Santa Clara County is doubling down on addressing climate change as an emergency, rather than a far-off threat.
At its last meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved the county’s master plan for sustainability, which has been about five years in the making. The plan commits to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, electrifying more buildings and planting 3,000 trees within the next three years to improve air quality and increase local carbon sequestration.
“Climate change, unlike the pandemic, unfolds in slow motion,” said Jasneet W. Sharma, director of the county’s Office of Sustainability. “Often it feels that individual actions don’t matter. So it’s all the more essential for action at both the policy and the individual scale.”
The plan builds on many changes the county has already made and weaves them into one, cohesive picture. For example, in 2018, the county committed to reaching net carbon neutrality by 2045. Carbon neutrality means carbon emissions are balanced with removal of carbon from the atmosphere.
Sharma told San José Spotlight that the COVID-19 pandemic was sort of a “dress rehearsal” for the climate challenges that lie ahead. And indeed, changes that have occurred because of the pandemic have informed the county’s commitments.
There was a nearly 34% increase in employee telecommuting in the South Bay since shelter-in-place orders were issued in March. The county will now continue to encourage telecommuting, according to the plan. If maintained, the approximately one-third reduction in vehicles is equivalent to removing 7,300 passenger vehicles from the road each year.
Racial and socioeconomic equity also play a big part in the county’s plans.
“Despite our explosive county growth, air and water quality have continued to improve,” Sharma told supervisors. “But we still need actions to address the challenges posed by climate change and the disparities posed by urban heat, air and water pollution, and even access to recreational resources.”
Supervisors were largely enthusiastic about the plan, but thought it could be even better. Supervisor Otto Lee said he’d like to see the county be “a little more aggressive,” while Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said she worried sustainability and equity might not be entirely compatible.
“(Telecommuting) can be terrific environmentally and certainly benefits higher wage employees,” Ellenberg said. “But with more people telecommuting, the fewer support people we would need in our buildings, so that could lead to job loss.”
Another example, Ellenberg said, would be new standards for the county using sustainable vendors. One goal of the plan is to create incentives for county contractors to use sustainable materials, and create a sustainable purchasing policy countywide.
“We have a real commitment to choosing small, local, minority-owned vendors,” Ellenberg said. “(But) those might not be the most sustainable product.”
Sharma said some…