Santa Rosa City Council moves toward innovative “electric-ready” building ordinance

by Mike Turgeon, The Climate Center Climate Action Fellow

In a marathon study session on Tuesday, October 23rd, the Santa Rosa City Council, at the urging of the Friends of the Climate Action Plan (FoCAP), received a long-overdue update on the progress of the 2012 Municipal and Community Climate Action Plans.  The Climate Action Plan implementation team (CAP-IT) has not met since the Santa Rosa fires and accomplishing its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now is crucial.

After the session, the Council moved to put a discussion for an “electric-ready” building ordinance on a future agenda.  Electric ready means having 220/240 volt outlets and the appropriate size wiring to accommodate electric appliances such as heat pump water heaters, heat pumps for heating/cooling, induction stoves and so on.

The infrastructure for natural gas would still be in place, but electric ready homes will be ‘future-proof,’ thus avoiding costly electrical upgrades when California begins to require a fuel switch from natural gas to “electrifying everything.”  Homeowners can simply swap out gas appliances for the new, efficient electric appliances.  The additional costs to make a home electric ready is roughly 0.1 percent of a home’s cost for labor and materials if done as part of the original build.  It would be much more expensive for a homeowner to have to retrofit these electrical features.

The minimal cost of electric-ready will not affect the price of a new home since new home prices are based on what the market will bear, not how much wires, cables and assorted materials cost.

A Santa Rosa electric-ready ordinance would be a first in the state of California and perhaps the rest of the country.  This ordinance would be a good first step toward getting away from natural gas entirely.

On a personal note, in 2015 my sister lost her home in the Valley fire in Lake County and I remember at that time thinking that a fire like that might happen again some day.  Looking back, I realize how uninformed I was about climate science.  Anyone reading this probably understands that the science is no longer a point of study, it is a call to action.

FoCAP, the Friends of the Climate Action Plan was formed a year ago in the aftermath of the fires here in Santa Rosa.  We formed as a spinoff from a class offered by The Climate Center.  We have no office, no money, no officers, no shareholders and, initially at least, we had no clue.  We are a few folks who felt we could no longer sit on the sidelines.  Our learning curve on how to work toward climate crisis solutions has been steep, but there is great hope in local action.  If you have concerns about our future in light of the climate crisis but are not sure how to respond, I, and the Friends of the Climate Action Plan, would like to hear from you.

Mike Turgeon:

Mike Turgeon, on behalf of the Friends of the Santa Rosa Climate Action Plan

A city council do-over vote translates to a vote for a climate action study

by Mike Turgeon, Climate Action Fellow, The Climate Center

Not often in politics do the people get a do-over vote. That is precisely what occurred on Tuesday, May 15, at the Santa Rosa City Council meeting.

The topic of the vote was whether the City would hold a study session on an “all-electric ready“ building ordinance as well as on the status report of its 6-year old Climate Action Plan (CAP). The CAP is the City’s guide toward a climate friendly, sustainable future. If ever that is necessary, it is now as we rise from the ashes of our horrific firestorms.

The CAP was developed and approved in 2012 when Santa Rosa was known for taking action on the climate crisis. For a variety of reasons, the CAP has been largely ignored. For example, the staff CAP implementation team meets only quarterly, does not meet in public, has not met since the fires, and provides reports to the City Council only annually.

A nascent group, Friends of the Climate Action Plan, was formed to support the City in taking climate action. As part of this, the group asked the Santa Rosa City Council on May 15 for a study session on the possibility of requiring all new construction to be “all-electric ready” as well as an update on the progress on the City’s Climate Action Plan.

The first vote of the Council on the study session was taken with one member, Chris Rogers, absent for a few minutes. The vote was 3 to 3, so the motion didn’t pass. However, at the end of the Council session, Chris Rogers asked if another vote could be taken since he was not present for the first one. The city attorney affirmed that a second vote could be taken, an unusual turn of events. The second vote was 4 in favor and 3 opposed, and the motion to set a study session for these two items carried.

It has been a pleasure to interact with our policymakers and find that we have a dedicated, caring Council who are clearly striving to make Santa Rosa into a vibrant, resilient city not just for those of us here now but for future residents and the environment in which we live.