Last February, the San Jose City Council unanimously passed a new sustainability plan called Climate Smart San Jose. This new “plan” replaces the Green Vision that the city adopted in October 2007, which had very measurable and trackable goals until its scheduled completion in 2022.
Climate Smart San Jose, by contrast, is a vision of where the city would need to be in 2050 to align with the targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement. The problem is that the so-called “smart” plan (which you can read online here) includes no tangible, controllable steps for how to actually implement this vision.
For one thing, the financing aspect is too vague. The report’s lack of concrete funding steps is particularly appalling given the whooping $264 billion that the plan is estimated to cost us through 2050. Climate Smart San Jose seems to rely mostly on borrowing (bonds), loans, new taxes (such as a broad-based carbon tax), and private partnerships. But these are all general—even controversial—financial solutions.
San Jose also doesn’t have any concrete plan to leverage resources from the powerful presence of tech companies within its boundaries or, at the very least, to even mandate them to abide by the plan’s goals.
While the city promotes a climate conscious “plan,” the decisions San Jose leaders make are moving us the opposite direction. With the sale of San Jose-owned land to Google and its allies, where is the clear mandate for following our climate plan? Land is being sold to developers and then we meekly ask them afterwards to meet the climate goals we aspire to somehow achieve with no enforcement power.
In addition, the city boasts about creating “an economically inclusive city of opportunity” (Pillar 3 of the not-so-smart plan). But how can it make sure that low-income people will not be driven out of the city en masse by skyrocketing housing prices? This is already happening and is already forcing our city’s low wage workforce to commute long distances every day—a situation that greatly contributes to increasing greenhouse gas emissions in the San Jose area. More jobs should not come at the expense of affordable housing for residents that need it the most. This is not a working strategy, nor is it in the best interest of our diverse community.
Granted, Climate Smart San Jose does not claim to replace the Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan (indeed, there is no mention of tree planting, ecological restoration, urban agriculture, open space elements, trail and bike lane additions, overhaul of public transportation, and so on). But it falls so far short of tangible solutions—with the exception of the city’s Community Choice Energy program (aka San Jose Clean Energy)—that it actually lags most other jurisdictions in the county.
The “plan” also omits the social justice and equality targets of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals to focus on a “blind” Paris-aligned pathway. Very little in the plan deals with ending hunger and poverty, reducing inequalities, and ensuring peace and justice, all of which are essential for long-term prosperity.
What the city of San Jose needs are tactical, incremental and inclusive programs with accrued accountability, not another “smart” plan that looks good on paper but avoids mentioning specific measurable steps necessary to translate its ambition to reality.
Christine Pepin chairs the Climate Action Team of the South Bay Progressive Alliance serves as a council member of the Santa Clara County Green Party. Opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].