Wednesday, August 10, 2011

2011-08-10 "Benicia may seek help for 'green' projects" by Tony Burchyns from "Vallejo Times-Herald"
BENICIA -- The city may hire outside help to get its ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals back on track, city officials said this week.
The request comes as city officials, beleaguered by budget cuts, struggle to balance shrinking staffs with growing workloads.
As a result, council members next week may be asked to OK spending $150,000 in non-general fund money on a consultant to help implement the Benicia Climate Action Plan.
"The bottom line is we just don't have the staff any more at City Hall to implement the (action plan) at the pace we thought we could when we started a couple years ago," Public Works and Community Development Director Charlie Knox said.
Adopted in 2009, the plan outlines strategies for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the community from 4.5 million to 3.6 million metric tons by 2020, Community Sustainability Commission member Constance Beutel said.
"We have to take some pretty significant steps in order to reach that goal," Beutel said.
But so far this year, the commission has considered -- and the council has approved -- just three of 13 projects on its 2011 work plan. The approved projects include programs that city has been unable to roll out, like incentives for residents to install more efficient plumbing fixtures, Knox said.
The consultant position would be funded by the $14 million settlement between the city, a community group the Valero refinery over upgrades to the plant. The commission oversees about $4 million of that amount designated for future water and energy conservation projects.
But some commissioners are bracing for council resistance after elected officials failed to pass a commission-backed green building ordinance in July. With one member absent, the council deadlocked on the issue of whether to beef up California's code, ultimately deciding to reconsider it next year.
Councilman Tom Campbell, who is running for reelection in the fall, said he wants to know exactly what the city would be getting for the $150,000 investment. Campbell said even though the money comes from a legal settlement, it still "belongs" to the taxpayers.
"I am just not a big fan of consultants," Campbell said. "Is it worth spending that much money?"
Councilman Alan Schwartzman, who's running for mayor, also sounded skeptical.
"My initial reaction is, it sounds like a lot of money," Schwartzman said. But he added he wants to take a closer look at the proposal before making a decision.
Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, who's also seeking reelection, said there are good reasons for spending the money. They include "fulfilling promises" made by adopting the climate action plan, she said.
Patterson also said hiring a climate action plan coordinator would be an investment "in the future in jobs, the economy and branding Benicia as a leader in sustainable development."

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