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Editorial: Is Sonoma heading toward ‘greener’ pastures?

The Sonoma City Council is putting its GHG emissions where its mouth is – and, no, that’s not the opening to a joke about politicians and gasbags.

Rather, it’s the reality behind two recent council decisions that show the city going in a notably green direction. It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but encouraging nonetheless.

First there was the Oct. 3 vote to up the city’s ante in Sonoma Clean Power – a unanimous decision by the Council to spend an extra $19,200 per year and increase its purchase of renewables – going from SCP’s modest CleanStart program, which buys 36 percent clean energy, to its Evergreen program, which goes all in for 100 percent. For a mere 20 grand, Sonoma became one of the few municipalities in the country to purchase the entirety of its energy from a local renewable source – in SCP’s case it’s from the Calpine’s The Geysers facility east of Geyserville. It’s worth pointing out that most jurisdictions in the U.S aren’t part of a community choice aggregation JPA, such as Sonoma Clean Power, so the pool of municipalities with the all-renewable option are few. But still, someone’s got to be the cleanest energy purchaser in the U.S. – and sharing that title for the moment is Sonoma. One hopes other cities in the county will soon follow suit.

Then on Nov. 21, in another unanimous decision, the Council moved forward in approving 22 local “climate action” proposals, which put in motion several modest measures to further mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Those measures – Sonoma-centric additions to the County’s Climate Action 2020 plan – were originally set for consideration earlier in the summer. But when a lawsuit against the County’s plan by environmental watchdog group California River Watch put a hold on Climate Action 2020, the Sonoma City Council waivered on bringing forward its own measures. Now that the dust has settled a bit – along with fears of also being dragged into River Watch’s lawsuit – the Council rightly went ahead and adopted the measures, and added a plan to enlist college interns to implement any new regulations. The measures would generously be described as modest – no one’s upending any tourism-economy apple carts here. We’re talking baby steps: incentivizing new development to include solar… encouraging greywater collection… discouraging idling cars – not exactly bold moves, but moves nonetheless. Positive ones. Ones that continue to steer the Council toward its goals of addressing climate change. It’s a goal that hasn’t been entirely self-evident in recent years, as city leaders have found themselves bogged down in neighborhood squabbles about how one can redistribute leaves and where one can walk a leashed dog. In the meantime, as the county Climate Action Plan in 2005 called for a 25 percent reduction in GHG below 1990 levels, Sonoma’s emissions have been on the rise – according to CA2020 numbers from 2015, Sonoma’s emission levels have increased by 21 percent in that time and are now second highest in the county on a per-capita basis.

To put it bluntly, Sonoma has not fostered the kind of reputation for eco-consciousness that Climate Action 2020 is hoping to achieve. Which makes these recent moves by the City Council all the more pressing.

“You are leading the County at this point.” That’s how Tom Conlan, of Transition Streets Sonoma, described the Council’s Nov. 21 vote to approve its climate action measures. Conlan had been one of the strongest voices in advocating for Sonoma to sign on to the Evergreen program of Sonoma Clean Power.

The sentiment was echoed by former-councilmember Larry Barnett.

“I always like the idea of other cities looking to Sonoma for leadership,” said Barnett. “Sonoma continues in its own way to make little bits of history.”

The moment was not lost on Sonoma Mayor Laurie Gallian, who’s been a member of the County’s Regional Climate Protection Authority since 2009. If anyone should delight in leading Sonoma toward addressing climate change, it’s Gallian. It has been a fixture of her vision for years.

Gallian, at the Nov. 21 meeting, reflected on the day in 2009 when she, as the City’s representative, signed Sonoma on in partnership with Climate Action 2020 – she called it her “proudest moment.”

“Others will take a look at this around the county and they will follow form,” said Gallian, in the closing remarks before the Council officially passed its slate of climate action initiatives.

“I don’t think I could ever be prouder.”

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.