HAYWARD -- The economic climate trumped climate change concerns for a city advisory committee, which eschewed recommending mandatory -- and potentially costly -- energy-saving measures for homeowners.
On the table was the Residential Energy Conservation Ordinance, a part of the city's Climate Action Plan that is geared toward reducing the amount of greenhouse gases generated by Hayward and its residents.
By requiring homeowners to invest in energy-saving upgrades such as insulating attics and sealing air leaks, the city could curb greenhouse emissions by 639 metric tons annually by 2020 and by more than 39,000 metric tons per year by 2050, according to a staff report. However, those retrofits could cost homeowners thousands of dollars, even taking into account various rebates and incentive programs.
That made it an unpopular idea to some homeowners and in particular to the real estate community, with numerous agents calling it "suicide" or the "final nail in the coffin" for Hayward's beleaguered housing market.
The city's Sustainability Committee heard a presentation on the draft ordinance last week, when more than 20 public speakers unanimously railed against it, many echoing the same sentiment: Now is not the time.
Their pleas did not fall on deaf ears.
While the committee is dedicated to making Hayward a greener city, members did not want to move toward imposing something against the will of the people.
"We're not rulers, we are representatives," said committee member and Councilman Bill Quirk, responding to a resident's quip about the role of public servants. Quirk said that while it is critical to move toward greener houses, they "are losing the argument in the community."
Quirk suggested starting with a voluntary program, and fellow committee member Councilman Olden Henson added that the key to making it work will be educating people about incentives and ways to get funding for the upgrades.
Henson said such incentives and grants that are in the works could even make an ordinance unnecessary, and said the city should wait and see if a countywide model is developed.
Other members agreed with those recommendations, although Planning Commissioner Al Mendall said he was "in a pickle" about the matter.
"Many speakers acknowledged the need to do something, just 'not something that affects me,' " he said, adding that they heard similar concerns from the business and construction communities when advancing green measures that affected those groups. "If we all take that approach, nothing will get done. Forcing this down people's throats is not the right way to do it, but I know it is the right thing to do."
Mendall and Mayor Michael Sweeney cautioned that homeowners need to "walk the walk" and take advantage of programs, even if it isn't mandatory.
"Those who don't want to see it become mandatory need to help us make this voluntary program half-work," Mendall said.
"Because if it works, that's great, but if it doesn't, in three or four years, we may end up with a different RECO (Residential Energy Conservation Ordinance) that's not as friendly."
The City Council is scheduled to hear the committee recommendation at a May 31 work session.