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The City Council will consider changes to the direction and management on the climate justice fund in October.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: CITY FO PORTLAND - Homeowner Lisa Sims discusses her ductless heat pump with Verde's Jimmy Balderas. The ductless heat pump and hundred more like it are being installed in low-income, vulnerable households by Verde with funding from the Portland Clean Energy Benefits Fund. A vent that provides both heat and air conditioing is visible against the upper right wall.

As promised, Commissioner Carmen Rubio is proposing changes to the Portland Clean Energy Fund to address issues raised by a city audit and concerns expressed by City Council members about its fiscal accountability.

The program was created by Measure 26-201, which was drafted by a coalition of minority, environmental, social justice and faith-based organizations. It was approved at the November 2018 election and imposes a 1% surcharge on retailers with annual sales of $1 billion or more in the U.S. and $500,000 or more within Portland. The money raised is intended to fund energy and environmental projects to benefit lower-income communities, including communities of color.

"Each week, we face new, mounting evidence that climate change is accelerating, and our opportunity to respond is closing," Rubio said. "Through PCEF, we have the opportunity to complete big projects that help to reduce carbon from our two largest sources of emissions — transportation and housing — and make historic investments in our city's tree canopy. We must make these investments happen as quickly as possible, and we can do so without compromising oversight and accountability, or community vision."

Rubio oversees the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability that manages the fund and staffs its grant committee.

First, Rubio is proposing changes to the City Code that will broaden the scope of eligible recipients, enable the fund to award contracts as well as grants, increase the fund's administrative cap, and add and define new funding areas.

The proposal will also remove funding allocations from code in favor of a five-year climate investment plan Rubio will also propose which will strategically target the fund's investments. It would define the scope and funding of each strategic program.

In the initial five-year plan, Rubio anticipates prioritizing:

• Housing and small commercial energy efficiency, renewable energy, and embodied carbon (anticipated funding: $300 million over five years)

• Resilient community centers (anticipated funding: $30 million over five years)

• Transportation decarbonization ($100 million over five years)

• Planning and early investments for a low-carbon, equitable 82nd Ave corridor (anticipated funding: $10 million)

• Low-cost green financing for carbon-reducing projects ($100 million)

According to Rubio, two strategic programs will also be developed immediately:

• Tree canopy growth and maintenance (anticipated funding: $40 million over five years)

• Energy efficiencies in new and renovated multi-family affordable housing (anticipated funding: $60 million over five years)

Through its first two rounds of grants, community organizations proposed specific projects. The five-year plan would continue funding community-led work, additionally outlining strategic program areas for the bulk of the fund's investments. According to Rubio, this significant change will better align PCEF's work with the city's other climate action efforts, allowing the fund to proportionally direct money based on shared city priorities.

Under these changes, the PCEF Committee would recommend the five-year plan but not recommend specific applications made within the strategic program areas. Currently, the committee reviews community-led projects and makes recommendations to the council about which projects should receive funding. But Rubio believes that asking volunteer committee members to review significantly more applications is not practical, and risks impeding time-sensitive work.

Rubio will present her proposal to the PCEF Committee on Thursday, Sept. 15. The ordinance with these changes will come to the council during the afternoon session on Oct 19, which is when public testimony will be heard.

The program currently is collecting three times more money than estimated when Portland voters approved it — $90 million a year compared to the original $30 million estimate.

In March the Portland Auditor's Office said the program had not yet finalized methods to track, measure and report its performance, as required by the November 2018 ballot measure that created it. It also said the program was tied to a Climate Action Plan that expired in 2020.

In response, Commissioner Carmen Rubio and program officials promised to have performance metrics in place before the second round of grant requests was submitted to the council, submit recommendations for a clear climate strategy by the end of the year, and establish performance goals by July 2023.

Previous Portland Tribune stories on the issue can be found here. and here.

Rubio's full announcement and additional details can be found here.

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