What was once California dreaming may soon become a Connecticut reality.

Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. and the Connecticut Clean Cars Alliance hosted a public forum yesterday evening to discuss how to improve Connecticut air quality — specifically, by adopting the same emissions standards as California. The forum, which was attended by approximately 25 people, was held at Conte/West Hills Magnet School in Wooster Square.

The panel of speakers, made up of state legislators, local government officials and representatives of nonprofit organizations such as the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group and Connecticut Fund for the Environment (CFE), fielded questions from DeStefano as well as members of the audience about the impact the proposed standards would have on individual citizens, businesses and air quality in general.

A study released by the CFE last September cited motor vehicle emissions as the primary cause of the health risks attributed to air pollution. Panel member Charles Rothenberger, a legal fellow for the organization, said at the forum that cancer was air pollution’s primary health effect, adding that the state has the ninth-highest rate of cancer in the country. He explained that California’s emissions standards would significantly decrease the air pollution that causes these health problems.

“Not only would we see fairly substantial reductions in smog producing particles, but it would reduce, by almost a third, the toxic emissions from tailpipes,” Rothenberger said.

New York, Massachusetts and Vermont have already adopted the Clean Car standards, which require all new vehicles sold to adhere to more stringent emissions standards, and New Jersey passed its own clean cars bill in January. Conn. State Senator William Aniskovich, R-Branford, said at the forum that the General Assembly Environment Committee passed a similar bill last week with a vote of 24-3 and that it is poised to go to the General Assembly Transportation Committee. The New Haven Board of Aldermen also passed a resolution last night in support of adopting the California emissions standards.

All of the panel members expressed support for the General Assembly bill, and Rothenberger explained that the new standards would neither increase costs to the consumer nor significantly inconvenience the auto industry.

“If Connecticut joins its neighbor states, we’re not asking manufacturers to produce cars that aren’t available,” Rothenberger said. “They’re sold in New York, Massachusetts — we’re just asking them to make them available to Connecticut residents.”

Anaskovich added that the auto industry might not be as amenable to the new standards as the legislators supporting the bill would like. He cautioned the other panel members and the audience not to become complacent as a result of the bill’s current success.

“This support should not lull anyone into thinking that this issue is over,” Anaskovich said. “They are a very powerful lobby, and we need to take them seriously.”

Even after Anaskovich’s words of warning, both the panel members and the audience seemed optimistic about the future of the bill and Connecticut air quality. Hamden Mayor Carl Amento, another panelist, said he thought there was support for the California emissions standards in the state, but emphasized that both municipalities and individuals need to lead by example, raising awareness about air quality throughout their communities.

“We’re just on the threshold, but I think we’re building the consciousness up,” Amento said.