As time ticks down on this particular gang of five, the Portland City Council this morning unanimously enacted new laws that make the city off limits to big new fossil fuels facilities, and will require homeowners to have their homes scored for energy efficiency before they sell.
"This is how we’re expressing our values about the place that we live in," said Mayor Charlie Hales, chief backer of both proposals. "I am very proud of this day."
As was foretold last week, a divided council also adopted Commissioner Amanda Fritz's "Open and Accountable Elections" proposal, capping years of low-key work by Fritz to reintroduce publicly financed elections to city offices.
"You're part of something which I believe is really great today," Fritz told councilmembers before the proposal passed, 3-2. "Thank you."
The boldest of the three policies is Portland's new ban on "bulk fossil fuels terminals"—defined as terminals that have a capacity of more than 2 million gallons, and which handle fuels delivered by barge, pipe, or rail. We're the only city to take as strong a step.
Northwest Portland is currently home to enormous tank farms that receive fossil fuels from the Puget Sound and Bay Area, and distribute them throughout the region. Today's code change, loathed by the fossil fuel industry, not only prohibits those facilities from increasing capacity, in prevents new ones from springing up.
The vote didn't stop any proposed projects on the horizon—there aren't any. But city officials believe it sends a message about curbing fossil fuels use, and they point to the fact that existing facilities on the west bank of the Willamette River are a dire risk if (when) an earthquake hits. The city's fire marshal has implored the city council to take stronger steps to force those tank farms to prepare for seismic action, but officials say that has to be done at the state level.
"One of our points all along is: Maybe there is a better location for these facilities that’s not in the Portland Harbor on these risky soils," Tom Armstrong, a city planner, told the Mercury last month.
Theoretically, city code still allows small fossil fuel terminals, or terminals that are both supplied by truck and supply trucks, Armstrong says. He doesn't think either are likely to crop up.
The 5-0 vote was cheered by climate activists, but included a caution from Commissioner Steve Novick.
"We’ve learned from the war on drugs that interrupting a supply of a harmful substance is a strategy of limited usefulness," he said, saying Portland also needs to reduce demand on fossil fuels.
Council also enraged a good chunk of the city's realtors by voting to require homeowners to pay for a "home energy score" prior to putting their house up for sale. Homebuilders will also be required to obtain ratings on new homes.
The scores—from 1 to 10, with 10 denoting optimum energy efficiency—are seen as a key tool for making homebuyers aware of potential problems, and getting people to implement efficiency upgrades to their dwellings.
According to the ordinance council passed: "Voluntary programs to support the use of home energy ratings have been in place since 2008, and, while they have helped establish an industry trained and able to provide performance ratings, have resulted in fewer than two percent of Portland homes with energy scores."
"Even though its kind of boring… energy efficiency is the workhorse," Susan Anderson, director of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, told council recently. "In five or six years, all of this I'm convinced will not be a big deal. But we’re Portland, and we should be in a leadership position."
Portland's not the first to enact similar requirements, but the city's realtors were outspoken that the new mandate would inject unneeded cost and complexity into home sales (energy score assessments cost about $200). They also argued that, for homes that are very inefficient, publishing the score could make it hard to secure federal home loans.
It wasn't enough to sway anyone on council.
"It’s the most important purchase we all make," said Hales (who hinted he might also be selling his own Eastmoreland home soon). "I also believe that it’s exactly what the public wants to learn when they make this most important purchase that they make."
Lastly (for our purposes here), the council enshrined Fritz's Open and Accountable Elections program, which will allow qualifying candidates for office to boost small donations with public financing. Once it takes hold (2019 would be the first possible year), candidates can leverage $6 public tax dollars for every $1 in donations, up to $50. That means a $50 donation can become $350 under the plan.
Today's vote is a huge win for Fritz. She's the only member of council who's won office using public financing (on the city's old Voter-Owned Elections program, which voters scrapped in 2010). She's also the only councilmember that turns down big fundraising checks.
Fritz has wanted to introduce a new campaign finance system for years, but only got her opening after Hales announced he wouldn't run for re-election. In doing so, he signaled he'd favor a finance system that meant politicians didn't need to spend all their time amassing a war chest. That provided Fritz a third crucial vote. She and Hales were joined in supporting the program by Novick, who's also leaving City Hall at the end of the month.
"In order to raise enough to run a citywide race… the most efficient thing to do is only talk to people who can afford to give $500 or $1000," said Novick (who raised more than $444,000 this year for his own races). "We’re better off if our political leaders are talking to a wide range of people. I think this is a wonderful way for Commissioner Fritz to round out this year."
Speaking forcefully against the vote was Commissioner Nick Fish, who said he felt voters should be given a say in implementing a new campaign finance system, since they'd done away with the last one (the commissioner attempted to get council to agree last week, but failed).
"I’m not comfortable taking taxpayers' money to run my own campaign without their permission," said Fish (who raised more than $102,000 in 2014, to re-win his seat in the primaries). "Referring big questions like this to voters is routine, not the exception."
As she had last week, Fritz argued taxpayers would have approved her program by a wide margin, and that putting it to a vote would have simply wasted money.
As first reported by the Mercury, Fritz found a home for the new finance system in the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, which she herself controls. Both the City Auditor and Multnomah County Elections Division had signaled they weren't interested.