Our recovery from the pandemic must also be a response to the climate emergency
By Adelita Serena
You may have seen an internet meme that began as a March 2020 Graeme MacKay editorial cartoon. In one version, a “COVID” tsunami threatens a coastal city; behind it comes a larger “Recession” tsunami; behind it a “Climate Change” tsunami; and finally behind it a “Biodiversity Collapse” tsunami.
Despite Yolo County’s inland location, we need to take seriously the message of this cartoon — that our recovery from the pandemic must also be a response to the climate emergency. It must also address deeply entrenched economic and social inequities causing these crises to strike some communities and demographics much harder than others.
One immediate way to do this is to use our American Rescue Plan funding to develop narratives, programs, and projects that do all three: repair damage from COVID-19, fight climate change, and follow the leadership of frontline and long-disadvantaged communities for whom these efforts have the highest stakes. We can call our approach to these problems “The Yolo Way,” by which we signal our local recognition of what Martin Luther King called “an inescapable network of mutuality” and our commitment to making that network more healthy, just, fair and sustainable.
The American Rescue Plan authorizes the expenditure of $1.9 trillion in COVID-19 support to individuals and families, businesses, public health providers, and state, local, and tribal governments. The Yolo County will likely receive $42.7 million, its four incorporated cities $40.9 million, and its public schools $41.1 million. There is additional categorical funding for transportation agencies, capital projects and disaster assistance. Half the funds will be available immediately; the other half in 2022; all funds are required to be spent by 2024.
The timeline for the county to create its plan is short, with approval by the Board of Supervisors as soon as July. Community workshops are not scheduled until June, after internal and cross-agency consultations. Those who have been most affected by the pandemic and by manifestations of climate change, such as wildfires and extreme weather events, must speak up now and make known our priorities for healthier people and a healthier environment.
* People-friendly and climate-friendly transportation. Public transportation took a significant hit in the pandemic, as people stopped riding due to the lockdown. The county should partner with the cities to create a substantially enlarged and improved bicycle infrastructure.
Many parts of the county need major safety and connectivity upgrades. Safe bike lockers are needed in apartment complexes, workplaces, commercial developments and schools. Bike-share systems, especially ones offering electric bicycles, are sorely needed.
Complementing a robust countywide bike infrastructure should be abundant electric buses, including school buses, with benefits for health, safety and the climate.
* Neighborhood-serving community gardens. Problems with food insecurity pre-existed the COVID-19 pandemic, as households — including families with kids, college students, and seniors on fixed incomes — were encountering increases in regular expenses, most notably in the cost of housing, while incomes were not keeping pace. Then as people lost jobs and income in the pandemic, food insecurity grew, as did lines at food banks.
A network of community gardens serving city neighborhoods and small towns would provide less-advantaged households with greater food sovereignty and security. In addition to people raising food for themselves and neighbors, they could also be the basis for community tianguis, or open-air markets, where food could be sold, food-related classes could be held, and small food businesses could be established.
Yolo County, as well as its incorporated cities, could help acquire land, water and equipment for these endeavors, and hire staff to launch this program.
* Resilience hubs. Community centers traditionally offer a variety of services to local residents, designed with awareness of local cultures and languages. A resilience hub adds to this mix of programs those resources that will help neighborhoods cope successfully with the impacts of climate change.
These might include classes on how to weatherize and de-carbonize your home; nurses on site to do health checks when the air is smoky from wildfires or the temperatures become threateningly high; and consultants who can help you solve problems with your bike, your digital technology, or your garden. Resilience hubs would also become shelters during emergencies when people had to leave their homes.
Yolo County needs to create a network of resilience hubs across the unincorporated county and to coordinate with cities doing the same. In addition to suitable programming, resilience hubs also need supplies and equipment for disaster preparedness. Photovoltaic panels and a battery storage system could allow them to function off the grid for several days. The American Rescue Plan could fund a model resilience hub as a demonstration project.
* Climate-friendly landscapes. Local governments, including the county, should cooperate to review the landscaping of all their properties to identify opportunities to increase carbon-sequestering capacity, in vegetation and in soil.
Landscapes should be transitioned to native species suited to withstand hot, dry summer conditions. Collaborating with landscape maintenance workers, practices that do not require gas-powered equipment or fossil-fuel derived chemicals could be developed on these local public lands. Patwin native plant experts should be hired to participate in landscape transformation projects and related educational programming. Potential benefits include new jobs and the healthy air, water, and soil called for in the county’s strategic and sustainability plans, as well as desirable in recovery from the COVID pandemic.
Please support these ideas by contacting your Yolo County supervisors, city council representatives, school board members, and other agencies receiving funds from the American Rescue Act. Also contact non-profit organizations and businesses who are likely to be interested in your ideas and who can join you in advocating for them.
— Adelita Serena serves on the Woodland Sustainability Advisory Commission. She is the Climate Action Organizer for the Mothers Out Front Capital Region team and a member of the Yolo Climate Emergency Coalition.