The Oak Park village board were treated to a preview of the drafted goals and actions of its sustainability and climate action plan Monday night. The plan itself is intended as a roadmap of sorts to guide the village toward achieving carbon neutrality, otherwise known as net-zero carbon emissions.

The village board hopes the community will reduce village-wide emissions by 60 percent by 2030 and reach net-zero status by 2050.  The goals and actions discussed Monday will lead the way to implementing the practices that will help Oak Park achieve that ideal sustainable status. 

“At the end of the day, it’s really a community effort,” said Marcella Bondie Keenan, Oak Park’s sustainability coordinator.

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The actions are broken down into three categories: mitigation actions which focus on reducing emissions and stabilizing levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; adaptation actions which seek to react positively to climate change impacts already in motion; and sustainability actions which address the “interrelated triple bottom line of people, planet and economic wellbeing to support overall sustainability goals.” The cost ranges and sub-cost ranges under each area will be refined in the next few weeks.

Monday’s presentation on the drafted goals and actions was the first actual glimpse into the comprehensive sustainability and climate action plan. The plan has been in the works since last September when the village board hired engineering and consulting firm GRAEF to carry out its development. Bondie Keenan was brought on to village staff around the same time.

The draft of the plan itself will be unveiled to the public May 13. GRAEF will present the final plan to the village board June 27. The plan will address eight impact areas: energy use and housing; transportation; stormwater and extreme weather; public health; sustainable economic development; healthy and sustainable food systems; waste and sustainable materials; and parks, plants and biodiversity.

The goals and actions draft garnered positive reactions from village board members, with many praising Bondie Keenan, as well as GRAEF representatives Stephanie Hacker and Brianna Fiorillo for their efforts.

Not all aspects of sustainability fit neatly into one category, however. When Trustee Jim Taglia asked if the plan will improve the community’s rate of water loss, Bondie Keenan said water conservation currently fell under adaptation actions but that she was considering moving it under the umbrella of health.

The village of Oak Park purchases its water from the city of Chicago. According to Taglia, about 25 percent of the village’s water is lost through leaks in pipes and meter errors.

Trustees also urged the team to go deeper in certain areas, including Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla who felt the presented goals and actions were not adequately centered on racial equity or drafted through an equity lens.

“It is well documented that the people that are going to bear the brunt and are bearing the brunt of climate change and the climate crisis are already disadvantaged people – low-income, Black, Brown people all across the world,” she said. “What does that mean for our community?”

GRAEF is conducting a vulnerability study, which will be included in the final report and plan.

Given the severity of the climate crisis, Walker-Peddakotla and Trustee Susan Buchanan also favored a more direct approach to community compliance, believing aspects of the plan should be mandated rather than merely encouraged. Buchanan told her fellow board members there is no time for “cajoling.”

Compliance by mandate was in direct opposition to the wishes of Trustee Lucia Robinson, who viewed mandates as punitive. She wished to see compliance encouraged rather than imposed, particularly regarding the potential restrictions to the village’s gas leaf blower policy. The draft climate plan includes the public health action to develop a program to implement the use of quiet, zero-emission lawn care equipment. “We are way past the point in the climate crisis that we can encourage people and hope that they will do the right thing,” Walker-Peddakotla told her. “They’ve had decades to do that.”

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