A colleague on the Piedmont City Council recently proposed a "bright idea" -- hiring a consultant to help residents evaluate the cost-effectiveness of solar energy proposals offered by the different installation companies.
Being an affluent town, he surmised that Piedmont could set an example for others by becoming the leading East Bay city for solar installation. That's an interesting idea, but a more effective approach might be to find a way for Piedmonters to benefit by contributing to the development of solar farms, which are more cost-effective than distributed rooftop systems.
A brighter idea for Piedmont to lead in would be nonstationary sources -- our transportation, namely through the purchase of electric vehicles, use of mass transit and carpooling, and the coming development of our bicycle and pedestrian networks.
Should Piedmont put all of its eggs in one basket and become the leading "solar city" of the East Bay? That begs the question -- how well is Piedmont "going green" and how does it compare to other East Bay cities? To answer that, let's look at where Piedmont stands in three areas -- carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction, water conservation and waste reduction -- and how the city sets an example for its residents to "go green."
CO2 reduction: Piedmont set a CO2 reduction goal of 15 percent by 2020, which is comparable to that of Ross and Belvedere but below the 25 percent goal of most East Bay cities. Virtually all of Piedmont's reduction will come from the residential sector through improvements in energy efficiency and transportation, but the city has not motivated this effort through its own practices. No solar panels have been put up on city buildings, no electric/hybrid vehicles have been purchased for city use and since EPA funds for new LED streetlights ran out, the city has installed the old-style streetlights. Even our gas-powered leaf blower ban is waived for city use. Heading into police headquarters at 8 a.m. one day, I walked past a gas-powered blower servicing the Civic Center plaza. It's hard to ask residents to step up when they don't see City Hall doing the same.
Water Conservation: Depending where it is, Piedmont is either a leader or behind the pack in water conservation. Below ground (think sewers), Piedmont is by far and away the East Bay leader in upgrading its sewer system to improve Bay water quality (I exclude Emeryville, which upgrades its sewers to accommodate growth, irrespective of EPA orders). And the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee showed how Piedmont can continue the sewer rehabilitation program through a one-time parcel tax or General Fund transfer http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/html/govern/staffreports/2013-06-03/bafp.pdf, page 11) so residents should feel no shame having rejected the parcel tax.
Above ground, Piedmont's water conservation is hard to gauge. Piedmont parks are pretty lush compared with other cities, thanks to our natural springs but also a high water budget. The Environmental Task Force recommended a city water audit be conducted, provided free to municipalities by EBMUD, but the city has not acted on this recommendation. The City Council rejected the recommendation of city staff to adopt the residential Bay Friendly Ordinance to conserve water through landscaping practices. Even though it applied to less than 1 percent of Piedmont properties, the council opted for an educational approach to Bay Friendly. But Piedmont is one of only four Alameda County municipalities not to have completed a Bay-Friendly Rated Landscape (http://www.bayfriendlycoalition.org/BFLCaseStudies.shtml). Such a municipal project would serve as a useful resource for educating residents about Bay Friendly Landscaping.
Waste Reduction: Thanks to the diligence of its residents, Piedmont has always been an East Bay leader in recycling. Piedmont's diversion rate is about 70 percent, which is below most East Bay cities, and the 75 percent goal set by the City Council. But our per capita capture rate for recyclables/organics is twice that of most other county municipalities. That means our residents are doing a great job separating their trash but if the city wants to meet that 75 percent goal, we will all need to "dig deeper" through our trash and find stuff that can be recycled. Later this year, StopWaste will be doing just, analyzing trash for recyclable material content and sharing the results in your January waste bill.
Piedmont could try to lead the East Bay on solar installation but we'd better be ready for the scrutiny that comes with boasting. Rather than hire consultants to advise residents to go green, City Hall can learn a lot from just listening its residents. One way to do this is to establish a Sustainability Commission to advise the city on green and sustainability issues. Most East Bay and many Peninsula cities have already done this. Piedmont is facing more mandates from state and regional authorities to adopt policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve water, and increase housing density. Piedmont has a wealth of experts on these topics in town who could convene quarterly to review proposals from staff. And the City Council could still come up with bright ideas, but it never hurts to get a second opinion.
Garrett Keating is a Piedmont City Council member.