Effective Climate and Clean Energy Planning

How to Future Proof Your City

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Michael Hendrix is project director, air quality and climate change at Atkins.

Cheryl Laskowski is climate change project manager for Atkins.

Donna Huey is senior vice president and director of strategic venture for Atkins.

Jacki Bacharach is executive director of the South Bay Cities Council of Governments.

Tabitha Kevari is sustainability manager for the city of Redlands, Calif.

Steve Smith is director of planning for San Bernadino Associated Governments.

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Posted: Wednesday, September 24, 2014 4:20 pm

The prospect of urban growth coupled with the effects of climate change offers both opportunities and risks.

This is according to Future Proofing Cities, a 2012 report by global consulting firm Atkins, in partnership with the U.K. Department for International Development and University College London.

The FPC Report includes a variety of strategies policymakers can use in “future proofing” their cities, and a number of cities are already taking such steps. Representatives of some in the Los Angeles, Calif., area shared their insights in a session, “Taking Action by Future Proofing: Climate and Clean Energy Planning,” at the 100th International City/County Management Association Conference, held Sept. 14-17 in Charlotte, N.C.

“This is all about better understanding the risks of climate change, today’s rapid urbanization, and promoting a holistic view of the interconnectedness of all the hard and soft assets throughout the city,” said panel moderator Donna Huey, senior vice president and director of Strategic Venture for Atkins, which hosted the ICMA session. “It’s taking a long-term view beyond the capital planning horizon, out 20-50 years, around how we drive resiliency through the infrastructure underlying our cities.

“From our research, we were able to create an urban diagnostic that provides a logical and systematic approach to understanding and categorizing cities based on their risk type. Those risks include severe climate change, natural resources, or energy planning and emissions. From there, we looked at their capacity to act and ultimately developed a policy portfolio and mapped those policies to the risks the cities faced.

“Since that time, we’ve been putting that approach in action in cities all around the world,” Huey said. “And in each location, the diagnostic has taken us in a different direction, based upon the needs of that particular location.”

Climate change and emissions are connected to almost every issue cities address, Huey said, from transportation and transit planning to job creation and land use. And many are finding the best way to tackle the challenges is to pool their resources by partnering with neighbors to form area or regional government groups, sometimes called councils of governments (COGs).

A prime example can be found in San Bernardino County, Calif. With a population of 2.1 million, most in the Southwestern sector just east of Los Angeles County, it’s the largest county geographically in the 48 U.S. states, with a wide variety of urbanized, mountain and desert areas. The local economy is primarily driven by distribution, logistics and recreation.

“The county was very active in pushing us all into thinking of the future, not just the past,” said Steve Smith, Director of Planning for San Bernadino Associated Governments, or SANBAG. The new group was adopted by the county and 24 cities in 2011 and has become a primary source of information exchange with the local agencies.

“(SANBAG) became the focal point for a lot of the communication and a county-wide vision of the future,” Smith said, which included a number of elements such as education, environment, housing, image, infrastructure, jobs and the local economy, public safety, quality of life, water and wellness. In many ways, it paralleled work going on at the same time in the state legislature, focused on greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions and sustainability, with an emphasis on regional responses.

That made SANBAG an ideal resource for its members to respond to the requirements of new legislation. Its environmental initiatives include a GHG reduction plan (for 21 cities); a countywide habitat conservation framework; an active transportation program that features a regional bicycle and pedestrian plan; a home energy renovation opportunity program; transit-oriented development (TOD) initiatives at six commuter rail stations; and a freight strategy for goods movement and air quality.

SANBAG got involved at the request of the board members representing each of our 24 cities and the county,” Smith said. “Given the recession, each of our cities were really stretched. We were trying to noodle out how to do this better and more efficiently, and SANBAG was a way to do this collaboratively and realize economies of scale.

“The greenhouse gas reduction plan initiatives are mandated by the state, but we recognize we have choices as cities and the county,” he added. “We can keep doing them project by project, but there could be a better way. SANBAG is a regional approach, but each city still has its own independent choice in what they do and how they implement GHG reductions.”

The SANBAG regional GHG reduction plan provides a large menu of options member communities can choose to achieve their targets. The options range from building energy (such as efficiency improvements, outdoor lighting and solar installations), on-road transportation and off-road equipment (including an idling ordinance) to solid waste management, water and wastewater projects, agriculture and land use/forestry.

“Our approach includes maximizing our resources through SANBAG’s programs, ensuring consistency across other jurisdictions, developing the foundation for a climate action plan, and energy efficiency financing and funding for retrofits” said Tabitha Kevari, sustainability manager for the city of Redlands, one of the SANBAG member communities. The city is using SANBAG’s plan for regional coordination of its light rail project, bicycle trails master plan, and regional financing for energy efficiency retrofits. It’s also used to coordinate with other city efforts, including a community sustainability plan, an energy action plan, a climate action plan and a healthy community strategy.

“We’re retrofitting city hall, the community center and library,” Kevari said. “We’re continuing to retrofit our water and wastewater facilities to improve energy efficiency. We’re installing LED streetlights and traffic signals, and we have community energy efficiency retrofit and water conservation programs.”

The Southern California Edison Partnership Program is funding development of the Redlands Energy Action plan, Kevari added, which includes a GHG emissions inventory and forecasting, a municipal GHG inventory, a forecast of 2035 GHG emissions, reduction targets and energy efficiency strategies to reduce emissions.

That funding, and other resources like it, is an important benefit of regional coordination. “Looking at what Redlands has done and some of the planning that the COG has provided … none of it came out of the general fund,” said Michael Hendrix, project director, Air Quality and Climate Change, Atkins. “They all came out of different funding mechanisms or through utilities and even community departments and volunteers.

“For example, Redlands’ municipal utilities department, which is their own water and wastewater agency, is promoting its energy efficiency measures by tracking the savings it’s getting in utilities and reinvesting that in more energy efficiency measures. It’s taking seed money and turning it into a self-funded program.”

The combination of regional collaboration and local project’s control of COGs make them ideal incubators for new ideas like the Redlands’ municipal energy efficiency reinvestments.

“We are the perfect place to do pilots and planning,” said Jacki Bacharach, executive director of the South Bay Cities Council of Governments.

The SBCCOG is a joint powers authority of 16 cities and the County of Los Angeles. A 140-square-mile area positioned between LAX and the ports, it’s a diverse mix of cities ranging in population from less than 2,000 to nearly 150,000, with a total population of nearly 1 million. Major industries include manufacturing, aerospace, automotive and oil refineries.

“One of the goals of our strategic plan is to facilitate, implement and educate our members about environmental, transportation and economic development efforts,” Bacharach said. “Our council tries to be very nimble, picking up city issues as they arise.

“We also try to add value. Because our cities are small and lean, they don’t have staffs, especially when dealing with sustainability. We can provide the resources they don’t have.”

The SBCCOG also provides a financial benefit similar to that for SANBAG members, Bacharach said.

“As members of the Southern California Edison Partnership Program, our cities get a cash incentive over and above regular incentives for anything they do on their municipal facilities,” she said. “We have a consultant engineer that goes out and works with our cities and helps them identify projects. They get money that comes back that they can use in their general fund."

SBCCOG also is heavily focused on transportation.

“What we’ve learned is that a lot of our trips are very short. Other than their commutes, people are going three miles or less,” Bacharach said. “We got funding through the air quality district to run a neighborhood electric vehicle project. We gave people a neighborhood electric vehicle for two months … not only did they love them, but we had two people in our demonstration who got into their regular cars at the end of the demonstration and found their batteries were dead because they hadn’t used them.”

Dr. Cheryl Laskowski, Climate Change Project manager, Atkins, said SANBAG and SBCCOG show that local jurisdictions may benefit from a regional planning approach, which can provide a greater voice and a more economical means for future-proofing than on an individual basis.

“Citizens don’t care where the political boundaries are, and environmental events don’t care about boundaries, either,” she said. “Budgets are tight and staff resources are limited. The support of a regional agency like a COG … provides a safe place for leaders and staff to go and get expertise and share experiences they can use in their own communities.”

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