Sonoma’s climate change commitment on the spot

Environmental Commission, others question city’s attention to the climate emergency.|

The commitment of the City of Sonoma to its own climate goals, as articulated in the 2020 Climate Plan and the 2020 Declaration of a Climate Emergency, runs up against a deadline for compliance with the state’s organic waste law by the end of the year.

But though the city’s ordinance to comply with the law’s mandates was on the Aug. 11 agenda of the Community Services and Environmental Commission, discussion of the ordinance was withdrawn from the agenda the previous day, pulled by Garrett Toy, the newly-sworn city manager of Sonoma.

“The ordinance still needed work and will be rescheduled for a future CSEC meeting,” Toy said.

SB 1383, the state-mandated composting law to help combat climate change, was passed and signed into law in 2016. According to Sonoma’s sustainability manager Travis Wagner, it holds, “All generators (residents, businesses, institutions, etc.) will be required to separate organic materials from trash and recycling starting Jan. 1, 2022.”

Like every other jurisdiction in the state, Sonoma needs to adopt a local ordinance to establish the specific requirements for these measures.

“However, there is plenty of time for the ordinance making/adopting process,” Wagner told the Index-Tribune. “In fact, Sonoma is substantially ahead of any other jurisdiction in the county with regards to SB 1383 program implementation.”

Sonoma has passed several measures to comply with state “zero waste” goals, including banning non-compostable and polystyrene products in city events, and increasing the number of electric vehicle charging stations, and a “sustainability work plan,” according to Wagner.

In November 2020, the City Council passed a Climate Emergency Resolution to reduce city-wide greenhouse gas emissions to net zero no later than 2030.

Still, members of the CSEC were visibly frustrated by what they perceived as the city’s indifference to climate change as an “emergency” that needed to be dealt with in all their deliberations. The commission was a half hour into its agenda when Commissioner David Morell began to comment on a proposed Mexican Independence Day event application.

“My technical question has to deal with the climate emergency that this planet is facing,” he said. While applauding the applicant’s attention to such issues as waste minimization and recycling, he added, “I find nothing about the climate action plan, other than the strange statement that this conforms to city policy.”

In the absence of clear city policy, Morell appealed to the city’s special events coordinator, Lisa Janson, to explain the phrase.

“It goes back to the fact that we don’t have a climate goal for special events in our policy,” said Janson after a lengthy pause.

Morell, a CSEC member since 2019, pushed the point, saying that at least asking the questions was “a way to get people thinking, and stop not doing anything about the implications of large events.”

He added, “Nothing seems to be happening in the City of Sonoma about this. As a commissioner on the CSEC, this makes me unhappy.”

Commission Chair Fred Allebach posed the question, “Is Sonoma a place where residents can feel their city is on the cutting edge of climate policy?”

He cited a recent survey of council members on their climate goals which drew only a single response, from Kelso Barnett, and none from Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti.

“We do have a bona fide climate emergency,” said Allebach in his comments at the next city council meeting, held on Aug. 16. “I’d like to ask the city council to double-down and agendize a public meeting on the climate emergency as soon as possible … Let’s just check in and take stock. Let’s hear from everyone and recalibrate so we in the city’s orbit can feel we are doing our square best to address this emergency with all due attention.”

Similar comments were made, from the likes of Caitlin Cornwall of the Sonoma Ecology Center and housing advocate Dave Ransom, encouraging the council to step up and be an example.

“Several years ago, the city passed 22 meaningful climate initiatives,” said Cornwall, reading a statement from SEC director Richard Dale and David Morell, a member of its board. “Not enough has happened since then. You, we, must take direct and aggressive action with the climate emergency unfolding here and globally.”

For his part, Tom Conlon, who calls himself a “climate town crier,” pointed out, “I would also note, the City website highlights ‘coronavirus information’ and a ‘stage 2 water shortage’ at the top of every page. However, the City's other declared emergencies (climate, housing, etc.) do not seem to receive the same priority treatment.”

In the city council’s quarterly goals agenda, from its June 21 meeting, no mention was made of the city’s climate action goals or other environmental priorities. Sustainability of cemeteries made Mayor Agrimonti’s list, as it did Barnett’s; and then-councilmember Amy Harrington suggested a timeline for the General Plan update to be discussed on Aug. 2 (which it was not).

Other council goals for the quarter included memorial benches, streamlining the appeals process, post-COVID economic recovery, determining the best use of state and federal government relief funds and improvements to the Plaza fountain.

Regarding the delayed consideration of the SB 1383 compliance ordinance, Wagner said on Aug. 26, two weeks after the CSEC meeting, “I have not had any communication with Garrett (Toy) and am waiting for direction on how to proceed.”

Reached by phone, Toy said he and Wagner were scheduled to meet soon to talk about the city’s sustainability policy.

“The main thing is I wanted to review it and talk about it with staff — about what’s required, what’s optional, and what’s the impact to operations if any,” he said. “We know we have to do it, but we have to understand – I have to understand – what is required.”

Toy said that in Fairfax, where he served as city manager until a month ago, he worked with Zero Waste Marin and the waste hauler to set up some of the systems needed for compliance. “We were waiting for Zero Waste Marin to draft a model ordinance that we could use.” He suggested that Zero Waste Sonoma might also be preparing a model ordinance for local communities.

Email Christian Kallen at

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