The Berkeley Energy Commission recommended that City Council develop a referendum to become fossil fuel-free, achieve the Berkeley Climate Action Plan and respond to climate change at the City Council meeting April 28.
The referendum, which would be on the November ballot, would ask voters to create an ongoing funding stream for a Climate Action Fund. According to the City Council report, the fund would obtain annual revenues of $5 million to $10 million to be spent on measures that aim to reduce carbon pollution.
In a statement, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín described the plan as an “ambitious” document that outlines, in part, strategies to reduce private transportation use and lower building energy consumption.
“We have done a lot of things in Berkeley that are applicable to green buildings, bikes and pedestrian amenities,” said Councilmember Kate Harrison. “We haven’t been able to tackle how to help lower-income people and make changes that will allow the community to live a greener life.”
According to the item, the commission recommends that fund revenues be raised using the “polluter pays principle,” such as by imposing a higher price on fossil fuels, with reduced burdens on low-income residents.
Harrison added that the concept behind this fund is to ultimately reduce greenhouse gases in the city by raising money using this principle to help transition low-income individuals away from fossil fuels.
In the action item, the commission suggested several sources of funding. Possible proposals include a 2.5% increase in the utility users tax or a 50-cent Uber and Lyft fee, according to Harrison. She said the sum of the fees will raise about $4 million each year.
“We will use these funds for providing shuttles and free bus transportation within Berkeley,” Harrison said. “Another possibility is to spend the money on buildings that are owned by low-income owners, for example, who cannot afford to make energy improvements.”
The item notes that while California has been a leader in improving energy efficiency, in some cases, state laws and regulations act as barriers to transitioning to all-electric construction.
Direct Action Everywhere activist Cassie King said in an email that the climate crisis deserves funding, but claimed that the long-term Climate Action Plan is not enough. She suggested that the city could fight climate change by divesting from unsustainable industries such as animal agriculture.
“Even though we are all so engaged in fighting the COVID-19 crisis right now, we can’t forget about the old crisis, which is the climate crisis,” Harrison said. “This is an opportunity to re-envision the city and improve transportation, comfort and move into a more environmentally friendly future.”