Surrounded by smoke pouring in from huge wildfires, citizens and the Ashland City Council gathered in Council Chambers Tuesday where about two dozen people offered public testimony insisting now is the time to combat climate change locally. Many made the argument that burning forests and their by-product of unhealthy air is due, at least in part, from climate change.

“It’s impossible to ignore the effects of climate change,” Ashland High School Senior Mia Davis told the council in an impassioned statement. “Right now Gov. Kate Brown is considering expanding environmental protections, but she needs cities ... taking the lead.”

What Davis and others asked for was for the council to pass an ordinance vowing to follow the recommendations to every degree possible of the Climate Energy Action Plan (CEAP) formulated over the course of more than a year. The council unanimously agreed, adopting on first reading (a second is required) to compel the city to:

1) Reduce Ashland’s contribution to global carbon pollution by reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with city, residential, commercial and industrial activities: Reduce total community greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percnet on average annually through 2050; attain carbon neutrality in city operations by 2030; and reduce fossil fuel consumption by 50 percnet by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050; and

2) Prepare the city’s communities, systems and resources to be more resilient to climate change impacts.

The issue was kicked down the road in July when the council leaned toward a resolution, fearing an ordinance would be too legally binding and might catch the city up in future lawsuits. At that time the council favored a resolution, but asked its city attorney to re-draft ordinance language which allows the city to do its best but not necessarily reach bench marks it is not sure it can do.

The attorney, Dave Lohman, re-wrote an ordinance which assures the city making its best effort and additionally bound the council to conduct the business of the CEAP in public, including any inclination to soften its language.

From the victory, pushed through in a significant measure by high school students who asked the city to consider their future, Councilor Greg Lemhouse cautioned against the impulse to consider the work finished. “You solve problems by staying engaged — forever,” said Lemhouse as he spoke directly to the students present. “You need to ask lots of questions, never stop asking questions. Don’t assume what you’re being told is true.” Councilor Lemhouse said he would move forward so long as the students promised to also move forward. “Do not go back to your lives feeling like the work is done. Don’t assume it’s at the end.”

Speaking to the smoke which surrounded the meeting, Ashland Fire & Rescue Forest Division Chief Chris Chambers told the council the city is posting its air quality regularly and advising residents how to best manage in the smoke which has blanketed the city in air which has registered as “Unhealthy” nearly every day. “We’re experiencing something we’ve never experienced before in terms of smoke and fire in the region,” Chambers told the council. “We’re seeing things on the landscape here that we’ve never seen before in our lifetimes in part because of climate change.”

Chambers advised staying indoors if possible and wearing an N95 mask for a week at a time, then using a new one.

The council then moved on to discussion about the Ashland Senior Center and concerns about the building on Homes Avenue near Hunter Park closing. The Ashland Parks Commission voted to decentralize services from the center which left some residents fearful the center would close.

Parks Director Michael Black told the council while it is the intention to move services to other areas in the community, closing the center is not currently planned. “We plan to keep core programs at the Senior Center but we’re also expanding to more classes at more locations.”

He left the door open to move the center but not in the short term. “The Ad Hoc Committee needs to assess if it should stay at its current geographic location or if it should move to The Grove.”

The council heard from Black that an Ad Hoc Committee would be formed to further consider ways to work with the Senior Center. “We want numerous inputs from the seniors — not from some cherry picked committee, but seniors themselves,” resident Gwen Davies told he council in response.

But ultimately the Parks and Recreation Department decided to continue in its considerations. Its meetings, the director agreed, would be better noticed and more people would be invited to consider the best ways to serve seniors, but as of now the direction embarked upon of providing services in different locations would continue.

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.