San Jose is one of the nation’s greenest cities
Trees in West San Jose. Photo courtesy of San Jose.

San Jose places in the top 10 overall “greenest” cities in the country.

The city ranked sixth out of the 100 most populous cities in the country based on a combination of four factors — environment, transportation, energy sources, and lifestyle and policy — according to a new ranking from personal finance outlet WalletHub.  San Diego clinched the top spot, with three other Bay Area cities—San Francisco, Oakland and Fremont—coming in seventh, eighth and ninth respectively. Five of the top 10 cities were in California.

While San Jose has worked on increasing its clean energy sources and green space preservation, environmental activists believe the city could still score higher if it invested more in environmental initiatives.

Many of the city’s climate plans have been organized and enacted through partnerships with the greater San Jose community, said Environmental Services Department Deputy Director Julie Benabente, who spearheads action on the city’s Climate Smart plans. She said the city is helping facilitate environmentally conscious changes, but combating climate change is a larger community effort that requires collaboration across multiple departments.

“It’s an important role we have to be leaders in the U.S. and in the world really, to reduce our emissions,” Benabente told San José Spotlight. “We take that very seriously.”

Green Foothills Executive Director Julie Hutcheson said San Jose has had several environmentally friendly achievements recently, highlighting the city’s decision to limit development in Coyote Valley as a major accomplishment. But she added there are a lot more areas where the city could improve.

“We’d like to see San Jose, and all our local cities, invest in more urban green spaces, parks and trees to help protect people from extreme heat as the climate heats up, especially in historically marginalized neighborhoods that suffer the greatest impacts,” Hutcheson told San José Spotlight.

Of the four subcategories, one of San Jose’s lower rankings was in transportation, which was still relatively high at 16. Transit activist and San José Spotlight columnist Monica Mallon said it was impressive that the city ranked so high because of its wide geographic area. More investment in public transportation could increase the city’s transit friendliness, she said, pointing toward how VTA ridership is only 10% away from reaching pre-pandemic levels.

“People here really do want to take transit and it’s on us to move forward and invest in transit,” Mallon told San José Spotlight.

The city’s lowest subcategory ranking was in the lifestyle and policy, which has a heavy focus on gardening and urban access to organic food. Benabente said this was not a priority in the city’s climate plans, which mostly aim to decrease carbon emissions.

On the other end of the spectrum, San Jose leads in energy sources, which includes how much of the city runs on renewable energy, how many solar cells are in the city and the city’s energy-conscious policies.

San Jose has a variety of programs to help encourage residents and contractors to use energy-conscious appliances and methods in their homes, Benabente told San José Spotlight, adding that large buildings are one of the city’s main targets to decrease emissions. Many of the programs incentivizing the transition from gas to electric are expensive to run, she said. The city received a $6 million grant last year to help future efforts.

“It’s a pivot (not just) for residents but even for some of our contractors,” Benabente said. “(The transition) is necessary in order to meet climate goals.”

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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