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Huntington Beach City Council members are asking themselves what an environmentally sustainable future for their city will look like.

On Tuesday, they voted 5-1 to have their city manager develop a sustainability master plan to make that future a reality. Some residents approved of taking such action while one called it an overreach of the council’s role.

“There’s an urgent and immediate need for bold planning and action,” said Councilwoman Natalie Moser, who requested the plan be developed. “Having this action plan in place will help us to save money, to save lives, improve the quality of life and also improve our standard of living.”

The decision to have the city manager develop the plan comes one week after Laguna Beach officials voted to look into trading in their municipal fleet of gas powered cars for zero emission vehicles.

It also comes as officials in Orange County, activists and public health leaders warn of an impending crisis — climate change.

Kathleen Treseder, a biology professor at the University of California, Irvine, has warned that the effects of the climate crisis won’t be the same across the county.

Treseder noted in a previous interview with Voice of OC that coastal and inland residents will experience the impacts differently with the latter communities, like Santa Ana, and those even further inland like Riverside and San Bernardino, much more impacted by poor air quality.

[Read: From Covid to Climate: Experts Warn OC is Walking Unprepared into Next Public Health Crisis]

Councilman Erik Peterson was the dissenting vote Tuesday and said such plans urbanize communities and increase the cost of construction with solar panels and triple pane windows.

“We have a lot of good things in the general plan. This is very broad (and) has a lot of happy words,” he said at the meeting. “I’ve never seen (a plan) that doesn’t end up costing more and putting more regulations in.”

Councilman Dan Kalmick called Peterson’s comments at the meeting incorrect.

“Triple pane windows, solar panels, urbanization — that’s just all scare tactics, right? Like you’re in a position to help make those policy discussions and those policy changes; you’re not helpless in that situation,” Kalmick said, adding they can create the plan any way they want.

Huntington Beach has already taken steps toward sustainability by joining Orange County’s new Community Choice Energy program — a public electric utility touted to lower costs for residents through investments in renewable energy.

The city has also installed LED streetlights and instituted solar panel projects, according to the agenda report Moser wrote pitching the plan.

Moser said at the meeting that while the city is taking steps to help the environment they are “disconnected and disparate” and a plan would connect them, as well as open the door for grants.

The plan will also look at not only protecting the local environment but also how to advance the economy, expand on community programs and up equity and inclusion efforts as they relate to climate change.

“The reality is that not everybody is affected by the challenges that we experience with the changes in our climate in the same way and so it’s important that we look at how everyone is impacted by that,” Moser said.

A handful of residents spoke in favor of such a plan at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Not only does sustainability ensure a healthy future, sustainability is now – the present. Pollution threatens the gorgeous biodiverse ecosystem that we cherish and call home. As a coastal town that relies on tourism, the need for environmental protection runs deeper,” one resident said.

Another resident disagreed.

“If I had an hour at this podium I’d go into an eviscerating deep dive on all the reasons that this is a bad idea,” the resident said. “It’s not the role of city council to engage in social engineering, community health and well being programs and flat out wealth redistribution, which is what this agenda item represents. Your job is financial solvency, safety and infrastructure, period.”

Nonetheless, development of the plan is moving forward.

City Manager Oliver Chi said at the meeting city staff will convene and start working on the plan. He suggested that it may be important to hire a consultant to help with the work.

“Based on the council’s determination, we’ll pull this all back in house, do a little bit of work and make sure to report back to the council on suggested options for moving ahead,” Chi said.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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