Hot Air? How Inaccurate Was the Chron on Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan?

The San Francisco Chronicle reported over the weekend that the City of Berkeley was ready to begin penalizing home owners for contributing to global warming. In the next few years, according to the article, the city is “likely to mandate” improvements to older Berkeley homes with the estimated price tag between $33,800 to $46,300 per building.

The plan, as reported by the region’s premiere daily paper, would be draconian — if it were true.

In a memo circulated on Monday, Berkeley’s City Manager, Phil Kamlarz, refuted numerous claims in the article. Apparently, the article mistook suggestions about what the city might do as nearly unavoidable facts.

What is more likely is that at some point in the future, after a large amount of public input, the city will institute requirements for older homes, but for now they are just ideas.

Below is a block quote from the City Manager’s two-page memo:

The article mischaracterized the recommendations in the CAP [Climate Action Plan] in several ways, including:

1. The article implies that the City will force residents to comply with energy standards “in the next few years.” This is not accurate. Rather, the CAP states that energy standards need to be developed through a collaborative process with the community and subject ultimately, to the City Council’s review and consideration.

2. The article states that in many cases, compliance with the City’s energy standard would require new double-paned windows, insulation, a new white roof that reflects heat, a forced air furnace, and high-efficiency appliances. This is misleading. While staff may recommend some types of cost-effective energy efficiency improvements, those will not include replacement of roofs or single pane windows that are not otherwise being replaced, as that would be not a cost-effective improvement.

3. The article states that all homes will be mandated to pay upwards of $33,800 to meet the City’s energy standards. This is false. Moreover this assertion contradicts one of the fundamental goals of the CAP — to lower the costs of energy upgrades in homes and businesses.

4. The article states that within a few years, the City will start imposing penalties for those who do not meet the energy standard. This is again inaccurate. The CAP offers a series of options that the City could use to achieve compliance with a local energy standard. The CAP does not recommend imposing penalties; rather, the CAP emphasizes the need for incentives to encourage the installation of these types of improvements.


The Express has emailed Chronicle staff writer Carolyn Jones for her response. Stay tuned.

Update: Carolyn Jones responds:

Yes, the story is accurate. I have checked and re-checked the story,
before and after publication, with numerous people and there’s nothing
to correct. However, because of the story placement (front page, plus
alarmist graphic), a lot of readers misunderstood or didn’t read the
story completely, so there’s been a huge uproar and a lot of panic about
what the city actually intends to do. So now the city is backing off the
whole proposal. This has happened before.

The uproar caused by a draft proposal of the “Berkeley Climate Action Plan,” as well as Jones’ article, is scheduled to hit tonight’s Berkeley City Council meeting sometime after 7pm


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