It was another tough year for California’s climate. Wildfires created their own weather patterns and destroyed nearly 2.6 million acres of forests in 2021. Droughts challenged water supplies and stressed our food system. And while the recent rash of winter rainstorms drenching the Bay Area is a welcome change, it’s a reminder of how precious water is in a drought-prone state.
There have been bright spots, too. Earlier this month, San Francisco released the latest version of its Climate Action Plan, laying out a strategy to meet its emissions-reductions goals, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions by over 60% by 2030 and becoming net-zero by 2040.
“San Francisco has a clear, data-backed roadmap to achieving net-zero carbon emissions,” said Joseph Sweiss, spokesperson for the Department of the Environment. “Next year and onward The City will begin to explore solutions to electrify existing buildings and increase electric vehicle charging accessibility for residents.”
As The City works to create a more climate-resilient and equitable place to live, The Examiner asked environmental leaders and local organizations what they hope San Francisco will accomplish in the year ahead.
Here’s what’s on their wish lists for The City – and the planet – in 2022:
Progress on climate change comes at a price, and many are pushing The City’s leadership for significant investment in climate-focused policies and priorities.
Vote for climate dollars: “Our major wish for the coming year is for the voters and the City of San Francisco to begin to provide significant funding, commensurate with the scale and urgency of the climate emergency,” said Elena Engel of 350 San Francisco. This would include money for charging stations, transit, electric vehicles and electrifying all buildings in San Francisco, she said.
Repurpose the surplus: With the recent announcement of the City’s budget surplus, Daniel Tahara of the San Francisco Climate Emergency Coalition wants to see San Francisco pass a revenue measure on the upcoming ballot to put millions towards decarbonization efforts and transitioning away from fossil fuels. “This would be money well-spent, helping us rebuild and train a workforce in the post-covid economy, and start to bring about immediate health and climate benefits from decarbonization,” he said.
As the City works to decarbonize its energy supply, many are asking for bold shifts away from fossil fuels.
Solar for All: Groups like Green Action, an environmental justice nonprofit, want to see solar panels on every rooftop.
Make the switch to EVs easy: Eddie Ahn, executive director of Brightline Defense, an environmental justice nonprofit, said he’d like to see The City increase its electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure so that EVs can become more accessible to low-income households and communities facing more transit isolation, particularly from the southeast to the westside of San Francisco.
Energize eco-education: Giving up gas stoves or combustion engines can be painful, but it’s important to make sure that people understand why substituting electricity and non-carbon-based fuels for everything that is currently fossil-fueled is critical for the future, said Engel of 350 San Francisco.
Transportation makes up for 45 percent of citywide emissions, making this sector a critical opportunity for decarbonizing San Francisco.
Rethink our streets: Tahara of the Climate Emergency Coalition wants to reimagine city streets as byways not just for cars, but also for people. He hopes The City will expand shared spaces, slow streets and transit lanes, invest in public transit and support non-automotive infrastructure. “We have control over how we use our streets,” he said. “There’s so much we can do, and we haven’t seriously started talking about the nexus between safer, more vibrant streets and climate.”
Create car-free corridors: Others like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition want to see certain corridors, including JFK Drive, transformed into permanently car-free zones in the year ahead. “This is a chance for our city to prioritize people of all ages biking, walking and rolling in such a treasured park space,” said Nesrine Majzoub, communications director of the coalition.
Centralize the subway: Mark Ballew, chair of the group Rescue Muni, has long advocated for the Central Subway, which will connect Chinatown and Union Square to SoMa and Mission Bay. Its opening, slated for 2022, will “make a big difference in the North/South access along the bay via the T,” said Ballew. The group would also like to see an expansion of transit lines into Northbeach and Fisherman’s Wharf as well as along the Geary corridor.
The Department of the Environment has said that racial and social justice is central to its latest Climate Action Plan. Now advocates want to see it act on that claim.
Clean up contaminants: A number of groups want the City to focus on the cleanup and removal of toxic waste along the San Francisco Bay shoreline, especially near underserved communities which already face undue burdens of climate change.
“We wish our government officials would conduct a complete cleanup and removal of all toxic and radioactive waste at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Superfund Site, Treasure Island, Zeneca Superfund Site and other contaminated sites, including along the San Francisco Bay shoreline where rising sea levels threaten to flood and spread the contamination into neighborhoods and the Bay,” said Bradley Angel of Green Action.
Janet Scoll Johnson of the Sunflower Alliance added that she would like to see state and local governments require risk bonds from facilities that will cover the cost of cleanup of polluted lands, so local governments aren’t stuck with cleanup costs when those facilities shut down.
Educate the next generation of climate leaders: Ahn, of Brightline Defense, would like to see more training for future San Francisco leaders to pursue environmental justice, particularly with local high school and college students interested in tackling the challenges of climate change.
Rising Seas are already lapping at San Francisco’s shorelines, and many groups want to see both restoration efforts and mitigation strategies kick into gear in the New Year.
Better Adaptation Plans: The Bay Planning Coalition said it would like to see an improved permitting process, particularly creating some regional standards to expedite the delivery of climate adaptation projects to buffer against sea level rise and protect against vulnerable infrastructure. It also supports the San Francisco Airport Shoreline Protection Program and the Port of San Francisco Sea Wall, said John Coleman, the Coalition’s Chief Executive Officer.
Act on restoration: David Lewis, Save The Bay’s Executive Director, said his organization wants to see Congress enact the San Francisco Bay Restoration Act to boost federal investment in restoring marshes and adapting the Bay to climate change. The legislation, introduced by Congresswoman Jackie Speier, would authorize $50 million per year for five years for restoration efforts and establish a San Francisco Bay Program Office within the Environmental Protection Agency.
In addition to restoring wetlands, marshes and habitats around the Bay Area, many want to see improvements in The City’s urban environment.
Plant more trees: “Our wish for 2022 is for San Francisco to invest in increasing our inadequate tree population,” said Ben Carlson, spokesperson for Friends of the Urban Forest, adding that trees can provide essential benefits such as cooling, clean air, stormwater management, human health, wildlife habitat – and capturing carbon.
“We rank near the bottom of major U.S. cities in the percentage of area covered by tree canopy, and this tree deficit is getting worse each year because the rate of tree planting is below the rate of normal tree death and removal,” said Carlson. “We’re ready to plant and we know where to plant, but we can’t grow our tree population without funding.”
Prevent plastic pollution: Lewis, of Save The Bay, said his organization would like to see voters approve the California Plastic Waste Reduction Initiative on the November 2022 ballot to reduce single-use plastic packaging. “Industry is producing more plastic packaging than ever, and recycling isn’t making a dent in plastic waste polluting our environment,” said Lewis.
Food access and quality are top of mind for many.
Running San Francisco farmers markets, the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) has seen the usage of CalFresh (SNAP/food stamps) nearly triple during the pandemic.
“Equitable access to nutritious food in San Francisco has been a problem well before the pandemic, and it isn’t going away,” said Brie Mazurek, communications director for CUESA. “We’d like to see the expansion of programs like CalFresh and Market Match beyond the pandemic. San Francisco should also expand programs like Vouchers 4 Veggies (EatSF), which provides low-income families with vouchers that can be used to shop for free fruits and vegetables directly at farmers’ markets,” she said.
Ted Fang, director of Florence Fang Community Farm, an urban farm in the Bayview neighborhood, agrees. “Our biggest wish for 2022 is that organizations feeding families in need like SF’s Food as Medicine Program, the SFM Food Bank, The SF Market’s food recovery program and all of San Francisco’s food-producing farms can grow and thrive to feed every neighborhood family. We wish that no San Franciscan would have to go without healthy fruits and vegetables,” he said.