Video: Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin gives a 4 minute talk on Measure HH.
The Local Rules podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance interviewed Ben Paulos, a member of the Berkeley Energy Commission active in the Yes on HH campaign.
What is the Climate Equity Action Fund?
Berkeley has had a climate action plan for 11 years, but has never had a dedicated fund to pay for it. The Climate Equity Action Fund would help us achieve the goals of our climate action plan by providing incentives for actions that cut global warming pollution, with an emphasis on economic and environmental equity.
What would the money be spent on?
There are hundreds of things that we can do to cut carbon emissions, create green jobs, and prepare for a warming world — while putting equity and environmental justice first. Here are just a few ways the funds could be spent:
Clean transportation: Giving out rebates for new and used electric and hybrid vehicles, installing electric car charging stations, subsidizing bike share programs, giving free or discounted transit passes, or improving transit service.
Buildings: Rebates for energy efficient appliances and lighting, insulation and windows, or electric heat pumps for space heating and water heating.
Energy: Discounted solar panels and batteries, or “vehicle to grid” systems when they become available.
Green jobs: Job training and placement programs, installer education, and reduced permitting costs.
Protecting against the impacts of climate change: Air filters for low-income seniors, and N95 masks for day laborers.
For many of these things, we can take advantage of state and federal policies and programs to make our funds go farther. For example, GRID Alternatives installs free or heavily discounted solar on low-income housing across the state to cut bills. We could add some funds to do that work here in Berkeley. Or the Rising Sun Center for Opportunity in Oakland provides green training, employment, and residential energy efficiency work to youth and adults who face barriers to successful employment. And the Bay Area air district’s Clean Cars For All program buys back old cars and gives out rebates to buy new or used electric or hybrid cars, or transit passes.
Can I apply for funding?
While the program details have to be approved by the City Council after the fund is approved, the intention is that grants would be awarded to non-profit groups, clean energy companies, and government agencies. Those grant recipients would provide free or discounted services or incentives to individuals and businesses. We don’t intend for the City to use the funds to pay for its own programs.
Where would the money come from?
Berkeley residents and businesses currently pay a 7.5% tax on natural gas and electric bills, the Utility Users Tax (UUT). Measure HH would eliminate the tax completely for low-income households on the CARE and FERA rate discount programs, saving them an average of $162 per year. It would raise the UUT to 10% for everyone else, at an average cost of about $4.33 per month. (For each $100 you spend on gas & electricity, you would spend an additional $2.50.) The net result is to raise $2.4 million a year that would be invested in local climate action.
Who would decide how to spend the money?
Measure HH creates the Climate Action and Energy Commission, a citizen panel of energy, climate, and equity experts. The Commission would set procedures for how the money would be spent, and would make grant recommendations to the City Council. One possibility is that proposals would be accepted from non-profits, businesses, and government agencies. They would be evaluated based on their pollution reduction, cost effectiveness, equity and environmental justice benefits, economic development and job creation benefits, as well as how the leverage and fit in with state and federal policies. The City Council would have the ultimate authority on spending decisions.
Would the public have a role in deciding?
All meetings of the expert panel would be open to public participation, as are all City Council meetings. All funds would be tracked and reported on a public website, just like soda tax revenues and spending are tracked on the Healthy Berkeley website.
Where can I read the text of Measure HH?
What does “climate equity” mean?
Low-income communities and communities of color have long borne the brunt of environmental injustices. They are disproportionately sited next to industrial plants, landfills, and highways, causing higher rates of asthma and other health problems. Likewise, the effects of climate change are expected to hit those communities the hardest, increasing local air pollution, urban heat, and rural wildfires. At the same time, taking action on climate change presents a great opportunity to create jobs and remedy past injustices. The Climate Equity Action Fund is like a local Green New Deal, helping us “build back better” from the COVID-19 pandemic, making a more just and equitable economy for all.
“Whether by conscious design or institutional neglect, communities of color in urban ghettos, in rural ‘poverty pockets,’ or on economically impoverished Native-American reservations face some of the worst environmental devastation in the nation.”
Will lower-income people pay more taxes?
It is never easy to be poor, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even harder. Measure HH would actually cut taxes for about 5000 of the poorest Berkeley households, at an average savings of $162 per year, by eliminating the Utility User Tax on gas and electricity for low-income customers on CARE and FERA rate discount plans. The current tax is not progressive, with everyone paying the same rate. Measure HH would make it more equitable. And while no one likes to pay higher taxes, other households would pay an average of $4.33 per month for a fund that would fight climate change and invest in the local economy.
Is the pandemic the right time for this?
Some see the pandemic as a trial run for the impacts of climate change. Both problems require us to trust the science, both require communal action to win, and both create devastating economic impacts that hit low-income communities the hardest. We have already seen climate impacts locally, as smoke from wildfires choked the Bay Area for days in the fall of 2018 — and threaten to return this year. In 2019, PG&E cut power to millions of Californians, including some in Berkeley, to prevent more wildfires. COVID-19 is today’s crisis, but global warming is the crisis of our lifetime. It won’t go away if we don’t commit ourselves to fighting it. Plus, Measure HH cuts taxes for the 5000 poorest households in Berkeley, hit hardest by the pandemic, saving each about $162 a year. And, it can provide a local green stimulus program to invest in local recovery, as we build back from the pandemic. Now is exactly the right time.
“A crisis is a crisis, and in a crisis, we all have to take a few steps back and act for the greater good of each other and our society. In a crisis, you adapt and change your behavior.”
Has any other city done this?
Yes, Berkeley would be at least the fourth city in the US to tax itself to create a fund for climate action. Voters in Boulder, CO; Portland, OR; and Athens, OH have all created climate funds to support local green development. Berkeley would be the first in California though. Hundreds of cities have climate plans, and could follow Berkeley in putting money behind their plans.
How do we know the money will be spent on climate change?
Measure HH is written as a “general tax” which means the funds go into the City’s general fund, not to a fund dedicated solely for climate action. But Berkeley voters and the City Council have consistently supported the desire for action on climate change. The Climate Action Plan was approved by voters in 2006, and finalized in 2009. The Council declared a Climate Emergency and a Fossil Fuel Free goal in 2018. The Council banned new buildings from using natural gas in 2019, and recently approved an Electric Mobility roadmap. Clearly the Council is committed to taking action on climate change, and we voters will make sure the money is well spent.
Plus, the Council’s record in keeping faith with the voters on ballot measures speaks for itself. In 2014, 76% of voters approved Measure D to tax sugary beverages and spend the money on health inequity programs. Even though funds went into the General Fund, the Council has allocated them as voters intended. Likewise, funding from 2018’s Measure P has been dedicated by the Council to permanent and temporary housing and a host of other services for the homeless.
What impacts would climate change have on Berkeley and California?
Rising levels of carbon dioxide and other pollutants are increasing the amount of solar energy that gets trapped in the atmosphere, warming the planet. This is causing a long list of dangerous problems, including stronger storms, more droughts and flooding, higher temperatures, habitat destruction, and rising sea levels. The State of California, in their Fourth Climate Assessment in 2018, estimated that climate change could cause $100 billion in damage in California alone, by 2050. Here in the Bay Area, the worst effects are likely to be more wildfires, rising sea levels that could threaten highways and airports, more air pollution due to emissions combining with higher temperatures, and more hot days that can threaten the lives of the elderly and vulnerable.
Aren’t we already doing our part on climate change?
California is definitely a world leader on climate change. We have more solar power than any other state (and most countries), and have strong policies to cut emissions from transportation and buildings. Berkeley was one of the first cities to adopt a climate action plan, and has taken a number of important steps. But we are not achieving the goals of our climate plan: our goal was to cut emissions 33% by 2020, but we have only cut them 26%. Gasoline and diesel cars and trucks are our biggest problem, accounting for 60% of Berkeley’s carbon emissions. Natural gas use in buildings is next, adding another 25%. If Berkeley, with all of our expertise, commitment, and relative wealth, can’t meet our global warming goals, we can’t expect others to try. It is our duty to lead.
Is this like the soda tax?
Yes! The Climate Equity Action Fund was partly inspired by the Healthy Berkeley initiative, which uses a voter-approved tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to fund grants that promote healthy lifestyles and fight obesity. A panel of citizen experts makes grant recommendations based on proposals from community organizations. The Climate Fund would tax pollution, and use the money to fight pollution, funding proposals from community organizations, businesses, and government agencies, with guidance from a panel of energy, equity, and climate experts