The Marin Energy Authority presented to the city council Tuesday night a plan to educate Richmond residents about their choices in switching to a new renewable electricity source.
The nonprofit energy corporation plans to hold a series of meetings at neighborhood council meetings and houses of worship, Marin Clean Energy (MCE) community outreach representative Alex DiGiorgio told the council in his presentation.
“Community choice programs only work when people know they have a choice and can make an informed decision,” DiGiorgio said. The point, he said, is to “empower people to make a choice where there was none before.”
In July, residents will automatically be enrolled in the Marin Clean Energy service, unless they choose to opt out. Fifty percent of the program’s energy is derived from renewable sources, such as wind and solar generation. A “Deep Green” option offers 100 percent renewable energy.
Last June, the council voted to switch the city’s electric service from Pacific Gas & Electric to MCE, joining a number of other cities.
“This is about us as a community, us as a state, us as a country doing something as a collective to slow down global warming,” Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said Tuesday.
Several councilmembers expressed concern about raising rates, but DiGiorgio assured them that competition will keep the company’s rates lower than PG&E. A city staff report shows MCE currently offers slightly lower rates than PG&E, but those numbers are likely to change as the electric company’s rates continue to fluctuate. Plus, Richmond can always abandon its MCE partnership and return to PG&E, DiGiorgio said.
“I welcome MCE,” said Richmond resident and business owner Dameion King during the public comment period. “We need more agencies like that to challenge the status quo so we can embrace innovation.”
The council also heard a presentation from representatives of Community Leaders Organizing Undocumented Dreamers (CLOUD) and discussed partnering with the youth-led group to develop city policies that will improve the lives of undocumented residents in Richmond.
The presenter, Joshua Tovar, an intern with the council and UC Berkeley student, spoke about the experience of undocumented young people on behalf of CLOUD and fielded a barrage of questions from Councilman Corky Booze.
Booze sought clarification on one of the definitions of “undocumented,” which Tovar defined as entering the country without showing a passport or going through Customs.
“When I go to Cananda, I have to show mine when I come back. I go to Mexico, I have to show mine when I come back. When I go to China, I have to have it there,” Booze said. “Anytime you enter the United States or go into another country you have to go through Customs. I did that in China just recently. … I’m just trying to figure out so we don’t lead young people astray … are you saying there’s a new law that no one will have to do that anymore?”
The audience started rumbling. Tovar and Beckles, who agendized the talk, both said they didn’t understand Booze’s question.
Finally, another CLOUD member jumped in to explain. “You cross the border without the proper documents. That’s how you become undocumented, sir,” he said.
The council voted unanimously to become an “ally” of undocumented residents, meaning that it would support efforts to help them.
In an agenda filled mainly with proclamations and presentations, the council’s most divisive decision of the night proved to be whether to extend the meeting an additional 30 minutes past 11 p.m. They spent 10 minutes debating that point.
“If you guys would stop talking so much we would get this meeting over with in a timely manner,” Councilman Nat Bates said.
Councilman Tom Butt agreed, noting this meeting’s particularly benign agenda.
“Here’s a meeting that’s made up of presentations, study sessions, nothing controversial and we just go on and on and on. We’ve fallen into this habit of no matter how small our agenda is … we just go on and on and on. We won’t get out of here before midnight,” Butt said. “We have to learn how to get out of here at a reasonable hour. This is unhealthy … it’s ineffective.”
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin moved to extend the meeting. Bates, Butt and Booze voted no, not enough to delay the rest of the agenda for a later date, so the meeting continued past midnight.
The last item the council had time for was a presentation from San Francisco-based Mortgage Resolution Partners, a community advisory firm that works with cities to stabilize local housing markets. Graham Williams, the group’s chief executive officer, asked the council to let his firm design a program to assist foreclosed homeowners who want to stay in Richmond. The partnership would not cost the city any money, he said, and the firm believes it can help 1,400 Richmond homeowners.
MRP currently works with four cities, using a plan that uses eminent domain to refinance underwater mortgages at current property values.
“Only you can prevent foreclosures in Richmond,” Williams said.
Booze was skeptical, saying he thought the group was coming in to take advantage of the city, but several Richmond residents at the meeting who waited hours just to speak on the item supported the idea.
The council unanimously voted to develop a foreclosure assistance plan with MRP.
Despite the extended meeting, one discussion fell through the cracks. The Public Works Department was scheduled to deliver a report on reopening Point Molate Beach Park after 10 years of closure, but the mayor had to push the item for next time.