Yakima City Council wants to continue talking about the scope and mission of a new Climate Change and Sustainability Committee.
The council first advanced an idea in October for a Climate Change and Sustainability Advisory Council that would make recommendations for improving the city’s sustainability efforts and addressing the negative impacts of climate change. It was one of several moves by the city in 2021 to commit to tackling climate change.
Several Yakima residents spoke in favor of the board at Tuesday’s meeting, and some council members raised concerns about logistics during the discussion.
Mayor Janice Deccio, Deputy Mayor Soneya Lund and Councilors Patricia Byers, Danny Herrera and Eliana Macias voted to bring the issue to a study session, while Councilor Matt Brown voted against further discussion. Councilor Holly Cousens was absent.
A date for the next meeting was not set at Tuesday’s meeting, but the council will discuss the scope, membership and mission of the board in a study session shortly, City Manager Bob Harrison said at the meeting.
support for the board of directors
Coleen Anderson, Yakima resident and founder of environmental group 350 Yakima, praised the city’s efforts to address the impacts of climate change and supported the creation of a sustainability committee during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting. She thanked city leaders for their previous leadership in declaring a climate emergency, approving the federal Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, supporting the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, and joining the SAFE Cities movement to promote clean energy and reduce fossil fuel use fuels.
“We recognize that the City of Yakima has made significant efforts toward sustainability, and we applaud that,” Anderson said.
Anderson said establishing an advisory board with citizen representatives is a step toward adopting climate-related policies.
“We believe that community and government working together will overcome these challenges and achieve these sustainability goals as we rewrite the rules to avert a climate apocalypse,” Anderson said.
Yakima residents Phil Hoge and Robert Strader also made public comments supporting the new board.
Hoge said he agrees with Anderson’s comments and appreciates the research city staff who have been put into the project. Matthew Selby, acting assistant city manager, wrote a memo about the city’s past policy decisions related to sustainability and climate change. The memo also included recommendations from the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington about how other Washington cities — Bainbridge Island, Issaquah, Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma — have set up similar committees.
Strader expressed concern about the dangers of climate change already affecting the Yakima Valley, including the 2021 heatwave and damage to local crops.
“It’s up to us as individuals and as a group to do something about this and I’m really, really glad you guys are taking this on and taking it seriously and wanting to advance in a leadership position,” Strader told the council.
The council discussed the logistics of a sustainability committee before deciding to revisit the issue in a study session.
Byers said the city has neither the funds nor the staff to manage the board.
“And on top of that, right now the city has committees that we can’t even fill with people,” she said.
She recommended that concerned citizens start an independent group instead that could bring climate and sustainability research and project ideas to the city.
Brown said it would be easier to respond to sustainability-related policy changes if the state made regulations and made funds available to municipalities. The city doesn’t have the resources to support the board or implement the ideas, he said.
“For me, I would hate to say, ‘Hey, come on this thing voluntarily and give us ideas,’ and we literally can’t push anything for you,” Brown said. “It would be a waste of time for our city staff because nothing would be done and it would be very frustrating if I were a person volunteering on this committee.”
Brown said the city can wait for the state to provide funds. He also suggested that the Sustainability Committee be a subcommittee of the Planning Committee, which Byers later endorsed.
“So much of it is going to be about zoning and land issues and things like that,” Byers said. “I think that would be an appropriate place to serve as a subcommittee and support them.”
During the discussion period, Byers and Brown also raised concerns about the SAFE Cities commitment, a separate resolution the council passed in June 2021 that says the move restricts things like public utilities, entails additional costs or restrictions on construction and itself affecting housing and power grid infrastructure.
Deccio, who moved to move the sustainability committee’s discussion into a study session, noted that a number of people supported the board in the public comment portion of the session.
“I think it really warrants a study session, and I think we’re going to have some resources going forward,” Deccio said. “We actually need to talk about what that’s going to look like, if it’s feasible, and get some input from the citizens who want to serve on this committee.”
Lund, who supported the motion, said there were many questions about the board that needed to be answered and the council should flesh them out.
At the end of the discussion, Byers thanked everyone who spoke during the meeting and said she would support a study session.
“I know that’s very important,” she said of community involvement. “I’m just trying to think of the most efficient and effective way to do that in our city.”