Participants at a Santa Barbara County Climate Action Plan workshop Thursday listed housing and transportation as two linked issues that need to be addressed to achieve emission reduction targets.
Increasing alternative energy sources, reusing waste, maintaining habitats, and protecting and using open space and agricultural lands for carbon sequestration were also suggestions given by those who attended the virtual workshop as part of the county’s One Climate initiative.
But at least one participant cautioned against taking on too many varied and detailed projects at the same time.
“The more this project tries to address every conceivable problem, the less the chances of success,” Dennis Beebe said during the first of two workshop sessions.
The workshop provided a brief summary of the county’s climate action history, successes and lessons learned. Participants also were given the chance to contribute ideas for future policies, projects and programs for reducing emissions through small-group breakout sessions.
Many of those attending represented a wide range of nonprofit organizations and government agencies as well as ordinary citizens concerned about climate change, it’s impacts on the county and coming up with ways to deal with it.
Garrett Wong, the county’s climate program manager, noted the county initially established a goal of reducing carbon emission levels to 15% of 2007 levels by 2020, but in 2015 emissions were actually 14% higher.
The new goal is to reduce emission levels by 50% of 2000 levels by 2030, but to reach that goal will require the equivalent of taking 77,000 vehicles off the county’s roadways or eliminating the energy use of 41,600 homes.
Transportation accounts for the largest portion of the county’s annual greenhouse gas emissions at the equivalent of 521,160 metric tons of carbon dioxide, following by residential energy use at 195,490 metric tons.
For that reason, a number of workshop participants in the noon session said the county should focus on providing affordable housing that’s closer to where they work as well as improving public transit between North County and South Coast locations.
The ideal would be to create what Michelle Sevilla referred to as the “15-minute city,” where individuals can walk to everything they need within 15 minutes, and part of that would involve concentrating on infill projects using vacant land within a community rather than encouraging more sprawl.
She cautioned against “gentrification” that can price people out of those areas and advised focusing on housing for low-income families.
Several participants said getting more people to drive electric vehicles also would contribute to reducing emissions, but some people are reluctant to purchase EVs because of charging difficulties.
Michelle Bedard recommended retrofitting existing multifamily housing to provide residents with charging stations, which others said should be included in all new construction.
Michael Chiacos said the county should offer more incentives — like preferred parking and access to charging stations — for its employees to purchase electric vehicles, because many people decide to buy EVs after hearing co-workers talk about their efficiency and ease of use.
Mary Byrd said achievements brought about by the pandemic also should be evaluated, with those that work — like telecommuting — continuing to be used after the pandemic ends.
Chiacos also pointed out that natural open space and agricultural lands have a much greater ability to sequester carbon than most people realize, and he noted that because those make up the majority of the unincorporated area, it gives the county an opportunity cities don’t have.
Workshop participants also offered a number of other ideas, which Wong said will likely be incorporated into strategies as part of the new Energy and Climate Action Plan draft document, which will then be distributed for public review.
If the Board of Supervisors approve the draft plan, an environmental impact report will be prepared and the final plan could be adopted sometime in 2022.