How is Santa Cruz doing on climate action?

Ten years ago, the City of Santa Cruz initiated the first greenhouse gas reduction program on the Central Coast. The City Climate Action Plan outlined how city staff could partner with the community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from city functions, local businesses and those that live here.

Recently Tiffany Wise-West, the city sustainability coordinator reported success and outlined what we have left to do to reach our goal to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent. The Climate Plan defines 13 climate goals from which success can be evaluated. Let’s see how we are doing on some of them:

Reduce energy use in municipal buildings by 40 percent: So far, the city has reduced municipal energy use by 14 percent while simultaneously increasing their level of service to the community.

Increase solar to 5,000 homes, 500 businesses and supply 33 percent of city electricity: Currently, Santa Cruz has more than 2,500 solar homes, 72 commercial buildings and the city generates 28 percent of its electricity from renewable energy.

Provide bike and pedestrian access on the rail trail now and support rail service in the future: Funding is in place to construct 92 percent of the bike and pedestrian pathway within the city of Santa Cruz. Ground breaking on the first segment is scheduled for August.

Increase local commutes by bike to 12 percent of workers: Currently 10 percent of the local workforce gets to work by bike.

Switch 20 percent of cars to low carbon alternatives: City residents have purchased 850 electric vehicles and more than 5,000 hybrids (totaling 8.5 percent of Santa Cruz vehicles).

Support 200 Green Businesses within the city: There currently are 163 certified Green Businesses in Santa Cruz.

Reduce single occupancy commutes by 10 percent: Single occupancy commutes are at a record low of 57 percent, down 8.5 percent since 2008.

And most importantly, the primary city and state climate goal is to reduce carbon emissions 30 percent by 2020. Depending on how you calculate the numbers, the city is close or has achieved this goal and is working toward our 2050 goal of reducing carbon emissions 80 percent needed to stabilize climate changes.

These data demonstrate success is possible if communities set aggressive goals and encourage staff and the public to take action. Documenting what worked and where setbacks and challenges arose helps expand success.

Many of the goals need time to implement. Bike commute ridership is up and is likely to increase further now that the electric bike rental program is in place and the rail trail bike path will soon provide new commute options. Electric vehicle tax credits have been continued and the number of electric car models is greater than ever. Climate benefits of the newly established Monterey Bay Community Power district have not yet been considered.

But more is possible and more must be done (especially since the federal government continues to undermine climate efforts). More residents and businesses need to do calculate how solar can save them money. We need to understand how communities like Sonoma and Marin have determined that rail is a good way to ease highway congestion and deliver a more sustainable multi-pronged commute system. We need to work with Monterey Bay Community Power to incentivize local renewable energy projects that support the green economy. We need to commit that our next vehicle will be an EV. We need to contact our city council and encourage continued climate action.

While our million small actions may seem insignificant compared with the global challenge before us, Santa Cruz has punched the numbers and documented we are making real climate progress.

Ross Clark is the director of the Central Coast Wetlands Group at Moss Landing Marine Labs. He’s also a member of the county Commission on the Environment and the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Research Activity Panel. Contact him at


How is Santa Cruz doing on climate action?, by Ross Clark, Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 7, 2018.

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