Editor’s note: Climate change and coronavirus

Sac and West Sac mayors join the call for a green post-pandemic recovery plan

Today is the 50th annual Earth Day, but a very different one than we’ve ever had, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So when Mayors Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento and Christopher Cabaldon of West Sacramento issued a draft report of their Commission on Climate Change, they made clear that the crisis is also an opportunity.

While public health is the immediate priority, they said that coming out of the pandemic, climate change must be addressed in the economic recovery plan.

The draft report notes that in the recovery after the Great Recession in 2007-09, fossil fuel and related industries received a big chunk of bailout money.

Now, the mayors are calling for “green” investments in renewable energy, transit and other infrastructure. They’re joining leaders such as Tom Steyer, the environmental activist, former presidential candidate and now co-chairman of the state task force on business and jobs recovery appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, which met for the first time Wednesday.

Steinberg acknowledged that there may be a view that the economic damage from the pandemic is so devastating that governments can’t afford to pursue environmental goals. “That, of course, is a false choice,” he said during a virtual press conference Wednesday morning.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento.

Steinberg said the goal should still be to create an inclusive, clean and green economy because that is the “greatest opportunity for economic growth.”

“We have to rebuild the economy differently,” Cabaldon added.

The mayors created their commission in late 2018 with a goal to make their cities carbon-neutral by 2045. The 28-page draft report—released Wednesday for public comment before a May 13 commission meeting—calls for supporting infill development on small lots and requiring all-electric new buildings by 2023; expanding transit, bicycles and other active transportation; growing more urban forests and sourcing more food locally; and moving aggressively toward electric vehicles. On the electric vehicle piece, Sacramento has a head start, thanks to $44 million and designation as the first “Green City” as part of the settlement from the VW emissions scandal.

The report says with COVID-19’s economic damage, the cities must be even more strategic with their investments.

“We can’t boost the economy in a way that would continue to lead us into another health crisis in terms of air pollution and climate change—it’s imperative that we consider opportunities to create more sustainable, resilient jobs and invest in helping industries become more efficient and less polluting,” it says.

The coronavirus lockdown—including business closings and steep decline in travel—has already had a significant impact. Oil prices have plunged, while air quality has improved.

Mayor Christopher Cabaldon of West Sacramento

Some of those changes are likely to be temporary. “This isn’t a moment to say climate change is resolving itself,” Cabaldon said.

At the same time, he said, many people are changing how they go about their daily lives during the stay-at-home order—driving less, working remotely, shopping at local stores, staying closer to home for recreation.

And some of those adaptations in behavior could continue longer term—and they could help in reducing global warming.

Steinberg said the COVID-19 pandemic should focus even more attention on the connection between climate change and public health and the disproportionate impact on the poor and communities of color.

“What we’re going through now,” he said, “only intensifies our commitment to be bold.”

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