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OP-ED by Councilman Weirick: Ojai’s Reach Code fails the science test

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By William Weirick
Informed debate or imposition of narratives. Science or scientism. Respect for skepticism or an instinct to dismiss inquiries with personal attacks.  
At the heart of science is skepticism, the engine of insight. At the heart of scientism is dogma and censorship. Science is the Age of Enlightenment. Scientism is the Catholic Church imprisoning Galileo. Science does not dictate decisions, it informs judgments. Scientism imposes judgments on others while demonizing dissent. 
Especially when limiting individual choice, City Council should strive to incorporate full and accurate information into the deliberative process along with robust community engagement. That standard was met with our first Reach Code effort, the ban on small internal-combustion engines. 
This standard was not even closely met with our second Reach Code effort.    
Council’s direction to the Climate Emergency Mobilization Committee (CEMC) was to bring proposals forward ranked by greatest immediate net local contribution to climate sustainability. Of the identified options, a desire to join an outside advocacy movement overwhelmed respecting council’s request and brought forward a proposal way down in this ranking. 
Since it involved changes to the Building Code, the council followed past practice and sent the CEMC proposal to the Building Appeals Board (BAB) for initial vetting. Unfortunately, BAB’s deliberations failed to yield useful insights, as CEMC and BAB members both engaged in competing narratives pursued at the expense of informing the debate. 
At this point, council normally would take up how best to proceed. At a minimum, staff is directed to spend time evaluating such a consequential initiative. Unfortunately, Mayor Johnny Johnston decided to unilaterally place the CEMC proposal on the first available council meeting agenda as an action item without discussing how best to achieve proper vetting of assumptions and ramifications.    

 

Much of the community did not yet know what was being proposed. Council members were forced to vet from the virtual dais without robust community engagement or staff evaluation. Council member Suza Francina told her colleagues they should simply accept without questioning the advocacy of “experts.” This is scientism, not science. 
Some council members attempted to incorporate concerns about competing policy goals into a first ordinance draft.  When brought to the next meeting, this draft was further amended based on concerns council members were beginning to hear from citizens not part of CEMC advocacy. 
For this, members of the council were criticized for not being committed stewards of the environment and overall community welfare. Again, we were told to simply accept without questioning the advocacy of “experts.” Scientism, not science. 
This is especially a problem since several claims made by the CEMC cannot be verified. The premise that responsibly addressing climate change must involve getting the community off the gas grid turns out not be a part of model energy policies in nations far ahead of the United States in terms of meeting U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.   
It was claimed that going to a single energy grid, instead of having access to two energy grids, involves no sacrifice of resiliency. Electric grids increasingly have “public safety outages” based on recurring weather conditions; there are no such public safety outages in the gas grid. There is no evidence that restoring electric-grid function is quicker than gas-grid restoration after disaster emergencies.  
Repeated claims were made that upward of three dozen cities have already adopted measures matching the CEMC proposal. One city in our region, San Luis Obispo, has already adopted a building Reach Code.  CEMC described this effort as not absolute enough in terms of reducing gas-grid connections. It turns out the handful of cities adopting Reach Codes with such absolute stipulations are all in PG&E’s service area, a company with a monopoly over both grids. In our region, the grids are run by rival companies.  
When this issue returns to council deliberations in seven months, may we strive to learn from these mistakes. Hopefully, our further local efforts toward climate sustainability will involve more science and less scientism.

 

— William Weirick is an Ojai city councilman.

 

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