By: Rachael Rees van den Berg
A sea of green filled the council chambers and flooded into the hallways of City Hall on Thursday evening to converse about climate change.
But pro-climate action plan voices weren’t the only perspectives heard. In total, about 45 people stepped up to share their insights with council during the public comment period.
The Bend Chamber took a neutral position on the topic.
“We have not taken a stance on the issue because of our diverse membership,” said Jamie Christman, Bend Chamber EVP of community affairs. “We are here to make sure process and opportunity and involvement is what we can have. In that light, we need to hear all the facts. We’re listening to our members, many of whom are in the room.”
A motif of the importance of timing resonated loudly from those on both sides of the spectrum. Those in favor of the ordinance spoke to the importance of urgency.
“I am 16 years old. I don’t’ get to decide who sits up there, but you get to decide my future,” said Skylar Grayson with Youth Climate Action Now to the Bend City Council during the special city council meeting. “What is required right now is meaningful action…When it comes to climate change, time is one thing we can’t afford to waste.”
However several stakeholders from the business community voiced concerns about the process being rushed, not having full representation at the table, a lack of cost analysis and resources and other potential challenges associated with the draft resolution.
Bend Economic Development Advisory Board Vice Chair Erich Schultz said if the policy is imposed in Bend, it could lead to regional employment shifts.
“If it’s more difficult to conduct business in Bend, employers may take their business to other cities,” he said.
The motif of priority also rang out among the concerned citizens.
“I can tell you, we can’t meet every expectation so how do we rank it and what service levels would you be willing to see go to meet this directive?” asked Bend City Councilor Casey Roats.
Roats explained the squeeze on the budget for multiple requests ranging from public safety concerns and affordable housing to making sure ADA requirements are met.
Nikki Roemmer, Central Oregon regional director for the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, said it’s important that a policy framework is put in place to serve as a “guiding light” to help council make the right decisions and continue down the path of reducing carbon emissions.
“Cities that have climate action plans and that have been successful with them, have the city as the conveners of those. You are the leaders of our community. We elected you to be our leaders and I would think that the city should be the convener and the community should come together and be a part of it.”
Roger Lee, executive director of Economic Development for Central Oregon, said he appreciated the work that’s been done on the resolution, but stressed adopting goals without a baseline of the current conditions could be precarious and is essentially “putting the cart before the horse.”
“Climate change is an important issue, however it must be taken in the context of other responsibilities and priorities charged to the city,” Lee said. “As a community, we should not settle for merely symbolic or political wins.”
Lee said many businesses and individuals in Bend are already making huge strides when it comes to reducing their carbon footprints, so he believes a climate action policy is unnecessary.
City of Bend Senior Policy Analyst Gillian Ockner said council did not discuss next steps at the meeting, but expects the council subgroup that is focused on the topic to reconvene.
“Yesterday’s special session was focused on listening to public comments. We heard a range of opinions provided that were thoughtful and clearly stated,” Ockner wrote in an email. “There were some common themes that emerged such as begin to take action now, move forward with community collaboration and partnerships, and include analysis in support of good decision making.”