Berkeley committee discusses potential climate department, electric vehicles

Devaki Dikshit/Staff

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The Berkeley Facilities, Infrastructure, Transportation, Environment and Sustainability Policy Committee focused on addressing climate change at its Thursday meeting, discussing the possibility of establishing a climate department, accommodating more electric ride-share vehicles in the city and banning the sale of gas and diesel vehicles by 2025.

At the meeting, City Councilmember Cheryl Davila spoke about creating a department in response to the city’s declaration of a climate emergency in 2018. According to Davila, a state of emergency has also been declared in 59 other cities, including Oakland and El Cerrito, Calif., and a climate department was set up in Los Angeles.

“We declared a climate emergency in June 2018 and, since then, have not really moved fast enough to deal with the crisis that we are facing,” Davila said at the meeting.

Committee chair and City Councilmember Kate Harrison expressed doubt at the meeting over whether working to create a department would be the city’s best option.

City Councilmember Rigel Robinson also said he was concerned about the potential costs required to navigate the bureaucracy around a new department.

“I’m interested in doing something organizationally that makes it clear this is a priority. I don’t know about creating another department, but I’m interested in doing something structurally,” Harrison said at the meeting. “We’re missing a way to get the operational departments more engaged.”

During public comment, Richmond City Councilmember Eduardo Martinez expressed his support for a climate department in Berkeley. Martinez said a department could function as both a point of contact for other cities and an entity to support council members individually doing climate work.

The question of whether to create a department was not voted on at Thursday’s meeting and was kept for further deliberation. A short-term referral to fund town halls and community discussions, as well as a recommendation to have staff reports address climate directly, was passed.

The meeting also included several discussions about electric vehicles, starting with a motion to accommodate ride-share electric mopeds into the city’s current One-Way Car Share program, which has been proposed to be renamed the One-Way Vehicle Share program. Rides on mopeds, which will be fully electric and are considered motorized bicycles, will cost $1 for the first minute and 25 cents for each additional one, according to Daniella Henry, associate director of policy for moped ride-share company Revel.

“If you are comfortable riding a bike, you will be comfortable riding a moped,” Henry said at the meeting. “It’s closer to the ground.”

A motion on banning gas and diesel vehicle sales altogether by 2025 was introduced as well. Because of potential legal issues, however, the committee decided to research laws related to the proposal before taking further action.

Contact Devaki Dikshit at [email protected] and follow them on Twitter at @DevakiDevay.