Tomorrow, December 6, the City Council is getting an informational report on the long-awaited Salem Climate Action Plan. No action is being taken on the plan for now, because parts of it have generated a lot of controversy.
I see the controversy as a good thing.
If everybody was fine with the plan, there wouldn't be any controversy -- and there also wouldn't be any strong greenhouse gas-reducing actions specified in it, since those actions inevitably are going to be opposed by those doing the greenhouse gas emitting.
A call to curtail the use of natural gas in Salem is getting the most attention. I took a quick look at some of the many comments included as part of this agenda item. It seems clear that NW Natural isn't happy with the plan, nor are builders and homeowners who believe natural gas is a wonderful thing.
Nonetheless, the plan singles out reducing natural gas use as a major factor in achieving the plan's greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Tonight I read quickly through the Climate Action Plan. I came away impressed. A tremendous amount of work and research went into preparing it. The plan is nicely laid out, well-written, clear, and filled with enough detail to keep climate change geeks happily engaged for a long time.
The Salem Breakfast on Bikes blogger has followed the plan much more closely than I have. He has some cogent criticisms of it, which I basically agree with. You can read those posts by clicking on the links included in a recent post about tomorrow's City Council agenda item.
The blogger's overall assessment is nuanced and fits with how I see things.
It's hard to know exactly what is best here. The temporary goal is a strong plan. But the overall goal is emissions reduction, and it is possible that strong action with a weak plan is easier to accomplish, and that a strong plan might be vitiated politically and yield only weak action. The final goal is not to win a prize for an elegant and powerful plan.
There's already plenty for climate change deniers and special interests to hate in the Climate Action Plan. Being too explicit about the concrete actions needed to reduce emissions in Salem could lead to a political backlash that would make those actions tougher to carry out.
What's going to be key is preserving the current progressive majority on the City Council over the many years that will be needed to implement the plan. Otherwise a conservative takeover of the council could lead to a beautiful looking plan that sits on a (metaphorical) shelf.
Another controversial action is to use downtown parking meters to reduce the use of parking spaces to about three-fourths of what's available.
Some downtown businesses will support this. Others won't. Since downtown is thriving, on the whole, probably most businesses would survive the resistance from those who will refuse to go downtown if they have to pay for parking.
On the plus side, putting parking meters in downtown will be a consciousness raiser -- letting drivers know that "free" parking doesn't exist. There are costs involved, including environmental costs, even if a driver is able to pull into a space and not pay anything. Maybe electric cars could be exempt from having to pay for downtown parking.
This proposal for downtown Salem is really appealing. It'd be great to have downtown more pedestrian friendly.
I was pleased to see an action calling for the creation of an Urban Tree Commission.
And this seems like an excellent notion.
There's much more in the plan, of course. It's well worth reading, if only quickly.