Mayor Laments Climate Change as San Jose Withers

Timothy L. Coyle
Consultant specializing in housing issues

“Calling all California residents!  Get ready to shut off your kitchen stove.  Then, turn off with your water heater. Done? Now, shut down your central heater.   All right then, go put on a jacket, sit down and keep quiet for awhile.”

That’s the message coming from the mayor of the City of San Jose, Sam Liccardo (the Mayor).  Not since President Jimmy Carter advised Americans they needed to turn down their thermostats and to begin to wear sweaters around (their much cooler) homes has there been such a strong signal coming from government about an energy crisis that would affect our quality of life.

For the record, this is the Mayor’s first real foray into the politics of global warming.  He has no environmental background and, but for his recent opinion piece in the CALmatters statewide publication, he has been relatively quiet on climate change – or anything else, for that matter.

Yet, now the Mayor, 48, wants all Californians to stop using natural gas to heat their homes and cook their food.  The Mayor says indoor gas appliances “emit more greenhouse gases (GHG) than all of California’s power plants combined” even though the experts on GHG – the California Air Resources Board (CARB) – attributes only 12 percent of emissions to residential and commercial activity, roughly half of what industrial facilities produce.

Built on this and other research, the Mayor says he has designed “a path” to accomplish zero emissions in the construction of all new San Jose buildings.  For existing structures, he has the idea of discouraging tenants – however lucky to have an affordable place to live in Silicon Valley they may be – from renting apartments based on the carbon emissions coming from their buildings.  

The Mayor’s idea is to shame existing property owners into pitching their existing gas appliances and replacing them with tankless water heaters and electric-induction stoves as part of comprehensive “energy-efficient retrofits”.  All because their residents are demanding it, right? Sure, until they find out the cost of retrofitting or the premium one pays for using electric over gas appliances.

But, what’s particularly ironic is that while the Mayor of San Jose is advocating about what should go into California rental housing he has one of the worst records for producing the amounts of it for which he is responsible.  In fact, San Jose’s vacancy rate is, according to a report by Lending Tree, the lowest in the state.  Indeed, not only does the wider Silicon Valley boast just a four percent vacancy rate, rents for a single-bedroom unit in the area averaged over $2,500.

As for the region boosting its housing inventory – and easing upwards pressure on rents – don’t count on it happening anytime soon. The City of San Jose, for example, is far behind the Mayor’s pledge to build a sufficient number of units and the region is home to some of the highest housing costs in the country.

So, what’s with the Mayor advocating for putting more stress on an already, inordinately-sapped housing market?   If you worry that he is stepping up to a higher public platform – to improve his political profile – you’re probably pretty perceptive.  If you’re suspicious that he’s just running from accountability on the region’s most pressing problem, your suspicions are well-placed – he’s had plenty of time to get it right.  But, if you are troubled by the possibility that the Mayor is being swept up by the current climate-change frenzy, your alarm is well-founded.

It’s true:  climate-change politics are consuming almost every public policy.  They’re washing over lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to the point where they actually frighten some.  They are finding their way into proposed legislation and bureaucratic decision-making. Those politics are actively shaping the platforms of many candidates for president.  And, they are getting dangerously close to establishing themselves as accepted, guiding dogma like that which has been inserted by left-leaning activists into documents like the “Green New Deal” to legitimize harsher, well-disguised Marxist precepts.  

For sure, the Mayor isn’t the first to advocate silly fixes in the name of climate change and he won’t be the last.  But, his current behavior is bordering on criminal. Why? Because his principle duties lie with fixing San Jose and right now the City’s number-one concern is the inadequate supply of affordable housing – and he’s doing nothing about it.  There is little dispute about that. So, the question is how does the Mayor’s current charade help solve that problem? To not be able to answer that question in the affirmative is criminal.

Mayor Liccardo, your real constituents – the citizens of San Jose – are asking you that question.

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