San Jose’s mayoral candidates might agree on the urgent need to address climate change, but they have different ideas of how to tackle the challenge.
San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan and Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who are both vying to replace outgoing Mayor Sam Liccardo, have debated on a number of issues including homelessness, affordable housing, public safety and police. But when it come to an environmental stance, they have been silent. Neither candidate has published a plan on their campaign websites.
Addressing climate change is a pressing issue for residents—especially the younger generation—of San Jose. Facing threats of exacerbated weather conditions and natural disasters, San Jose declared a climate emergency in 2019. Last year, the heart of Silicon Valley became the largest city in the United States to set a carbon neutral goal for 2030.
Hoi Yung Poon, an environmental advocate of more than 25 years, said San Jose’s goal is doable but requires aggressive strategies from its leaders. The new mayor would play a critical role in getting the city to its goal, she added.
“Addressing climate change is the most existential and pressing issue we face, because it impacts everything around us, from our historic drought that triggers wildfires and air pollution, that then affects our natural resources and health,” Poon told San José Spotlight, adding Santa Clara County is behind compared to neighboring counties like San Francisco. “(The carbon neutral goal) is a good start, but San Jose still needs to do more in terms of planning, stakeholder engagement and implementation to reach this goal.”
Chavez, who championed a number of initiatives including addressing lead pollution near Reid-Hillview Airport and protecting Coyote Valley, said protecting the environment and natural resources are among her top priorities.
Mahan, who helped campaign for local environmental measures to protect the San Francisco Bay and improve neighborhood streets before his time on the San Jose City Council, said he’s a lifelong supporter of public transportation. He relied on buses and trains during high school, college and his private sector career.
Building around transit
Both candidates said they will prioritize building around public transportation, but their approaches differ.
Mahan wants to focus on building denser in downtown and urban villages, which are locations that can accommodate future growth in jobs and housing. San Jose has identified 60 locations as urban villages in its Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan, with more than a dozen already approved.
“We need to push for a better and more streamlined urban village process and remove unnecessary regulatory and fee barriers to help us ensure dense apartments, townhomes and condos are built where future growth will translate into walking, biking and transit use,” Mahan told San José Spotlight, noting three out of four car trips in San Jose are made by a solo driver traveling a distance less than a mile.
Chavez said her plan is specific to building around VTA bus and train stations. As a VTA board member, Chavez led the effort to require 30% of any residential development on VTA land near transit stations to be affordable housing. In June agency officials voted to dedicate the minimum affordable housing ratio to 25% on all its projects. VTA sees the strategy—leasing surplus land near light rail stations—as a way to address Santa Clara County’s housing shortage and the public transit agency’s own financial problems. VTA has 25 potential development sites, with 11 residential projects already underway.
“As mayor, I will continue to prioritize these policies to ensure our residents have public transit access that gets them where they need and want to go,” Chavez told San José Spotlight.
Phasing out gas-powered vehicles
As a board member of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Chavez said she helped secure funding to help low-income residents trade in gas-powered vehicles for electric cars or bikes and public transit passes.
“I will work to supplement and accelerate the governor’s recent announcement to end the sale of gas-only cars by 2035,” Chavez said. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week California will ban the sale of all new gas cars in the next 13 years to push the transition to an electric future.
To get gas-fueled cars off the road, Mahan wants to expand the VTA rapid bus line to connect corridors such as Highway 85, El Camino Real and Monterey Road, and expand a bike network through San Jose’s Better Bike Plan. He also vows to propose and support policies that would encourage electric vehicle use, such as more charging stations and tax incentives for ditching gas-powered vehicles.
“San Jose’s future in most parts of the city is one where residents live in and are connected to dense communities connected by alternative modes of transportation,” Mahan said. San Jose approved an action plan in April to invest in new transportation technologies that range from bike share programs to autonomous delivery vehicles.
Reducing fossil fuel use
To reduce fossil fuel use, Mahan wants the city-owned grid to start using all renewable energy and investing in solutions such as lithium-ion batteries, pumped hydro, compressed gas and kinetic energy storage systems.
“We can help spur this innovation and scale up these solutions through the power and storage purchasing agreements we sign, and I will be a champion for investing in innovation,” he said.
Chavez touted her track record in advocating for an all-electric building policy, and approving the installation of 15 solar systems and four storage systems, among other initiatives.
“As mayor I will focus on the source of the city’s energy and the reduction of power outages,” she said, but didn’t provide much details on her plan.
To meet its carbon neutral goal, San Jose has already required solar readiness in non-residential buildings, electric vehicle charging stations at residential buildings and hotels and all-electric energy in new commercial buildings. San José Spotlight previously reported how Bloom Energy executive Carl Guardino carved out an exemption in the city’s landmark gas ban benefitting his company. Guardino is a supporter of Chavez.
Addressing water issues
San Jose is facing intense drought, and both candidates hope to address the issue through service expansion.
Chavez plans to work with Valley Water to prepare residents for drought and protect aquifers. She also wants to expand San Jose Municipal Water and the Silicon Valley Advanced Purification Center to create more clean water.
“The current drought is a wakeup call for this community,” Chavez said.
Mahan said he has been working with city officials on how the city manages the waste stream and secures water supply. He wants to see more investment in water recycling and purification technologies—a measure that could make the November 2024 ballot.
“I’ve also used my office to promote water-saving devices, such as low-flow shower heads, and promote conservation programs such as Valley Water’s lawn replacement rebates,” Mahan said.
The election is Nov. 8.