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Citizens Climate Lobby talks environment with candidates

Some of us are tired of hearing about climate change and frustrated because we feel we cannot have any real impact on it as individuals. But together as a community we have a greater ability to make a difference, and together we can choose leaders who will adopt policies that will lessen the carbon footprint of our City. The South Lake Tahoe Chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) asked each City Council candidate about their stance on specific policies related to creating a more climate-friendly city.

Of the ten candidates, five responded to our climate change questionnaire: Ted Long, Brooke Laine, JoAnn Conner, John Shearer and Jason Collin. In addition, John Shearer, Jason Collin and JoAnn Conner took the time to meet with CCL representatives to learn more about current climate change science and its projected impact to Lake Tahoe. We regret that not all candidates took the time to respond to our questionnaire.

While Citizen’s Climate Lobby does not endorse any candidates, we hope the responses will be of interest to voters who want to elect leaders who care about our climate.

Are you familiar with local and international research that indicates that climate change is man-made and has already started to have a negative impact on South Lake Tahoe?

Ted Long: Yes, it is very clear that climate change is man made.

Brooke Laine: Yes, I am very much aware of the science that supports data that our man-made greenhouse Emissions (C02) is the significant factor in trapping warm air in our atmosphere.

JoAnn Conner: Yes, I am aware of this issue. I have also had the pleasure of seeing the excellent presentation Bonnie Turnbull has developed.

John Shearer: Yes, I am familiar with the research regarding climate change and its impacts on the Lake Tahoe basin.

Jason Collin: Yes, and the ramifications of not taking action are frightening. We must address and incorporate climate change issues in all of the decisions we make in the City.

What strategies do you endorse to help our community — most notably our economy and safety — adapt to and prepare for a changing climate?

Ted Long: We should look toward electric vehicles and solar. Because we are a mountain community with a relative small population most solar companies are not interested the city could support an effort to make it profitable for them. We can support programs that provide better insulation and energy efficient appliances. We should look at what other cities are doing.

Brooke Laine: I would propose that we provide incentives for visitors who drive eco-friendly vehicles to enter the Basin at a reduced or free rate and that vehicles that are not eco-friendly pay a fee. The fees collected would be dedicated to upgrade a multi-model transportation system in our city. Additionally, transportation (due to the above subsidy) would be provided at no charge to residents and tourists alike as they contributed to the system with their basin entry fee.

JoAnn Conner: Many of our buildings are antiquated and not energy efficient. Some owners have indicated an interest in renovation, but there is not enough cooperation currently between the agencies to reduce the cost of upgrades. For example, one businessman called to say he bought an older building (dating back to at least the 1980’s) and wanted to do major upgrades to bring it to current standards for energy efficiency. The cost of the permits from the City alone would have cost him three times what the construction would cost. That is absurd. We need to work harder and spend money to make public transportation more affordable and efficient. The City used to subsidize the bus service. The current buses are large and often more than half empty. We would do well to take back control of the bus system, secure smaller, possibly electric buses, that would run more frequently and provide better service, thereby reducing the number of vehicles on the road. We have built bike paths that run from Meyers to Round Hill, and I was instrumental in allocating funding to help keep the paths clear for all year round usage. However, they are not well lit for night usage and the directional signage is lacking. We can do better. We do not have safe pedestrian access. We need more crosswalks and sidewalks. Caltrans plans to add sidewalks along Highway Fifty from the Y to Sierra Blvd., but we also need subdued and/or solar lighting to make those routes safer. I have addressed crosswalks with the city administration and Caltrans. There is an inexpensive, durable, colored material that could bring greater safety for pedestrians, which would encourage more walking.

John Shearer: I plan to keep climate change in conversation with all decision making. We need to prepare for the future impact of climate change in order to preserve our economy and quality of life in South Lake Tahoe and set a good example for other communities.

Jason Collin: Since it is estimated that over 50% of GHG load in Tahoe is from homes/buildings, I think it is imperative that we start there. Energy audits, education and incentives for making improvements are a good place to start.

Buildings account for 39 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S., more than any other sector. By transforming the built environment to be more energy-efficient and climate friendly, the building sector can play a major role in reducing the threat of climate change. How do you think your policy stance on housing and redevelopment would impact our community’s carbon footprint?

Ted Long: I support green building requirements.

Brooke Laine: I would advocate workplace housing be located near the economic centers to impact vehicle miles. I would also like to see more features like mixed-use: more bikeable/walkable friendly sidewalks. I would support buildings being required to contain green standards including a digital footprint and recycled materials.

JoAnn Conner: I have attempted to get the City to look at more solar energy usage. I have talked to several companies that install solar panels and they feel South Lake Tahoe would be a viable opportunity to use more solar power. We can power lighting, heat, cooling, and other needs if we at least look at this as a part of the solution. We should incentivize builders who want to build green, reducing their permit fees, possibly expediting the process, and (as we recently did), providing CFA to businesses that want to provide residential housing as well as commercial space and who want to use green building techniques. There is money to be had from the state for housing built around transportation options, and for renovating and creating residential space in place of old motels. The additional advantage to providing more housing for our workforce is that it reduces the greenhouse gas emissions that stem from people driving a long distance to get to work. Building more workforce housing near employers and more accessible to transportation can reduce pollution.

John Shearer: I believe in redevelopment. I think a lot of the buildings in town could be completely redeveloped from the ground up, to be more environmentally friendly, I have had to do it with some of my properties/buildings myself. Our City’s future needs to be a part of development process because “we cannot have one without the other.”

Jason Collin: I want to focus on redevelopment even more than development. And with redevelopment, it needs to be responsible, environmental redevelopment. With that I mean that EVERY project needs to demonstrate a significant improvement (from existing buildings) in energy efficiency and in mitigating the impact into the Lake.

How will you support alternative transportation options to reduce auto dependence and limit greenhouse gas emissions, including improved public transportation, improved bike infrastructure, or investing in advanced vehicle technology (electric vehicles)?

Ted Long: We need a more reliable bus system and it should be free. I support the Bike Coalition and championed share the road here. The cities fleet should be electric and clean burning natural gas.

Brooke Laine: We should invest in charging stations and additional public transportation that is electric. The City should partner with other agencies (CTC, TTD, TRPA) to apply for state and federal grants that are available for this very purpose. I would also like to see a partnership with a car rental agency that only rents carbon free vehicles. Of course, the ultimate solution is to get people out of their cars and using alternative forms of transportation including bicycles, free public transit, walking etc.

JoAnn Conner: You will never get people out of their vehicles until you provide good, reliable, affordable public transportation. I have said this for years. We need to provide that transportation. We also need space for people to park and then catch the public transportation. We have several electric charging stations, but they are not well publicized. I would like to see the city look at electric vehicles for our staff that use vehicles and I know they make electric buses.

John Shearer: I support alternative transportation options, and would like to see improved public transportation and improved bike infrastructure. It is important for South Lake Tahoe to be a leader with alternative options, and encourage residents and visitors alike to use alternative methods, however those resources need to be available. I would look to other similar and successful city and destination locations to how they structure alternative transportation, and not re-invent the wheel.

Jason Collin: We absolutely need a public transportation system that works, and works well. This needs to be a top priority for the City. Our aging infrastructure also needs to be addressed desperately. With the deteriorating roads are sidewalks that are in equal or greater disrepair (or non-existent). We need to work on complete streets so that pedestrian and cyclists can mobilize safely and efficiently throughout our city. I would love to see more charging stations throughout town to promote EV transportation and to make it a more feasible means of getting around.

The Sustainability Plan states that the City will conduct quarterly reports on its progress to meet plan objectives and complete an annual review and update of the overall Sustainability Plan. The City is delinquent on this review and updates. How do you plan to bring the City into compliance?

Ted Long: By insisting that it be done.

Brooke Laine: I would discuss this matter with the City Manager to first determine the reason/hurdle for not completing the quarterly updates. Based on the answer, I will advocate to the council and staff the importance on following up on what is a very good start on understanding our role in addressing climate change. The document serves to educate the reader. However, it is in our actions that we see change.

JoAnn Conner: If the City continues to neglect this important review, I will have a citizen do a public records request for the information, then make that available to the media. The City is behind in many reports, including this and the ADA plan. Citizens need to demand their elected representatives instruct staff to make these reports a priority.

John Shearer: I think it is important to see progress updates on plans. Sometimes plans don’t always go as “planned” and timelines aren’t always accurate and that is ok, but it is important to be transparent. These are big issues that sometimes take some time to figure out, however as doing a duty to the people it is imperative to give the community updates. How will we know where to go, if we don’t know where we are now?

Jason Collin: First, we need to find out what barriers have gotten in the way of conducting the review. Then we need to address said issues, set firm completion dates and hold people accountable.

One of the six adopted next steps in the Sustainability Plan is to reduce the City’s carbon footprint by completing an energy audit and developing an action plan to reduce energy use in City facilities by 15 percent by 2012. The City is delinquent in accomplishing this goal. How do you plan to address this delinquency?

Ted Long: By insisting that it be done, providing whatever support is needed to make it a priority.

Brooke Laine: I would suggest we appoint a sustainability commission who can promote the plan, the quarterly updates and who can be instrumental in keeping this plan before the community and the City.

JoAnn Conner: City projects are the perfect place to begin emphasizing green building. We serve the will of the citizens, and they have told us they want us to work to prote ct our environment. Many of our projects come from state or federal grants, so much of the expense is paid without affecting the general fund or City budget. I have the support of the construction unions and they are in agreement with safe and green building practices. We should be the example for the rest of the projects in our City. Again, we could do more to encourage private contractors and builders to build green by reducing their costs on permits and fees. I have spoken to several of the surrounding agencies and I believe we could gain consensus for a reduction of our fees for those who would build green. I can bring it up at Council, which makes it public knowledge to more people as it is broadcast. The real key is the citizens. You have the power to demand your elected officials make this a high priority and direct staff to get this done. We cannot proceed with best practices if there is no plan.

John Shearer: I know that they are working on achieving these goals, and Liberty Utilities has a plan as well and they provide many resources to homeowners and business owners to make their property more eco-friendly. I plan to address this by working together and collaborating to spread awareness to the community about our current goals and programs in place that support property owners and energy efficiency.

Jason Collin: Again, we first need to do some investigating as to why it didn’t happen, address barriers, reset targets if needed, set firm dates for completion and then hold people accountable. The Sustainability Plan is critically important for our City so we have to make sure we are living up to the goals we have set forth.

Another adopted next step in the Sustainability Plan is to commit to establishing a new green building program and standards for City projects, including requirements to meet or exceed the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating or use the Build It Green scoring system. What is your stance on developing a new green building program for City projects?

Ted Long: I have always supported a Green Building program.

Brooke Laine: Great idea! Again, a city appointed commission to develop a plan. I would support a green building plan. I would also support regenerating food and animal waste into renewable sources. I am currently working with the employees at Dog Dog Cat to come up with a centralized animal waste container that would generate renewable sources. I understand that STR is looking at ways of capturing food waste and converting it as well.

JoAnn Conner: I can bring it up at Council, which makes it public knowledge to more people as it is broadcast. The real key is the citizens. You have the power to demand your elected officials make this a high priority and direct staff to get this done. We cannot proceed with best practices if there is no plan

John Shearer: I think this is a great opportunity to incentivize redevelopment in the City. Projects such as Edgewood Properties new lodge with the LEED rating are the kind of projects we need here in South Lake Tahoe. If we had correct regulations for these types of projects or breaks for these certifications, we could incentivize developers to revitalize our buildings.

Jason Collin: I support Green Building practices and would really like to see the City promote them even moreso. I do need to learn more about the cost associated with Green Building and what other barriers or concerns builders may have with following LEED or Build It Green systems. We need to work with the builders to make Green Building as profitable as historic building practices.

Please add any other statement you would like to make about the issue of climate change.

Ted Long: We also need to address the solid waste program, recycling at the curb needs to be promoted.

JoAnn Conner: City projects are the perfect place to begin emphasizing green building. We serve the will of the citizens, and they have told us they want us to work to protect our environment. Many of our projects come from state or federal grants, so much of the expense is paid without affecting the general fund or City budget. I have the support of the construction unions and they are in agreement with safe and green building practices. We should be the example for the rest of the projects in our City. Again, we could do more to encourage private contractors and builders to build green by reducing their costs on permits and fees. I have spoken to several of the surrounding agencies and I believe we could gain consensus for a reduction of our fees for those who would build green.

Jason Collin: I am grateful for the group of people we have here in Tahoe that are taking the lead on educating and informing the community about the impacts of climate change. The changes we are facing are unprecedented and need to be proactively addressed. Best practices regarding climate change need to be included in every conversation the City has as we move forward.