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City of San Carlos – Involving the Public in Climate Change Action

Case Story

Climate Action Connection:Civic Engagement

San Carlos is a charter member of the Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Climate Protection Initiative, working with all forty-two cities and counties in Silicon Valley to create Greenhouse Gas Inventories, Climate Action Plans and a purchasing pool to make clean energy more affordable in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Community:San Carlos (San Mateo County)

Population: 28,221


San Carlos offers a number of ways community members can participate in the city’s efforts to address climate change. A subcommittee of the Citizens General Plan Advisory Committee is participating in the development of a climate action plan that will be integrated with the city’s General Plan update. Two community forums involved diverse community members in the planning processes and engaged them in dialogue and choice exercises to prioritize potential climate change actions.

Program Highlights

  • Over two hundred youth and adults participated in two community workshops to assist creating a 28-point climate action plan for the city.
  • Climate action items are prioritized to identify those that have the most potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the least impact on the city’s general fund.
  • Residents concerned about climate change and the environment established a community task force, San Carlos Green, to collaborate with the city on green actions.
  • The San Carlos Chamber of Commerce created a green business task force to promote green business practices in the monthly Chamber newsletter.

Lessons Learned

  • Use different techniques to get the word out (email, web site, posters, newsletters) and involve different types of groups; have evening meetings where possible to maximize participation
  • Community participation is important in addressing climate change since city operations only generate 1-3 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Just because something happens in the city, doesn’t mean the city has to be in the lead. Observed one city official, “If other people are willing to be in front of the parade, let’s let them do it.”

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…

The original goals of San Carlos’ efforts to develop a city green program were to include different sectors of the community, educate the public about climate change including how residents could reduce their collective carbon footprint, and ensure that all of the relevant stakeholders were involved in discussions about how to achieve the city’s goals to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

City Involves the Community to Develop Climate Action Plan

To support the city’s efforts, a group of interested residents formed a nonprofit task force called San Carlos Green. City staff asked them to reach out to the community at-large to educate and involve more people. The city also asked the local Chamber of Commerce to create a green business task force and to include a green column in its newsletter that is sent to eight hundred local businesses. The city collaborates with a variety of other local and regional groups and organizations to supplement limited city resources and to obtain expert assistance.

San Carlos calculated its community-wide carbon footprint and developed a 28-point climate action plan. The plan was developed with community participation, including input from over two hundred youth and adults who attended two community forums. Consultants facilitated small group discussions at the forums, as well as sticker voting exercises to enable participants to thoughtfully prioritize climate action items and to identify new items. A key consideration in evaluating the options was the potential financial impact on the city’s budget. At a time when city budgets are being cut, it was important to be realistic and prioritize items that have the greatest potential impact on reducing carbon emissions with the least impact on the city’s budget.

Working with the Business Community

The city’s efforts to work with the business community have also been successful. By leveraging collaborative relationships, twenty local businesses are enrolled in San Mateo County’s Green Business Certification program (part of the Association of Bay Area Government’s Bay Area Green Business Certification Program), more than any other city in the county. The city suggests to local business owners that although the program may cost money initially, in the log run it will save more money and may give them a visible competitive edge. The San Carlos Chamber of Commerce recently teamed up with Sustainable San Mateo County to create a local green business tradeshow at the local library which has since been repeated in several neighboring cities.

Compiled May 2009

This case story was prepared in partnership with the California Air Resources Board.

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