50% Reduction by 2035

So as we near the end of this process for a Climate Action Plan, it turns out we are far from a plan. We have wishes and hopes only.

Vaporous now at the end

From the Staff Report:

To reach the goals set by Council, the Task Force, consultants, and residents of our community worked together to develop a variety of strategies for both GHG reduction and community resilience. Over 170 strategies in seven different action categories have been proposed. Action areas include transportation/land use, energy, natural resources, economic development, materials and waste, food, and community/equity. The drafted strategies are still open for refinement and new strategies may be added. Each strategy is qualitatively assessed for GHG reduction potential, cost, lead agency, co-benefits, and timeframe for implementation.

A detailed, triple bottom line (social, environmental, financial) benefit-cost analysis was undertaken for ten strategies that have the City as the lead implementation agency and have high GHG reduction impacts. These ten strategies were selected by the three Councilors serving on the Task Force. The analysis showed that three of the 10 strategies had a positive benefit-cost ratio. These strategies were increasing parking fees, improving building weatherization, and expanding the urban tree canopy (Attachment 3). The benefit-cost ratios of the other selected strategies were more nuanced due to variables such as rates of adoption by Salem residents.

So here we are. Apparently we have only three policy concepts on which there is some clarity. Not even a plan to enact them, just an analysis that we should definitely consider them. Everything else requires a bunch more study. We did not in fact "reach the goals set by Council."

The next step in developing Salem’s CAP is to prioritize the strategies based on their impacts on reducing GHG emissions; the City’s ability to undertake the actions as a municipal government; and the ability to fund and staff the actions. Many of the strategies rely on partnerships with other organizations, such as Cherriots, Portland General Electric, and Energy Trust of Oregon.

At this point in the process we should already have ideas about prioritizing strategies based on effectiveness in reducing emissions. Why wasn't this located earlier in the process?

Instead we have wishes and hopes, a "roadmap towards a desired future." This echoes the Consultant's plan for Lincoln, Nebraska, which seemed designed to avoid action.

Themes in the Lincoln, NE plan

This is the discourse of delay made explicit, retreating from action to make it all aspirational, deferring everything to a later time or for more study. From the Staff Report again:

Implementing Salem’s CAP has a long timeframe; therefore, it will be essential to actively monitor progress towards the goals. The CAP should be considered a roadmap toward a desired future. This roadmap will need to be updated and amended to address emerging technologies, as well as changing state and federal regulations and initiatives. Priorities for implementation may shift over time and the CAP should be adjusted to stay current and maintain progress.

Reducing GHG emissions will require many actions by the City, businesses, nonprofits, partner organizations, and residents. Based on recent GHG forecast modeling it will be difficult for the City to reach the 2035 and 2050 goals without making significant changes in regulations, policies, practices, and behavior.

It is a little infuriating to read that "it will be difficult." We knew this going into the planning process. Why is this offered as some novel conclusion? This is a little shoddy, merely a restatement of themes obvious from the beginning, and a repetition of themes and tropes visible in the plan for Lincoln. It passes all this off as a conclusion earned after hard planning work, but instead it's hard not to read them as excuses for not having got further on those difficult policy decisions. Council should step in and give stronger direction so that we have a plan with reasonable expectations for success.

Weakness in the initial brief:
Mitigating effects, not reducing GHG
(Jan/Feb 2020)

Recently see:

And earlier, at the start of the process, there did not seem to be very much passion for the project, and the work products now near the end of the process exemplify this:

Update, Friday

The City's published the slide deck for the presentation, and it illustrates one of the central problems. 

There is material in it that should have been published at the very start of the process, and then would have spent the last year figuring out how to do some or all of it. But instead, the material is shared now as some novel insight at the end of the process that just creates uncertainty, difficulty, and political sludge.

Scenario 1 isn't enough, but is doable right now

The reductions in Scenario 1 aren't enough, but crucially they are doable and are things we should start planning and implementing right now.

These are things we already know about

Scenario 2, which represents the magnitude of what we need to do, is framed up in a way that expresses one of the discourses of delay: It seems to threaten our very basic way of life, and is therefore impossible. The insistence on "halting the entry" sounds like a kind of eco-fascism and may be meant to be scary in order to steer us away from even trying. Its tone is very weird.

The framing on this is weird (comments added)

We should instead explore different ways to satisfy the overall reductions in Scenario 2. That's what we should have spent the last year modeling and evaluating and debating.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with clips from the slide deck and a few comments

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Over on FB a person who has followed the process closely seems to disagree and offers in critique:

"I read the slides for the meeting that the City has released differently...They tell me that the Council goals can be met -- but it will be REALLY hard."

But there is no disagreement on this narrow observation at all. We agree! The goals can be met, and they will be challenging.

Where we disagree is that the Staff Report as originally written does not reference this slide deck at all (there is no reference to "attachment 4"), and the slide deck does not appear to be offered as an expression of the intent of the Climate Action Plan. The slide deck appears to be a kind of external commentary, and offered as justification for why lesser measures are appropriate. They appear to be framed up to suggest not just that they are really hard, but that they are too hard.

The conclusion of "dud" is made here on the whole process, and the slide deck does not seem here to be expressive of that whole process. It sits uneasily in tension with the process. Again, the material in the slide deck should have made an appearance earlier in the process, a year ago.

Backing out a bit, it would be best for this assessment of "dud" to be wrong. So it will be a great delight and relief to eat crow if the plan is not a dud!

The process and plan can be improved by a very great margin, and the focus in advocacy should be on making it better. The material in the slide deck is helpful, and can be transformed into a positive direction for strengthening the plan.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Our chapter has published their formal comments to Council. They include a list of 10 priority recommendations. (Click through to read the full discussion.)

1. No more widening (or adding lanes to) existing roadways. No new freeways or parkways. Invest instead in pedestrian and biking network/safety to transit network, schools and major employers
2. Charge for city-controlled parking in and near downtown
3. Mandate that major employers implement sustainable transportation for employees
4. Lobby/support intercity transit and rail at the state level
5. Improve pedestrian safety at crossings
6. Require EV charging stations at new (and later at existing) multifamily residences
7. Send all of Salem’s mixed trash to the Coffin Butte landfill. Adopt a comprehensive municipal waste program to reduce methane emissions.
8. Ban new fossil gas residential and commercial hookups
9. Exempt System Development Charges within ¼ mile of the core transit network
10. Hire a city staff person to implement CAP