The City of Davis took a step forward in its quest to lower greenhouse gas emissions in the city on Tuesday night.
The Davis City Council unanimously approved a resolution establishing emissions reduction targets for the city and community through 2050. The reductions will be gradual, with a target of cutting emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 and a target of complete carbon neutrality by 2050.
“There’s no real magic to this, it’s just a gradual reduction over time,” said city sustainability coordinator Mitch Sears. “The more you can do early on, generally speaking, the better.“
The majority of emissions in Davis come from residential energy use and transportation, Sears said. The city is currently running a pilot program with 100 households with a goal of reducing 5,000 lbs. of carbon-equivalent emissions per year. The program involves things like replacing light bulbs and air filters and reducing vehicle travel and meat consumption.
The council acknowledged that getting the community to significantly reduce their carbon footprint will be a considerable challenge.
“When you look at what you can actually do to reduce your carbon footprint, it’s difficult,” said Councilmember Stephen Souza, who is currently taking part in the pilot program. Nonetheless, Souza says it’s critical the city acts now.
“I think we have reached the critical mass point and we need to reverse our direction,” he said, comparing today’s threat of unchecked climate change with the threat of nuclear annihilation in the 1980s.
Other councilmembers shared similar sentiments.
“It’s a pretty ambitious undertaking,” said Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor. “I think it’s really an incredible objective that we’re talking about … [but] I can pretty much guarantee that if we do nothing, we’re going to be in bad shape.“
One issue that came up during Tuesday’s discussion was how to regulate new housing developments to comply with the targets. Because most of Davis has already been developed, the city will have to focus on public engagement and education programs to help raise awareness about how people can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions at home.
For new residential projects, however, city staff is developing greenhouse gas reduction guidelines for developers.
Mark Rutheiser, a member of the city’s Climate Action Team and a local developer, spoke during public comment about the danger of putting too many restrictions on developers. He pointed to a substantial increase in development fees in the last four years, as well as a slew of new rules and requirements, that are making it harder for developers to build in the city.
“I’m concerned that we are on the verge of actually shutting down new residential development in this community,” Rutheiser said. “In doing so the city will not be able to achieve any of its goals related to housing, and all of the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions will rest entirely on the existing housing stock.“
Rutheiser said he supported the city’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint but thought the priorities needed to be re-evaluated.
“With climate change coming to the forefront I think it’s time that we actually re-evaluate all of our policies, goals and ordinances relating to housing and look at our priorities,” he said.
City manager Bill Emlen acknowledged Rutheiser’s concerns and said city staff was beginning a comprehensive look at the increasing costs and restrictions for residential development within the city, with the ultimate goal of bringing an agenda item forward for council review.
JEREMY OGUL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.