EL CERRITO -- The city is one of 30 cities and counties in the United States and Canada that will participate in a pilot project aimed at evaluating the environmental and economic sustainability of communities.

The program, known as the STAR Community Rating System, uses a variety of parameters to assess a community's overall health, including climate and energy use, the economy and jobs, and education and the arts, said Melanie Mintz, the city's environmental services manager, at the City Council meeting Tuesday evening.

El Cerrito was chosen out of 120 cities and counties that applied, and the results will help guide the writing of the city's strategic plan now under development, Mintz said.

Participating in the program is in keeping with the city's concern with the environment and greenhouse gas emissions embodied in its Climate Action Plan, which was released in draft form last week, Mintz said.

"We are going to be participating in a national dialogue by evaluating where we stand with STAR's sustainability guidelines," she said.

For example, under the category of the economy and jobs, the city will assess its progress with such issues as business retention and support, community-based economic development, and quality jobs and living wages.

Under climate and energy use, it will evaluate greenhouse gas mitigation and the city's inventory of resource-efficient buildings, along with other issues.

Other larger categories include equity and empowerment and community health and safety.

"Pilot communities will be the first to use the STAR Community Rating System to assess how sustainable they already are, set goals for moving ahead, and measure progress along the way," according to the city environmental staff's analysis.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how we rate," Councilwoman Janet Abelson said. "It's a part of making the city more livable."

Council members also added suggestions for additions to the draft Climate Action Plan.

The public comment period on the plan began last week and ends March 14.

Councilwoman Jan Bridges recommended that the city investigate how residents could best collect rainwater and gray water for use in their gardens, and Councilman Mark Friedman suggested the city put together a volunteer "green team" to visit homes and advise residents on how they could make them more energy efficient.

Friedman also recommended the city come up with a green homes designation, in addition to its green business recognition program, to reward homeowners who practice energy efficiency.

The City Council also heard a presentation from Zakhary Mallett, the new District 7 representative on the BART Board of Directors.

Mallett, an El Sobrante resident, said he is interested in the idea of a BART extension from the El Cerrito del Norte station north to San Pablo, Hilltop, Pinole and Hercules that would reduce traffic delays on Interstate 80.

"About 60 percent of traffic on I-80 goes further north than where BART ends in El Cerrito and Richmond," he said. "Drivers waste 14,000 hours on the I-80 corridor annually."

Mallet said he is also concerned with the cost of upgrading BART's aging infrastructure and what he characterized as unsustainable financial commitments, such as free health care in retirement for employees after as little as five years of service.

District 7 includes West Contra Costa north to Crockett, Albany, Emeryville, parts of West Oakland and the South of Market area of San Francisco.

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