City of Eureka Asks for Input on What Happens Next with Climate

Caroline Griffith, EcoNews Journalist

Humboldt County Green House Gas Emissions. Credit: Humboldt County Gov

Should the City of Eureka reduce greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions by purchasing more electric buses? Or by making certain bus routes free? Should we follow the lead of the City of Berkeley and ban natural gas in all new construction? How ambitious should the County’s ghg reduction plan be? These were some of the questions asked of the nearly 100 attendees of the Climate Action Plan (CAP) workshop co-hosted by the City of Eureka and Humboldt County on January 15 at the Wharfinger Building in Eureka.

According to Eureka Senior Planner Kristen Goetz, the goal of the workshop was to solicit input and ideas from the public, which will then be incorporated into a Regional CAP. The County will come up with a list of possible strategies, a menu of sorts, for the cities within the county to choose from. This will enable cities to tailor their ghg reduction plan to the community, rather than adopting a generic county-wide plan.

Humboldt County Planner, Connor McGuigan, explained the components of a Climate Action Plan. The first step is to do a ghg inventory, looking at regional emissions levels and sources. The most recent inventory is from 2015, at which point the City of Eureka produced 277,826 metric tons of CO2e, or carbon dioxide equivalent. 70% of that was produced by transportation, 12% from stationary combustion (burning of natural gas, propane or wood), 12% from electricity consumption, 3% from solid waste generation, and 1% each from wastewater treatment, leaked refrigerants and industrial point sources. Countywide, the numbers are slightly different, with transportation producing 54% of ghg emissions and livestock being the second largest producer at 13% (see chart).There are more beef cattle than dairy cows in Humboldt County.

Once we know where the emissions are coming from, said McGuigan, the next step is to identify a ghg reduction target. This is a short-term goal, with a long-term vision. “We need to ask, ‘Where do we want to be in 10 or 20 years?’” he said. “And how do our local efforts fit into the big picture?” SB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 mandates that statewide ghg emissions be reduced to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The State of California currently has the goal to reach net zero emissions by 2045. In Humboldt County, the loss of the industrial pollution associated with the timber industry has already put us well below 1990 levels, so, according to McGuigan, it is realistic to set a more ambitious goal. Though there is less industrial pollution now than in 1990, vehicle travel now generates more emissions than it did in 1990.

The third component of the CAP, once the ghg reduction goal has been set, is to figure out a strategy to reach that goal. This is a set of specific policies that can be implemented by municipalities to move us toward reduced emissions. To seed some policy change ideas, McGuigan walked the crowd through a series of potential policies that, if implemented together, could bring our emissions near to zero. He also highlighted some visionary policies that have been implemented in other cities, such as making bus routes free to increase ridership and take cars off the road, and banning natural gas in new construction. He stressed that these were just examples, meant to inspire other policy change ideas from the public. The hypothetical scenario included such ideas as: adding 526 public charging stations for electric vehicles; adding 34 new electric buses; mandating that all diesel fuel sold within the county have 20% renewable (synthetic) mix; adding 94 miles of bike trails; incentivizing 1000 free bus passes tied to new multi-family development; incentivizing 5000 free bus passes through large employers; and converting 2300 gas and propane heaters and 2328 gas and propane water heaters to heat pumps. These policies, along with rooftop solar above and beyond RCEA goals and state mandates, would result in massive emissions reduction.

Another strategy involves developing the inner city, where people are closer to services and transit, rather than building on the edges. “The way our communities are structured influences our transportation choices,” said McGuigan, and transportation contributes the majority of our emissions in the county.

Humboldt County Emissions by Jurisdiction. Credit: Humboldt County Gov

Before wrapping up his presentation, McGuigan pointed out that even though Humboldt is a small county and it may seem like we can’t make an impact on a massive, global issue like climate change, the policies that are implemented can have a positive effect beyond just reducing emissions. For example, free bus passes or free bus lines, which cities the size of Eureka have provided with good results, not only provide environmental benefits, but they also provide the social benefit of working to reduce the effects of income inequality.

The bulk of the workshop was reserved for attendees to comment on what the CAP emissions reduction target should be and to suggest policy ideas. Some ideas floated by the crowd included phasing out drive-thrus at banks and restaurants, reducing the speed-limit to 55, producing more locally rather than importing, rationing gas, investing in cycling infrastructure and culture, promoting a meat-free lifestyle and designating certain areas of the city as “car-free.”

The public input part of the process is vital, said McGuigan. “People have suggested really innovative ideas, but if there isn’t a lot of support behind them, they are hard to implement.”

Those who were unable to attend the workshop are encouraged to send policy ideas and questions to Kristen Goetz at the City of Eureka (kgoetz@ci.eureka.ca.gov) or Connor McGuigan at County of Humboldt (cmcguigan1@co.humboldt.ca.us). Suggestions will be compiled, analyzed and brought back to the public at a future public meeting as possible policies to be implemented by the City. At that point, residents will be asked to weigh in on which climate strategies the City should adopt. Stay tuned on the City of Eureka website for more details.