City Climate Corner

Albany CA: Funding Climate Action

Episode Summary

How does a small city fund climate action? Albany came up with a creative answer. We interview newly elected council member Preston Jordan and Climate Action Committee member Nick Peterson, about their recently approved utility tax ballot measure.

Episode Notes

How does a small city fund climate action? Albany came up with a creative answer. We interview newly elected council member Preston Jordan and Climate Action Committee member Nick Peterson, about their recently approved utility tax ballot measure.

Check out our bonus youth episode where we interview an Albany youth leader about her role in Albany climate activism.


Episode Transcription


Abby Finis  0:02  

Cities produce more than 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Big cities get a lot of attention. But most household emissions in the US actually come from communities outside urban cores, making them critical players in climate mitigation and climate justice. City Climate Corner explores how these small and mid-size cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future. I'm Abby Finis.

Larry Kraft  0:23  

And I'm Larry Kraft. We're co-hosts for City Climate Corner. 

Abby Finis  0:30  

Hey Larry.

Larry Kraft  0:31  

Hey Abby.

Abby Finis  0:33  

So oftentimes, when we work with cities, we hear from them, "great, we have this climate action plan or we're doing climate action. How much is it going to cost? How are we going to pay for this?" Is that something that you've experienced?

Larry Kraft  0:47  

Oh, my gosh, yes. And I hate that question. Because what we're talking about here is really an investment. Right? In nearly all the things that we're talking about doing around climate, there will require some, some money, some investment, but they generate substantial returns, not only from an environmental perspective, and reduced emissions, better air quality, all kinds of other things, better quality of life. But also a financial return, right, you're saving people money on their energy bills. And so I always like to talk about it as an investment, but it's so easy to go to "how much does it cost?"

Abby Finis  1:31  

Yeah, I appreciate your perspective on that. Because it often does get boiled down to "what's the payback?" And we decide an arbitrary number is good enough or not good enough for the number of years that something pays us back. And if it doesn't pay this back, then it's not worth it. And so just thinking about setting up your budget, in a way where you're already spending money, you may as well think about it through a climate lens and, and an environmental justice lens and how it impacts your residents. You know? How are you spending money on infrastructure? How are you spending money on helping housing become more stable? And so it's those kinds of factors - I like your perspective of saying it's an investment, it's not, it's not a cost.

Larry Kraft  2:16  

It's such a good point, because as we look at it within St. Louis Park, there's so many things that we are doing and investing in. And if you start thinking about all of them through a climate lens, right, then you realize there may be a tweak here, or a change in how a certain program rolls out, that can all of a sudden make it part of the overall investment.

Abby Finis  2:41  

Right. Nonetheless, cities' budgets are often strapped and cities need to look for new funding sources. And you, in your efforts of working with St. Louis Park and looking for different options for funding sources, came across Albany, California.

Larry Kraft  2:59  

That I did. And rather than showing too much what's coming, I think it's worth to listen, because they came up with a pretty interesting approach and went through some really interesting discussions and thought processes, but they came to something that I'm really interested to see how it works.

Abby Finis  3:20  

Yeah, it's a really great story of the process that happened in Albany. And I think there's a lot for other cities to learn from it.

Larry Kraft  3:28  

Agreed. Let's listen to this interview, which was from December of 2020.

Abby Finis  3:34  

Let's do it. 

Interview Start and Albany Background

Abby Finis  3:37  

We are here with Preston Jordan, newly elected city council member and Nick Peterson, a member of the Albany City Climate Action Committee. Welcome to the City Climate Corner. 

Nick Peterson  3:47  

Oh, thank you. 

Abby Finis  3:49  

So let's just start with some introductions. Maybe tell us a little bit about yourselves and the role that you have with the city. So we'll start with Preston and then Nick.

Preston Jordan  3:58  

Yes, as you mentioned, I was just fortunate to be elected to city council, but I've been working in climate advocacy and the city for about 25 years. I'm a geologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Professionally, I work on geologic carbon sequestration. So both professionally, navigationally try to do what I can as a geologist to keep the planet together.

Abby Finis  4:24  

Great, Nick.

Nick Peterson  4:26  

Yeah, well, I'm a resident of Albany for at least 25 years or more. I've been in the East Bay Area my whole life. I'm a retired project manager, architect formerly worked for also the Lab and then finished out my career down at UC Berkeley. And I've been involved in environmental issues since you know, remembering back to the first Earth Day when I was in high school. So these are really important issues to me. About three years ago when I retired, then the current Mayor of Albany, Nick Pilch, appointed me to what was then the Sustainability Committee but has now been renamed in recognition of the urgency of what we're doing the Climate Action Committee. And I'm continuing to serve on that, I hope, with the new council members coming in.

Abby Finis  5:17  

Could you tell us a little bit about the city of Albany and its record on climate why this is important? What's in the Climate Action Plan?

Nick Peterson  5:27  

Yeah, well, Albany is a relatively small city, just about under 20,000 people living in about one and a half square miles. On the east shore San Francisco Bay, we're butted up against the north side of Berkeley. It's predominantly a residential community, meaning most residents work outside of Albany, probably either going to San Francisco, Berkeley, and other areas. At least they used to before the pandemic. Relevant to the story at hand, the residences consists of one story houses originally built in the 20s through 40s. Fairly old housing stock that has gradually been remodeled and made more current. And then there were quite a few multi-residents buildings built mostly in the 60s and 70s. So we've got a really diverse selection of building types and housing and other things. So half the residents rent their homes, which is interesting. So only half are homeowners, and mostly apartments near the business district or the university, California, Berkeley does have a large student housing complex in southwest corner of the city. We have a couple small business districts, one is probably more well known than the other, it's very walkable.

Preston Jordan  6:42  

Yes, that's sort of the physical configuration, the city. It used to be actually a fairly conservative city. And then for reasons that are not entirely known to me, in the 1980s, professionals with families started moving in. I suspect it's because the homes were built as part of the last streetcar neighborhood. So they're actually small, and on small lots and so relatively were more affordable then. The result of that is that, a recent analysis by the Washington Post found that Albany was one of the 10 most progressive cities in the country. So a big shift politically. And that's supported, in 2006 the City Council adopted a goal of Albany reducing its greenhouse pollution 25% against the 2004 baseline by the year 2020. This year, as it turns out. And Albany made the goal, which is pretty fabulous, and not to be taken for granted. There's a lot of cities that don't make their goal. And it made its goal, and adopted a Climate Action Plan in 2008. It recently, and Nick had a lot of input into this, adopted an update, which is now a climate action and adaptation plan. Which says something unfortunate right there, that we've moved past where action alone is going to be enough because we're already into it. And so we now need to also adapt to what we've created.

Larry Kraft  8:12  

That new goal now is it right? 70% reduction by 2035 and net zero by 2045?

Preston Jordan  8:20  

Correct? You got it. And when the Climate Action Committee first set out a reach-goal, it was neutral by 2050. And then Nick can share what happened at that point.

Nick Peterson  8:35  

When the Climate Action Committee started developing its follow-on action plan to the one that culminated in 2020. This one, we're going through 2050. The State of California, outgoing Governor Jerry Brown, had actually ratcheted up the state goals for climate mitigation. So that became 2045. So Albany proceeded to do the same thing. So we were in tandem with the state of California, which we feel is very important as being much bigger than the little town of Albany. We want to meet whatever the state and hopefully the Feds someday will put forward as far as our addressing climate change.

Utility Tax Ballot Measure

Larry Kraft  9:23  

Can you tell us about this ballot measure the measure DD Utility Uers Tax that just passed? What is it?

Nick Peterson  9:33  

So previously, Albany taxed natural gas and electricity at 7% of the cost and telecommunications which was also utility at 6.5% of cost. Water didn't have any tax on it. And in California municipalities are allowed to do this and have the utilities collect the tax and pass it on to the city. So Measure DD increases the rate of natural gas and electricity only by 2.5%. For a total rate of 9.5%, which was pretty much in keeping with our surrounding municipalities, we weren't becoming the biggest tax utility tax in the area. In fact, we're still under some of the others. 

Nick Peterson  10:18  

And for the first time, it Institute's a tax on water 7.5%, which is a good thing, because water is something we need to conserve also in California. It's a general tax, meaning the revenue can be spent on anything the city council chooses, it goes into the general fund. And the measure includes a voter recommendation that council spent 1/3 of the revenue on climate protection and adaptation. So essentially supporting the recommended actions of the Climate Action Adaptation Plan that was just put in place. It also requests that the remaining two thirds of the funds raised by the measure be used for central city services like emergency response and preparedness and seniors' assistance. The reason the measure recommends rather than requires the spending is because in California, if you have a tax measure that requires specific spending for particular perfect purpose, that raises the threshold for passing the tax from a simple majority to a two thirds majority.

Larry Kraft  11:21  

Oh, I get it. That makes sense now. So what went into the creation of this? Like, how did it come to come to be? And then what kind of advocacy was necessary to get it passed?

Preston Jordan  11:33  

Yeah, so I can jump in here. This has a history to it. Back last decade, I didn't even know that Albany had a utility user tax. It showed up on the bill as utility user tax without the name of the city. So I'd always casually presumed that this was a tax at the state level. In 2010, following the council for other reasons, I noticed the issue came up to reauthorize the tax by putting a measure on the ballot. And it needed to be reauthorized because the legal landscape had changed somewhat. So that was the first time I became aware of this as a tax, that's under city control. And because the Climate Action Plan had recently been developed, and this was a tax on some of the main polluting activities in the city, I took up immediately saying, well, this measure has to have a climate protection nexus to it. And at that time, the tax was purely for funding general city services. So the city was somewhat resistant to that. And I said, "well, I'm going to write a tax argument, a valid argument against this tax if it doesn't have a climate protection component." And that really freaked them out, because about 15% of the city's budget came from this tax at the time. And Albany, I guess, at this point, for example, over these past 22 of the last 25 tax measures. So over the past 25 years, people here don't write arguments against tax measures. So that would have been sort of unprecedented. And so the city manager reached out to me and said, "you know, I understand your concern." And I'm not an unreasonable person, so I understood her concern that they needed to get the revenue going. So we made a deal that I would not write an argument against it. And she would refer the possibility of another measure to fund climate protection to the city Sustainability Committee, which again, as Nick described as now the Climate Action Committee. 

Preston Jordan  13:36  

And so I followed through on my part, she followed her on her part, and it was referred by the Council to the Sustainability Committee. And then over the past decades, we kept pushing and pushing the concept. And three times the sustainability committee put a recommendation up to the Council. The first time they council basically ignored it. The second time the council discussed it, but turned it down without voting on it. The third time the council voted three to two against it. So we were making progress, slow progress, but we're making discernible progress. And so we had developed the policy framework and socialized the idea. And then what happened this year was the city looking for revenue sources in January as it tends to do in election years, started contemplating a utility user tax measure that would raise the rates on everything to 8% including instituting a tax on water without any Climate Protection excess. So we were perturbed by that, given that we've been doing all this work and talking it up that the Council didn't even let the Climate Action Committee know it was contemplating this, but we jumped into gear into sort of psycho-advocacy gear and Nick can take it from there.

Nick Peterson  14:53  

Yeah, well what was kind of surprising, at that point, I had been two years on the Climate Action Committee. And we're the advisory body to the City Council on these kind of measures. But what was happening, and you'll find this is very common with small city, sort of politics and going on. The communication, you think would be absolutely fantastic. Because we all know one another and we're all in the same little city. But all of a sudden, this came up, and they're doing a study, they've hired a consultant to do a study of people in Albany, how well they would respond to these measures. We said, Well, look, we want to be involved in this, we need to advise you. This is revenue coming from people's use of utilities, which is directly responsible for emissions that we're trying to reduce. So there has to be a connection for this. 

Nick Peterson  15:47  

So there's also an advocacy group in Albany called the Albany Climate Action Coalition, which is just an unincorporated group of citizens that just work to come to council meetings. And this is really essential to have these kind of citizens out there that you can bring in and champion your cause. But there was this big concern amongst several of the City Council members that it had to be one, you know, it had to just be one number 8% for gas, 8%, for electricity, 8% for water 8% for communications. It's like, well, why? Why increase the tax on communications right now? Communications and saving our butt with doing all this online commuting. 

Nick Peterson  16:28  

So we put together something that was much better figured out, which also included exempting low income qualified members of the community. And we got practically everything we wanted, except just one missing piece, which would have made it truly stellar, which was the authorization that the City Council could raise natural gas tax rate up to a certain amount, and lower the electricity rate to a certain amount in the future. There was a reason why we didn't write that in. Initially, part of it is because the primary utility in the area for gas electricity, which is Pacific Gas and Electricity, claims, that their billing system is incapable of handling a difference between the two rates, which people have told me is actually true. So we tried to get that in there by just saying they could do it in the future. But that was a little too risky. They were concerned that having something go to the voters that allowed increases without another vote would tank it. So in fact, one city council member voted no on all the tax measures, and took a very anti-tax stance, primarily because of the COVID conditions and being concerned about people's financial capabilities. So it's very complex time, but I think we had a big success in actually getting it on the ballot. So that was a win there for us.

Preston Jordan  17:59  

Some context that might be helpful given that the situation with emissions and utilities is different from state to state and region of the country to region of the country is we wanted to focus the tax on natural gas, because electricity in California is now cleaner than using natural gas. So heating with electricity using heat pumps, or basically doing anything with electricity is cleaner than using natural gas, which was not the case 20 or 30 years ago. So it's been quite a change, and is likely not the case in many parts of the country. So that there's some nuance to it.

Abby Finis  18:36  

Yeah, that makes sense. Good point.

Larry Kraft  18:38  

Hey, so was there much opposition to getting it passed?

Preston Jordan  18:43  

Interestingly, there was no opposition, which is not actually unusual in Albany. There wasn't even an argument filed against the measure. While 58% seems like high voter support, it's actually relatively low by the standards of Albany, particularly given that we really put on quite a campaign for this measure, I would say it was one of the stronger measure campaigns that has happened in Albany in my decades here. And so it was important to have that campaign. There were two other tax measures, they got about the same voter support. So either and I'm a scientist, so I have to put up you know, multiple hypotheses to be honest, either our campaign didn't matter and it would've gotten 58%, like the other tax measures, or our campaign really mattered. And this one was going to go down. There is some support for the latter hypothesis because Berkeley actually saw what Albany was doing and put its version of the measure on the ballot in the same election. And it also had other tax measures and its measure that was similar to Albany's measure went down, unfortunately. But the other tax measures there passed. Now, it also did have a campaign for its version of the measure. There were some differences in campaigns that might also be explanatory in terms of the difference of the outcomes. But one of Albany's other two tax measures failed because it needed two thirds, it was one of these special taxes. So that's sort of put the result put the, the underline to the wisdom that we went for a general tax with faith that the Council would spend it the way the voters recommended. And then we can push the Council and hold the Council to account. Which is funny to say it because now I'm on the Council. So I guess I'm gonna be holding myself to account.

Nick Peterson  20:37  

Well, we'll do that for you.

Preston Jordan  20:39  

Great, thanks.

Equity Issues

Abby Finis  20:42 

So I think we've talked a little bit about the structure of the tax, and it sounds like it's volumetric. So the more you use, the higher your tax will be, the less, the lower. And we're getting into the social equity considerations and high energy burden is, you know, it's a problem in cities across the country. And what is a consideration for households with lower income that might be impacted by this measure?

Preston Jordan  21:15  

You know, so it's, there's, there's no perfection in politics. Albany's taxes, like, like many cities, most cities in California are very inequitable. So I've done calculations that low income households with lower incomes pay about two or three times a percent of their income in taxes to the city as other households. And I've been working for a decade on another quest to right that situation. And this measure did more to correct that than any measure previously. And the reason for that is because the utilities are so effective at enrolling households that have low incomes in their programs. So Albany has other tax measures that have exemptions for homeowners who have low incomes and rebates for renters, who have low incomes. It takes a specific action of those people going to the city, well one finding out that they exist to go into the city, getting the application filling it out, and doing this just for those taxes. And not surprisingly, very few of those households do that. So there's about 70 households that do that a year, whereas there's about 700 households that are enrolled in the low income rate reduction program for utilities. So it is much more effective pragmatically. So I'm very happy that we were able to bring that to bear at this particular critical time.

Nick Peterson  22:42  

Yeah. The other point to make is that because so few people were taking advantage of that the measure exempts some automatically. So people that before were qualified for those programs, but were still getting taxed, will now be not taxed at all. Not for the new increase, nor for the prior 7.5%. So some low-income, utility payers will actually see a reduction. Yeah, and the upshot is this just made it easier to campaign for. I mean, we had a lot of pitfalls. If you did it strictly on the sustainability issue, well, only a third is going, why isn't it all of it? And then, you know, it's just the increase money, it's not the total money, which the city needed for their basic revenues. And why isn't it a requirement? Well, because you know, that we need the two thirds. So there are a lot of places where if people really wanted they could shoot a lot of holes in it. But we could actually say it's, and we're very serious about, that it's a more equitable and fair tax because of these exemptions that didn't exist before. And that I think that played in.

Money and how it will be spent

Abby Finis  23:58  

Let's move to the revenue that this will generate and thinking through how much will that be? What does that 1/3 look like? And how do you start to set priorities for how you want to spend it?

Preston Jordan  24:13  

It will raise between $200,000 and $300,000 a year, which is not a lot. On the other hand, Albany has about 7,000 households just to get some sense of scale.

Nick Peterson  24:26  

That's the 1/3 portion, right? 

Preston Jordan  24:28  


Nick Peterson  24:29  

Yeah. The whole, the whole measure will add about $625,000 a year to the city. So the third was the amount Preston mentioned. We realize, with any measure like this, especially if we're going to come back again later, and asked to increase it in certain areas, or modify it, we want to show some results. And it's a tricky time. The city is reworking its next two-year budget plan. And they know they're going to be significantly impacted by loss of sales tax revenue and other things out of the city due to COVID. So we'll have to continually watch what's coming up and come up with really good ideas for how to use the funds. And these probably will fall into the line of, of incentives for building electrification. Other incentives for increasing adoption of electric-based transportation, or other forms of transportation that are not an internal combustion engine. And then also improving our green infrastructure significantly, tree-scape along our streets to increase sequesteration and shading during the summer. Those are the three primary things we're focusing on building electrification, non-emission transport, and green infrastructure.

Preston Jordan  26:05  

Yeah, the tree cover is really what Nick alluded to there about the temperature change, that being a geologist, research geologists, I went to data, no big surprise. Berkeley as a station that's been in operation for over 100 years. So I plotted out the annual daytime temperatures, and starting in 1990, sort of the classic hockey stick, where the temperatures climbed dramatically, and they're still climbing. It's climbed five degrees Fahrenheit since 1990. And there's some research that coastal areas of the West Coast are at greater risk for temperature increases, because the marine layer or the fog is really a switch, you either have it or you don't. And that makes a difference of 10 or 15 degrees. And that with temperatures pushing up inland, it's evaporating that layer closer and closer to the coast. And we've certainly seen that in Albany. 

Preston Jordan  27:11 

People who have lived in Albany their whole life, they talk about when they were growing up here, during the summertime, they often couldn't even see the end of the block because it was so foggy. And that never ever happens anymore. So we're really experiencing it here pretty dramatically. 

Preston Jordan  27:28  

In terms of spending on building electrification, you know, that the flip side of a small city and being able to be more nimble, and a few people being able to make a big difference in the trajectory of policy is that staff is small, and there's a bit less free capacity to take on new initiatives. And so one of the concepts on building electrification is to essentially have the money administered by a regional entity that is already offering subsidies for heat pump, water heaters, and other building electrification elements. And there's been some initial receptivity by staff and that entity saying, "Yeah, we can use the local money to leverage or boost the subsidies for projects that are in Albany." So the details are yet to be worked out, and most of that development of detail will be done by the Climate Action Committee and staff and then then brought to Council.

Larry Kraft  28:31  

Is there a chance that the other two thirds that you could access that too? I mean, the initiative that I read seem to be written that you have to ideally be using at least 1/3. But it didn't seem to rule out more than that.

Preston Jordan  28:47  

Yeah, regarding the 1/3, it's really an artifact of the sausage-making of this measure. So the conception of this measure over the decade, that the policy framework was developed was that it would only be a tax increase on natural gas, and then electricity by necessity, as we've explained. The Council's interest was to get more revenue. So interestingly, because I knew about utility taxes, and I studied utility taxes in the area and throughout California. The Mayor called me last January and said, "Well, is there anything we are not taxing that we could tax?" And I don't know, I was eating lunch or something. And I said, "well, we don't tax water, some other cities tax water." And little did I know, you know, so then they decided to tax water for general revenue. The 1/3 that's recommended is really equivalent to the portion that comes from natural gas and electricity. So that can in that sense, there's some logic to it, that you're taxing that which generates emissions, although, as I say, electricity now is clean, actually, in Albany its carbon free now for the most part.

Preston Jordan  30:09  

In terms of the political feasibility of getting more than 1/3, to climate protection, I think that would be tough. I have to put my council hat on now, and you know, I'm no longer just an advocate, I'm also going to be a Council member as of Monday. So yeah, you know, keeping the basic city services whole, obviously, that's mission one.


Abby Finis  30:34  

Cities all over are adopting climate goals, path and climate action plans. And the common question is, how do we pay for it? How are we going to do this? So what are some key takeaways or lessons learned that you would want to share with some of your peers cities out there?

Nick Peterson  30:53  

Yeah. So I think one of the key ones is, a city can institute a tax on global warming pollution to pay for global warming reduction actions. So that I think that connection is very key, at least in California, again, this may vary. I'm not sure how the utility laws work in other states. So if you can do that, then you can do this through utility user taxes. Now that Albany has done it, it's possible for others to get it done, and hopefully less than a decade. That's the big frustration for me is that, you know, the wheels of government move very slowly. And even in a small city, there, you find the status quo, and the resistance to change is still relatively high. So, you know, moving into a whole new paradigm in our area, gas usage has just been king. All these little homes have little gas heaters and gas dryers and gas cooktops. And, you know, it's very difficult to do this paradigm change, where you are now telling them use electricity. For a long time, in fact, a lot of our building code still holds residue of this that resistance, heat, electricity was really bad, because that was using non-emission-free electricity that you were getting transmission losses out of and then you were getting a not too efficient methodology of distributing the heat. And so it really in the codes was frowned on. And now very rapidly, we need to switch the other way and say, get rid of the gas. 

Nick Peterson  32:41  

The other thing that we fight against is I think the natural gas industry has done a good job of painting natural gas as a clean source of energy. And electricity has come up very quickly with solar. And with electric vehicles coming into play, and all of a sudden, gas is not the clean option anymore. Definitely better than coal. But we don't, I don't think we have that much coal usage in California anymore. So I think making those connections and getting utility taxes to help bring in that revenue would be good. The other one that I think we're going to look at in the future is in Albany, we have no parking management at all, we don't even have parking meters in the business district. So it's free parking everywhere. And everyone's completely addicted to it. So rolling that in and having people pay for parking might be another methodology for bringing in revenue to promote these services. The other way is to keep them as incentives because in that sense, revenue generated goes back to the actual people to make the correct decision.

Preston Jordan  34:01  

It's always hardest to get the first instance out there. And in some ways, that's why we were willing to accept a measure that was compromised in some ways because the value of getting it out there. And getting that precedent that we can make improvements with each city that comes along to adopt as well as Albany can make improvements by following measures. As far as small cities, democracy is looking rather frayed in America at the moment. But I learned from a classic book "Democracy in America" by Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who came to the country in the 1800s, that our country has very distributed political power, which I just thought that's the way it was. But most democracies power is really centralized in the national government. And so that one of the phrases that comes out of this is the states are the laboratories of democracy and policy in our country, which gives us a big advantage. And I was on another call on another topic recently, and one of the speakers said, well, states have laboratories and cities with the test tubes. So quite happy to have Albany be one of those little micro experiments in a test tube, and hopefully, we can get more test tubes going. The advantage of small cities is a few people can really make a difference. And that's certainly why I've put so much energy into advocating for different things in Albany, because I could see that we could get it done here.

Abby Finis  35:39  

Absolutely. You have to scale the good efforts. We appreciate your your time and the conversation. We really enjoyed it. Thank you.

Larry Kraft  35:48  

Yeah, thanks, guys. What a great story. 

Abby and Larry debrief

Larry Kraft  35:54  

All right, Abby, what were some of your takeaways from that?

Abby Finis  35:58  

Yeah, so one of the biggest things is just this took a long time and it was over a number of years, right? And it's just, it's those kind of grind-through-it city processes that people really stuck to it. And I think that what they ended up with was probably the best policy that they could have done, given the circumstances and what's available through city and utility billing systems, and came up with something that works that both raises money for their efforts and reduces some of that financial burden, energy burden for some of the households with lower incomes.

Larry Kraft  36:42  

Yeah, I was struck by how long it took and how it required some really passionate citizens on it, you know, keeping at it for a while, and some of them eventually became Council members. Right. I understand that. And it also showed to me the importance of citizen commissions. We have one in St. Louis Park, an environment and sustainability commission. You see them in a lot of places that are pushing forward on this kind of work?

Abby Finis  37:12  

Right, this wasn't something that a few city council members sat together and came up with. It was really building that community support. I mean, it had to pass by vote, right? And so you've got to get folks behind that and get that momentum there to get it into place.

Larry Kraft  37:28  

Yeah, it's interesting how the opportunity to do it came when the city needed some additional funding. And so they wrapped it into expanding utility fees on water. And then also with utilities, right, there's a significant energy burden on those that have less means. And so I appreciated how they really thought about that and tried to put in place a process that not only raised funds, but actually reduced the burden on lower income people.

Abby Finis  38:00  

Yeah, I think that's an important part of the measure. And it sounds like they would have liked to have done more. But that just wasn't going to be possible this time around for a number of reasons. And oftentimes, it's really well, how are we collecting this information? And it's not being collected in a way that enables cities or utilities, or whoever the players may be to be able to make those changes. And I think that that goes to the systems, what are the systems that we're operating under? And how can we make those match the desired outcomes for our community as well.

Larry Kraft  38:35  

And on top of it Albany is only about 20,000 people or so right? Really kind of fun to see leadership coming from smaller cities.

Abby Finis  38:44  

Yeah. I'm really interested to see the results from this where there are examples of cities that have raised additional funding to direct toward climate action. What did they end up directing it to? What are the impacts? What are the outcomes?

Larry Kraft  39:19  

Maybe we need to go revisit them in a year or so.

Abby Finis  39:02  

I think so. 

Abby Finis  39:06  

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able to become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode’s guests on our web page if you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  39:28  

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me, Larry Kraft, edited by me. Music by

Abby Finis  39:37  

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard!

Larry Kraft  39:39  

Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.