In a pioneering step against global warming, the Ashland City Council Tuesday committed itself to produce 10 percent of electricity used in Ashland from "new, local and clean resources" by the year 2020.
The vote was unanimous for the so-called “10 by 20” project and, underlining its urgency after the hottest July ever, the council did both first and second readings, making it effective immediately. If it failed, a citizen initiative would have put it on the November ballot.
The new law takes “immediate and meaningful action and is very aggressive,” said Councilor Rick Rosenthal, chair of the city’s Climate and Energy Action Plan ad hoc committee, but isn’t very specific, leaving the strategies and funding up to the council as it goes along.
“Climate change is an emergency,” said Councilor Pam Marsh, so it’s appropriate the ordinance was given emergency passage.
“It’s really fantastic that Ashland has taken climate change on,” said Allie Rosenbluth of Rogue Climate. The shift in Ashland’s energy sources likely will mean lots of solar panels in the local environment — and several people testified this needs to be accomplished with minimal impact on wildlife and greenery.
Ashland has owned its own electric utility for more than a century and generates some hydroelectric power, but buys most of it from Bonneville Power Administration, which generates 85 percent of its power from hydroelectric sources and 10 percent from nuclear sources.
One petitioner, Andrew Kubik, said 80 percent of people asked to sign favored it, with some grabbing the clipboard out of his hands before he finished explaining it.
Councilor Carol Voisin said infrastructure would cost about $30 million, with half shouldered by state and federal tax credits. The prime site, she said, is the city-owned Imperatrice property, a large, south-facing plot across the freeway.
Tax credits could fade, she said, so the city needs to move pronto, retain consultants to spell out the particulars of the plan and determine how much wind power can be mixed with solar. The infrastructure could be amortized in 40 years by ratepayers, with no new taxes, after which time it would be free, she says.
The council also spent more than an hour wrestling with a request to expand the homeless shelter in Pioneer Hall on cold winter nights, increasing allowed capacity from 30 to 42 guests — a step which would push it to the limit of the fire code, but was deemed necessary because of increasing numbers of homeless.
The council fretted about potential liability and “risk management” needed to staff both a male and female host, get training for hosts in dealing with people with mental health problems and controlling dog fights and “dog messes.”
City Administrator Dave Kanner said he’s dropped into the shelter, found everyone asleep early in the evening and “I don’t think it’s a problem to increase capacity.” Hosts told the council they’ve never had a dogfight and that dog mess is not a pretty issue but is rare and gets handled.
Change is happening at the shelter, said Marsh, noting that five years ago, hosts knew every person, but that’s no longer the case. Mayor John Stromberg said “we know some have criminal records.” He asked if the shelter is getting “sketchy strangers” and was told hosts don’t know all their backgrounds but that those with records, due to their desire to avoid attention, like to “fly under the radar and are our most polite guests.”
The shelter is open Tuesday and Thursday nights and is sponsored by the city, Temple Emek Shalom and the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ashland.
On the controversial guardrail on Grandview Drive, which was installed by a homeowner whose subcontractor erroneously believed he didn't need a permit before putting it in the public right-of-way, the council voted to leave the illegally installed safety feature in place, because it is needed to keep cars from sailing over the edge and into homes below.
However, the scenic and much-hiked road is curvy and descending, posing the danger of walkers and bikers being squashed against the guardrail, so the council approved Public Works Director Mike Faught’s proposal for a “shared road,” meaning an 18-foot wide road, a three-foot wide “refuge” on either side of the road, along with a 15 mph speed limit, with flashers signaling how fast you are driving.
The proposal also includes a four-way stop at Skycrest and Grandview, slowing traffic before the Grandview descent.
The guardrail was erected at a cost of at least $20,000 by a couple who built a house below the road. The city had never faced such a situation, but experts agreed the rail was needed and would have been built at some point by the city — and was correctly built — so the city should accept the fait accompli and make the road safe for everyone using the road.
Faught estimated the cost at $127,000, about half the original projection, to which the council expressed greater willingness to proceed. The project is slated to be done by Dec. 1, if two utility poles can be moved early on.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.