White Rock council is stepping into a new decade with full recognition of a global climate emergency – and the need to take climate action initiatives close to home.
At the first meeting of the year, Monday (Jan. 13), council gave unanimous endorsement to sweeping recommendations from the city’s environmental advisory committee.
The vote – on a motion from Coun. Erika Johanson, council’s representative on the committee – will allow the EAC to prioritize both setting and meeting climate change goals with staff.
The vote also enshrines climate change mitigation as a key part of the decision-making and operations process across all city departments.
This, the committee suggested, will bring the city in line with other Metro Vancouver jurisdictions in recognizing a climate emergency “arising from critical threats that climate change poses on multiple fronts to regional ecosystems, city infrastructure and the well-being of White Rock’s citizens.”
The vote was met with spontaneous applause from a smattering of residents attending the meeting.
Following the meeting, Johanson said she was delighted at council’s endorsement.
“We (the committee) were a little afraid it would be overshadowed by other business,” she said.
Prior to the vote, Mayor Darryl Walker expressed his support for the recommendations.
“This is a huge step forward for what communities should be doing; what provinces and countries should be doing,” he said.
Coun. Scott Kristjanson acknowledged that “there are people in our community who think climate change is a hoax.”
“I don’t think it’s a hoax; I think it’s real,” he said.
“I think we’ve seen that in Australia and California and all over the world… I think we want to take this very seriously.”
In prior discussion, Coun. David Chesney had wondered whether the suggested directive might place an onerous burden on city hall employees.
The directive asks that climate change assessments figure in all staff reports to council, that staff keeps council up to date on Metro Vancouver and provincial climate change initiatives and opportunities, and that staff keeps council briefed on organizational, human resource or financial costs of pursuing this path.
But engineering and municipal operations director Jim Gordon told council that he believes all the work is both “do-able” and desirable.
“There is a lot of work involved with this, there’s a lot of work with the environmental advisory committee, but it is good work and I know council is committed to having that committee (be) effective,” he said.
“Yes, (these things) are not a small amount of work, but I think they’re also important.”
“I, like Mr. Gordon, tend to believe that these are things that are do-able,” Walker said.
“I think the importance is that we make a decision to pass motions such as this, so we can actually start to see what other communities are doing, and what we can do within our own community, and I think we may quickly find that we’re doing some pretty good stuff, but we’ve missed a few marks; there may be some stuff that’s a little bit more difficult and we have to give a little bit more time for it to actually be effective.”
Earlier in the evening Gordon had reported to council on climate action initiatives currently underway in the city, a report requested following a delegation by resident Kaitlyn Blair last November, urging more city action at the time of climate change protests across the Lower Mainland.
The summary of environmental and climate action plans – some of which have been in operation for as long as a decade – includes the Metro Vancouver integrated solid waste resource management plan in which White Rock is a participant; the provision of community gardens; continuing use of trenchless technology for repairing and replacing underground piping; encouraging people to carry reusable containers to city water fountains rather than using plastic water bottles; water conservation and aquifer recharge; management of storm water discharge; more environmentally-friendly transportation, including walking, biking and transit; and increasing the tree canopy.
Council also endorsed Gordon’s recommendation that it add $15,000 to the current financial plan to top up the provincial better homes rebate to city homeowners switching from fossil fuel heating systems to electric air-source heat pumps for home and water heating; and also earmark $20,000 from the provincial Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program to install a new electric vehicle charging station in the city.