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Yakima City Council upholds commitment to SAFE cities fossil fuel pledge

June 10, 2022 Updated Fri., June 10, 2022 at 4:37 p.m.

By Kate Smith Yakima Herald-Republic

A divided Yakima City Council on Tuesday maintained its commitment to the SAFE cities pledge, a national initiative aimed at addressing climate change and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

In the resolution from June 2021, the city committed to address climate change through future policies and legislation, call for a global fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty, meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and take steps to reduce greenhouse gases where feasible.

Council member Holly Cousens originally proposed rescinding the SAFE cities resolution May 17, just before the council gave final approval to a new climate and sustainability advisory board, the Sustainable Yakima Committee. The Council unanimously decided at that time to rescind the pledge.

Cousens said keeping the SAFE cities pledge means the Sustainable Yakima Committee would have to use that commitment as a framework. Removing it would allow the committee to decide for itself what framework to use, she said.

The item appeared on Tuesday’s agenda because a resolution must be rescinded by a resolution, which staff had to prepare. Council members Matt Brown and Patricia Byers expressed concern that the discussion didn’t take place at the May 17 meeting.

Mayor Janice Deccio, who initiated conversation on the topic Tuesday, said it’s a prerogative of council members to change their mind, and she said she received additional comments from residents since that meeting.

She said she believes the SAFE cities framework will work in synchronicity with the Sustainable Yakima Committee.

“I think it’s a good tool for them, and I don’t think it has anything to do with where in the world we are,” Deccio said. “Climate change affects us all equally, it’s not going to bypass Yakima.”

Brown disagreed.

“I really do think having local people actually come up with solutions is a better idea than strapping us to any one solution,” Brown said.

The topic drew varied responses from community members who spoke during public comment at the meeting.

Several residents requested that the city spend its time addressing the impact of climate and sustainability on agriculture and the economy. Some said policies directed at sustainability negatively impact other sectors, such as housing and homelessness.

But Yakima resident Coleen Anderson said rescinding the SAFE cities commitment would have sent the wrong message.

“I think that the SAFE resolution is a nonbinding, aspirational document. (It’s) a powerful foundation for climate resilience for our community,” she said.

Anderson also said the city so far has not mentioned environmental justice in its policies, which is something addressed by the SAFE cities commitment. SAFE stands for Standing Against Fossil fuel Expansion, she said.

“Fossil fuel emissions threaten our health and safety. Black, Indigenous, people of color and low income communities are especially vulnerable,” she said.

Eric Torres, a builder and contractor in Yakima, said the initiative doesn’t actually help disadvantaged people — “Actually, this is a boot on the neck of the very people it is claiming to help,” he said.

He said changes to the use of fossil fuels would affect people’s ability to afford a car, and energy-related permitting requirements for homes and other similar regulations are onerous and expensive.

“As feel-good as it looks and sounds, I’d like you to consider the actual ramifications,” he said to council.

The council’s vote was taken before its members heard from the public because the item had been part of the consent agenda. The vote was 4-3 to maintain the pledge, with Deccio, Soneya Lund, Danny Herrera and Eliana Macias voting in favor. Brown, Byers and Cousens opposed keeping the commitment.

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