San Jose makes progress on mayor's ambitious green vision
One year ago, Chuck Reed unveiled one of his boldest initiatives as San Jose mayor, a "green vision'' to turn the city into "the center of innovation in clean technology.''
Environmentalists praised him and politicians near and far took notice — most notably Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who dubbed Reed "the green mayor.'' He even earned the backing of some of his toughest critics at City Hall.
A year later, there are early signs of success. The city already can point to measurable progress in attracting "clean tech" jobs, promoting renewable energy and making buildings more efficient — including a new mandate for private developers that will be voted on Tuesday.
But there's still a long way to go, and it remains to be seen whether many of the 10 ambitious goals, such as powering the entire city with renewable energy, diverting all waste from the landfill and reusing all wastewater, can be achieved in the 15-year time frame that Reed mapped out.
"I think they're making some pretty aggressive efforts toward meeting the goals of the green vision," said David Marsland of the Sierra Club's Loma Prieta chapter. "Those are particularly ambitious goals, no doubt about that. I don't know if the goals are unreachable, but they're certainly working toward them."
Reed admits he's set a high bar, but he insists San Jose can rise to the challenge.
"We've got some pretty good progress in a year," Reed said. "They're tough goals, not impossible."
Notable progress toward the green vision over the past year includes:
Green vision is Reed's most popular initiative since taking office in 2007. And although Reed has clashed with council members over how to go about eliminating the city's chronic budget deficits, he has won unanimous backing on the environmental agenda.
Councilwoman Nora Campos, who has challenged Reed to devote more resources toward crime-fighting, lauded the mayor for efforts to ensure that his environmental initiatives reach out to include residents of modest means.
She noted his insistence earlier this year that solar power companies offer their systems to residents at no up-front cost. In June, five local solar companies announced they would do so by offering leases or purchase agreements that are paid for with the savings from consumers' monthly energy bills.
"Though I support the mayor's green vision, I have always been concerned that it would become an ideal that most of our hard-working residents cannot afford," Campos said. "I am pleased that the mayor has addressed many of the affordability issues that I have raised."
Yet it also could be argued that, in a state where environmentalism is popular, San Jose is in some ways running with the pack.
The green-building requirements for private development that the council is expected to approve Tuesday will surely put San Jose on the leading edge of environmental construction standards. But several other cities have already adopted similar policies this year, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Palo Alto.
Still, environmentalists say San Jose's ambitious pursuit of leading-edge environmental policy under Reed's leadership has laid a foundation for substantial progress.
Marsland noted that Reed was successful in winning support for the private-sector green building policy from key business groups, including housing developers and architects. Pat Dando, president of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, said Reed has taken business leaders' considerable concerns about new regulations into account in pursuing the green goals. She cited, for example, a phased implementation of the proposed green building policy.
"All the goals the mayor set out in the green vision plan are laudable; we all want to work toward them," Dando said. "This mayor is a business-friendly mayor and he understands the value of a healthy economy. I don't believe he'll do anything to cause more challenges for businesses today."
Celia Canfield, director of development for West Coast Green, which promotes environmentally sensitive building products and featured Reed at its convention in San Jose last month, said she's "not hearing any cynicism" among green activists about Reed's ability to deliver on his environmental goals.
"When you have somebody like a Chuck Reed who says 'I'll clear the roadblocks to make that happen,' " she said, "it can happen."