The Natural Resources Commission Debates Its Future Role


by Alan Pryor –

The Natural Resources Commission (NRC) held their monthly meeting on Monday, January 25. In attendance were Chairperson Jennifer Holman, Commissioners Herman Boschken, Doug Fetterly, Adrienne Kandel, Alternate Commissioner Mark Lubell, and Planning Commission Liaison Kris Kordana

The most important item on the Commission agenda was the reporting by Staff of the proposed 18% per annum water rate increases for 5 years. This will result in a 230% increase in rates over the 5 year period. In the interests of more rapid reporting of that specific information, that story was published separately in the Vanguard on January 26, 2010.  This article reports on the remaining agenda items considered by the NRC that evening.

Public Comments

After acceptance of the minutes of the prior meeting and the current agenda, the public comment period was opened and this author made what was referred to as a “Call to Action” to the NRC. It was stated that the city has very many pressing environmental issues outstanding and the NRC was urged to be more proactive in addressing these issues instead of simply waiting for requests from Council via Staff or waiting for Staff to put items requested by Commissioners on the NRC agenda. The following areas were identified as needing attention and consideration by the NRC.

Green Waste Containerization – The NRC was urged to revisit green waste containerization because new evidence indicates that nitrogen-laden runoff into storm sewers increases the potential for excessive mosquito breeding in the wetlands. It was noted that both Sacramento and Woodland have initiated conversion to green waste containerization. The Commission previously recommended conversion to containerization from current street pickup by the “claw” but this was rejected by Council.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program – The Commission was also reminded that the City’s IPM program has not resulted in any appreciable decreases in pesticide usage in the City for the past 5 years. Further, the current City IPM program does not have any definable goals or measurable objectives despite requests for such when the IPM program was presented to the NRC last year. The Commission was told that the City’s current IPM specialist, Martin Guerena, is extremely capable and knowledgeable but that his is an advisory position only with no authority to direct change in the City’s pesticide usage in any departments. The Commission was urged to demand quantifiable goals in the IPM program and to investigate institutional impediments in the city’s IPM program with the objective of granting the IPM specialist more authority.

Water and Wastewater Conservation – The Commission was also told that the City’s water and wastewater conservation program was minimal and well behind efforts of many more engaged cities with much more effective programs. It was pointed out that many cities have rebates for yard to native landscape conversion that could dramatically reduce the City’s demand for water during the high usage summer months. Widespread promotion and adoption of these and other conservation options could mitigate the need for the proposed water expansion project with potential savings in the hundreds of millions of dollars over time. The Commission was also told that substantial reductions in salt in the City’s wastewater stream could be achieved by mandating usage totalizers on softener controllers vs. regeneration based on timers as used in older softeners. In addition, allowing softener use only on hot water lines (which is where virtually all the scaling occurs in home plumbing systems) could potentially reduce softener salt loading in the City’s wastewater stream by 90% or more possibly equaling millions of pounds of salt per year that would otherwise not have to be removed by the City’s wastewater treatment system. This in turn, could dramatically reduce the cost for wastewater system upgrades in the future potentially saving the city tens of millions of dollars.

Climate Action Plan – The Commission was informed that many other Cities’ Climate Action Plans were far more advanced than the Davis Plan. It was emphasized that Mitch Sears, the City’s Climate Action Plan coordinator, was very technically knowledgeable, informative, easy to work with, and obviously very well qualified to lead the City’s efforts to reduce our collective carbon footprint. The Commission was told that the Climate Action Plan ultimately proposed by Staff, however, also had no measurable objectives despite requests for such last year. Further, virtually all of the proposals for energy reduction currently being considered by the City are based on private citizen reduction with almost no effort expended by the City to reduce its own energy usage.

Plastic Bags and Non-Recyclable Take-out Food Containers – Davis resident Carolyn Hinshaw then gave a short presentation about the status of banning or restricting use of single use plastic bags and non-recyclable take-out containers in other cities and requested the NRC take action on this important issue. She noted that in addition to bans and fees in many foreign nations as diverse as China and Ireland, a number of other California cities have implemented such restrictions. She noted that many of their ordinances and Staff reports are available online through and urged the Commission to immediately address this pressing environmental issue

Agenda Item No. 1 – Election of Officers

A motion was made, seconded, and unanimously approved to elect immediate past Vice-Chairperson Dean Newberry as the Commission’s new Chairperson and Doug Fetterly as the new Vice-Chairperson. In Mr. Newberry’s absence, Doug Fetterly assumed the gavel from past Chairperson Jennifer Holman and presided over the remainder of the meeting.

Agenda Item No. 2 – Change NRC Meeting Frequency from Monthly to Every Other Month

Staff Proposal – Staff proposed on their own initiative to change the frequency of NRC meetings from every month to every other month to save staff time. They advised the NRC that the Safety Advisory Commission and Bicycle Commission had already agreed to so reduce their meeting frequency.

Commission Discussion – This proposal elicited a number of comments from various Commission members. Kris Kordana suggested that this may simply result in meetings taking twice as long with no net time savings. Mark Lubell also noted that the NRC already takes off two months each year during August and December and suggested further reductions in meetings would be counterproductive.

Doug Fetterly asked if Staff time could be saved if the NRC itself sets its own agenda and was responsible for preparation of Commission minutes rather than relying on Staff to perform these functions. He further pointed out that Staff had not placed the issue of leaf blowers on the NRC agenda over the past 6 months despite repeated Commission requests to formally consider the issue. Having the Commission setting its own agenda would rectify that problem. Assistant Director of Utilities Sue Gedestad said that the preparation of the Agenda and Minutes by the Commissioners would certainly be a time saver but that staff would still be involved in research to prepare staff positions. She also stated that the Commission serves the purpose of deliberating on items as requested by Council and these are typically transmitted to the agenda by Staff.

Alternate Commissioner Lubell responded that the NRC would certainly consider any and all requests for input, guidance, or review by Council but that the NRC could also send anything it wanted to the Council on its own initiative.

Public Comments – During the public comment period, this author referred to his earlier statements and strongly urged that more meetings, not less, are required if the NRC hopes to address the City’s pressing environmental issues and take on more than simple Council requests for review of Staff documents. It was stated that decreasing the frequency of meetings runs the risk of rendering the NRC irrelevant in the City’s environmental efforts. It was further stated that there was very likely less than several hours worth of effort in preparing the NRC’s agenda and minutes each month and that the staff proposals considered by the NRC were already being prepared for Council review so that entailed no additional research time on Staff’s part. Thus, little if any staff time would be saved by decreasing meeting frequency. It was further noted that there were 3 staff members present at the meeting (now counting the City’s new Director of Utilities who sat in the room primarily as an observer) and that perhaps Staff’s responsibilities to the NRC could be fulfilled by having only one of the three Staff representatives present.

Additional Commission Discussion – Mark Lubell then asked Sue Gedestad what were the functions of each of the other 2 Staff members present. Ms Gedestad informed the Commission that her administrative aid, Linda Cano, was there to take notes for her because it was a more efficient use of her time to have the meeting notes ready for her later review. Ms. Gedestad explained the other Staff attendee was Richard Tsai, Utility Resources Specialist, who was there to explain Staff’s recommendation regarding a variable garbage rate based on trash can size.

Kris Kordana suggested that more work could be accomplished by the NRC if subcommittees were to do more background work and supply reports to the full NRC in a timely manner for review before each meeting. He also suggested that Staff could supply their informational reports to the NRC beforehand thus eliminating the need for Staff’s time for presentations and allowing more time for questions, answers, and discussions by the NRC on each agenda item.

Actions – Mark Lubell suggested the NRC first prioritize its long range calendar at the beginning of the next meeting and then they would better be able to evaluate whether or not they can accomplished what is desired with less frequent meetings. A motion to that effect was made and unanimously approved.

Agenda Item No. 3 – Variable Garbage Can Rates

Staff Presentation and Recommendation – Staff indicated that the Council had requested that the Commission look at the issue of charging different rates for different garbage can sizes. Currently, the City uses 35-gallon, 65-gallon, and 95-gallon garbage container sizes which are selected by the resident and for which residents are charged equal rates. A report on a statistical survey and analysis of garbage cart weight for different sizes that was prepared by Davis Waste Removal Co., Inc. and Dr. Robert Shumway, Professor Emeritus at UCD Dept. of Statistics was presented by Staff.

The report showed that there is little difference in the average weekly weight of the garbage collected per 35-gallon cart vs. a 65-gallon cart – approximately 22 lbs vs. 23 lbs, respectively. The average weight of weekly garbage collected in 95-gallon containers was approximately 50% greater at 32 lb. per week. The report said differences in disposal costs to the city are based on weight thus disposal of an average 95-gal container is about 50% greater than the disposal costs of a 35- or 65-gallon container.

The report also showed that Davis was the 2nd lowest of the 17 cities surveyed in terms of the amount of daily landfill waste generated per capita (~3.3 lbs) but was about average in terms of the average monthly cost charged to a household for a 96 gal cart (~$34). Davis was one of only 3 cities of the 17 surveyed, however, that charged a flat rate no matter what can size was used for disposal.

Staff recommended that the City continue to use the flat rate per container regardless of the container size. Staff said they did not believe that the increased staff costs in terms of programming and administration justified the change. Staff also said that they believed there was a potential for increased contamination of recycling bin contamination or excessive compaction of garbage leading to pickup difficulties if a user of a smaller container ran out of room during any particular week.

Commission Discussion – Adrienne Kandel said she did not believe that the disposal costs presented in the report were accurate because they were only based on landfill fees and did not adequately account for additional fuel costs and labor to dispose of the additional average waste in the 95-gallon container. She also said that charging variable rates to encourage conservation have been widely proven to reduce consumption and/or usage; in energy and water usage for example.

Mark Lubell then stated that the technology exists and is in use to weigh the garbage generated by each resident although he did not know costs associated with retrofitting trucks with such devices

Public comments – This author stated that if City costs to convert to a variable rate are $10,000 then it is something that could be immediately considered but that if the incremental costs of going to a variable rate were $500,000 then the issue would by necessity have to be put on hold until city finances stabilizes.

Additional Commission Discussion – Adrienne Kandel then asked if there was any documentation supporting staff’s suggestion that additional contamination of recycling bins would occur if a variable rate was charged and asked what were the annual increased costs expected to be incurred if the City implemented a variable rate program. Richard Tsai said there was only anecdotal evidence to suggest additional recycling bin contamination would occur and did not elaborate further. Sue Gedestad said they had not quantified any expected increased costs to the City.

Ms. Kandel then said she would be reluctant to support any program that did not encourage reduced consumption and that charging a flat rate did not reward low consumers nor penalize large volume waste generators. She stated that those that take extra efforts to reduce their waste should pay proportionately lower fees than those who dispose of much larger volumes of waste on a per capita basis.

After further discussion it was noted that the Council would consider the issue in their February 16 meeting regardless of the NRC recommendation. It was then moved and unanimously approved that the NRC recommend continuation of the flat rate fee subject to the understanding that they expect to revisit the issue in the future when more facts are available.

The NRC then considered the water and sewage rate increases as previously reported and then adjourned.


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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