The global effects of climate disruption will have local impacts on the Bay Area. The political leaders of this region are already planning for a future with a new normal.
Clean-tech is a field that both provides sustainable solutions and boosts local economies. San Jose is brimming with such companies, notably Tesla, which has consistently progressed EV technology at a rapid pace, and SunPower, a global leader in developing efficient solar panels. San Jose’s Mayor Sam Liccardo is proud to have “a lot of the companies that are really going to transform and hopefully decarbonize our economy.”
On a statewide level, California had a banner year for legislation combatting climate disruption, from policies mandating renewable energy to setting a goal for energy-efficient buildings. Despite these successes, the administration couldn’t reduce dependency on petroleum by 50 percent. Assemblymember Phil Ting thinks residents were scared by a “rumor going around that we were going to have to ration gas like the 1970s.”
While cities like San Jose focus on their core emissions, Oakland is concentrating on its consumption. That means looking at the greenhouse gas trail emitted by products manufactured outside city limits but purchased in city limits. “So far,” says Mayor Libby Schaaf, “we’ve reduced [consumption] by 14 percent and that is during a growing economy.” The city’s efforts include zero waste goals, aggressive recycling, and curbside pickup of food waste, which gets converted to energy and sold back to the grid.
Measure AA is a measure to be decided in June by residents of the nine Bay Area counties. Schaaf maintains that “it’s kind of historical because this is the first time that we as a region have acted in a unified manner around something other than how to spend the Bay Bridge toll.” If it passes, it would require property owners in each county to pay $12 per parcel, which would fund wetland restoration. The wetlands provide mitigation from heavy storms and sea level rise. Although Liccardo understands the potential threat to big businesses, he’s more concerned about “Alviso, a working-class community with thousands of residents that are constantly in harm’s way whenever there is a storm surge or concern about flooding.”
There has been pushback against the measure from residents who complain that the regional tax burden is already high enough. There are plenty of high taxes California but, thanks to Howard Jarvis and Prop 13, property isn’t one of them. Ting sees value in increasing the property tax. “We’ve been in the bottom quartile nationally in property taxes so just $12 a year is fairly minimal in terms of what it costs relative to where we compare with other states.”
Restoring wetlands is only one venture among many when it comes to this kind of policy work. Schaaf believes that money should be invested into the Oakland Port, for the health of the planet and the economy. Ting sees high-speed rail, regional public transportation, and affordable housing adjacent to such transportation as sectors in which to invest. Those projects might just see funding from the state’s cap-and-trade fund, money collected by polluters who pay for the privilege of polluting. The fund is currently $1.2 billion ongoing.
For many years now, BART has planned to extend to San Jose but struggled to obtain the millions of dollars in bonds necessary to begin the project. With a measure in place, Liccardo is hopeful. “We have a huge pent-up need right now to address the traffic congestion we see all over our roads and we know that transit is really that critical answer.” Schaaf sees the need for greater collaboration. “This is an overarching theme, traffic congestion, climate change, affordable housing, jobs/housing balance -- these are problems that don’t respect municipal boundaries. We have to act as a region and also see the interconnectivity of all these issues, if we’re going to… really serve the people that we have living in our cities.”
Written by: Ellen Cohan
Photography: Ed Ritger