There were no council meetings this week but it was busy – my schedule seemed to combine two weeks into one to make up for Thanksgiving week. I will focus this blog on climate change and homelessness in reflecting on discussions with my newly formed Business Advisory Council and the Shelter Stakeholder subcommittee of the Poverty and Homelessness Board.
As you know, Council approved two motions related to climate change: the first to explore what city code changes could be made to require electrification of future residential, commercial and industrial buildings; and the second, directing the city manager to develop a roadmap that identifies what the City would need to do in order to decarbonize existing buildings.
Both issues are complex and council is recognizing that they need to begin these conversations with some clear frameworks and guides to determine what we have authority to do, where our actions might be supported by state and federal actions and investments, and how best to target our efforts. With this in mind, I asked my Business Advisory Council to offer their insights.
I formed the Business Advisory Council for exactly this kind of discussion in order to hear early-on in policy discussions from an array of business- people about intended and unintended impacts of those decisions. My take-away from their conversation is not surprising: proceed cautiously and deliberately. Our community is home to industries, like breweries and distilleries, that depend on natural gas. Members of the business council also expressed concerns about the cost of electricity to homeowners. At the same time, as we build housing, particularly the “middle” forms of housing that are more compact, electric heating systems and water heating systems may prove to be cost-effective. We have to start somewhere on this shift. I expect the City Council’s discussions in 2022 to be lively – but they will be based on good information and thoughtful analysis, as my small group of business leaders have urged.
Later in the week, the Shelter Stakeholder subcommittee discussed the Chamber of Commerce report and recommendations on homelessness: View report. The report included eight recommendations, many which echo the recommendations of the TAC report approved by city and county leadership in 2019 that is guiding our work to reduce the number of unsheltered people in our community. The Shelter Stakeholder members were particularly interested in the metrics of success – the report calls for better data. In the most basic sense, I think the public’s measure of success is a reduction in the number of blue tarps, tents, and vehicles they see across town. The reality is that the City’s and County’s intensive investment in short- and longer-term solutions to homelessness will take a long time to reduce homelessness that is visible on our streets. We are facing impatience and frustration from both sides: some activists are angry at the City’s management of the sites, timing and removal of campers who are not compliant with our urban camping rules. Many others in the community are frustrated and angry about the impact of the temporary sites on their neighborhoods, and our inability to permanently resolve the ongoing crisis. This coming Wednesday, City Council and County Board are convening in a joint session to hear an update on progress particularly with respect to the TAC report. I encourage people to follow that conversation.