Council addressed major on-going issues this week, beginning with a joint session with the EWEB Board of Commissioners, reviewing our options for using the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds, and approving the next steps in our response to the unhoused people in our community.
The joint meeting with EWEB discussed the second phase of the utility’s electrification study as well as a review of the City’s CAP 2.0. The EWEB study is a key step in understanding the potential and challenges of transitioning from fossil fuel energy sources, and the presentation reviewed the impacts and likelihood of adoption of three key strategies: electric vehicles (EV), residential water heating and space heating systems. On the one hand, Council is looking for insights that would clarify the costs and potential of City policies approved in the CAP 2.0 - including some that are moving forward, like Home Energy Scores, and others that are on hold, like regulating natural gas. EWEB is navigating a shifting landscape in which drought, climate change, and changing technology and regulations alter the baseline for our primary clean energy source – hydropower. The utility and the City have several parallel and collaborative programs, particularly with respect to energy efficiency and EV adoption -- and those shared efforts can and should be strengthened through joint agreement. We have an opportunity to encourage or require greater electrification in buildings, and the study and the conversation made clear that there will be costs to that transition potentially to ratepayers and to customers. That will be the crux of ongoing discussions.
On Wednesday, the first work session reviewed all of the federal funding that has been made available to local governments in the Local Recovery Fund of the ARPA which amounts for the city to almost $36 million over two years. These funds are relatively flexible, more so than benefits through the CARES Act in 2020, and the City staff are using a guideline offered by the Brookings Institute for local governments. That guideline recommends applying three core principles to determine the best use of these one-time dollars: Stabilize, Strategize, and Implement.
Under stabilize, the staff proposes using ARPA funds to shore-up budget shortfalls in FY 22 and FY 23.
Under strategize, the goal is to look for longer term recovery investments, specifically directing resources toward our response to homelessness, including the safe sleeping sites. In addition, staff propose to set aside some ARPA funds as a reserve to cover potential costs of the ongoing pandemic. These options will be discussed further in budget committee meetings in October.
And finally, the Council received an update on the City’s progress in establishing safe sleeping sites. As I noted last week, the site at 2nd and Garfield is poised to open possibly on Monday, the 4th if the weather permits the final concrete installations this weekend. Council approved three new sites for development: the corner of Bethel and Roosevelt, a site owned by Square One Villages with a capacity of 40 tent sites; a location on Dani Street, for both tents and vehicles management by EveryOne Village; and 410 Garfield that will provide up to 90 tent sites in a building, as well as pallet shelters or conestogas on the property. These all bring us closer to providing managed, safe sites and is a big step in creating more safety for the unsheltered and for neighborhoods when they are fully operational.