Groups want City to make climate plan a 2017 goal
But opponents question the need and the cost, saying LO is already a leader in sustainability
A community advocacy group and a City advisory board are urging Lake Oswego to create a Climate Action Plan modeled after similar initiatives undertaken by several municipalities throughout Oregon.
The effort by the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network (LOSN) and the Sustainability Advisory Board (SAB) is focused on the City Council's goal-setting retreat on Saturday, when councilors and staff will spend the day deliberating and then establishing a set of roughly half a dozen official policy goals for 2017.
The two sustainability groups want to make sure climate action earns a place on that list.
"We want the City Council to make it a primary goal to create a climate action planning process," says LOSN committee member Duke Castle.
As described in the SAB's own Goals and Work Plan for this year, a climate action council goal "would be an effort to review the City's existing and relevant plans, identify successes or gaps and outline sensible, strategic projects appropriate for Lake Oswego," with the goal that it would "help prompt specific actions."
"We'd very much like to see the City acknowledge and endorse the idea that this planning has to happen for us to make the smart investments sooner rather than later," says SAB co-chair Eliot Metzger.
Rather than directly float a Climate Action Plan for adoption, Castle says the groups are asking the council to begin a process that would lead to the creation of one. Metzger describes the request as "maybe not a proposal, but a joint desire and a joint offer to help the City think through this."
In a recent letter to Mayor Kent Studebaker and city councilors, LOSN's members offered to commit 1,000 volunteer hours to the planning process from "local experts," and Metzger says the advisory board's members will also be able to contribute expertise in various fields such as waste reduction, energy and transportation.
"We've got a community (that) has a lot of that expertise," says Castle. "We have talent here in Lake Oswego that other cities don't, that I think might make this easier and less expensive."
Castle also stresses that the groups aren't asking for money to be committed to the planning process, at least not initially. Instead, he says existing City staff and volunteers from the community should be able to get the planning done — but only if the council makes it a priority for the staff's time.
"The sustainability network has demonstrated that there's a will and a desire in this community to make a better future," says Castle. "What we need is the City Council to join with us and work with us."
Leaders of the two groups say they're confident that the idea has a good chance to move forward with this year's council. During the election, Castle says the LOSN reached out to each of the mayoral and council candidates to ask if they would be interested in exploring the development of a Climate Action Plan.
"Nobody said no," he says.
But while the LOSN is confident about being able to bring councilors on board, there are also potential drawbacks to enacting a new plan — most notably the cost. In order to help the City weigh the costs and benefits of developing a plan, Sustainability Analyst Jenny Slepian has been researching the Climate Action Plans enacted by other Oregon cities.
"Most of the other cities have spent around $200,000 or more on this, and quite a lot of staff time and consultant time," she says. "So those are the kinds of things that our City Council has to think about."
Some of the councilors have raised concerns about that price tag, especially given that Lake Oswego is hardly a laggard when it comes to sustainability and climate planning in the first place. According to the most recent Comprehensive Plan, the City has conducted two greenhouse gas emissions inventories of its own operations since 2007, and has used them to set lower emissions targets.
"At this point, I think (making the plan a 2017 goal) is elevating it to a level that it doesn't need to be," Studebaker told The Review. "And one of the reasons I say that is that we've already done a whole lot of things that would be considered sustainable, such as LED lighting, the hybrid vehicles in our fleet and the LEED certification for all our construction. So we're open to suggestions, but developing a formal plan seems a little premature at this point."
The City's Comprehensive Plan incorporates several steps to be taken to combat climate change, and a separate Sustainability Action Plan for City operations was enacted in 2007, one year before the Sustainability Advisory Board was created. Still, City officials acknowledge that not all of the existing plans and targets are being met at the moment.
"Rather than spending money on creating a new plan, let's execute on the things that we already know we need to do," says City Councilor Jeff Gudman. "Time is not free, and the time (staff) spends looking at it could be better spent on actually implementing what we're supposed to be doing."
Gudman suggests that the Sustainability Advisory Board could be tasked with evaluating and recommending further actions that the City can take, without the need for a separate planning body.
LOSN and SAB members argue that a comprehensive approach would involve the community as well as the City, and would lead to more-effective action. In particular, climate action plans tend to take the additional step of setting specific long-term reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions throughout the city.
Lake Oswego's Sustainability Action Plan does set similar targets, but they apply only to City-owned vehicles rather than the community at large, and Slepian says the City does not currently have the means to fully measure those emissions.
"There's five or six really significant steps the City has taken, (such as) LEDs, composting, clean energy — those are all elements that would be part of a Climate Action Plan if there had been a formal one in place," says Metzger. "But this is more about making sure all those things are pulled together in the right way, and having the biggest bang for our buck."
The existing plans would also give Lake Oswego a head start in the climate action process, Castle says, because those plans are among several preliminary steps that other cities had to go through when developing Climate Action Plans.
Slepian says that when she asked officials in other cities about their climate action plans, the advice was often that a city should build on what it has already developed. In Lake Oswego's case, that could point to a cheaper climate action process, since some of the groundwork has already been laid.
But even if it's cheaper, Gudman argues, it could still represent an opportunity cost for action on the City's existing plans. Other cities' climate action plans didn't really bring anything new to the table, he says.
"Let's say (the cost) is only $100,000," he says. "But if you look at our Capital Improvement Plan, think of how many connecting pathways we could actually do for $100,000 so people could walk or bike rather than having to use their car."
In essence, the concern for Gudman and other councilors is that the City would get caught up in a lengthy planning process without actually taking action. But climate action advocates say they're aware of that risk and would make sure the plan leads to direct action in the form of new projects to meet the targets.
"The danger is you just waste your time doing more planning," says Metzger. "We're very conscious of the fact that we need to see tangible projects sooner rather than later so people know what climate change action planning actually does for them."
Councilor Joe Buck also emphasized the need to make sure the report leads to direct action, and he told The Review that he supports the idea of a climate action goal, particularly because the suggestion comes from Lake Oswego community members.
"I see this as its own goal," he said. "The best thing about it is it's nice to have goals that are widely supported by the community, and this is specifically a goal that was brought forward by the community — those are great goals to have."
And despite concerns about the City being unable to afford the cost of an overall plan, Studebaker expressed support for discussing other actions that the City can take to combat climate change.
"I don't know that we're going to develop a plan particularly," he said, "but we're going to be talking with each other about possible ways to be sustainable and be sensitive, as long as it doesn't involve a lot of cost. There are a lot of things we can do that aren't necessarily expensive."