Verde Searching for Green

City's fund to jointly address climate change and poverty still needs effective strategy, secure funds

(Anson Stevens-Bollen)

When the mayor’s proposal to launch the Verde Fund debuted earlier this year, the principles—fighting climate change and assisting the city’s poorest residents—weren’t tough to get behind. But the practical measures of addressing both at the same time were another matter.

"I'm not one who is going to say, 'Here is $300,000, come back in 90 days and tell me what you're going to do with the money,'" Councilor Ron Trujillo said during the May 25 meeting when city councilors considered the resolution. "I'm sorry, I don't work that way. I never have. I consider that bad government."

Trujillo, as well as Councilors Chris Rivera and Joseph Maestas, voted against the resolution, but it passed.

"All I can say is, with that $300,000, I hope you guys spend it in the right way," Trujillo said.

In the months since, Mayor Javier Gonzales and a team of city staff have been meeting to discuss just that—how to spend a small amount of startup capital, essentially, to demonstrate the city can make real strides against these complex, deeply entrenched issues.

"There is no shortage of opportunity to meet the goals of the resolution," Gonzales tells SFR. "It's finding that program that will have the quickest and highest impact given the resources that we have, and that's taken some time and effort by the staff."

He won't take an idea back to the City Council, he says, until he has something he's confident can be achieved given the resources made available—estimates which were not, he points out, quite at the level he had hoped to obtain.

The figure Trujillo cited is a ballpark starting point. City Council allocated the Verde Fund an estimated $300,000 expected to arrive in the form of "excess land use permit fees." This is only part of the revenues projected to run half a million above what the Land Use Department planned to use for regular operations. The department has already requested it be allowed to spend an additional $123,000 above what was budgeted, in order to cover another full-time employee to assist in processing building permits as part of a revision to the city's green building code set to go before the council on Oct. 26. Gonzales says he doesn't expect that to chip into the fees set aside for the Verde Fund.

Projections are on track to see the department secure those "excess" fees, but the city has committed to not moving forward with spending any money on the Verde Fund until they actually have those dollars in hand, according to city spokesperson Matt Ross.

"So far, yes, permits are up, but we won't know for sure if it's up enough until we actually realize that revenue," Ross tells SFR. "That's dependent on construction schedules, which is the reason why we can't say exactly when that will be."

Though Gonzales can cite no local research to support it—blaming a general absence of a conversation around this cross section before he started talking about the Verde Fund in February—the sense is that those living in poverty in Santa Fe will bear a disproportionate share of the costs of climate change. That toll is expected to manifest in higher costs for energy and healthy food, and limited access to items like solar panels.

A team of city staff—Alexandra Ladd from Economic Development and Affordable Housing, Renewable Energy Planner John Alejandro, Chris Sanchez from Community Services' Children and Youth Commission, and Andrés Mercado from the Mobile Integrated Health Office—has been batting ideas around. Those have included pairing training in sustainability-focused jobs with GED completion to map out a course for those graduates to hold jobs with the city that also help the city toward its goal of being carbon neutral by 2040 and funding retrofits on homes to make them more energy efficient. How to track the social and economic effects of any program is also weighing on their minds.

"My feeling has been that we have this entire fall and towards the end of 2016 to really crystalize and determine whether, one, do we have a program that can move the needle and can be achievable?" Gonzales says. "And two, do we have enough resources to make that happen?"

Santa Fe Reporter

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