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Home / Pasadena City Council

Pasadena council OKs natural gas buses, carbon-free policy goal

The Pasadena City Council on Monday approved the purchase of two natural gas buses for the city’s fleet, then passed a resolution declaring a local climate emergency and setting a policy goal of completely carbon-free electricity generation by the end of 2030.

Councilman Tyron Hampton dissented on the bus purchase, noting the addition of carbon-emitting vehicles seemed to contradict Pasadena’s carbon-free aspirations for the next eight years.

“I think that we are talking about 100% renewables, we should be looking at that for all of our purchases,” Hampton said. “The city should be the example of (carbon-free vehicles). Whether it be trash trucks, fire trucks, pickup trucks — at some point we won’t even be able to purchase gas vehicles, so the idea of us purchasing two vehicles this year that are not renewable, I can’t support that. … I can’t support purchasing vehicles that are not electric or fuel cell.”

Officials countered that the city is not yet equipped with infrastructure to accommodate zero-emission transportation.

“We operate renewable natural gas. The replacement of the two vehicles in the immediate future would be renewable natural gas,” said Laura Rubio-Cornejo, Pasadena Director of Transportation. “The proposed replacement plan for next year would include nine renewable natural gas vehicles as well as one battery electric. It’s two years after that where we are looking at being able to have the infrastructure in place to be able to support a zero-emission fleet and start that transition in earnest.”

The council approved a recommendation from its Municipal Services Committee, which discussed the city’s current transportation needs balanced against the goal of an eventual carbon-free fleet.

“One of the biggest challenges we have is we don’t have the facility to fuel these buses,” said Vice Mayor Felicia Williams, chair of the committee. “So even if we did buy them, we wouldn’t have access to hydrogen, which is incredibly expensive and expensive to build out. And we wouldn’t have access to the types of chargers we would need for electric buses.”

Renewable natural gas buses were purchased because the city received a state RNG grant to buy that type of vehicle, Rubio-Cornejo said. For buses that run on electricity of other emission-free energy sources, different sources of funding would be required. 

“Every department should be looking at renewables before purchasing any gas-operated cars,” not just the city’s Transportation Department, Hampton said.

In response to similar concerns voiced by committee members, Rubio-Cornejo said her department would seek additional funding to speed-up the transition to emission-free technology. 

“This is a top priority,” Rubio-Cornejo said. “The reality is, without the infrastructure in place to charge those vehicles it would make it very difficult to sustain them even if we purchase them.”

The council also adopted a resolution, which the Municipal Services Committee unanimously forwarded, declaring a climate emergency and setting a policy goal to get 100% of Pasadena’s electricity from carbon-free sources.

“This will affect all of the departments and how we do our work as a city and where we are going as a city council,” Williams said.

Councilman Steve Madison drew a round of applause from members of the public in attendance at the council meeting when he highlighted officials’ desire to exceed state air-quality regulators’ “carbon-neutral” policy guidance.

“This is a mandate. … Those wiggle words make me nervous,” Madison said. “Especially on the record that we have here — that they were not advocating carbon-free, they were advocating carbon-neutrality. So, I’d like the record of this evening to be we are committed to carbon-free electricity. …

“This is Pasadena, we’re the home of Cal Tech, JPL and the Carnegie Observatories, the best minds in the country. We don’t want to be just go along, get along. We want to be a leader.”

The resolution directs the city manager to use Pasadena Water and Power’s 2023 strategy process “to plan multiple approaches to transition to the (carbon-free) goal … and to optimize affordability, rate equity, stability, and reliability of electricity while achieving this goal.”

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