Author: Oscar Balaguer
Originally published as an Opinion Article in The Sacramento Bee on December 3, 2023
Some anniversaries are joyful, some not. Twelve years ago, Sacramento County’s Board of Supervisors promised to adopt a climate action plan (CAP) “within a year” and take other steps to fight climate change. It was a binding legal promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Back on November 9, 2011, climate change seemed a distant threat. But now, in 2023, the last nine years have been the hottest in human history — last July was the hottest month ever, extreme weather devastation now occurs regularly and we haven’t yet turned the corner on greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, Sacramento County still has not yet adopted a CAP or fulfilled most of its other climate promises.
City and county CAPs are important because the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions are passenger cars and building energy, and both are best controlled by local plans and permits.
It’s fair to say that when it comes to climate action in Sacramento County, there has been a lot of foot-dragging. The county seems to have made no effort to meet its “one year” CAP adoption promise. Not until May 2017 did staff even schedule a board workshop on the CAP, and although it was then already five years overdue, supervisors — including current Supervisors Phil Serna, Patrick Kennedy and Sue Frost — did not direct staff to proceed. The CAP languished, supposedly awaiting the outcome of a CAP-related lawsuit in San Diego (though environmentalists have pointed out that other jurisdictions in the region were successfully drafting and adopting their own CAPs around the same time).
In January 2020, environmentalists posited possible legal action. That April, supervisors finally directed staff to initiate the CAP. The county circulated five draft CAPs, all criticized by the public as only aspirational and not meeting legal requirements. At a contentious September 27, 2022 hearing, supervisors declined to adopt the final draft CAP, directed certain changes and postponed consideration to the December 6, 2022 meeting. However, in December the item was deferred without explanation.
No further action on the CAP has since been publicly scheduled.
But wait! Could there be a happy ending to this dismal story? After multiple requests, 350 Sacramento (the group I work with) obtained a copy of the county’s revised CAP work plan. To our pleased surprise, it appears to address several previous concerns, including the preparation of an environmental impact report.
How great that citizen advocacy has improved the CAP!
Yet, while 12 years were squandered, the county has approved numerous developments without the benefit of a climate plan, including massive projects outside the county’s own adopted urban growth boundary; and more such projects are pending. Already-approved home construction far exceeds county growth projections, so there’s no question of inhibiting needed housing.
The county’s work plan is silent on important matters, including consulting other agencies, defining credible alternatives and the CAP’s relationship to the county’s pending general plan update. There will be only one public review of the draft CAP, scheduled for the spring of 2024. If its measures are not feasible, effective and enforceable or its alternatives are artificially narrow, the public should demand more.
Oscar Balaguer is the CAP Team Chair at 350 Sacramento, a grassroots, climate justice organization focused on collective action to create a safe global climate.
*** Please visit The Sacramento Bee for the original article. ***
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