LTUSD diesel bus decision is a problem, requires active response (Guest opinion)
It was heartening to attend the Lake Tahoe Unified School District board meeting on Friday, Dec. 13, and find a roomful of people — high school students, Lake Tahoe Community College students, LTUSD parents and other concerned community members — all passionate about a proposed consent agenda item: the purchase of four diesel buses.
It was disappointing and concerning to leave the meeting less than an hour later with the board voting 4-1 to immediately purchase those diesel buses.
The board’s decision is a problem, and not just because the decision is contrary to LTUSD’s adopted “Green Resolution” and will be a step backward in efforts to impact climate change.
It is a problem because the board is a publicly elected body that demonstrated clear disregard for a reasonable and respectful request: to table the vote until the next board meeting in January which would allow time to answer questions raised by both board members and the public and more adequately investigate a transportation infrastructure investment worth at least hundreds of thousands that could last 20 years.
It is a problem because the board voted based on some incorrect information and before a disenfranchised community (public comment occurred before the staff presentation, an uncommon and inequitable practice in public meetings).
In short, it was a violation of public trust.
We challenge the board and administration to remedy the mistakes made on Dec. 13. At their upcoming Jan. 15 meeting the board has a chance to make good on its stated intention to prioritize electric conversion of the LTUSD bus fleet.
What would this look like?
1) An action. Direct staff to submit the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust application immediately. (In California, the VW Mitigation Trust has $130 million in funds to replace older, high-polluting transit, school, and shuttle buses with new battery-electric or fuel-cell buses. LTUSD has sat on submitting an application, despite a pro bono offer to help complete it.)
2) A policy. Pass a policy that all grant applications to fund electric vehicles do not need additional approval by the board prior to submission. This would avoid LTUSD missing out on first-come-first-served opportunities (like the VW Mitigation Trust funds).
3) A plan. Direct staff to develop, prepare and present (by February 2020) a description of how diesel buses will be phased out over the next decade and which ones would be replaced with electric buses. Research to develop this plan should include discussions with local and regional transportation experts including Tahoe Transportation District, Liberty Utilities and other school districts who have converted to electric buses; reviewing route and trip distances and determining phase-in options for electrification; creating a map of charging station options for trips; and creating a list of current and future potential funding opportunities.
There can be a sense that transitioning away from fossil fuels will happen on its own – a result of market-driven pressures or requirements, but this is not the case. Greenhouse gas emissions remain an externalized cost, not accounted for in the price of our daily purchases, and our government refuses to take substantive policy action.
Therefore it is the responsibility of local governments and local markets to make climate-friendly, sustainable and economically savvy choices. We all must be leaders on this issue.
LTUSD should strive to not fall further behind and stay true to their promised “Green Resolution” and community.
Patricia Sussman and Sherry Hao are parents and South Lake Tahoe residents. Sussman is secretary and Hao is a member of the city’s 100% Renweable Committee.