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Electrification Roadmap Just a Start, City Officials Say

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By Jorge Casuso

March 8, 2023 -- When the City released a "roadmap" to electrify existing buildings, the document -- touted in a press release -- caught many residents and property owners by surprise.

It also came as news to City Councilmembers elected after Santa Monica's $830 million Climate Action & Adaptation Plan (CAAP) was unanimously approved in May 2019.

"I was surprised," said Councilmember Phil Brock, who was elected in 2020. "If it was passed by this Council, I was asleep."

"It's my understanding that it's only new construction," said Councilmember Oscar de la Torre, who also was elected in 2020.

"I thought it was only new buildings," said Councilmember Lana Negrete, referring to the policy approved by the Council in September that bans gas energy in all new construction.

Mayor Gleam Davis, who was also mayor in 2019, remembers the issue.

"Yes it came up at Council over 2 years ago," Davis said in an email. "I know that because I remember Kevin (McKeown) was still on council and a very vocal supporter."

While the CAAP's objective is to "reduce fossil fuel use in existing
buildings by 20 percent," it is the The Existing Building Electrification Roadmap released by the City on February 27 that proposes ways to to that.

The roadmap includes timelines and goals that should be reached before property owners can rent, sell or make major renovations to existing buildings ("Santa Monica Releases 'Roadmap' for Existing Buildings to Go All Electric," February 27, 2023).

These include 70 percent of Santa Monica's 13,138 single and multi-family residential buildings, as well as commercial buildings that would need to fully transition from gas to electricity by 2045 at a cost the City estimates could be as high as $1 billion ("Transitioning to Electricity Could Cost Property Owners Up to $1 Billion," March 6, 2023).

The roadmap, said Nico Predock, sustainability analyst for the City, "is not an officially council-approved and adopted plan. The idea of this is not to say this is what is going to happen.

"The roadmap is meant to present possible policy options," Predock said. "There is still the need for community engagement" before the Council is presented with a plan for electrifying all existing buildings.

The roadmap is based on one of the 11 actions outlined in the 62-page CAAP approved by the Council on May 28, 2019 that calls for converting existing natural gas equipment and appliances to electric.

The plan calls for the City to "develop programs, resources and incentives to support gas-to-electric conversion of appliances, hot-water heaters and HVAC systems."

It also calls for the City to "establish electrification retrofit upon sale requirements for low-rise residential, and small multifamily and commercial buildings."

According to the meeting minutes, electrification was discussed by the Council and a motion by Mayor Davis was approved to add the following language proposed by Commonwealth Edison:

"Where electrification of appliances is infeasible or not a customer choice, then a methane equivalent alternative such as renewable natural gas would be an option."

Implementing the CAAP, staff wrote in its 2019 report, "will require robust community engagement that reaches non-traditional stakeholders such as non-English speakers, youth, low-income, people of color, and those who have historically been left out of civic affairs and community programs."

In developing the roadmap, the City worked closely "with three key organizations to cooperatively develop strategies and goals for building electrification," according to the roadmap.

The three groups are Santa Monica Black Lives Association (SMBLA), Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM) and Climate Action Santa Monica (CASM), three organizations with ties to the City.

"They didn't consult with the rental housing providers or restaurants, hospitals and big commercial," said Mathew Millen, a leader of Progressive Landlords of Santa Monica.

"And I'm willing to bet they didn't consult with the North of Montana and Sunset Park Neighborhood groups" that represent homeowners, Millen said.

According to the Roadmap, "It will be increasingly important to collaborate with and defer to a diverse set of Santa Monica community members as the City approaches building electrification goals outlined in this roadmap."

The input will help inform any plan City staff eventually presents to the Council, which must vote to approve it before it can be implemented, City officials said.

"We haven't released a staff report," Predock said. "If Council does not believe the time is right for such an option, they can shoot it down" and staff "can continue to pursue these cutting edge policies."

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