Things got a bit toasty at today’s Stockton Climate Action Plan Advisory Committee meeting, as members debated whether an energy-efficiency ordinance had been met, and accused local Realtors of failing to promote the program to the public.
The most pointed comments came from Sierra Club environmentalist Dale Stocking.
“I think it’s a bunch of BS to come in and say the numbers that (Pacific Gas and Electric Co.) gave us last month justify saying that we met (the goal),” he said. “My position is that the Realtors looked at this as just another bump in the road, a stumbling block. I’m not sure the Realtors really do show purchasers information (about retrofit opportunities).”
Background: The committee originally proposed an ordinance that would require energy audits to be performed whenever a house in Stockton is sold. The goal of the audits was to encourage residents to fix up old, drafty homes that stick owners with high utility costs and increase the city’s carbon footprint.
Realtors intervened in the 11th hour and blocked the proposal when it went before the City Council, warning that the point-of-sale mandate would increase costs.
Instead of the mandate, the council set a goal of retrofitting 8,500 of Stockton’s older homes by the end of 2013. The Realtors would help promote the program. If the goal was not met, the energy audit mandate that had previously been set aside would be reconsidered.
Last month, PG&E representatives presented data claiming more than 12,000 retrofits had occurred — that the city had, in fact, met the requirements of the ordinance.
Some committee members couldn’t accept that. The conclusion, after all, was based on a liberal definition of “retrofit” that would could include relatively minor changes like new light bulbs or showerheads in satisfying the 8,500 target.
Stocking and some other committee members said they believed the goal had not been met, and they expressed frustration with Realtors for first lobbying to soften the mandate and then — in the eyes of those committee members — failing to promote the voluntary program.
“The agreement that we had with the Realtors in letting go of the mandated energy survey was that the Realtors would undertake the cost of advertising to the general public, not just to Realtors,” said Trevor Atkinson, a member of the slow-growth group Campaign for Common Ground.
“You guys (Realtors) were going to help meet the benchmarks so we didn’t have to go to the mandatory process,” added committee chair Carol Ornelas, with Visionary Home Builders.
“I had the impression it wasn’t going to stop only at educating the Realtors at these meetings, but that there would actually be something for the Realtors to give to their clients and potential clients,” said committee member Randy Hatch.
There to answer to those criticisms was Byron Bogaard, representing the Central Valley Association of Realtors.
Bogaard said the agreement was for the association to educate its members about retrofit opportunities, with the notion that Realtors would then pass that information on to home buyers.
“I would say that we exceeded the goals,” Bogaard said. “You’ll find no other group in the community that cares as much about their local community as the Realtors.”
He said he didn’t have a specific number as to the amount of money spent on the educational effort, but said it was likely more than $10,000. Bogaard later said the real total was probably $50,000 including time spent by staff.
Told by committee members that the plan was to educate not just the Realtors but also the potential home buyers themselves, Bogaard responded by saying, “We never went directly to the consumer with the exception of one event, a home buyers’ fair. All of our marketing dollars really went to help educate Realtors so when we had a client, we would have information to give directly to that client.”
He challenged committee members to go back and check the minutes of past meetings to verify what the actual arrangement had been.
Ultimately, Atkinson said the issue is “history” and said there was no real way to get the data needed to prove whether the ordinance had been a success or not. The committee agreed to revisit the issue, and its broader role, at a future meeting.
For all the argument over what defines a “retrofit” and whether the Realtors were aggressive enough in pursuing the goal, however, committee member David Nelson of A.G. Spanos Cos. brought up what he called the real “elephant in the room” — the fact that PG&E data suggests Stockton’s per capita energy usage is growing, not declining, despite past efforts to the contrary.
“People are changing out incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs because it saves energy, but because it costs less to use it, they’re leaving it on all day,” Nelson said. “We’ve got more efficient (heating and air conditioning) units, but people have not changed their behaviors and are cooling and heating their houses more,” he said.
“I think what it really underscores is that a lot of this is about education. There is a real need to improve the energy efficiency of existing building stock, but we can’t do that without also educating people about the long-term benefits of changing their lifestyles a bit.”