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New Council, same climate discussions

Item 31 at the 5/2/23 Sac City Council meeting was another Quarterly Climate Update.

Real talk, these climate updates have been the same for years. City staff discuss some of the excellent (and shiny) projects they are working on and what they expect to happen in the upcoming months. The projects are truly good and benefit the community and public health, and yes, the staff work incredibly hard.

The problem is: there’s not enough staff, even to spend the money they already have.

The City’s Climate Action & Adaptation Plan (CAAP) has finally been released, over three years behind schedule. And that is never mentioned in these updates.

Likely due to the recent release of 350 Sacramento’s City of Sacramento Climate Report and the release (finally!) of the draft climate action plan, staff finally hinted at the need for serious discussions about how to fund the massive projects and infrastructure needed for climate transformation, but noted that this will happen “later”. But no connection was made to staff capacity, only suggestions that “staff aren’t sitting on their hands”.

Advocates are always clear in their message, they appreciate staff’s work and just want their to be more capacity so good projects and necessary foundational plans can get done sooner… or at least on time

There's an opportunity to give feedback (through August of 2023) on the City's Draft 2040 General Plan and Climate Action & Adaptation Plan via the City's Self-Guided Online Workshop; there are also orientation webinars (circled on the flyer below) for folks if they want an intro to the online workshop

Highlights from the staff presentation

  • Jennifer Venema, the City’s Climate Lead, presented the Quarterly Climate Update to City Council on May 2.

  • Since this is the first climate update for the new Councilmembers (Caity Maple, Lisa Kaplan & Karina Talamantes), Jennifer provided some context on the City’s climate commitments over the past few years, as well as the breakdown of greenhouse gases from the different sections (56% of the city’s emissions are from transportation, 38% from building energy use, etc.) *this is 2016 data, they don’t have anything more recent that they use

  • She discussed the past directives from Council to move with greater urgency and pointed to the two big work outputs on climate action so far – the 2021 Climate Work Plan, which listed tasks and goals for the city, and the Climate Action & Adaptation (CAAP), the guiding document for the city to meet carbon neutrality by 2045

  • The presentation was big on flashy numbers and short on context.

  • Some examples:

    • The city did allocate $4.4 million dollars for climate action, which was touted in the presentation. But it isn’t mentioned when the money was allocated (2021) or the initial intent of the money (to fund near term priority actions)

    • The City’s draft CAAP was released on April 28, but it wasn’t mentioned that its three years late (originally supposed to be released in 2020 and adopted in 2021)

    • The majority of the City’s climate tasks are “underway”, but this does not account for multi-year delays that some of the City’s projects have dealt with

      • Example: the City’s tree planting initiative has technically been “underway” but there is no staff capacity to implement the project

    • There are many excellent transportation projects going on in the City that will improve sidewalks and bike lanes. But, these are not new projects that the City has called for since declaring they need to more urgently support active transit and transportation, these are projects that have long been on the docket

    • The City has applied to grants totaling $1.7 million, but the City hasn’t won any of those grants yet

  • Including the new funding the City just received for the Sacramento Valley Station (about $68 million), the City has secured about $149 million total for funding climate-related projects (federal money for projects, money for projects from state representatives, etc). The City itself has put in $4.4 million for climate directly. This is about 4% of the $3 billion dollars the City estimates is needed to get Sacramento’s greenhouse gas emissions down to zero in the next 20 years

Highlights from the Council discussion

Nothing new to report here – congratulations and thanks to the staff for all their hard work (deserved) were given, and Councilmembers made comments about how “we really need to think about our priorities," and mused about future conversations.

Rosie Yacoub of 350 Sacramento drew Council’s attention to how well City staff are able to pull in money for climate projects, and how much more effective the City could be at bringing in big dollars in federal and state funding if they increased capacity by hiring a few more staff.

  • Councilmember Valenzuela asked staff about how much money it would cost to get to our climate neutrality goal faster, to which Venema replied “$3 billion”. This suggests that it would cost the same amount of money to do all of the work faster, which seems…unlikely

  • Valenzuela says that this will reach a point where it’s a question of resources and there will need to be a key discussion of what the next funding measure might look like (while a measure would be great, it’s not going to pay for our $3 billion CAP by itself). There was no mention of a future discussion around all the possible funding options

  • Councilmember Guerra repeated his usual talking point that climate action is tied to economic development, and that we need to lead on “job creation” and “product development”. He’s right, but he never deviates from this point. He also said “we will have this conversation again in the summer...” kicking these hard conversations further into the year

  • Councilmember Maple said that the City was doing better than a lot of other places – the local advocate’s favorite useless statement from an elected – and talked about how she asked Venema about staffing needs. Maple said she was very impressed by Jennifer’s response, that “every department needs to do the work”. Which is a non-response and begs the question, then why can’t they do it now, and aren’t they maxxed out too? Even the CAP calls for six new staff to help implement $3 billion worth of projects…

  • Councilmember Vang called for the Councilmembers to always remember to advocate for this issue at the state level and thanked the staff for their work and the air quality monitors that were recently offered to members of her district

  • Councilmember Kaplan brought up the need for the Council to think about priorities and budgets. She rhetorically asked what projects have the biggest bang for the buck

  • Councilmembers Jennings and Loloee said nothing – I don’t think they’ve ever spoken at a climate update

  • Councilmember Talamantes and the Mayor Steinberg were absent

Overall impression: the Councilmembers didn’t say anything new, acknowledge the recent climate report card, or give staff any direction. They gave (due) thanks to staff for their work and talked about the need to think about priorities and future funding options.

There was no call of support for budgeting more staff to work on climate projects in this year’s budget, nor any suggestions that they needed to allocate more money soon

Instead, there were musings about future conversations that would have to happen. This has been the cycle for at least the past two years – verbal support for climate action, pats on the back for the City’s work, and no commitments or direction to do anything until the next climate update.

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