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Petaluma Receives $1M 'Cool Cities' Grant To Help Achieve Carbon Neutrality

PETALUMA (KPIX 5) -- With weather conditions shifting from one extreme to another, Petaluma has been selected to be a leader in the fight against climate change, and possibly provide a road map for the rest of the country.

The Sonoma County community is one of three cities, along with Irvine and Los Angeles, chosen to get a $1 million "Cool Cities" grant from the Empowerment Institute, to try to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2030.

That means no burning fossil fuels of any kind, and the project's founder, David Gershon, is calling it this generation's moonshot.

"That's a very appropriate metaphor," Gershon told KPIX 5, "because no one has ever made this kind of change, this rapidly, this dramatically, transforming the infrastructure of their cities."

Petaluma has long been proactive in fighting climate change. At citizens' request, the city council declared a climate emergency, required all-electric new construction, and was the first city in America to outlaw any new gas stations within its limits.

Still, the project's campaign director, Natasha Juliana, said the carbon neutrality effort will only work if the residents embrace the idea.

"What we really want to bring is a sense of excitement and joy that can come with building this new future and having it be not about what we have to give up, but what we get to gain," Juliana said.

It may mean more electric cars, with fewer on the streets, more bike and pedestrian access, possibly a trolley car or electric bus loops.  How it will look is yet to be imagined, but the idea is to make it desirable, and it will happen block-by-block.

Three hundred "Cool Block" leaders have already signed up to recruit their neighbors into the effort. David Powers is one of them, and says he understands that some may not respond.

"I'm not worried about it because I think the only thing that can happen out of this is something good," Powers said.

Half the money will be spent just getting the town organized and on board. Then, in about two years, the real work will begin.

The 300 blocks that have already signed up represent about a quarter of the entire town of Petaluma and City Council member D'Lynda Fischer said once the process starts, she expects it to snowball.

"I think there's a real wanting in this community for community," Fischer told KPIX 5. "You might not get the outliers over there, but we'll get everybody else."

Gershon agreed. "So what happens when 25% of blocks in a community start connecting at that level, starts doing this kind of carbon reduction?" he asked. "It will transform the fabric of the community."

The goal may sound dubious to some, but so did landing a man on the moon. Petaluma is trying to prove that, like the moonshot, halting climate change this decade isn't an impossible dream—but simply a matter of will.

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