I had a newspaper interview at the beginning of the week about OR 22 in which I described myself as feeling a “lightness of being” that the 10-day international event had successfully closed. Athletes and visitors alike enjoyed their time in our city, and the fan festival was a roaring success with nightly crowds taking advantage of free live viewing of the events in Hayward Field. After the trauma and stress of the past couple of years, it felt as if we rediscovered our capacity for joy as a community. That joy was not automatic – City teams collaborated, problem solved, worried, sweat over every detail, and invested our core values of accessibility, sustainability, and diversity in everything they did. I hope that all of the volunteers, staff and community partners will allow themselves time and take a deep breath to savor their accomplishment. The festival reminded me of the Eugene Celebration at its peak – but better. Thank you to all of you who made it happen, and then joined the crowd at our new park to be together joyfully once again.
Council’s work was anything but light this week. Both work sessions on Monday and Wednesday focused on the impact of building emissions on climate. For many advocates, this work can’t happen fast enough; for others, we are moving too fast. We passed the Climate Action Plan 2.0 in 2020. At the time, we were well into our discussions with NW Natural to tie our climate goals to our franchise agreement with the company. That effort failed to more forward to an agreement and by November 2021, Council approved motions to plan for code adjustments to electrify new constructions and to develop a roadmap to decarbonize existing buildings.
This work is a heavy lift, but it is based on fact and research. The City engaged The Good Company to clarify the landscape regarding the greatest building sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the technology, and options for retrofitting existing buildings, and the availability of clean electricity. Their first report focused on residential buildings; coming in the fall will be a report that analyzes commercial buildings.
After more than three hours of deliberations over two days this week, Council approved five motions:
- to direct the City Manager to draft an ordinance prohibiting natural gas and other fossil fuel infrastructure in all low-rise residential buildings for which permits are submitted after June 30, 2023 and schedule a public hearing on the ordinance in the fall.
- to direct the City Manager to schedule a work session in the fall to discuss prohibiting natural gas and other fossil fuel infrastructure in all new commercial buildings including as part of that work session a potential waiver process for buildings or uses that may not have feasible access to electric-only options, including a discussion of applicability to certain building types.
- to direct the City Manager to bring back a revision to the Climate Action Plan that formalizes as a City goal the decarbonization of residential and, as feasible, commercial buildings by 2035 and industrial buildings by 2050.
- to direct the City Manager to return to Council in the Fall with a proposal for engaging the community in developing a plan for the transition of buildings becoming decarbonized that has as its foundation social, environmental, and economic equity with emphasis on engagement of historically marginalized communities and their representatives
- that, prior to the drafting of a commercial electrification ordinance, the City Manager engage the business community with an outreach process to discuss and solicit their input.
These motions are a critical first step and I’m proud of this council for their hard work. It was very clear that councilors are concerned about the public’s understanding of these issues and their opportunities to engage in a two-way conversation about how we move forward. Many businesses, including the Chamber of Commerce, are urging caution -- concerned about regulation that will adversely affect their ability to operate. That concern is embedded in these motions. We must do this work together. It will be gradual. Our work is part of a larger systemic change in the nation’s energy system: we don’t control that system, but we can protect the future interests of our community by preparing for that systemic shift away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner energy.
Council is now taking a summer break – but much work continues. I’ll present on August 5th at the Mayors Innovation Project conference about our Middle Housing code; and joining other Oregon Mayors on the 12th at the Oregon Mayors Association meeting to talk about city responses to homelessness.