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Santa Ana passes sweeping climate resolution, pledging clean energy by 2045

Climate change is causing plant die-offs in Southern California Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center.
Climate change is causing plant die-offs in Southern California.
(Courtesy of Sicco Rood)

The Santa Ana City Council approved a sweeping resolution on Tuesday night aimed at combating the rapid onset of climate change, committing to 100% clean and renewable energy usage by 2045.

Santa Ana is joining a few other Orange County cities that are working on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Irvine became the first city in Orange County to pledge carbon neutrality last month.

As California begins exploring ways to become carbon neutral by 2035, cities are faced with quickly adopting their own climate action plans to help the state achieve its goal.

The approval of the Santa Ana resolution comes on the heels of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s alarming report calling climate change a “code red for humanity” that is already being felt across the world and will only continue to accelerate.

Councilwoman Jessie Lopez, who requested the item with help from Councilwoman Thai Viet Phan, said the resolution will act as a blueprint for the city.

“We have seen the ocean be on literal fire,” Lopez said. “Northern California is currently burning as we speak. And we’ve seen firsthand ... how unprepared we are when we are dealing with these crises. We also understand the low-income communities and communities of color are going to continue to be negatively impacted.”

Phan said the resolution will also make it easier for the city to get state and federal grants.

“Gov. Newsom is already committing to appropriating millions of dollars to addressing climate change, and so has the Biden administration,” Phan said. “Because we are a low-income community that has a high need, by approving this resolution, we’re telling other governments, ‘Hey, we have a game plan here, and we just need your help to do it.’”

The resolution includes a host of items, including a commitment by the city to investigate and implement policies that limit or prevent the expansion of the use of fossil fuels and supporting more open space to stem pollution. The city is also committing to look into promoting decarbonization and the electrification of buildings and transportation.

The resolution also takes aim at the proliferation of lead in the city, a longstanding issue in Santa Ana that largely affects poorer neighborhoods. The resolution says that the city will investigate and implement policies to limit or prevent exposure to lead and other environmental toxins. Last year, a local environmental group, along with UC Irvine and other community members, released a study showing that low-income and predominately Latino neighborhoods in Santa Ana are affected by toxic lead.

The researchers found that thousands of children in Santa Ana are particularly at risk. Neighborhoods housing more than 28,000 children had maximum lead concentrations exceeding 80 ppm, and 12,000 of those children were in neighborhoods with lead concentrations above 400 ppm, the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendation for play areas. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment considers anything above 80 ppm in a residential area as hazardous to human health.

Seven organizations raised a combined $144,502 for environmental causes through the Protect and Preserve Orange County campaign this week.

Councilman Phil Bacerra, the only dissenting vote on the resolution, said he supports addressing climate change, but the resolution isn’t necessary because the city is already pursuing many of the goals mentioned in it.

“Some of the actions called for in this resolution can and should be pursued, and they don’t need a resolution to move forward with,” Bacerra said. “Yes, let’s end new fossil fuel exploration and expansion. Although, I don’t know that Santa Ana has any current efforts to expand or explore for fossil fuels here but, yes, absolutely. Let’s make sure we don’t do that. And let’s absolutely implement policies that are going to limit toxins and other polluting materials from impacting our residents. But we are already doing that, we’re updating our general plan right now, and the policies that we will put in there, I believe will accomplish that.

“This is a very aspirational resolution. And again, there are some things that we should really look at, but I think there’s just some things that really we don’t need a resolution to do. In fact, half of the things in here we’re already pursuing.”

Lopez took aim at Bacerra’s comments.

“The fact is that we have known about lead in the city for a really long time, and what has been done about that? ... Nothing,” Lopez said. “And so we need something like this to keep ourselves accountable.”

Ayn Craciun, a policy advocate with the local Climate Action Campaign, provided an emailed comment on the resolution on Wednesday.

“The resolution is an important first step, but now we need to see the words coupled with immediate action to clean the air, protect public health and prepare Santa Ana families for a changed future,” Craciun said. “The dates for action are inadequate for meeting the resolution’s own goals, and it’s unclear what next steps the city will take.”

The resolution also commits the city to continue looking into joining a Community Choice Energy program, which can increase local use of renewable energy and potentially lower rates for residents.

Orange County cities have for the last year been considering CCE programs as climate change has become a more important issue for residents. A Chapman University survey found this year that 79% of respondents consider the threat of climate change to be a serious problem.

CCE programs provide cities with an alternative to major energy providers like Southern California Edison, the energy titan that serves most of Orange County and the region. Through a CCE, local governments can retain control of purchasing power, setting rates and collecting revenue, though the local utility still maintains the electrical grid. CCEs can choose to purchase more renewable energy sources.

A few Orange County cities are either taking part in or exploring CCE programs. The Orange County Power Authority is the first and only CCE in the county. It includes Huntington Beach, Buena Park, Fullerton and Irvine, which spearheaded the effort.

The Laguna Beach City Council voted last month to pursue joining a CCE, but it’s considering options outside the O.C. Power Authority, which has drawn criticism for how committed it is to renewable energy and the qualifications of its chief executive, Brian Probolsky.

San Clemente and Aliso Viejo are also looking into joining a local CCE program.

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