“Mondays are the potholes in the road of life.”
“I think we have a quorum,” San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye announced with a hint of hopefulness to open the final meeting of a diverse group of San Diegans brought together six weeks ago to help chart the city's energy future.
Yes, indeed there was a quorum early Monday morning, although just barely—three of the more vocal members of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Ad Hoc Committee were noticeably absent, victims apparently of pre-arranged travels and vacations.
Even the audience was visibly punier than at previous gatherings of this volunteer group—odd, since Monday was billed as the finale, the moment when words of wisdom would come tumbling down the mountaintop on how best to spend $12.5 million in federal stimulus dollars the U.S. Department of Energy has targeted for San Diego.
It would be naïve to think this confluence of green thinkers and corporate breed stock would have the final say on a topic so near to the hearts of politicians: how to spend financial windfalls.
And this case is no different, in that the San Diego City Council will get final say on how to divvy up the doubloon. But just in case council members are listening (hey, there's a first time for everything!), this committee stood united on one major theme:
It makes no sense to move forward with grandiose solar-energy projects until the city gets really serious about providing an energy-efficient foundation on which to build. Why generate clean energy to power wasteful buildings, of which San Diego has plenty, the panel concluded.
Little press outside of Spin Cycle has focused on the goings-on of this group, which is sad, really, considering here was a group of relatively to extremely smart people who agreed to meet on a regular basis to help the city decide how to spend some real, actual dollars on a couple of really good things—climate protection and job creation.
You might be saying, well, $12.5 million is a sneeze in the wind compared with San Diego's billion-dollar budget woes, and you'd be right. But this group wasn't simply interested in the immediate payoff—they kicked around, ping-ponged and beer-top-snapped ideas around the room, formulating ways to leverage this dangling money with other stimulus funds that are anticipated from the feds and, yes, even the state.
One of Spin Cycle's old newspaper bosses liked to boast that San Diego was home to more college graduates per capita than anywhere else—but he always seemed to bring that up when San Diego leaders had just performed another in a long line of decision-making foibles that continue to plague this otherwise bountiful city.
Spin Cycle mentions this because the ad hoc committee that just completed its task was, in large part, able to give San Diego a brief peek at its potential—when smart people get together and focus on the job at hand with a minimum of political distraction, positive action can occur.
And this group had its homework—a total of 96 energy projects were submitted for consideration from a variety of government agencies, private companies and nonprofits. One committee member couldn't get through all the applications, staying up one night till 3:41 a.m. in a failed effort to finish ranking the proposals, he remembered specifically. He genuinely seemed bummed that he hadn't completed the work.
But from the rankings that were completed, it seems clear that the committee wants the city to tackle energy-efficiency projects first. Of the top 20 ranked proposals, more than 60 percent of them involve spending stimulus money on energy-efficiency retrofits for residential, commercial and municipal structures.
To that end, the committee agreed that the City Council should spend the bulk of the energy stimulus money the following way:
• $4.5 million for a residential energy-efficiency and water-conservation program that'll include energy audits, education and system upgrades. Of that money, the committee recommended that $3 million be earmarked for residents who are “economically disadvantaged” and those who live in pre-1978 homes.
• $2 million to convert city streetlights into energy-efficient beacons of green-thinking cost-savings for the general fund.
• $2.5 million for a revolving loan fund that would be used for various efficiency and conservation projects within city-operated buildings.
• $2 million for similar efficiency projects in buildings owned by the city but occupied by nonprofits. Watch the folks at our local parks gnaw each other to get at this hunk of money.
• $250,000 for the city to develop a “Climate Protection Action Plan,” which will assist in meeting required reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.
Committee members individually ranked the projects based on a number of criteria—from a proposal's environmental impact, job-creation potential, overall viability, visibility of the project, benefit sustainability and even its equity (whether all citizens would benefit)—and the results were averaged.
The big-ticket item that received some notoriety was Mayor Jerry Sanders' proposal to leverage $5 million of the $12.5 million total into a $30-million solar-panel project for Balboa Park, but that proposal barely cracked the top 20 picks, scoring particularly low in the local-job-creation and equity categories.
Nevertheless, the Mayor's office expressed its thanks for the work of the ad hoc committee. Sanders, who was named co-chair of the committee along with Frye, rarely attended the meetings, save for a few minutes of pep-talk banter here and there.
“The mayor is pleased with the ad hoc committee's proposal, which will save taxpayer dollars, create and sustain local jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” spokesperson Rachel Laing said by e-mail.
The mayor “regretted having to miss the final committee meeting,” but he was in El Paso for a Southwest Border Task Force meeting, Laing explained.
For the City Council come September, running for the border will not be an option when it deliberates on these recommendations, which will go a long way toward signaling to Washington, D.C., whether San Diego is ready to be trusted with even more stimulus dough.Trust Spin Cycle with a tip? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.