In 2018, the Bellingham City Council adopted a resolution to create a Climate Action Plan Task Force that would develop a “Climate Protection Action Plan 2018 Update” (Climate Action Plan), and recommend policies to meet the city’s greenhouse gas reduction targets. The public task force completed the Climate Action Plan and it was adopted by the City Council in December 2019.
The plan’s goals are ambitious, and implementing the recommendations is expected to be a significant undertaking for a relatively small city, especially amid budget constraints and logistical challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. There is also a lot of interest in how the plan will turn into actions resulting in measurable greenhouse gas reductions, and how those actions will affect local citizens.
In a Zoom meeting on April 27, city of Bellingham staff presented to City Council a first glimpse of what the implementation process of the Climate Action Plan will look like.
Seth Fleetwood, seasoned local politician and environmentalist, is the new mayor of Bellingham and will oversee the city staff in charge of implementing the plan. Seth Vidaña is the city’s new Climate and Energy Manager, who joined the city of Bellingham in February after serving as the director of sustainability at Western Washington University for 14 years, and will be helping lead the implementation process. On April 27, Vidaña was joined by Public Works Director Eric Johnston and Assistant Director of Public Works Renee LaCroix who spoke at length about the undertaking.
LaCroix said the goals of the implementation process are to “build on recommendations of the climate task force and the adopted Climate Action Plan; facilitate technical review to ensure that issues are fully vetted; allow for fair consideration of issues; allow for meaningful public involvement; and result in informed choices.”
The implementation process of the Climate Action Plan is being called the Climate Policy Approval Process and has three phases:
1. Apply Staff Filter to Climate Action Plan and Prioritize Measures
First, the already completed list of measures and recommendations from the Climate Action Plan will be evaluated by city staff. Staff will prioritize measures and decide which measures need more research and evaluation and which measures are ready to be implemented. All city departments, including police and fire departments, as well as libraries, will help evaluate potential measures. The results of the staff evaluation will be reviewed by City Council with the opportunity for public input.
2. Seek Council Approval and Create an Implementation Plan
Second, City Council would either agree or disagree with the measures the staff recommends. Any measures the staff and council both agree should be prioritized will be adopted in a formal addendum to the Climate Action Plan. After the evaluated measures are confirmed by council, staff would then develop an Implementation Plan for those measures. The Implementation Plan will detail specific actions that should be taken to achieve each measure.
3. Review and Update Implementation Plan Annually
The third phase is an annual review of the Implementation Plan. In this annual review, new measures would be evaluated, any measures that didn’t make it into the Implementation Plan would be reconsidered, and phase 1) would begin again. The Climate Action Plan also has a scheduled five-year review in 2023.
Director of Public Works, Eric Johnston, stressed that there would be plenty of opportunities for both the council and citizens to provide input and be involved in the process. He also wanted the public to know that this Climate Policy Approval Process “creates a reassurance that the work will continue into the future. By creating the process and following through with the process and developing the work plan, these measures will move forward and we will see progress on our climate action goals.”
Following staff’s presentation, Councilmembers reiterated the importance of public involvement, but there were unanswered questions about what the public input process would look like given the current lockdown that has suspended regular public meetings.
Johnston said, “I think the public process is going to have to be different now than it was three months ago … and we haven’t quite got our heads wrapped around how that’s going to be done just quite yet …” LaCroix said staff was thinking of working with lawyers and the mayor’s office “to see if there’s a way to have some sort of public hearing online or to have a web page where [they] post a presentation and then allow for comments to be emailed in based on that presentation.”
Councilmembers Pinky Vargas and Michael Lilliquist had questions about how the measures would be funded, especially since the current pandemic is projected to have severe economic impacts on cities’ budgets. Lilliquist asked, “Has staff given any thought about the financial piece: looking for funding mechanisms or loan mechanisms, or all the various aspects … Bringing in outside financial expertise or in-house expertise? What is the staff’s thinking on how the financial aspect will be evaluated?”
LaCroix responded, “All of the above. We’re gonna need money and we’re gonna need a lot of money from all sources.” Later in the same meeting, Mayor Fleetwood indicated that “Continuing implementation of the Climate Action Plan” will be one of five overarching goals for this year’s budget.
You can watch the full meeting at: https://meetings.cob.org/Meetings/ViewMeeting?id=2213&doctype=1
First published in Medium on April 29: https://medium.com/@alecinbellingham/city-of-bellingham-details-implementation-process-for-new-climate-action-plan-d55b7fbbe4d3.
Alec Howard is an environmental policy student at Western Washington University interested in local governments and their response to climate change. He currently sits on the Whatcom County Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the Whatcom County Climate Impact Advisory Committee’s Transportation Work Group.