The City of Santa Monica wants you to know that gasoline causes climate change and it wants you to hear that message every time you hit the pump.
City Council reaffirmed support for mandatory labeling on gas pumps at their Sept. 8 meeting despite a staff report that said such action would likely be ineffective, potentially costly and probably subject to a lawsuit.
Mayor McKeown had asked staff to evaluate gas pump labels last year in response to several other jurisdictions taking up the issue. The advocacy group Think Beyond the Pump has spearheaded the concept and discussions are underway in Berkeley, San Francisco and Canada.
However, city staff didn’t recommend joining the movement last week.
Director of City of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment Dean Kubani said his conversations with other cities suggested the idea was stalling.
“What I was told very clearly was these proposals were presented to various advisory groups in (San Francisco) and pushed them toward council and both are indefinitely on hold and I haven’t heard anything to counter that at all,” he said.
Kubani said his office wasn’t proposing a moratorium on labeling pumps, but said the time wasn’t right to move forward with the proposal.
According to staff, Santa Monica has attempted labeling rules in the past, with little effect. The city passed laws in 1994 to require retailers label store shelves that contained toxic products or products with hazardous substances. The rules encountered significant opposition from retailers and a follow-up study conducted in 1996 concluded the rules had minimal impact on public behavior.
“Based on this information the point-of-sale messaging materials were redesigned, however subsequent evaluations indicated that the program was minimally effective at influencing the desired behavior change. Rigorous implementation and enforcement of the ordinance was discontinued in 2004,” read the report.
The staff recommendation said rules labeling fuel pumps are not likely to influence behavior but they will require significant staff time, and therefore resources, to implement. The report said labeling rules could also prompt a lawsuit.
Jim Stewart, speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club praised city staff for being strong environmentalists but said the repot was too cautious.
“I’m very unaccustomed to oppose something done by your fabulous staff,” he said.
McKeown said he was “gobsmacked” by the recommendation. He said he has had conversations with officials in Berkeley and San Francisco that suggest both cities will take action on a proposal by the end of the year.
“I found it’s still very much alive in SF and Berkeley,” he said. “It would disturb me for Santa Monica to back out of this multi-jurisdictional effort at this point.”
Later, in a statement, he said:¬†¬†”We remain committed to local action to address the global threat of greenhouse gases, and this statement on Santa Monica’s part is one I’ll carry proudly to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris this December.¬†¬†Our vote Tuesday night reaffirms the climate change leadership role we chose almost three years ago, when we became one of the first cities to divest fossil fuel investments from our City’s portfolios.”
Councilman Ted Winterer said there was no reason to formally drop the local proposal at this point and that Santa Monica should see how the issue is resolved in other cities.
“There’s no harm if we don’t take this recommended action and probably some upside if we delay a little bit,” he said.
At the end of the discussion, the Council accepted and filed the report for its informational value but disagreed with the staff recommendation to cease work on the project. Instead, they directed staff to continue work on the project and asked for another update by the end of the year.