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Petaluma Climate Commission slowly getting footing

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In its first meeting of the year, the nascent Climate Action Commission made inroads in its expansive mandate, forming an ad hoc subcommittee tasked with drafting a guiding action plan to serve as its beacon moving forward.

Commissioners Kailea Frederick, Panama Bartholomy and Ann Baker will work behind closed doors over the next month to create a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan outline, planning to present it at the next scheduled public meeting Feb. 13. A preliminary draft submitted by staff lists nine umbrella topics and the goals and deliverables that they may include. These initial topics include land use, transportation, individual consumption, energy and waste.

“I think we’re really identifying the difficulty of being up on the dais and trying to work in a collaborative way and in engagement, and we identified ad hoc groups as a way of broadening our level of discussion and involvement,” said commission chair Ann Baker.

Commissioner Panama Bartholomy said he thinks crafting processes and plans is difficult to do on the dais, suggesting small, focused subcommittees are best as the fledgling commission builds its action plan.

This divide-and-conquer method extends further, as staff adopted Baker’s suggestion to create four additional ad hoc subcommittees in the near future, each focusing respectively on issues of mitigation, adaptation, engagement and climate justice. Staff liaison Patrick Carter likened these to lenses through which subcommittee members will approach the comprehensive Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, once finalized.

Ad hoc subcommittees consist of 2 to 3 members, are typically disbanded after the completion of their tasks and allow commissioners to meet independently outside of council chambers.

Considering the commission’s novelty and the lack of government experience among the majority of commissioners, this divide-and-conquer approach provides commissioners with something they’ve wanted all along: more time to work. Prior appeals from multiple commissioners for more frequent meetings were met with hesitation from staff over scheduling and increased workload concerns.

“It speaks fundamentally to the way government works with the need for different committees and subcommittees, as well as this push and pull between what staff can handle and accommodate,” said new council liaison D’Lynda Fischer. “How much can we really get accomplished during a 3 hour meeting up on a dais?”

In addition to the creation of the subcommittee, members floated the idea of adding a permanent youth commissioner to the group and using contractors to accomplish future goals and projects. Discussion over the possible additional of a youth member is ongoing, including inquiries into the Youth Commission’s desired involvement.

Carter said the decision to hire a consultant, if pursued in the future, will need to be approved by City Council as the Climate Action Commission does not have a budget or decision-making authority.

“The more we can do in house, the better,” Carter said. “Some of these things may be too complex though, and possibly having a third non-interested party involved could help to push these things through, as well as ensure neutrality.”

The look at adding a youth commissioner and using consultants embodies a often-stated goal among commissioners to actively incorporate community voices and suggestions.

“I really want to make a call out to the community to contact us and just become engaged in this process as we move forward,” Fischer said.

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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