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City Council discusses climate plan, relief funds

Charlottesville is making headway in reaching its emission reduction goals, but there’s still work to do.

The City Council received a report on its climate action plan during its virtual meeting on Monday.

In July 2019, the council adopted a goal to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas output by 45% by 2030 and totally eliminate emissions by 2050.

The goal is tied to the Compact of Mayors, which the city joined in 2017. The group is a global coalition of mayors and city officials committed to curbing climate change.

Susan Elliott, the city’s climate protection program manager, said the reduction numbers were based on 2011 outputs. As of 2016, the city was halfway to its 45% goal.

Elliott said the efforts can be helped by recently passed state requirements for Dominion Energy to increase efficiency and focusing on renewable energy on local properties.

“We have a lot of opportunities that do align well with where our emission sources are coming from right now,” she said.

The biggest portion of emissions reduction can be tackled through changing behaviors and addressing energy consumption in operations, through efficiency and changing energy sources.

Elliott said the plan will address financial needs to meet the city’s goals.

“To hit the scale and pace we need, we can’t just rely on the local government dollars. We can’t just rely on getting grants for it,” she said. “We need to find out what those other funding sources are out there so we can go for it.”

Councilor Heather Hill highlighted the need to integrate with Albemarle County and the University of Virginia.

“There’s just not any other area where I’ve seen such strength and energy coming from the community that I think we can work side by side on and be proud of,” she said. “This is a pretty big undertaking and we need to be looking at it regionally.”

Susan Kruse, executive director of the Community Climate Collaborative, said the city should focus on high consumption households through outreach.

“We’ve got to have a focus on extremely low-income households because that’s where the energy burdens are greatest,” she said.

According to a staff report, about 90% of the city’s emissions are generated by residential and commercial sectors and citywide transportation.

Caetano de Campos Lopes, director of climate policy at the Community Climate Collaborative, said low-income households typically spend more of their income on energy.

Campos Lopes said while city households spend an average of 2.3% of their annual income on energy, nearly half spend between 6% and 10% on energy. About 5% spend more than 20% of their income on energy.

Efforts to initiate a community engagement process around the plan this spring were derailed by the coronavirus pandemic. Planning efforts for a revised process resumed in the late summer and are being finalized this month.

Over the next six months, the city will start planning mitigation efforts by creating a Climate Action Committee, topic core teams, discussion groups and task forces and conducting community engagement.

Community input will include virtual listening sessions, online surveys and facilitated small-group discussions.

The initial process is expected to produce a draft report in the spring.

CARES funding

In other business, the council allocated most of its reserve fund from the second round of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act stimulus package.

Earlier this month, the council approved disbursements of the roughly $4 million total allocation.

Of that money, $625,000 was set aside as a contingency reserve to address any unforeseen impacts from the virus.

The council approved $415,000 of the reserve at Monday’s meeting.

The Public Housing Association of Residents received $110,000 to continue its emergency food program.

The Conscious Capitalist Foundation will get $25,000 for a program to mentor students and aid with the virtual learning process. Each mentor will work with at least five students.

The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority got $80,000 to pay all past-due rent balances. The money would benefit 163 households.

The city set aside $200,000 for a Black Community Wellness Center. No organization has been selected for the project, but a staff report indicates Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital might lead.

A pilot for the project could be run from the Carver Recreation Center.

The wellness center would support members of Charlottesville’s Black community who suffer under the compounded stress of historic trauma and COVID-19, impacting their capacity to protect themselves from disease, build individual resilience and manage their mental health needs.

Interim City Manager John Blair said city staff will convene in early November to determine how much money has and hasn’t been spent between the two rounds of funding. Officials will then bring forward recommendations for the remaining money, which must be spent by Dec. 31.


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