As the US government continues slashing environmental regulations, reversing over 60 environmental rules since the Trump administration came to power, Pasadena is looking for new ways to combat climate change on its own.
Following a public hearing Monday night, the City Council approved the Climate Action Plan (CAP), which aims to reduce local greenhouse gases (GHG) 59 percent from 2009 levels by 2035.
The city’s Planning and Community Development Department began planning this revamped climate initiative in 2015 and released the current draft in December. In 2009, community-wide emissions were 2,044,921 metric tons of carbon dioxide. For reference, there are 2,204.62 pounds of carbon dioxide in one metric ton. While the 2009 GHG measurements came from energy, transportation, water and solid waste, the draft CAP will add land use in its targeted strategies. The draft is also compatible with California’s state-wide goals to reduce emissions.
“The value of it is it collects [all the programs Pasadena has undertaken] in one place, and it establishes a series of tasks and measurements that we can review over time to see how we’re doing and whether we’re going to meet the state-mandated goals and our own internally-mandated goals,” said Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek.
The current statewide goal is to reduce GHG emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050, which is in line with the necessary US levels to keep the climate below two degrees Celsius — the threshold climate scientists have warned that can produce the dangerous side effects of climate change.
“The Pasadena Climate Action Plan sets forth a strategy that builds upon existing programs and policies that address climate change, identifies where these existing efforts can be expanded, and ultimately establishes a roadmap that not only enables the city to reach the State’s reduction targets called forth under Executive Order S305, Assembly Bill 32 and Senate Bill 32 but is also consistent with the state’s climate strategy,” said acting Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian.
“For the first time we have a comprehensive plan on how we are going to reduce our greenhouse emissions and become a more sustainable city,” said Councilwoman Margaret McAustin. “The upcoming Integrated Resource Plan [IRP] for power, which addresses the components of our power portfolio, will be starting soon and that offers another opportunity to put our sustainability goals into action.”
The first of the plan’s five strategies is sustainable mobility and land use. To kick it off, the city would continue to expand Pasadena’s bicycle and pedestrian network and improve safety measures. Some of the ideas are already in action and would be expanded, like the bike share program that was done in partnership with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). In 2017, 30 bike share stations were put into use. The goal is to install three bike share stations per square mile and have 800 bike share bicycles.
The draft also mentions potentially having “open street” events to encourage walking and bicycling by temporarily closing certain streets to automobile traffic. In addition to continuing to enhance transit services, the CAP aims to decrease annual commuter miles by single-occupancy vehicles. The plan also says it will improve the current transportation system to ease traffic, reduce idling, minimize bottlenecks and encourage efficient driving techniques.
The plan also tackles energy efficiency and conservation by calling for a reduction in energy consumption, creating high-performance buildings and making the change to carbon-neutral sources. Energy performance requirements would get an upgrade for new construction while existing buildings would get retrofits to make them more energy efficient.
According to the draft, “A significant number of Pasadena’s residential buildings were built more than 30 years ago, prior to the adoption of California’s energy efficiency standards.”
The Building Energy Efficiency Standards, or Title 24, were adopted by the state in 1976 and have been updated periodically. The current standards are from 2016, which went into effect last year. The next update to the California standards will be in 2019 and will go into effect in 2020.
“I think [the draft is] very ambitious, particularly since right now the biggest reductions are attributable to existing building inventories and making them more efficient and also significantly boosting transit ridership,” Tornek said. “I think both of those are somewhat unpredictable, and I think they should be ambitious, and I think it’s appropriately ambitious.”
To improve water conservation in Pasadena, the CAP will create new incentives for irrigation retrofits and harvesting rainwater. The plan states the city would also consider revising Pasadena’s landscape ordinance to require drip irrigation and drought-tolerant landscaping for new residential, commercial and municipal developments.
Pasadena also wants to reduce the use of potable water — water that is safe to drink or use in food preparation — throughout the city and make non-potable water more available.
The waste reduction measures contained in the CAP are aimed at decreasing GHG emissions from the generation of solid waste. It focuses on the emissions released from the collection, transportation and landfilling of waste as well as the methane created when solid waste in landfills and combustion facilities is decomposed.
“Reducing solid waste and its associated GHG emissions benefits residents and business owners through improved air quality, reduced energy consumption, lower costs associated with disposal, and less congestion and noise associated with waste collection,” states the CAP draft.
Many of the ideas for reducing solid waste seem to be small changes that can quickly add up to produce significant results. In addition to switching to multi-use food containers, the plan involves selecting products made from post-consumer recycled content and using refillable options.
The draft also plans to have “office clean-out days” and have businesses redistribute materials to other departments or organizations to make better use of supplies.
The last climate strategy is Urban Greening, which would increase the amount of trees and plants in Pasadena to absorb carbon dioxide, CO2, from the atmosphere, otherwise known as carbon sequestration.
“By maintaining a healthy urban forest, prolonging the life of trees and continually increasing the number of trees in the city, Pasadena can increase its net carbon storage over the long-term,” the CAP states.
The city has made progress over the past few years by creating more green spaces, planting more trees and utilizing drought-resistant and native plant species. The draft notes that in 2010, about 20 acres of parks and open space were added, and 4,064 trees were planted between 2013 and 2016. Under the CAP, the city would enhance those steps already taken.
“The CAP measures arose from a consideration of the reductions needed to achieve the state-wide targets and local goals, the sources and distribution of emissions revealed by the inventory and the existing priorities and resources of Pasadena,” states the draft.
Of the 27 measures, 21 of them are quantified by their GHG reduction potential. Four of the measures may not directly reduce emissions and are therefore considered supportive measures. The draft says the last two measures were quantified in the adjusted forecast.
“This is exactly what I feel motivated to spend time on,” Tornek said, “all of those things that are significantly in the city’s control and where we can make significant and tangible improvements that really will have an impact, as opposed to joining on to a feel-good statement [referring to the Climate Mayors coalition], which I don’t think has much impact.”
While there is no single funding source, Tornek said many of the initiatives in the plan are funded and different aspects of the plan are included in the budget of the corresponding departments since many of the programs described in the CAP are already in place.
However, there is another major component in the plan.
The initiatives include ways residents would aid the city in achieving the plan’s goal. Some of those initiatives include working with community organizations and volunteers to continue restoring the Arroyo Seco region and other areas. The plan would use Pasadena’s website to provide education and outreach related to zero waste, as well as information on ways to reduce, divert and recycle waste.