Dear San Jose Mayor Mahan,
Congratulations on your inauguration! I appreciate your promise to deliver results—like your dad delivered the mail. In your back-to-basics speech, you urged focus on three priorities: homelessness, blight, and crime.
While these issues rightly deserve attention, I was struck by a troubling omission. You never mentioned climate. Yet over the past decade, San José has endured climate impacts that directly harmed residents’ health, safety and economic security.
The 2017 Coyote Creek flood forced 14,000 residents to evacuate, causing $100,000,000 in damages. Dangerous air quality from the 2018 Camp Fire made it unsafe to venture outside for days on end. The 2020 SCU fire turned the sky eerily orange and forced evacuations from our foothills. In 2021, Santa Clara County declared a local drought emergency. In 2022, record-breaking heat led PG&E to issue Flex Alerts 10 days in a row. As 2023 began, nine atmospheric rivers in 20 days caused widespread power outages and school closures.
This list is sure to grow. 39% of San José’s buildings are at risk of wildfire—41% at risk of flooding, depending on location. Our lower-income Eastside neighborhoods disproportionately endure the urban heat island effect.
Therefore, I ask you to publicly affirm the ongoing climate emergency declared by the City Council in 2019, and name climate justice a top priority.
Doing this will be responsive to the near-supermajority (64%) of Santa Clara County residents who want local officials to do more on climate. You’ll be supported by tens of thousands of local members of groups like 350 Silicon Valley, Acterra, Citizens Climate Lobby, Climate Reality Project, Green Foothills, ICAN, Mothers Out Front, Our City Forest, Sierra Club, Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action, Sunrise Silicon Valley and Veggielution.
With only seven years to course correct, San José needs you—and the world needs the Capital of Silicon Valley—to lead on climate. Your predecessor, Sam Liccardo, championed key climate initiatives: San José Clean Energy, Climate Smart San José, Coyote Valley preservation, building electrification, EV charging and bike lanes. What will your legacy be?
As a businessman, you know the climate crisis provides opportunities for local businesses to deploy sustainable solutions and for our workforce to secure green, family-supporting jobs.
As a father, you know your children’s future is at stake. What will you say when they ask one day, “Dad, what did you do to protect the climate while there was still time?”
I hope you’ll tell them that, as mayor of the nation’s tenth largest city, you did everything in your power to address the climate crisis by supporting staff and Council to:
- set actionable goals for equitably achieving carbon neutrality by 2030,
- include climate metrics on your Dashboard of Results, requiring a yearly inventory of citywide GHG emissions,
- increase funding for climate mitigation, resilience and green workforce development,
- close the loophole allowing new facilities to install gas-powered fuel cells producing quadruple the carbon emissions of PG&E,
- require all new apartments and condos to get directly-wired EV charging,
- incentivize residents to replace health-harming gas appliances with clean electric ones,
- increase tree canopy and protect open spaces.
We don’t have the luxury of focusing on just three priorities. The climate can’t wait. As Henry David Thoreau observed: “What’s the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?“
Mayor Mahan, please deliver climate justice as reliably as your dad delivered the mail. The preschoolers who pledged allegiance at your inauguration need a mayor who focuses not only on making their neighborhoods safe today, but also their climate safe tomorrow.
Linda Hutchins-Knowles, San José resident, is the co-founder of Mothers Out Front Silicon Valley. She invites readers who also want Mayor Mahan to make climate justice a priority to sign this letter.