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Yesterday we attended the public hearing held by Senator Kevin de León (D-SD22) to discuss his proposed SB 39 which is intended to provide the mechanism for allocating Proposition 39 funds. We went into the meeting with significant concerns given the failure of the bill’s initial draft to say anything about clean energy generation. We came away impressed with Senator de León and encouraged for the future path of this legislation. Here is our report.
The hearing - technically a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Fiscal Oversight and Bonded Indebtedness - was held at Murchison Elementary School in Los Angeles, a school which could certainly benefit from the funds to be raised by Prop 39 and potentially allocated by Senator de León’s SB 39. De León chairs the subcommittee, but neither of his colleagues - Ricardo Lara or Mimi Walters - attended. Instead, Senator de León was joined on the dias by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-AD15) - an old friend from Berkeley City Council days and one of the leading environmentalists in the State legislature. (Sadly, Assemblymember Skinner had to leave before we had our turn to speak. Perhaps she will read about our comments here.)
The format of the scheduled three-hour meeting was to take testimony from a number of invited speakers - representing LAUSD, the LA Chapter of the Green Building Council, the Building & Construction Trades, Global Green USA and the Coalition for Clean Air (my officemates from my time at CBE out in Venice) - and then hear from members of the public. During the course of the hearing it was hard not to be impressed by Senator de León’s concern for the largely working class community that he represents (Murchison school is in his district), his knowledge of the issues and his desire to come up with an appropriate formula that would be equitable and effective. He was articulate, passionate, friendly and humble - a combination rarely found in an elected official.
One topic kept coming up again and again - how best to allocate these funds so as to do the most good. Governor Brown is proposing to allocate the funds on a per capita basis - which seems even-handed, and easy to administer, but may not do such a good of applying the money to the greatest need. Senator de León was clearly focused on finding a different solution and he pressed the witnesses to offer their suggestions.
From our perspective, while many measures could be used - such as the percentage of students entitled to receive a free lunch - it seems to us that a metric more closely tied to existing energy inefficiency - such as kilowatt-hours per student - might be a better allocation measure given that it is possible to have poor students in an efficient school (even if that is not common). Another possibility would be to allocate funds strictly on a cost performance basis - direct the money to those projects that would produce the most bang for the buck - but pool the savings and allocate them to the neediest schools first. Of course, one of the secondary benefits of more efficient schools is that they also improve the learning environment by being cleaner, quieter and healthier places to study. Those benefits are hard to quantify and they make a “bang for the buck” approach less desirable if those benefits cannot be captured in the equation. Clearly the quest for “equity” here is complicated and it is hard to see how any allocation formula will satisfy everyone. (No doubt the reason for the Governor’s administratively easy approach.)
Which brought us to the time for our comments. Sadly, we represented the only solar installer in the room, although, curiously enough, there was a representative from national SEIA there who spoke before us and in favor of including solar in the mix. (Even more curious, there was no representative from CalSEIA there to speak.)
Given that SEIA made the point to include solar - which Senator de León appeared to agree with completely - we decided to shift gears and make the point about how solar could not only save energy and money, but unlike energy efficiency measures it could also enhance a school’s educational mission. We noted that our project at Westridge had done exactly that - with students and administrators alike excited about the addition of solar on campus, and we even mentioned our geek-fest over the analysis of solar eclipse data. Noting that solar was sexier than an LED, Senator de León agreed with us that both had a place in the mix of Prop 39 funds. As an adjunct to our comments yesterday, and since there is a chance that he and/or his staff will see this post, here is our Westridge video for their viewing pleasure:
It remains to be seen, of course, how SB 39 will evolve to accommodate the input provided yesterday and the process calls for continued monitoring. Still, we came away convinced that Senator de León is committed to doing the right thing and we wish him well in his efforts to balance the competing demands for funding and devise a formula that is fair and effective.
A future hearing is likely to be held at a later date in Los Angeles - we will let you know when that hearing is scheduled.