It feels like a lifetime ago, but as Chair of the Board of Supervisors in 2020, I focused my State of the County address on the urgency of climate change. Unfortunately, COVID-19 drove that issue to the back burner last year, but the urgency for action is even more acute.
While COVID-19 is not yet behind us, I am grateful to see that light at the end of the tunnel of our pandemic. Over 50 percent of Sonoma County residents over the age of 16 have received at least one vaccine dose, and Sonoma County has moved into the Orange Tier of the Governor’sreopening plan.
Action on climate change is driven by our County’s long history as a leader in bold climate action and, more recently, as an epicenter for extreme weather events, including our mega firestorms, exacerbated by climate change. The increasing frequency and severity of fires, floods, drought, and more in our county are no accident, and I, like many Sonoma County residents, have experienced the devastating impacts first-hand.
On Tuesday, April 6, I co-hosted a Climate Action and Resiliency Town Hall with Board Chair Lynda Hopkins and with our full Board of Supervisors in attendance. It was an inspiring, passion-igniting event that highlighted existing climate action in Sonoma County, forged connections between government agencies, community organizations, and our community, and served as a call-to-action for future work and engagement. The overarching question guiding the town hall: what should Sonoma County implement to become carbon neutral by 2030?
The evening’s panel, composed of representatives from 19 local government entities, community groups, and grassroots organizations, presented a crash course in bold climate actions large and small. Over 300 attendees joined the Town Hall via Zoom, with significantly more tuning in on Facebook and YouTube, in English and Spanish. Hundreds of community comments poured in – a highlight for me, replicating the sparks-flying, galvanizing energy of an in-person event. Residents well-versed in carbon sequestration, climate justice, and vegetation management co-mingled alongside others learning concepts for the first time in the Q&A, bouncing ideas off one another and adding comments of “Agreed!” and “Well said!”
Panelists highlighted a long history of climate activism in Sonoma County, a proud tradition in our community needed now more than ever. Paulina Lopez from the Sunrise Movement and Max Bell Alper of North Bay Jobs with Justice called on us to listen to and follow the expertise of indigenous leaders who have lived on this land for centuries. Representatives from county departments, including the Agricultural Preservation &Open Space District, Permit Sonoma, and Sonoma Water outlined policy decisions, both recent and stretching back decades, that demonstrate the long-standing commitments of Sonoma County voters to protecting the environment. Janina Turner from The Climate Center presented a call to action for the state of California to lead the country and the world in climate action once again.
Two topics emerged as common threads across many of our presenters and commenters: transportation and energy. Tanya Narath of the Regional Climate Protection Authority spoke on accelerating electric vehicle adoption and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, while Suzanne Smith, of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority discussed public transportation reimagined in a post-COVID world and updating plans for bicycles and pedestrians. Woody Hastings and Jenny Blaker of CONGAS (Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations) called for an end to fossil fuel infrastructure investments, highlighting the City of Petaluma’s recent ban on new gas station construction.Lastly, Geof Syphers from Sonoma Clean Power, echoed many in a call to kick the habit of driving on gasoline, while also showcasing efforts to shift to clean and renewable energy in our homes.
Still other presenters and commenters provided additional entry points for thinking about climate action: social justice, planning, housing, conservation, agriculture, water, recreation, individual consumption habits, and mindset shifts featured as topics across many presentations and commenters. We were reminded, from a community commenter, that the burdens of climate action cannot fall disproportionately on the poor. From Caitlin Cornwall of Sonoma Ecology Center, that the land is our security, our homes are our resilience, and our economy should adapt, too. From Trathen Heckman of Daily Acts, that we must treasure every drop of water. From everyone in attendance, that we need to respond to climate change like it’s an emergency.
There were so many wonderful comments and speakers, all of whom are doing such amazing work that I wish I could highlight in this short column.
For those I have not mentioned already, thank you to UC Cooperative Extension, Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District, Zero Waste Sonoma, Sonoma County Conservation Action, Sonoma County Climate Mobilization, Carbon Cycle Institute, and the Sierra Club for joining us. What was evident was that to make an impact, we cannot work in silos. There is not one solution, no silver bullet to address our climate crisis – we need every solution. Thankfully, spaces like the Town Hall allow us to forge bonds, and to be reminded of how many of these organizations are already working together.
With all this talk of urgency and bold action you may be thinking, what’s next? Join us at the Board of Supervisors meeting on May 11 for a Climate Workshop where County staff will be presenting takeaways from the Town Hall. The agenda will be posted in advance of the meeting here.
If you were unable to attend the Town Hall, you can view the recording, in English and Spanish, on the county’s YouTube page. You can also continue to submit comments in advance of the May 11 board meeting to [email protected]
I want to close by thanking all of the agencies and organizations that presented at the Town Hall, as well as all of the community members who took the time out of their evenings to participate. I will never cease to be amazed by the passion of Sonoma County residents. With our collective energy and drive, I know we can take huge strides, quickly, to achieve our goals and be carbon neutral by 2030.