SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. -- About 150 local government leaders and industry professionals convened in Sonoma County May 2 and 3, 2012, to learn and share lessons in sustainability from a West Coast perspective.
The Growing Sustainable Communities Conference - Western Region was a one-day educational opportunity for municipal professionals and elected officials, preceded by a half-day legislative roundtable for top leadership in California local governments.
Hosted by Applied Solutions and the Sonoma County Water Agency, the conference was presented by Sustainable City Network and Climate Communities. Programming focused on water, energy, transportation and resource management.
Speaker presentation slides are available for download on the programming page of the conference's web site.
On May 2, transportation was provided from the Double Tree Hotel in Rohnert Park to St. Francis Winery and Vineyards in picturesque Sonoma Valley, where roundtable programming and a networking reception took place.
The roundtable discussion was kicked off by U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson (CA-1), who said organizers couldn't have picked a better location for a sustainability conference.
"Every city in Somoma County has agreed to put in place one of the strictest greenhouse gas reduction efforts in the the entire country," he said. "They're going to roll back their greenhouse gases to 25 percent below the 1990 level by the year 2015."
Thompson also emphasized the economic benefits of renewable energy.
"Some people forget that," he said. "There are a lot of costs related to energy that are either ignored or overlooked. For example, foreign oil is about 40 percent of our trade deficit. So, if we want to make a dent in our economic problems and fix what's ailing us from a fiscal perspective, then take that out of the trade deficit. We could make up a lot if we reduce the amount of foreign oil that we bring into this country."
He said the U.S. spends more than $200,000 per minute importing foreign oil.
Thompson acknowledged three protesters that held picket signs across the street from the conference venue. "I think they are a dwindling bunch," he said of those who believe climate change is not happening or is not the result of human activity. "It needs to be confronted and it needs to be explained with good data, rationally and honestly," he said.
Thompson also acknowledged the gridlock in Washington, which he said will likely continue until after the November elections. But, he said, the bill he helped author to restore PACE financing for residential energy efficiency upgrades has bi-partisan support. Thompson, a Democrat, co-sponsored HR 2599 with two Republican congressmen.
Jake Mackenzie, mayor of Rohnert Park, said the roundtable discussion that followed Thompson's remarks helped congeal a federal sustainability agenda that will benefit California local governments concerned about clean energy, water and transportation policies.
"I believe we came up with some direction for ways we can follow through after this conference to make sure we've got a residential PACE program back on track," he said, "and we've got a block grant program that will be available to local governments."
He said other discussions centered on how to pay for repairs to aging water infrastructure and how road improvements will be funded as gas tax revenue declines in the future.
Keynote speakers at Thursday's general conference included Anna Garcia from the U.S. Department of Energy, and Michelle Wyman, executive director of Applied Solutions.
Garcia is acting program manager of the Weatherization and Intergovernmental Program in the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, providing leadership to maximize the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy through technology deployment, accessing new partnerships and resources, and communications and outreach activities.
"I have learned a great deal more from these people than they learned from me today," Garcia said. "Even though I was able to make them aware of a few things we have going on at the Department of Energy, they have real on-the-ground projects that are breaking ground in different ways, in terms of bringing partners to the table, developing innovative financing models and executing projects that are going to save energy and money. It's just exciting to see all of the good things that are going on at the local level," she said.
Founded by local elected officials in 2008, Applied Solutions was created to help local governments design and implement projects to diversify their energy supplies in ways that save money, increase efficiency, and spur investment in the local economy.
Climate Communities is a national coalition of cities and counties that educates federal policymakers about the essential role of local governments in developing new approaches to create livable communities, reduce energy use and curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Corporate sponsors for the event included Johnson Controls, United Water, Waste Management, General Motors, HDR Engineering, Inc., Populus Sustainable Design Consulting, Optony, Sedgwick Consulting Group, Stern Brothers & Co., Tioga Energy, The Ratto Group – A Family of Companies, Unison Solutions, and URS.
More than 100 municipal government leaders and staff representing 40 Western jurisdictions attended the conference.
The Growing Sustainable Communities Conference - Midwestern Region will be held in Dubuque, Iowa on Oct. 2-3, hosted and presented by the City of Dubuque and Sustainable City Network, publishers of sCityNetwork.com.
"As local government staff, the sessions were relevant to my job, and I walked away with practical information and a greater understanding than I previously had."
"I was very impressed with the detailed funding advice and ideas."
"At this conference the progress being made in communities by local governments and citizens was apparent and inspiring."
"Exciting opportunity to learn about what's next in sustainable living and converse with like thinkers."
The next Growing Sustainable Communities Conference will be held in Dubuque, Iowa on Oct. 2 and 3, 2012. Register now at http://gscdubuque.com.