How Will Local Governments Respond to Large Increases in Energy Bills?

This is a guest post by Debbie Cook, Mayor of Huntington Beach, CA, and candidate for California's 46th Congressional District. Debbie has been a peak oil activist for many years; in this post Mayor Cook provides some interesting energy and peak oil-related things to think about from a local government perspective.

Robert Rapier posed an interesting hypothetical yesterday as to how individuals would respond to gasoline at $100/gallon.

However, from my position for the last three years, the question has been “how will local government respond to large increases in energy bills?”

I am the Mayor of Huntington Beach, California, a full service city of 200,000 residents, 27 square miles, 1200 employees and 8.5 miles of beach. We have nearly 200 police vehicles, 3 helicopters, 15 fire engines/trucks, 7 ambulances, 1 HazMat vehicle, and 1 medical decontamination unit. In addition there are hundreds of miscellaneous vehicles and trucks for public works, marine safety, building department, water department, and administration. All said, we consume 495,000 gallons of gasoline/diesel/jet fuel per year. For every $1 fuel goes up, it is a half million dollars out of our general fund budget.

Perhaps more shocking than the amount of fuel our city vehicles use is how much fuel is used to pick up our residents’ trash, sort it at the transfer station, and then haul it 46 miles round trip to a dump that is running out of capacity. Prior to a recent conversion to natural gas vehicles, our contractor reported to me that they were using 525,000 gallons per year of diesel.

In addition to transportation fuels, our electricity bill is over $4 million per year and natural gas is over $1 million per year. We have 10 groundwater wells that pump 22,000 acre feet of water per year and 15 flood control stations with 49 engines that allow us to discharge 2.5 million gallons/minute of water during a storm event. I am told we have the highest discharge capacity of any community in Southern California.

There are countless services that local government provides to residents: streets, curbs, gutters, tree trimming, sewers, street sweeping, water, parks, community centers, emergency services, senior services including meals on wheels. All of these are energy intensive and mean local government is extremely vulnerable to supply disruptions and high costs. As budgets get squeezed, you can speculate as to which services will be the first on the chopping block.

I have spent the last three years educating elected officials and policy makers about the peaking of world oil production with only limited success. I have been as frustrated as my fellow peaksters as to the lack of response or attention this critical issue has received from all levels of government. As Mark Twain once said, “There is a great deal of human nature in people.” Jim Kunstler’s article The Psychology of Previous Investment is the best explanation I have seen as to why it is so difficult to overcome the inertia of the status quo. Our mistake is in thinking that elected officials will act differently than the public that they are elected to represent.

Peak oil is a truth that does not benefit the status quo and as such will require each and every one of us to keep banging the drum. In the meantime, I’m afraid that no matter how high the price of fuel goes, we are likely to see more of the same—blame and finger pointing and limited leadership and initiative.

Debbie Cook, Mayor
City of Huntington Beach
Candidate for California's 46th Congressional District

The Oil Drum is non-partisan and does not endorse any political candidate or participate in any campaign or election. Posts are provided for educational information only.

American hatred of taxes is going to cause a lot of extra problems adapting to increased fuel costs.

In the past, when we've has fuel supply problems, we've rationed. Strict rationing now could provide a few years of lower fuel prices and avoid the need to raise taxes to cover governmental use of fuel. This could give goverments (and all of us) time to switch to more secure supplies of energy that have fixed rather than volatile costs.

Rationing: It's the American Way!


I'm not real optimistic about the existence of secure supplies of energy that have fixed costs. The receding-horizons process will clobber any notion of "fixed" price. Also, the usual suspects that get proposed are usually suppliers of electricity, not transportation fuel. That problem is not physically insurmountable, but it adds yet more to the economic and environmental costs of implementation.

Additionally, the economic effects of rationing fuel won't be any more pleasant, or popular, than taxation.

(you can see I fall more or less into the doom-and-gloom school of thought on what's coming our way)

I've been interested in some of the tradable ration schemes that are out there. One, TEQs has been highlighted here:

It is not clear to me that this would have an adverse economic impact since it would tend to put money where it will be most quickly spent. The economic impact of exporting all of your money to buy fuel is probably not quite as bad as the problems that arise when that money is used to arm the people you are fighting. Reducing fuel prices through rationing also reduces that stream of funds to second order.


I don't believe rationing before an actually supply shortage will do any good. Any oil we save by rationing will be snapped up immediately by the world market. The only way we could make rationing work now is to continue buying oil on the market at current rates and store it for future use. If we don't it will be snapped up by the Chinese or Indians.

If you accept that the current price is an indication of a supply shortage, then we are at that point now. It is possible that there are suppliers out there who could supply much more oil but are not doing so to run the price up.

If the US decided to reduce its consumption of oil by half over five years through a rationing program, this would boost supply for the rest of the world by about 12% or so. The rest of the world would have to snap that up faster than usual to maintain prices at current levels if suppliers can not organize to restrict production. My guess is that prices would fall.

If the US can show that much discipline, I would think that some other importers would also follow suit. The reason for doing this is that no one but the US can float the blue water navy needed to secure the oil deliveries of the next decade but the US would have no interest, on its own, to do so once it no longer imports oil. Leaving oil tankers to the mercies of pirates of various sorts would make other countries consider rationing programs as well. I would guess that a world undelivered price of $10 a barrel could be achieved with adequate consumer discipline.

I don't think it makes all that much sense to maintain a reserve of oil if we are going to stop using it. The domestic supply should be adequate if we continue to reduce use going forward. Reserves are important for nations that put themselves at risk by relying on imports but they are just expensive toys for those who take their security more seriously. They could be used to destabilize supplier governments though with clever timing.


According to this story, some police departments are already encouraging more bike patrols because of high fuel costs.

As somebody who depends absolutely on the bus and train, I'm wondering most about public transportation. Who will get priority when real shortages occur? Private citizens with the cash to pay for the fuel? Transit agencies with locked in contracts? Police, fire, medical and other public service and safety agencies?

The Washington Post has an article about the Washington Metro (bus and subway system). Their planners are raising the question of how the Metro and other transit services run by local governments will cope if gas prices continue to rise. Metro is close to being overwhelmed right now.

Further, how else does a country that is 9.4 trillion dollars in debt (at the federal level) reinvigorate its infrastructure (usually a state and local matter--and state and local entities have to keep a balanced budget, by the way) in such a way to cope with such phenomena as peak oil, climate change, and their impacts?

See the first comment.

At the ridership levels that Metro will be seeing at 5$ a gallon, do not be surprised if the METRO Authority starts pulling a profit. These profits could then in turn be used to upgrade their existing infrastructure.

Public transportation infrastructure cost way more then fares can compensate - it used for drivers and fuel mostly

I was going to guess that it was usually the other way around, that cities often take a loss on public transpo...but, if the entity itself is private (as in does not come out of the public/general fund) and turns a profit, your reasoning might hold.

Still, I am guessing that in most metropolitan areas, public transport is a part of the city budget, and therefore if it were ever to actually turn a profit, those funds would be directed elsewhere, especially in tough taxing or economic times.

I'm sure Mayor Cook or even Mr. Drake will no doubt have an answer to this. :)

Here's the METRO's budget page, if anyone is in the mood to figure out how closely tied to the District's budget it is:

Unfortunately, limited time (including an eMail to Dr, Goose).

I did download executive summary of 2008 budget.

Some tidbits.

Metrorail Operating Budget - $638 million, $505 million from fares (79.1%, low 80% is typical for DC Metro). Higher ridership > more fares

$500 million for labor, $46 million for electricity (remember escalators, lighting, HVAC, etc.) $47 million for services (mostly indirect labor I assume)

MetroBus Operating Budget - $453 million, $145 million from fares (32%, good for buses) Again higher ridership > More fares

For Metrobus, $380 million for labor, only $32 million for fuel (*assumed price not stated), $18 for services (mostly indirect labor I guess)

MetroAccess - Handicap/ADA - $63 million, $3 million from fares (4.8%) I am sure that Paul S would kick them to the curb first (need to repeal ADA first though).

Per Ed Tennyson, much worse bus service once had lower fare recovery %. In other words, buses are more economic if coupled to Urban Rail than as standalone.

WMATA has looked at going to 100+% fare recovery for operations of Metrorail, and it might be possible, but the additional burden on the roads & pollution from lost ridership make it "not worth it".

Sorry for Limited Time, Hopefully more later,


In a large majority of jurisdictions, the transit agency has a dedicated source of funding (1% sales tax in New Orleans). WMATA gets direct funding from DC, VA & MD.

The obvious variable is overhead per passenger mile - capital costs are pretty constant. For rail, costs per passenger falls as volumes rise.

The capital costs aren't shown - how would they compare to operating costs?

Variable costs also tend to fall as volume increases. 8 car trains take no more labor (one operator) than 6 car trains (OTOH cleaning crews are per car). Fully loaded cars use only slightly more electricity than nearly empty cars.

TOD takes time. Part of New Orleans success with streetcars (80+% to 100+% farebox recovery, is how well housing and living patterns are woven into the system (operating since 1834). The largest building in the city, 51 story One Shell Square, is in between the tracks of the St. Charles streetcar. After 5 PM it is hard to get a seat after the streetcar passes One Shell.

In addition, ridership increases on existing lines when a new line is opened. So the bigger the system, the more economic it is. Two lines are better than one line, Seven lines are better than six lines.

Best Hopes,


Best Hopes for Large, Dense Urban Rail systems,



Thanks Alan! Cool statistics. Do you have a number for how much money MetroBus pulls in as far as fares?

MetroBus Operating Budget - $453 million, $145 million from fares (32%, good for buses)

Thanks again, interesting to know. I would imagine that the 145 Million in Fares could easily double under higher gas price conditions.

Doubling riderhip, even with crush loads @ peak time/peak direction, would require some additional service and additional costs.

One simply cannot squeeze twice as many pax on-board a rush hour bus.


Public Operating Subsidy (not including Capital)

Rail - $133 million
Bus - $308 million
ADA - $60 million

Ridership (Note NOT pax-miles but just pax, rail riders travel MUCH further than bus riders on average)

Rail - 210 million
Bus - 134 million
ADA - 1.6 million

Capital Budgets vary widely year by year, and some are not broken down by mode (security, management improvements, debt service (mostly rail I guess))

In 2008 $182 million to run 8 car trains half the time (includes 184 new railcars, bigger transformers), Buses $48 million, Infrastructure (assume mainly rail, but buses take more than expected for mid-life rebuilds, shelters, garages, etc. City & States pay for most of bus ROW from another budget) $269 million.

In view of that same first comment, and in view of the fact that US "farebox recovery" ranges from mediocre to utterly dismal, something will have to give. (Oh, and one wheeze with those numbers is that they are "proportion of the amount of revenue generated through fares by its paying customers as a fraction of the cost of its total operating expenses", a loophole that a vast array of capital expenses can be driven through.)

There is currently a law that The American Consumer Must Never Be Asked To Pay For What He Or She Uses. It applies in spades to transit, which seems cheap only because that prize chump, the taxpayer, provides an essentially free ride (or literally free, in the case of the Staten Island Railway unless one rides all the way to the ferry) for the chosen few affluent enough to live and work within range of the transit system and privileged enough that they never need to work on the weekend or in the evening when the system is not running usefully (or not running at all.)

But nothing lasts forever. Perhaps, under more straitened circumstances, the no-pay law will just have to give way. Perish the thought, but instead of putting their fare on the government never-never as they do now, people might simply have to earn what they wish to consume, or else go without.

But not to worry, the freebies (and tax holidays and all the rest) will continue for the time being, as this is an election year.

As if your miles driven are not being subsidized.

That's history. It doesn't matter any more. The Great Money Pot is empty. No, it's beyond empty. It's gone negative. It's become the mother of all suction cups.

Plenty of taxes that can be raised !

WMATA gets part of the Virginia support from a 2% sales tax on gasoline & diesel in Northern Virginia. Make that 20% and significant funds could be raised :-)


Pols around the world are pandering to the public by promising to abate taxes on fuel.  It appears a massive education job is needed first.

Please go ahead with this and tell us how it works for you.

In Manchester, England, the light-rail "Metrolink" service has a farebox recovery ratio of 1.43 (i.e. it's profitable).

In all of the UK (except London) the bus network is not run by local government - it was de-regulated in the 1980s and 1990s. Private companies run the buses and are free to set fares. In most parts of the country fares are noticeably more expensive than in London which is still regulated. This is despite London being more expensive for most other goods and services.

The upshot (from a Peak Oil point of view) is that all UK bus networks are profitable at the farebox level. There are no direct subsidies, except on some rural services and services deemed socially necessary. Local government pays only for bus shelters and signs. Central government provides free off-peak bus passes to people aged over 60. (This was introduced just before the general election in 2005; it was done for political rather than economic reasons). This £1bn/year scheme could be classed as a subsidy - it provides a significant source of revenue for the private bus operators.

But what level of service is provided ?

$8/gallon fuel does make bus more competitive with the private car.


Alan, the level of service on the light-rail is average for a city of its size. You'll find all the usual complaints about lateness, other passengers, and high fares. Same as any other city really. It helps that Manchester is a densely populated city; such a system wouldn't be profitable in less dense American cities.

My point was that public transport networks don't intrinsically require subsidies, contrary to popular opinion. The real challenge for local government is not how to pay for transit, but how to reduce the subsidies.

Alan, the level of service on the light-rail is average for a city of its size. You'll find all the usual complaints about lateness, other passengers, and high fares. Same as any other city really. It helps that Manchester is a densely populated city; such a system wouldn't be profitable in less dense American cities.

My point was that public transport networks don't intrinsically require subsidies, contrary to popular opinion. The real challenge for local government is not how to pay for transit, but how to reduce the subsidies.

Metro is close to being overwhelmed right now

Caltrain in the San Francisco Bay Area (which I use daily) is also close to capacity now.

I think we'll be seeing some interesting times ahead.

Good article. This passage jumped out:

Metro, which at 1.2 million subway and bus trips on an average weekday is the area's largest transit provider, is working on a contingency plan to help itself -- and the region -- prepare for a huge shift to public transit should gas prices hit $5 a gallon. ... "There is a point at which we may see a massive move of commuters from driving to transit because of cost," General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. told board members last week.

Debbie, about that fleet of 200 + vehicles:

Buy the most efficient flexible fuel vehicles you can find (like the 09' Chevy HHR,) Buy your ethanol directly from the refinery (it's currently selling for $2.49, wholesale - maybe a touch less,) install a blender pump, and take the $0.45 blender's credit for yourself.)

This brings your fuel cost (on the ethanol portion) down to about $2.05, or so.

The beauty of the "Blender" pump is that it will allow you to fuel your older non-flex fuel vehicles, and your new flex fuel vehicles out of the same pump.

Just a thought.

In order to collect the blender's credit don't you have to owe income taxes to the Federal government? The credit is an offset to taxes owed as I understand it.

I don't think municipalities pay Federal income taxes or file Federal income tax forms. So how will the credit be collected when they aren't paying income tax to begin with? I may be wrong.

Perhaps if a for profit special entity was set up separately that did the blending with the city buying its fuel from them, it would work. There needs to be a taxable profit somewhere that can be offset with the blenders credit to make it work IMO.

That sounds great, because Iowa is right next to California, and you couldn't possibly lose 2/3 your mileage due to ethanol's insane energy density, and $ 2.49 ethanol couldn't ever come out to be more expensive than gasoline per joule of energy..

Ethanols great everyone, It will save America from evil brown people that think they have a right to their own resources and from big mean oil companies who are out to enslave every American child.

don't think you guys at the oil drum are up to date on things check out these new industry numbers, the efficiency's are amazing...

Amazing Ethanol Mill Efficiency's, according to industry experts

If ya need to I'll go over the numbers..

take a 1 reindeer hoof 18,000 btu's
take 4 lbs pixy dust 32,000 btu's
get a nose hair from Cher 7,800 btu's

now the average US corn harvest is approximately 755 bushels per square foot, and you can get a yield of 6 barrels per bushel of high quality super ethanol. (energy density is 4 times that of weapons grade uranium)

So you add all your inputs 18,000 + 32,000 + 7,800 and do a Energy returned on energy invested calculation

I'm going to estimate since rounding is real real hard,

anyway that's around 9000:1 EROI input, the USDA studies are flawed and The International oil companies are maliciously manipulating prices with their less than 12% share of world production combined.

Also Debbie, perhaps you might not want start those orders until the new sugar-cane ethanol plantation comes online at the north pole, their planning on making great technological strides and bringing cost down. Also the fine citizens of Huntington Beach can rid the world of some of those pesky emaciated African/Middle Eastern/Indian/Pacific Island/Eastern European kids by burning the little food they have in their own gas tanks. God I love America, the land of idea's..

I like your attitude and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

That's brilliant Engineer-Poet, I will start my own blog, it will be about peak oil and energy mostly, of course, you can get the first comments :D..

I think I forgot the <sarcasm> tag there, sorry.

I know, lol, you just reminded me to start my own blog which I've been planning on doing for months..

With higher demand they can raise prices and use the money to expand capacity.

It will be interesting to see how politicians and beauracrats respond to Peak Oil. Up to this point they have been unanimous (with the exception of a few rich enclaves) in believing the old canard that "growth is good". Specifically, they believe in ever increasing population growth and building in their community. I was thinking this may discourage growth but in fact, it will likely just encourage them to increase via higher density buildings. Only if construction costs went way up from Peak Oil would they have any reason to get off the population growth kick from Peak Oil. Otherwise they will look at more people as giving them more taxes to pay for about the same amount of police cars and fir trucks, etc. as when there were less people.

But it will likely get the outlying "bedroom communities" to consider getting some commercial enterprises in so people can live and work in the same place.

I think only a peaking in coal and natural gas, with the resulting large increases in electrical costs will get politicians to stop thinking that "growth is good". And even then that will not be at the local level.

Dear Debbie,

Godd Luck! I sort of know how you feel trying to get people to take the concept of Peak Oil seriously. It's a big jump. Not just the whole idea of Peak Oil, which of itself is quite a challenge to get one's head around, but the next step of taking it seriously, because if one does start to take it seriously and think about the implications for our way of life, for our entire "Western" civilization; the model of ease, plenty and serious comfort, and that this might be in serious jeopardy, or even threatened, and in our lifetime! Well, most people have a hard time dealing with such a frightening prospect, and who can blame them? It takes time to mull over the implications, because Peak Oil seems to go against the grain of almost everything we have been brought up to believe about our 'non-negotiable' Western way of life.

The politicians and 'movers and shakers' I've mentioned this subjedt to over the last couple of years, simply don't get it yet, or at least they apparently don't get it, at least not in public. In private maybe they believe something else. The ones I've chatted to in private don't get it, and may not ever want to get it, push the bad news away for some other day, for some other poor guy or gal, seems to apply. This is understandable and probably a natural reaction. Though clearly not all politicians at local or national level choose to bury their heads in the sand, but, at the present time they are in tiny minority.

I've learned that most people have a semi-religious belief in the ability of the 'market' to find a solution to the challenge and this is coupled with a similar faith in technology to provide the answer to a problem most people don't even recognize is looming on the horizon almost out of sight.

What will wake people up to the challenge Peak Oil represents? Perhaps it'll need something like what it'll take to make people realize that 'global warming' or 'climate change' is a reality too? Something Big! However, it's a sobering thought that by the time this happens, at least in relation to climate change, a 'sign' of such magnitude that it cannot be ignored - a truly horrendous heatwave for example; that it may also indicate that we've tipped over into another kind climate and world, something we can't control anymore.

Perhaps the central 'myth' of our type of civilization is that we appear to believe that we have almost become 'Godlike' in our powers and abilities, that we are 'in control' of nature and our environment and nothing can stand in our way, that the entire planet has become our plaything and our slave. That we, on fundamental level, create our own reality through our will. That we are not only detached from, but we have become the lord and master of nature.

But on a more mundane and everyday level what we'll need before people in general begin to take Peak Oil seriously, if the problem is defined in those terms, is a substantial rise in the price of oil way above what we're seeing now, oil at $200 or $300 dollars a barrel should get people's attention! But what happens then? How will such prices be 'framed' by the media? Who will get the blame for such an occurance? Are we going to look at ourselves and our massive consumption and incredibly lavish lifestyle, or will we blame some funny looking guy with a strange name in some desert who through a mixture of spite, greed and ignorance, chooses not to produce the oil we need at prices we can afford?

I believe the ruling elite in most Western-style countries will choose to place the blame on someone else for as long as possible. It's not that we've used too much, too quickly, too recklessly. The 'debate' or 'problem' will be framed differently. It won't be that the oil isn't there, because of Peak Oil, the oil's in the ground, only the oil exporters, for a variety of reasons have chosen not to supply the 'market' with sufficient supplies to meet our needs. That they've got us over a 'barrel' and the creeps like it that way! Jesus, maybe we should just go in and take what we need from these lousy blackmailers and after all we've done for them! We've given them our money and now they want our blood!

Of course I may be totally wrong here and suddenly the combined leadership of the Western world will become incredibly intelligent, honest, responsible, imaginative and highly competent; and they'll level with people, but I doubt it. It's possible to question a lot of things, but really, seriously, fundamentally, questioning the validity of the 'free market' paradigm, isn't one of them, at least not under the present system, simply because the ruling elite, who do so fabulously well under the current system, really believe that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

Most of them really, truly, Believe, almost religiously

I've learned that most people have a semi-religious belief in the ability of the 'market' to find a solution to the challenge and this is coupled with a similar faith in technology to provide the answer to a problem most people don't even recognize is looming on the horizon almost out of sight.

I hear almost all economists voice that opinion and they are much more influential with politicians than scientists. However, the reaction I get from the common man is still disbelief that there is any oil problem at all. "There is plenty of oil, we just have to drill for it" is a good summary of what they say.

...maybe we should just go in and take what we need from these lousy blackmailers and after all we've done for them!

If the next US regime is like the Bush Regime, I think we will definitely take over OPEC oil fields when the price reaches a certain crippling threshold. Iran will be the first since the public has already been taught to hate them, and Saudi Arabia second because they are looked at as big oil producer and the prime country that is "screwing us".

Another foray into the Middle East -especially Iran- would cause the drip drip of body bags to become a tidal wave. Do you think the American People will allow this folley to continue just so that they may keep their SUVs humming along on $3 gas?

There has to be another way...


Yes. They will. Everyone supports whatever actions are required to support their lifestyle. Particularly when there is a believable "boogie man" that their problems can be blamed on (and Ahmamadman most certainly fits that bill).

What makes you think it would be any better or worse than the Iraq debacle? I seriously doubt that Iran is any more capable of doing damage than Iraq was. Frankly, the opposition in iraq has been pretty wimpy. Persistent, but wimpy.

I don't think you would ever see a tidal wave with modern American warfare. The fighting is mainly done by dropping precision bombs from 50,000 feet and cruise missiles from a continent away. They can destroy any equipment that another country could use in war without ever setting foot in the country. And that is the reason that Rumseld and Cheney and Bush were so eager to attack Iraq even though the UN inspectors were finding no WMDs - they knew it would be an almost entirely one-sided affair. The vast majority of American casualties so far have come from the occupation (as opposed to "the war" which lasted a few weeks) and they are working up ways to eliminate most of those casualties - bomb detection robots and bomb-proof vehicles. An occupation of Saudi Arabia or Iran would only be bloodier if they were able to consistently conceal and use some weaponry that the Iraqis don't have - something that would pierce US body armor or be able to hit helicopters or blow up tanks. But we have ways of detecting that stuff electronically as it is used, so it would be very difficult for them to avoid being destroyed after one use and hard for them to conceal it from our searches.

The fact that the United States spends more on military equipment and personnel than all other nations combined has created a supreme superiority which will lead to a lot of deaths anytime sadistic leaders like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are in power. Now they do need some bogus rationale in order to drop the bombs. The 2001 airline hijackings provided them a false pretense and Peak Oil will provide them another.

Another foray into the Middle East -especially Iran- would cause the drip drip of body bags to become a tidal wave. Do you think the American People will allow this folley to continue...

So long as there's no draft, the American people could care less how many military personnel come home in body bags. The perception is that since they volunteered, they deserve whatever happens to them. If our soldiers & marines had been up for college, or able to afford it, so the thinking goes, they wouldn't have asked to be sent in harm's way. No one is even paying attention to the body count anymore.

Thirty years ago people told me "someone" would think of "something". They are STILL telling me that.

Homo Sapiens ? I don't think so.

They did think of something. They used cheap fossil fuels. that is what killed alternatives and conservation - financially they couldn't compete.
Past experience gives little guide to how we will be able to adapt, although the time seems rather short and major disruption overwhelmingly likely even if adaption is ultimately successful.

Hi Debbie, welcome to The Oil Drum.

I'm not sure I agree with Kunstlers view on the eventual fate of the suburbs -check out this David Holmgren (Permaculture Guru) video on the Future Of The Suburbs:

I live in London and one of the ways that the Mayor -Ken Livingstone- has been able to push his green agenda is to let us know exactly where all the money is going. When you see the items above you get a 'sticker shock' and begin to think if there are better ways of doing stuff... More sensible ways perhaps, recycling, energy efficiency, etc. It makes policy to combat rising costs more transparent and acceptable.

Its likely that there will be some serious 'shock level' rises in the coming years and people are going to be looking for answers, leadership and a track record in facing up to the real issues and not just 'asking OPEC to pump more'. Where's the leadership in getting out a begging bowl?

Nick [London, UK].

I'm glad the (unused) gas ration stamp was posted. You are in a situation where you must cut other budget items to support fuels, there is no other option.

In addition I would add that the most important thing IMO is maintaining the water and electricity utilities to the suburbs. Without these two they will become unlivable in -'Necrotic' as Kunstler would say.

Perhaps you can use your power as Mayor to commission a Peak Oil audit of these vital utilities or push them towards a more sustainable means of operation...

Best of luck,



On the face of it 2 1/2 gallons of fuel per citizen per year for municipal services does not seem "too bad" but some obvious things suggest themselves...

Get rid of your "air force", or at least downsize it to 1 fixed wing aircraft for highway and marine patrol as a first step. The idea of the police force of a community of 200,000 having a fleet of 3 MD500 choppers; air crew, ground crew, hanger space etc. etc., what can I say, "Only in America" :-{ The savings here will be significant, in general operating costs not just fuel.

Community based policing model with increased patrolling using foot, bicycle, and small displacement motorcycle transport, get the cops out of their "cages" and more aware of who lives on their beat and what they are up to.

Low or zero liquid fuel transport wherever possible; Could the health inspector ride the bus, at least some of the time? I would hope that the management of the transit service are required to. Do you have "white hats" in the works department driving around in an empty pickup truck when a "Smart Car" or "ZENN" would do just as well?

Do employees who drive as part of their job get a bonus on their pay based on how little fuel they consume?

City governments are hampered in two major areas by the lack of understanding of peak oil implications: one is budget planning itself, and the second is the hurdle rate for energy efficiency investments. When I was working on the peak oil resolution for San Francisco, I combed through their annual budget document (which looks out 3 years) to see what assumptions were made about future energy prices. The reference I found was that the prices (of gasoline and other fuels) were drawn from the forecast of the California Dept. of Finance. So I checked that out, and found that they uniformly (for the years I looked at) projected lower prices in the outyears, much in the way EIA does. In the 2008 version, outyear prices don't decline, but the rate of increase drops to 4.8% in 2009 and 1.2% in 2010. As a result, the city hamstrings itself into a certain budget figure for fuel since it simply multiplies the planned volume by the forecasted price. When I asked what happens if the forecasted price is higher than what DOF projects, the answer is that the department must come back for a special allocation. So in the end, the city faces multiple "special allocations" because the original budget planning was flawed, and that means something else originally planned may not happen.

The second is the hurdle rate for energy efficiency investments. In Federal government efficiency projects (Energy Saving Performance Contracts), the analysis of the rate of return of a particular investment is based on EIA Annual Energy Outlook price forecasts and NIST's calculation tools of nominal and real escalation rates. What a study of past ESPCs has found is that the escalation rate has been widely underestimated (because EIA generally underestimates prices). What this means is that energy saving projects are generally underscaled as well. Even a 1/2% difference in the escalation rate can result in very big differences in savings after 10 years.

So governments underproject fuel costs and underinvest in efficiency because they won't acknowledge the passing of the era of cheap energy, but this is so ingrained in the system today, I'm not sure how to avoid it aside from cities taking their own initiative to project fuel price increases, or at least doing scenarios of much higher fuel price increases than what the state or federal government come out with.

I am just curious, did you come across methods used by the city of San Francisco to measure energy consumption? Were there any signs of detailed energy measurements coupled with accounting systems?

For example, here is something SF ICT operation plans to do:

"The City’s Chief Information Officer will develop a baseline measurement of energy consumption and
environmental impact of the City’s overall ICT operations to be able to measure and fully implement supporting steps that will enable us to continue to find new strategies to address the environmental challenges of energy use and waste creation."

SF Government Technology to go Green

The accounting systems for energy consumption were abysmal. The only thing the city knows well is electricity consumption, since it is owner of the Hetch Hetchy project. For liquid fuels, much of the aggregation of data is estimated based on disparate purchase receipts. Some departments have fuel supply deals; others allow fueling with credit cards outside; some purchases related to certain bond measures are tracked separately from general fund purchases, etc. Only the Dept. of Environment has attempted an aggregation, and that was to set the city's CO2 baseline. Non-government transportation is also completely estimated.

There are very few end-use energy metering projects that have taken place here, and the city couldn't tell you what the plug load of its IT equipment is outside of an estimate based on stock of equipment. EPEAT is a good program, but it stands on its own merits. I argued that the city should implement a "energy impact assessment" along the environmental and economic ones they require now, but that has yet to gain traction.

It looks like they have a better handle on electricity consumption than most municipalities, although as you mention, there is still room for major improvements. I found this case study about San Francisco's effort in reducing electricity consumption on the "Flex Your Power - Best Practices for Local Government" website:
Case Study: San Francisco, City of

Here is what the California Energy Commission says about tracking liquid fuel consumption in a guide on energy accounting:

Other fuels. Fossil fuels such as propane and fuel oil are commonly used for heating
when natural gas is unavailable. These fuels are difficult to track accurately because consumption is not usually metered. Monthly consumption is typically estimated based on fuel delivery dates and may not correspond to actual consumption.

ENERGY ACCOUNTING: A Key Tool in Managing Energy Costs

You would think that the concept of "liquid fuel consumption = money" would somehow register as something needing detailed and accurate record keeping, similar to the practices found in accounting systems.

Most of the focus on tracking energy consumption seems to be in the area of monitoring electricity use, while systems for tracking consumption of liquid fuels is an area that appears to be lagging.

Planners are badly hurt by the lack of leadership at the level of the IEA and EIA.

It's difficult for most planners to take the career risk of making a projection outside the range that's coming from the national Agency that's responsible for this function.

The forthcoming IEA bottom-up planning process may help here.

I believe it goes something like GI-GO, doesn't it?

Yes! :)

I advocate that localities grow the feedstock needed for biodiesel through an enabling act that mandates each property owner to grow a particular amount of the chosen plant(s) and allows the city to roof over the streets to provide lots of additional growing area that would otherwise never be used. Such roofs could also be solarized to provide electricity, and the city could also mandate solar electric and thermal (hot water) roof installation.

The goal of feedstock growth is to supply the city's fleet of vehicles and other energy using machines first, with any additional production provided at cost to fuel the vehicles and other machines of businesses supplying essential services to the city, such as trash collection and ambulance.


I would be interested in what your planning department or planning consultants think about the Peak Oil Crisis. I work for planning consultant in Michigan. This subject is not getting much traction around here or in my profession of community planning. Its just business as usual. My boss thinks that all we need to do is just pump more oil.

Isn't that amazing? The SE Michigan regional planning group, SEMCOG, is still projecting surburban sprawl as far as the eye can see. But this is Michigan!?! The housing market here is suffering one of the largest collapses in the nation, gas prices are eating our SUV/truck heavy population alive, *and* our job market is one of the worst in the nation. Even the new automaker contracts spell less development - the wages for new workers will be less than half that of current workers.

Yet they are still planning for more sprawl and making road expansion plans to match! It's absolutely mind boggling. It's obviously due to mental inertia, the psychology of previous investment, but you really have to wonder what's going to happen to people when events force them to snap back to reality.

We have a few mayors around here like Debbie. Ann Arbor's mayor Hieftje is like that. I just hope we can elect peak oil aware people to higher office soon so we start getting some solutions going. But there's so much to do and so little time to get started...

The tiny town government I work for is several orders of magnitude lower in scale than Huntington Beach. All of our motor fuel use is for police, public works/water, and sanitation. Some thoughts:

1) Police:

At $100/gal, there is going to be a lot less need for our police to have pursuit-capable patrol cars. We are fortunate in having a single entrance/exit out of town; put a permanent roadblock there and it doesn’t matter how fast they can outrun our police, they can’t escape them.

Thus, we might be able to get by with NEVs for some routine patrol and response activity; we could set up PV panels to recharge these. We would probably still need one or two 4X4 PHEV SUVs for bad weather. Patrols would have to be cut back to an absolute minimum; we would need to implement a highly organized, very aggressive neighborhood watch program to fill the vacuum.

Getting a horse or two for mounted police is not out of the question. There is even a place where they could be stabled. Some open space woodland could be cleared for pasture/fodder production.

2) Public Works/Water Dept:

We are already running B20 biodiesel in our diesel trucks and heavy equipment. These could be modified to run B100. Additional forest land could be cleared to grow enough biodiesel oilseed crops to supply all of our needs.

We could get a couple of NEVs to use to transport personnel and small supplies and materials to and from jobsites.

With $100/gal gas, there would be a lot less traffic and a lot less wear and tear on the streets, so less maintenance would be required. We would probably have to develop and implement a long-range plan to gradually transition the streets from asphalt back to gravel.

3) Sanitation:

We would need to considerably reduce the waste stream so that we have less to pick up and haul.

We could encourage people to compost all kitchen wastes. Neighborhood compost bins could be built around the town; making them bear-proof would be the biggest challenge. Presumably we would also need to clear some forest land to create some community gardens, and the compost would be very useful and needed for that.

All paper and cardboard would have to be burned. We would need to build an incinerator, and obtain all the necessary permits. Hopefully, given the emergency conditions that $100/gal gas would imply, it would not be too hard to obtain these. The incinerator should be engineered so that the combustion heat can be captured and put to some sort of good use – maybe district steam heating, or electricity co-generation? There could be some revenue generation/cost recovery opportunities with that.

We already have a good recycling program for plastics, metals, etc. We might need to provide residents with large recycle bins, or provide recycling centers distributed around town within a block or so of each resident, thus reducing the frequency of recycling pickups from weekly to maybe once per month or so. Maybe something could be done to facilitate the formation of a buying club or food co-op, encouraging residents to buy staple foods in bulk and to bring it home in reusable containers, further reducing the waste stream.

The sanitation trucks presently use B20, these could also be modified to B100, which could be locally produced (see above).

Look at the bright side. Huntington Beach is still afloat.

Vallejo has gone down the tubes.

I had just a few minutes to write the above yesterday, now I've had overnight to think further about it. A couple more quick thoughts:

1) We're part of larger districts for sewers and fire, so we don't need to worry about that. Except that we do, we do need to be concerned that they keep operating. We might need to expand our biodiesel production even further to supply them with our "share" of their motor fuel requirements. There is enough land elsewhere in those service districts that they could produce the balance of what they need, but we might have to provide some leadership to nudge them in that direction.

2) We also don't run our own public transport system, but are served by a country-run shuttle bus. At $100/gal, our residents are going to become very dependent upon that, and we might have to take a more active role in cooperating with the County to assure that the service is continued and even upgraded. Again, we might have to provide our share of biodiesel. We would also have an interest in assuring that regular bus service (or preferably, electrified commuter rail, which is feasible over existing N&S rails if they can be persuaded to cooperate) to Asheville continues and expands, so we might need to be involved in that. Finally, our employees need to be able to get to work. I walk, but am the only one within walking distance. Working up a car pool system would work, especially if we do it with the other big employers in our town.

3) And finally, an observation: There has been much discussion about biofuels here on TOD, and the consensus has emerged that biodiesel is not a very good energy alternative. It diverts cropland that should be used for food production, and the EROI, while at least unambiguously positive and thus a bit better than corn ethanol, is nevertheless not all that great. The thinking is that our best long term bet is to convert everything over to electric motors, and recharge the batteries with solar or wind electricity. Theoretically, this may be ideal, and given enough time and money, I am sure it could happen. Unfortunately, as I never tire of saying, when the energy crisis comes, you won't be coping with the gear you would like to have, you'll be coping with the gear you do have. For municipalities, that means that over the next decade or two at least, we will mostly be operating with diesel-fueled vehicles. When diesel becomes too expensive for our budgets to afford, we will not have the time or money to convert everything over to electric and do a massive install of solar panels or wind generators. Nor will we just cease operations. Instead, we'll find another way to fill the tanks and keep operating. In most cases, I believe that municipalities will find it a lot more cost effective to produce their own biodiesel than to buy diesel or B20 or B100 on the open market. Given that most municipalities have some open land that they own outright or could acquire through condemnation if need be, the cost of producing their own biodiesel would be very low - much lower than the cost of buying it or regular diesel on the open market at $100/gal. Municipalities would not even need to do much of the work. Just figure out their needs for the year, double it, and find a farmer to grow the oilseeds on the municipality's land on a sharecrop basis.

Thus, I come to the somewhat surprising conclusion that biodiesel is going to have a bigger role to play in our energy future, at least in the short and medium term, than we might have suspected or even thought desirable.

Biogas might do even better - conversions to burn it can be done on a pretty do-it-yourself basis.
Municipal waste would often provide enough energy to run the local authority vehicles, although care has to be taken to get a consistent quality of output.

It has made completion of the change from petrol to biogas from the municipiality owned biogas plant a realy good deal for the municialities car fleet. (Linköping municipiality in Sweden)

The price increase has not yet been significant enough and the reaction blends into the ongoing CO2 reduction work.

It seems Leanan is correct in thinking that we will continue on in a looooooooong sloooooww painfull decline as that is all anyone can PLAN for.

Is the hope that through small, incremental adjustments we just might be able to maintain a semblance of BAU long enough to raise awareness to a level where we can sit all of humanity down at once and say “Look the Party is Over”?

I hope we are talking about months because if it's years then we are talking about unimaginable pain, suffering, and death for hundreds of millions of people starting at the lower income levels.

Of course there is nothing new there either I suppose.

It does strike me that there are ways to cut back that energy use dramatically - the difficulty, of course, is in convicing people that oil prices are not coming down and that triage is necessary. I live in a place of considerably lower density, and with almost none of the services you describe - fire/ambulance is volunteer, subsidized by the taxpayers, trash pick up is private, or you can haul your stuff to the dump yourself. Water is private well, and about the only services the towns supply are schools and snowplows. I think it is very likely that they will cease to supply even these fairly soon into the crisis, particularly as tax bases decline.

In the town next to my own, the move has been to all-day kindergarten (fewer buses), and to firing low-salary teacher's aides in classrooms. I suspect the next strategies will be "snow" days on very cold weather days, an end to "in storm" plowing (that is, they'll plow once at the end of the storm, so you'd better be home and not expect to go anywhere until it is over), and a host of other budget cuts.

The choice is that or Vallejo - bankruptcy.


I'm struck by how small the fuel consumption really is.

5 gallons per resident (including sanitation)? At current prices, that's only $20/year. If prices double, that's only an additional $20/year.

The fuel bill is about $4M, the nat gas bill is $1M, and electricity is $4M. That's a total of $9M, for a current total of $45/year/resident. $45 dollars per resident per year!

If the average resident spends $2000/year on HVAC, and $2000/year on vehicle fuel, then their city's energy costs are only 1.1% of their total energy costs. That's not much. Certainly not enough to suggest that living in this city is unsustainable in the face of higher energy costs for their local government.

Debbie here.
I've enjoyed all the comments and will try to respond to a few. Most cities do not run their own transit systems but coordinate bus/rail through an agency that crosses jurisdictional boundaries. It is certainly more efficient in a spread out region like Southern California but it also means it is more difficult to alter the inertia that continues to place an emphasis on streets and highways as opposed to mass transit. While all transportation is heavily subsidized, the board of directors of these transportation agencies are most heavily influenced by drivers of automobiles.

With regard to my own city's initiatives, we have undertaken an extensive audit of all facilities, implementing projects as the budget permits and investigating solar (possibly on water tanks) and wind (on our pier). Some vehicles have been replaced with hybrids, some vehicles replaced with CNG as mandated by air quality rules. We are in the process of hiring an energy project manager to oversee all RE, EE, and green building initiatives and we have hired a water conservation specialist. We are fortunate to be large enough and have the resources to take on this challenge. There are 500 cities in California, many are duplicating work that other cities have already done, most don't have the financial resources to hire staff. We have already seen sales tax and property tax revenues softening.

Unfortunately, those who make projections for budget revenues believe that the good times will be back and continue to show optimistic projections. That said, staff is well aware of my concern regarding our energy future and is keeping a close eye on the city's energy consumption and aware of the impact to employees who make long commutes.

One last comment, it is important to recognize that every city is unique. In California, cities receive different shares of the property tax--some zero, others as much as 65% (San Francisco because it is both a city and county). Because local government is not allowed to raise property taxes, it makes up for shortfalls with sales taxes, fees, and bed taxes. It is a complicated mess that makes the energy challenge that much harder for those who provide you with your local services.

"those who make projections for budget revenues believe that the good times will be back and continue to show optimistic projections. "

Don't they work in your budget department? IOW, don't they work for you, and you could tell them what to do?

"Politics ain't like a normal business..."
-(I believe the quote is attributed to Richard J. Daley of Chicago)

Could you expand on that?

Believe me, the budget planners in the City of Chicago are responsive to the policies of Richard M. Daley (the current mayor), especially in the area of energy and environment.

Well, Chicago is a completely different animal compared to most American cities. It has today's equivalent of a one-party machine system--which makes it very responsive and efficient compared to most cities (and states and...and...). Power is centralized there in a way that it just isn't in most American cities--most cities are more deliberative and "democratic."

Whereas, in most cities in CA, city councilpersons have little control over civil servants (usually the role of the city manager or other authority), especially those in a decentralized system where there is a commission/city council type structure like what Debbie has to deal with--but can have budgetary authority, as you point below. So, while I am sure she has some areas of authority, because of the council form of gov't in California (which I don't know enough about to make definitive statements), her power is likely limited, depending on the institutional arrangement. (Learn more here: and

Daley on the other hand, can still snap his fingers and get something done, even today. That's the difference.

Well, here's what wikipedia says: " In the strong-mayor form the mayor is given almost total administrative authority and a clear, wide range of political independence, with the power to appoint and dismiss department heads without council approval and little public input. In this system, the strong mayor prepares and administers the city budget, although that budget often must be approved by the city council. In some strong-mayor governments, the mayor will appoint a chief administrative officer, or CAO, who will supervise department heads, prepare the budget, and coordinate departments. This CAO, sometimes also called a city manager, is responsible only to the mayor. The government of New York City uses the strong-mayor form of the mayor-council system, as, indeed, do most major American cities."

So, in most major American cities, the Mayor has direct control over the budget.

So, Debbie, how do you relate to the budget planning process?

My point was that knowing California's political history, I am guessing that Debbie is NOT in a strong-mayor council government, but again, I am not sure. I will let her answer.

In Virginia the problem we have is that we are a Dillon Rule state. Basically meaning that localities possess few if any powers except those granted by the state legislature.

This means that mayors and county officials are constantly having to beg the state for authority to do various things.

The legislature seems to think that this state of affairs is just fine :-(.

Nick, maybe you should check the very first link in the post, where it spells out that Huntington Beach has a city administrator and a weak-mayor form of government.

Huntington Beach’s mayor is selected annually from among the City Council Members and is charged with running the City Council meetings and representing the city throughout the community and region.

Yes, I saw that - my quote from wikipedia about forms of government was in response to Prof. Goose, who first made a general comment, and then suggested that weak mayors were the norm ("Whereas, in most cities, city councilpersons have little control over civil servants").

More importantly, a Mayor may have no more control than other councilpersons, but I would expect that the council as a whole would have full authority over such things. HB has only 7 councilpersons, and Debbie apparently is sufficiently popular among her peers to be elected Mayor, so I would have thought she might be able to persuade others as to the importance of this issue, especially as it would be consistent with conservative budget practices.

So, I'm curious about the budgeting process in HB, who does the budget estimates, etc. Hence my question: "Debbie, how do you relate to the budget planning process?"

Nick, that wasn't my point...perhaps I wasn't clear. I was stating that in California, most cities have weak mayoral systems, but even in strong mayoral systems, it is not the city boss kind of system that once prevailed in machine cities. Hence my example re: Chicago...etc., etc.

In other words, the budget is completely majority rule I am guessing, in fact they may have staff that do the budget who are under the control of the entire council.

" even in strong mayoral systems, it is not the city boss kind of system that once prevailed in machine cities"

I'm not really clear what you mean. I'm not sure why a "city boss kind of system" is necessary to the assumption that a "strong" Mayor (i.e., separately elected) would have control of the budgetary planning process. It's pretty basic, as an element of the executive arm of government, that the nuts & bolts of budgeting (gathering data from departments, doing revenue projections, etc, etc,) is under a Budget Director, who reports to a Mayor.

"they may have staff that do the budget who are under the control of the entire council."

Even under a City Administrator (appointed by a council) the budget reporting relationships would look pretty similar - I haven't dealt with local legislative bodies (The US congress has the CBO) that had day to day management functions reporting to it, like that - I'd be curious to hear about them.

OTOH, that's not really relevant to my original question (in fact, it would support it): I assume that in a weak-mayor form of government that the Council has ultimate authority on policy, and that the Budget department would be responsive to the Council's informal concerns and formal policies. So, I'm puzzled that these kinds of budgetary planning decisions would seem to be beyond the reach of someone like Debbie.

Hi Debbie,

I'm interested in combining water towers and solar power.

I'd be interested to hear of your progress.


Debbie I'd be very interested to know how road maintenance and or construction is faring in your community.

I do look at various spot prices for asphalt and read articles about problems but I'd love to here your viewpoint on this.

200,000 residents and 3 helicopters? One is more than you need.

My, my, yes.....Very few, if any address the real issues here. Lots of YADDA... Why is it that each and every Government Agency, will Tax and Spend until their last dying day? Let's ask a few questions here Debbie? Do you have gov paid for transportation? How much do you, earn each year? Are a large number of government employees allowed to take vehicles home each day? If so, why any? Why in the world 3 Helicopters? That's insanity but I'm sure you can justify it? Right? Why are there so many police and municipal vehicles to begin with? Are all of your departments run by Men? Men believe a bigger Budget is equal to a bigger D** why not get rid of them? The Budgets I mean...cut them in half. Have no Backbone for this? Why are you not charging for trash pickup by volume or weight? The list is endless as to what you can do..but you probably, as the rest of this country is doing, will do nothing untill it all falls apart.

The World turns, with or without U.S..

Mayor Cook does not need me to defend her, but be civil and respectful in your criticism, please.

Its a coastal region and also one or more or all of them may be used for fire fighting.

One is a police helicopter.,_California

This fits as needed given the highways and coastal zone and also even the fire problems we have.
I live in Irvine which is next door.

The second one following the same link seems to be with the fire department.

This makes sense like I said given the geography.

This has all three as part of the police department.

Given its a police blog about the helicopters it seems to not be mentioning any fire support role :)
I suspect if I find the fire departments blog it will take a different slant on what the helicopters are
best used for :)

One thing not mentioned is this is a very wealthy community so they are pretty demanding on the city for services and probably just as unwilling to pay. I suspect working in city government for a wealthy community is just as tough as working for a poor city. In both cases money for the government cannot meet the demand of the citizens. As far as I know the local governments don't get a lot more in taxes regardless of the income level of the residents.

Yep, you're right memmel. HB is a pretty wealthy suburb of LA, keep that in mind. Just the fact that Mayor Cook has the fortitude to take on these energy issues is surprising given her constituency, even in Cali.

Indeed, she has fortitude. Many folks not from California assume that it is just one big "Blue State". Orange County, where HB is, is decidedly Republican. In fact, Bush got about 60% of the vote there in 2004.

It is surprising to hear from a local government leader who actually"gets it".
I live near Brisbane,a city of over 1 million,in Queensland,Australia.The Lord Mayor of the Brisbane City Council which covers most of the metro area was recently re-elected for a second term,this time with a majority in council for his Liberal Party.The mayor,Campbell Newman,has embarked on a grandiose scheme building road tunnels which will cost billions of dollars.This scheme has been endorsed by the State government and will no doubt be subsidized by the Federal government.The tunnels will be tolled.One of these tunnels has been under construction for over a year.It will run from the South to the North sides of the CBD beneath the river.
There has been very little opposition to this madness apart from the Greens Party and environmental
groups.This seems to have been muted as these groups are unable to get much traction in the media and minority parties like the Greens can't get elected due to a first past the post voting system.
For sure there are traffic problems in Brisbane.This is due to the large increase in population(driven by an insane immigration policy,a federal resposibility)and the usual urban sprawl crap as delineated by Kunstler and others.Brisbane was a fairly liveable city until about 10 to 15 years(lower population).
It did have a good electric tram system until about 40 years ago when it was scrapped in favour of diesel buses.
The city does have a fair electric train network but this needs expanding to cater for the outlying 'burbs.There is a patchy bike and foot path network.
Australia has followed The USA down the road to a sort of energy and social perdition.The "sheeple",in the main,don't get it.The leadership,such as they are,sure as hell don't get it.I can't imagine what it will take for the penny to drop.

I am not surprised that Debbie Cook gets it. If you visit Huntington Beach you will see oil derricks all over the place. Next to hotels, out in the water, in all sorts of unlikely places. They have the history and she knows what is coming down the pike. All she has to do is listen to her constituents.

I am not surprised that Debbie Cook gets it. If you visit Huntington Beach you will see oil derricks all over the place. Next to hotels, out in the water, in all sorts of unlikely places. They have the history and she knows what is coming down the pike. All she has to do is listen to her constituents.

Since the real purpose of the police is to generate revenue by arresting people who are then fined, they will be the last to go. Firefighters will be dispensed with before cops will be. This said, you need MORE cops, or better yet, cameras attached to radar guns so that more speeders can be fined to pay for municipal services. Lower speed limits too, so that more motorists "speed" thus generating more revenue. You could, altho you won't, close the schools, likewise. Parents could receive a tax incentive for homeschooling their kids. At the least you could provide computers & internet access to children so they could "attend classes" online, at a fraction of what you pay to bus them to buildings that must be heated & maintained. As mayor, you could set an example by demanding a pay cut. Turn off the street lights. They're light pollution anyway. Levy a "luxury tax" on the sale of meat. Expand the confiscation of property of the merely accused, like you do for drug "crimes," to real crimes & misdemeanors. Sell the confiscated assets to pay for your status symbol helicopter fleet. Legalize gambling & prostitution then tax it. Sell off parks or charge admission fees to them. Bill people for putting out fires on their property. Be creative. There are a multitude of ways you can further rip off the citizens in order to finance your little municipal fiefdom, mayor.

Your tone is horrible, darwinsdog, not to mention your ideas are completely out of the realm of what a democratic leader can do. We do not need this kind of tone here at TOD.

This is your second warning, on your next, you will be removed.

Please remove me now. There is nothing but BAU ideas expressed on TOD anyhow. Anything actually innovative is censored. Indulge your Inner Nazi and ban me. Doing so will prove my point.

Actually, I had you confused with someone else, so it wasn't your second warning--hence my edit. Nice tone though, which only proves my reasoning.

And seeing as how we hardly censor, your other reasoning is also rather suspect.

But, no please continue, I'll give you all the air you can breathe. That should take care of itself.

My Inner Nazi

Why the Harsh tone? 99% of what Darwinsdog has stated is true. Here in South Florida they do most of those things. What about New Mexico? Ever been to Vegas? He needs not my defense, but he does speak of what most know, but in the PC world here, will not say.


Debbie has been one the best mayors of Huntington Beach in a long time. Considering the fate of some of her predecessors, maybe your comments are more applicable to these people:

Former pro-development mayor, Pam Julien Houchen, was sentenced in September 2006 to a 37-month sentence and ordered to pay $140,000 in restitution for a scheme that illegally converted Huntington Beach apartments into condominiums.

Former mayor Dave Garofalo pleaded guilty to a felony and 15 misdemeanors and was sentenced to community service and probation for violating conflict-of-interest laws in January 2002.

Former mayor Jack Kelly was fined $4,000 by the California Fair Political Practices Commission on two counts of improper financial disclosure in 1988."

Wikipedia: Huntington Beach, CA

This is no doubt just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to corruption in local government in cities like Huntington Beach. It is difficult to see how much progress can occur in this environment, it seems like a monumental task.

I would certainly vote for Debbie for congress, but I am in the next district over, in Irvine. I will take the time to contact my friends in the district Debbie is running in.

But I am really disappointed with my representative, John Campbell. After sponsoring the California Solar Initiative in the California Legislature, he went to congress and has since had a dismal record of voting against alternative energy initiatives.

We need more people in congress that are aware of energy issues and willing to stick their necks out to stand up for what they believe in.

While Debbie might mean well and have the dearest of intentions at heart, being aware of Energy issues and showing a willingness to stick out ones neck, will do almost nothing to turn the rampaging elephant in the room as long as a government employee can be found guilty of a felony and "15" misdemeanors and just get community service? The backlash that is going to come, to most government employees, starting at the local level, will make the riots in LA during the early 90's seem like a walk in the park. Take that to every major city and hope for the best?

These comments express much ignorance about local government and police work, and they consume everyone's time. Insulting a public official who shows courage in dealing with Peak Oil tells a lot about who you are.

Insulting a public official is the duty of every true citizen....

Debbie here.
Huntington Beach is a Charter City. Our Charter gives the City Council authority over policy issues and the hiring/firing of a City Administrator. The Mayor is a figurehead position and has no more authority than the other members of the city council. So to do anything, I would have to get 3 other councilmembers to vote with me.

Again let me reiterate that every city is unique.

Debbie, how do you relate to the budget planning process? Can you talk to Budget staff? Can you make suggestions to the Administrator? If you can't do anything informally, have you proposed a resolution of some sort on the issue of incorporating likely rises in energy costs into the budget?

I would think that this would be consistent with conservative budget practices.

Mayor Cook,

My $US0.02:

Conservation is going to be numero uno on any list of priorities to deal with PO. I think there was a thread here recently that mentioned using electrified vehicles for trash pickup. Because trash pickup is such a stop-and-go activity, an electric or hybrid can save a lot of fuel. Public transit is likely to be a hot topic as well -- as the economy suffers, there will probably be more people looking to ride, although as I recall So.Cal is the most car-centric culture on the planet. (Go Granny Go, Hotrod Lincoln, etc etc come to mind).

And as we come down off peak, solar PV is going to be extremely important, especially in the Southwest. Solar PV and utility-sized storage batteries could displace a great deal of natural gas fueled electric generation, and it's technology we have today (no astounding scientific breakthrough required). It isn't as convenient as fossil fuel, but it is the next most convenient energy source we have. If I ran the circus, I'd be building silicon reduction plants and solar cell factories. And trying to recruit Engineer-Poet to run them for me. :)

Here is a bit more information on electric vehicles:
These are coming to America soon!
You might also be able to persuade some of the companies who have branches there to use your town as a test bed for services like these:
J Sainsbury plc : Responsibility : Case studies : Case studies - Environment
Taxis could also go electric:
Care should be taken on this one though - distances travelled by taxis in the LA area are probably a lot greater than in London
Green Car Congress: Manganese Bronze and Tanfield to Produce Electric London Taxis by 2009
It is possible that you could also become a test bed in America to have power points set up throughout the town, in line with these initiatives:
Electric vehicles | Charge! |
Nissan is going to be selling electric vehicles in the US anyway:
A co-operative local authority to act as a test bed has got to help.

You might be able to get some leverage by twinning arrangements - La Rochelle in France, for instance, has a system whereby you can hire an EV for the day or by the hour.
A twinning arrangement with a German or Austrian city might give access to Greenroof and Passivhaus technology and expertise to train local builders:
FLL German green roof design guidelines

Spain and Greece both make residential solar thermal compulsory for new builds, and twinning might provide expertise.

The greatest enabler would be co-ordination of the regulations so that ecological alterations of property can't be held up by regulation or tenant's associations banning them.

Finally, there it the 'transition Towns' initiative which seeks to set up an international network to plan for the energy descent:
Transition Towns WIKI :: TransitionNetwork / TransitionNetwork

Boulder, Colorado, has led the way by becoming the first US member of the network:

I hope that sparks off a couple of ideas in your mind!
Good luck!

I heard Debbie Cook speak at the Houston ASPO-USA meeting and had the opportunity to talk to her personally. She is a very pleasant young lady and obviously an exceptionally hard worker. I suggested that ASPO meet in Las Vegas but she patiently explained why there were better choices logistically, at least for 2008.
--I am retired and have a volunteer job with a local police department. This department is facing severe budget restraints and is understaffed. We have no helicopters but the Sheriff has some. They are very useful for firefighting, rescue, tracking criminals etc. Bicycle patrols are used at times but are not too practical in the suburbs. I suspect that the budget restraints will worsen. I plan to copy this string and present it to my supervisor who is currently wrestling with the budget.

It sounds like fuel and electricity costs for miscellaneous city services and trash disposal are the main problems, going forward. Also HB is at the end of a long supply line for food imported from outside the city.

With that in mind, encouraging local growth of food in areas currently unused should be encouraged, using concepts from could be used (fresh water is even better than seawater, even if unfit for human consumption.)

To replace city vehicles, has the use of "Segways" been considered?

The trash problem has to be resolved--ultimately without disposing it on land. If reduced in volume sufficiently through recycling, it might be shipped away. Much of it could be reduced in volume through incineration. The tail gas could be washed and sent high into the convection layer (above inversion layer) using the atmospheric vortex engine concept. Power could also be produced cheaply and economically in the process.

Dear Mayor Cook,

Thanks for recognizing the Peak Oil energy crisis and working to address it.

I have prepared a 50 page report that is designed to educate government officials about the realities of Peak Oil. Because this report is based on government reports (General Accountability Office, Congressional Research Service, National Academy of Sciences, etc.) and scientific reports (many from it is hard for officials to dismiss Peak Oil. One suggestion is to distribute the report to council members and department heads and then form a committee to discuss a risk management plan of how to deal with the Peak Oil crisis. Most problems of Peak Oil will devolve to the local government and neighborhood level, and local governments won't have the resources to deal with these problems. As soon as oil production begins to decline (probably in January 2009) we will see inflation, recession, declining home sales and values, foreclosures, and declining local government revenues. I suggest that you also give the report to the local TV, radio, and print media simultaneously, and inform the council that you are doing so. This lets council members know that the public knows and will be asking questions about what they are doing to plan for Peak Oil.

On January 23, 2008, I gave a PowerPoint presentation to the New Hampshire Municipal Managers Association on Peak Oil and risk management/contingency planning. You might want to call the Todd Selig, Town Administrator of the Town of Durham, New Hampshire to get his ideas of how my presentation was perceived and his expereinces with Peak Oil.

My report is on my website at Peak Oil Associates (the May 27th update will go on the website in a day or two). If you send me your email address, I will send you the updated report and Powerpoint presentation. Here is what the presentation covered (the Peak Oil explanation slides are not included here):

What is the Peak Oil energy crisis?
How it will impact local government?
What can local governments can do?
What can managers do?
How to deal with the crisis?
Where to go for more information?

Recession>depression>declining federal, state and local government revenues. (GAO study).
Long term:
Lack of transportation.
Lack of communication.
Lack of residential heating.
Lack of mechanized farming.
All problems devolve to the local level.

Study the problem. Read the Peak Oil Report at Peak Oil Associates. Understand the future.
Realize this is a VERY emotional and controversial issue.
Inform the council (download the report and email it to them).
The goal is Peak Oil planning, NOT energy conservation (that is for
another committee).
Set up a Peak Oil working group in your administration.
Set up Peak Oil citizens committee.
Select a balance of members who are practical (this is critical).
Form a managers committee that can ask state government for action.
Coordinate with state government economic development, governor's
office, energy office, planning department.

Guard town financial resources.
Prepare for grid failure or oil cut off (Paul Gilbert & Railton Frith).
Community education (library/Public radio/newspapers/statewide conference).
Planning and sharing plans and information.
Anticipating changes and plan ahead (examples reduced government revenues/ change school calendar).
Long term: What will be absent in the future.
Preserve technology and information NOW, as it will disappear suddenly.

There is very little in print or on the Internet that relates to specific risk management/contingency planning for Peak Oil impacts for local, state and the federal government.

Let me know if I can help.

My email is clifford dot wirth at yahoo dot com
Telephone 603-668-4207

Warm regards,

Cliff Wirth


I wish you all the best in endeavoring to move the peak oil issue forward in the world of governments. Some of us know all to well from being 'on the inside' ourselves how slow, cumbersome, and resistant to change any political arena is. To possibly help you along here is a link to another city (albeit in Australia) who has openly acknowledged peak oil, begun to identify their exposure an possible issues, along with some mitigation strategies.

some background on Maribyrnong:

"The City of Maribyrnong is 31.2 sq km in area and has a population of over 63,000. It the smallest and most densely populated municipality in the metropolitan area.

The City of Maribyrnong borders Melbourne, which is Australia's second largest city and Victoria's capital city. This central location provides easy access to all the benefits of Melbourne, such as the ports, the best road network in Australia and an extensive public transport system."

While I realize the population pales in comparison to 200,000 residents, it may be possible that you can port some of their ideas and (starting point) solutions. At the very least, being able to point to another (semi)large city from a fully industrialized nation that has publicly addressed Peak-oil may assist you in your efforts.

All the best to you in your efforts,


As a former resident of Huntington Beach, some insight is needed.
Huntington is firmly behind the "Orange Curtain", and in one of the most conservative and reactionary parts of California. It is represented by Dana Rohrabacher, one of the "Cave Men" that Orange County so prolifically turns out---
If you are not into surf fashion or sub prime loans (well, maybe some mid level software and electronics), it is a cultural wasteland. You are talking about a culture totally divorced from the natural world, and embedded in right wing ideology.
I wish Debbie all the luck in the world.
Disclaimer: I'm visiting friends in Laguna Beach this weekend

Not entirely true is it, about the wasteland that is. I thought the western parts of the city have a huge southeast Asian population extending into Westminster. That group of citizenry has to consist of a large voting block and I would think tilts to the progressive side. Curious.

Mayor Cook,
I travel to HB on business on the average a few times a year. Coming from the winter wonderland of the upper midwest, I am amazed by the lack of people on foot or on bike in your city. I have gone for long runs to the beach and on to the pier without seeing many people at all. I realize that this is symptomatic of LA as a whole, but it still seems awfully strange given your good climate. That bus strike you had last year also wasn't the greatest thing. How did that get resolved?

Fine city, way too many cars.

David Blume titled his book "Alcohol Can Be A Gas" wrong. It should have been called How Local Governments Can Respond to Large Increases in Energy Bills

One day governments will be referencing it as a guide and he will get the credit he is due for writing the plan to save America's butt.

Or it might not be...

Well yes, as a matter of fact it can. At 1atm pressure above 78°C it is a gas.

Here in Houston we're installing more and more camera systems to monitor for minor and major crimes. Some would say it has gone too far, yet I think it will only increase.

I think installing GPS navigation systems could help reduce fuel costs especially for non-emergency uses. They can quickly pay for themselves with such high fuel prices.

A problem with biking is making it safe. We don't have nearly enough bike lanes, despite a huge spike in bike traffic.

The police are using traffic stings to pool resources and raise revenues. I saw them recently with a police communications truck setup and dozens of officers running tags on one of the busiest streets. They arrested quite a few people for outstanding warrants and wrote hundreds of tickets for expired tags, seatbelt violations, and other infractions. It also seems that they nabbed some druggies along the way.

As for waste management, they've reduced heavy trash pickup to 3 or 4 times a year in some areas. The day that was previously dedicated to heavy trash pickup has been used for lawn and tree waste. Apparently it's about to go city-wide because they are saving a lot of money.

local government could declare itself bankrupt

like this town

in my opinion th potatoes in my allotment will expand whilst everything else contracts. My local bus service and ferry service are already cutting back services and i expect rising fuel prices to make other services whether private or public sector follow suit.

Try this solution.

As is said in Asia.

"Rots of ruck."

local gov-ments will respond to rising energy costs just as they do to anything else (or nothing at all). THEY WILL INCREASE PROPERTY TAXES!
oh, and cut services. expect citizens to be hammered. all major chemical companies just announced they will pass along petro feed stock price increases to consumers of end products. to the tune of up to 25% increases. expect to be hammered.

Your website shows you are doing a lot!!
I'm really very impressed.

And now you're running for Congress!

That's ABSOLUTELY the best thing you could do.

You already know the all limitations of being mayor!

Rohrbacher is a pin-head.

Show people you're better than he is(be feisty!). People want change!

Try to get some attention
as early as possible--I know its early but that's the political cycle these days.

I'm not sure how potent PO is as a political issue what with all the denial that comes with it, but gas prices are!

Good luck.