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Climate policy commission drafts priorities for council

ASHLAND — The new year brings the start of a new budget cycle, when the Ashland City Council will begin to decide what programs and projects to maintain, expand, or eliminate as city commissions bring forward their priorities and requests for funding.

“There is good reason to remind council, especially the new council, and to provide some background about the work that’s being done ... prior to coming into the budget cycle,” commission council liaison Tonya Graham said. “It’s also appropriate to ask for what we want.”

The Climate Policy Commission on Thursday postponed passing a list to take before the city council, until the commission determines the purpose and scope of the information. The list will be revisited at the commission’s December meeting.

The set of four recommendations stems from a focus on electrification while recognizing that Ashland is not meeting its climate goals, according to a meeting memo.

The list comes as a request for proposal outline has been drafted for the Ashland Comprehensive Energy Utility Strategic Plan, which is intended to provide a “framework and roadmap for future power purchase contracts, local power generation and a transition from fossil fuels to electricity in transportation, residential and commercial applications,” according to council documents.

Commissioner Gary Shaff said the larger objective behind each recommendation is to ensure the city conforms to elements outlined in the Climate and Energy Action Plan — starting with municipal policy and pushing toward the state level.

“In order to change the environment — change climate — we need policies that become standards,” Shaff said. “Whether it’s [solar], whether it’s electric vehicles, whether it’s transportation system, whether it’s public facilities plan, all of those need to adhere to an adopted comprehensive plan element.”

Climate and energy analyst Stu Green said the first priority on the draft list — directing city staff to develop a comprehensive electric and gas utility plan — is already within the scope of the city’s Climate and Energy Action Plan, but flagging it for the new council may help keep the commission’s priorities moving forward.

Also on the list, developing an outreach and engagement plan is in progress, though Green said he hopes for a dedicated portion of the next city budget to expedite its implementation. Launching a new website platform for the climate division is a step toward improving outreach and engagement, he said — an “obvious” priority for the commission.

“We’ll either have to look for some funding to really amplify outreach if we’re not content with what’s happening, or we can look at taking away from an existing program, which I imagine would be unpopular,” Green said.

The commission discussed the benefit of recommending prioritization of the Climate and Energy Action Plan and general climate knowledge in hiring decisions, to emphasize and integrate climate challenges into management actions.

Graham said because the new council will be tasked with selecting a city manager — who in turn will select other members of leadership — the recommendation is particularly important for guiding the council through budget priority considerations that the group can expect in 2021.

“I would say you don’t want a deafening silence to this new council on climate as they head into the budget process,” Graham said. “Half of the folks who are going to be making these decisions will not have had the background that the rest of the councilors have had.”

Shaff said integration of the Climate and Energy Action Plan into city planning documents is a critical goal, so that any master plan, annexation or major project would be required to remain consistent with defined climate goals.

Green supported bringing the commission’s priorities to the council as a helpful start to the electric utility planning process and spurring public discussion, but cautioned against taking up council time for actions that may not require their endorsement to accomplish.

“Mostly, I’m interested in things that are going to unlock additional resources, so that we can get the work done,” Green said.

Any requests from the commission may be better received in combination with already highly-ranked climate conversations for the new year, Graham said. A request has been issued from the Ashland Solar Cooperative for the city to dedicate staff time to identifying city-owned property optimal for solar energy infrastructure.

Portions of the commission’s current work focus could be done through other city departments with separate funds — sparing the commission from pleading for a piece of a strained general fund this cycle, she said. If the commission wants outreach and public engagement to be prioritized and funded, Graham suggested combining it with other scheduled climate conversations with the council.

The Climate Policy Commission has one vacancy for a Southern Oregon University student, one for an Ashland High School student and one general vacancy for position No. 6. An application for appointment may be accessed by contacting the commission.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

City climate and energy analyst Stu Green officially opens 10 upgraded electric vehicle charging stations in downtown Ashland Oct. 2. Funded through various grants, the project did not source from the city's strained general fund, which will shape city commission projects in the coming budget cycle.