By Meghan Pletsch and Nadine Hammer
Community building is a major requisite to climate action. One person can not fight the climate crisis by themselves, it requires involvement from millions of people with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds. This is why it’s so crucial to support city-wide education about climate change. Moreover, the community should be meaningfully represented in city-wide decision-making processes that affect the climate. Collective leadership and participation enable the city to understand the wants and needs of the community it serves.
On Monday April 25, Sustainable Walnut Creek (SWC) was invited to meet with city council member Cindy Darling to share our thoughts on how to protect Walnut Creek from the dangers of climate change. Besides discussing Walnut Creek’s Sustainability Action Plan (SAP), which is way behind schedule, we talked about the recent community outreach survey that was sent to all Walnut Creek residents.
One of our main concerns about the survey was that it did not list sustainability or climate action as one of the City of Walnut Creek’s priorities. The priorities listed on the survey include Public Safety, Homelessness, Keeping (recreational spaces), Maintaining (public services), Improving (disaster preparedness), COVID-19 Recovery, and City Infrastructure Updates.
One of our suggestions for the survey was that sustainability not only be listed as an additional priority but is integrated into every priority of the city. This highlights the intersectionality of sustainability with other city services and fosters a climate where sustainability is a central priority in the future of city planning. How can we make sure sustainability is an integral part of our policy action in Walnut Creek moving forward? Council member Darling maintains that sustainability is currently listed as one of the City Council’s priorities although it was not listed on the survey. Some of the other topics we discussed at the meeting include the Housing Element, the use of single-use plastics in restaurants, city-wide reach code adoption, and the Seven Hills Ranch development.
In a follow-up meeting on April 28 with two city planners from the City of Walnut Creek and a number of other community leaders from local environmental action groups we learned that the SAP is set to come out towards the end of this summer. The SAP is a crucial next step for the City’s commitment to climate action, but the process is moving slowly. One reason the SAP has been delayed is due to staffing issues in the City. Although the main goals have already been outlined, the city planners invited SWC to continue to give recommendations for the SAP in the upcoming months.
We conclude that community engagement needs to be increased in order to achieve long-term and sustainable outcomes in all of these other mentioned areas. And, as also Cindy agreed…”we need more than just barbecues…” to change policies, programs and practices. The city and local environmental organizations play an important role in this. How might we increase participation, awareness, education, and better draw on local knowledge from diverse groups? This requires letting go of some of the traditional reins of power and trusting that we as Walnut Creek citizens can be a task force in addition to engaged consultants and will and can effectively engage in the issues. The result is a partnership that is nearly always healthy for a community and can more effectively address issues or problems. Definitely something we’d like to see more as we prepare for the upcoming Sustainability Week in October this year. Please reach out to us if you want to get involved in our efforts.