ashland.news
May 19, 2024

‘This campaign is for our futures’: Ashland students see small success with natural gas ordinance

Student leaders of Ashland Youth for Electrification speak to a crowd of supporters at a rally Wednesday afternoon in Lithia Park. Bob Palermini photo
September 15, 2023

Attempt to limit use of fossil fuels could take extended period to be entered into building codes

By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news

“This campaign is for our futures. We want a future where our communities and the places that we love can thrive. We also deserve to bring clean air into our homes,” said Piper Banks, a student at Ashland High School. 

Banks stood with other young women in the shade of a tree while an audience of around 40 people formed a half circle around them listening, clapping and cheering Wednesday afternoon as the Ashland Youth for Electrification Campaign with Rogue Climate Action Team held a rally just inside the entrance to Lithia Park to show their support for a proposed ordinance which aims to prohibit natural gas in new residential construction.

Ashland Youth for Electrification supporters march past City Hall to a rally in Lithia Park Wednesday afternoon to continue its push for a new ordinance to electrify Ashland. Bob Palermini photo

Other students, including Keeya Wiki, recited poems, while other students, including Norah Doyle, a sophomore at South Medford High School, offered more speeches to outline why they support the ordinance in hopes of rallying the crowd to do the same. 

“Climate change will be with us for the rest of our lives,” Doyle said. “Today, ignorance is no longer an option. … My future is just as important as my grandfather’s and his grandfather’s and his grandfather’s. … I feel has been mistreated, misused and disregarded in decisions. I refuse to let that happen today. … I refuse to let go of my tomorrow silently.”

Flavia Franco, “66 going on 67,” at left, and Blanca Gutierrez, 31, speak with each other about why they would support the ordinance. Bob Palermini photo

Participants at the rally were asked to turn to the person next to them and talk about why they would support the ordinance. Flavia Franco, 66 going on 67, and Blanca Gutierrez, 31, were representative of the age gap in the crowd. 

“I feel the urgency. … Elected bodies, states, they say, ‘We will do this, we will do that.’ But in terms of actions taken, we’re not on pace to meet those goals,” Gutierrez said. 

“Being here is not the only action I’m taking, but it’s one I wouldn’t miss. I see old people here, I see young people here — that’s how you get things done,” Franco said. 

After the rally the crowd flowed across Winburn Way to the Ashland Community Development Building where the Climate and Environment Policy Advisory Committee was about to meet and discuss the proposed ordinance. 

So many came to the meeting that, after the room filled, an Ashland Fire & Rescue safety specialist stood outside the conference room where the meeting was about to take place, waving away spectators. The room was at maximum capacity. Rally participants lined the chairs along the walls. Rick Barth — acting as chair of the committee in the absence of Bryan Sohl — made a motion to move the proposed ordinance to the top of the agenda. 

Chad Woodward, staff liaison for the CEPAC committee, speaks at Wednesday’s meeting. Bob Palermini photo

The ordinance is not yet endorsed by the committee, which is still in the investigative stage, said Chad Woodward, staff liaison for the CEPAC committee. Public input will be critical to move the ordinance forward, he said.  While the committee voted unanimously to move the proposed ordinance to the public comment period — the next step toward becoming a legal reality —the ordinance still has a long way to go,” he said.

The committee will begin a campaign of publicizing the public comment period, followed by two meetings where the public can state their opinion, Woodward said. Contractors, architects and other stakeholders will also be consulted about the ordinance. The committee would then take in all the opinions of stakeholders and the public, form a new potential ordinance and hold another public comment period, Woodward said.

Piper Banks, an Ashland High School student and a leader of the Ashland Youth for Electrification group and a member of the Ashland Climate and Environment Policy Advisory Committee (CEPAC), listens at the group’s meeting Wednesday. Bob Palermini photo

An alternative to the ordinance will be to make a building code amendment, but that could take years. An amendment must go through a state-controlled process and be able to prove the city of Ashland is deserving of an exception in its building code outside the state’s code, said Councilor Bob Kaplan, council liaison for the committee. 

“I think this whole process is full of twists, turns and surprises,” Woodward said. 

The student activists appeared undaunted and to have patience for the process. They stayed through to the end of the meeting and walked out the door with smiles.

“It’s really exciting — really amazing, all the people who were here. We’re going to keep showing up, we will be here every time,” said Mira Saturen, a senior at Ashland High School.

Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at morganr@ashland.news.

Sept. 15: Story corrected to say it was a fire department safety officer, not a policeman, outside the meeting room, and that the building code amendment is an alternative to the ordinance, not the only path forward.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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