Hot weather

Climate change is a problem that will take global action to solve, but its effects are already being felt here in Morgan Hill. Wildfires forced some residents to evacuate in 2020. Drought and water security continue to be hot topics for the town and Santa Clara County

If climate change is going to keep exacerbating these issues and others like them, it’s worth talking about how Morgan Hill is going to handle it. This newspaper spoke with the three candidates running for mayor this November to see how they would lead on climate. Here’s what they had to say.

Cities can ‘do their part’

Candidate and former City Council Member Larry Carr straightforwardly stated the need to address climate change “as a crisis.” He noted that while big action on climate may generally be state level, smaller towns can “do their part.” 

In an interview, Carr highlighted avenues that he would pursue to limit climate change and be ready for its impacts, concentrating on transportation as a significant opportunity for lowering emissions. He brought up his endorsement by the League of Conservation Voters and his experience on the Board of Directors for the Valley Transportation Authority as evidence of his commitment to doing so.

His view focuses on getting people “out of cars” by providing “better public transit in South County.” This would involve forming coalitions to get more buses moving people around town and to nearby areas, like San Jose. He also emphasized electrification: making sure that Caltrain electrification extends through Morgan Hill and transitioning the city’s fleet of vehicles from gas-powered to electric. 

On dealing with the effects of climate change, Carr noted that Morgan Hill residents are already doing a good job at conserving water—but, he remarked, we “can’t conserve past zero.” He talked about plans to build a water reclamation plant and to focus on water recycling as the next move past conservation. 

To address wildfires, Carr said he would aim to build another fire station equipped with evacuation measures to help the town in case of any future encroaching wildfires. 

Carr concluded with a plan to “advocate to fund” the implementation of the city’s new Climate Action Plan (CAP) and move toward establishing more community efforts to reach climate goals, noting the success of Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE) and his role as a past council member who voted to form the agency.

Climate in ‘emergency’

Incumbent Mayor Rich Constantine made clear where he stands on climate: “It is an emergency.” He claimed that environmental issues are something that he has “always been focused on and will continue to focus on,” citing his past council actions of initiating the bans on plastic bags in grocery stores and Styrofoam containers in restaurants. 

When it comes to preventing further climate change, Constantine noted steps that the city has taken under his watch, such as making new, residential construction gas-free and incentivizing the use of clean energy as was done with the citywide opt-in to SVCE. However, when the ordinance to go gas-free came up for a council vote, Constantine was the only one to vote against it, citing price concerns. 

In our interview, he noted that his future mitigation strategy includes further, CAP-aligned electrification efforts which would target the two largest sources of emissions: homes and vehicles. This would involve working with organizations like PG&E and Valley Water to help incentivize citizen adoption of electric appliances and “purchasing more electric vehicles as they become available to us.” 

On dealing with the climate impacts, Constantine’s plan focuses largely on a characteristically Californian issue: water. “We are not, as a county, taking the steps necessary to mitigate the effects of the drought,” he said, noting that, as a member of the Valley Water Commission, he has advocated for a greater focus on recycled water since California’s last drought. His plans include piping recycled water into town from the South County Regional Wastewater Authority plant, using recycled water for construction-related dust mitigation and making it easier to access recycled water.

On the issue of wildfires, Constantine spoke from his experience as a retired firefighter, commenting, “You (used to) talk about fire season being maybe three months, but now it’s fire year!” His solution aims at making Morgan Hill homes and areas fire-safe in addition to making sure “we have enough men and women to fight the fire, be on the line.” 

‘Reasonable and responsible’ 

Candidate and Gilroy Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Mark Turner took a moderate tone on climate, saying it is something we should address “on a regular basis and like most everything else, we should take a reasonable and responsible approach.” He emphasized that any spending on one thing means less on another and that he is “unapologetically in favor of public safety being our number one priority.”

Turner offered a simple mitigation plan: focus on the existing CAP and explore “ways of enhancing the plan by increasing the city’s urban forest, installing bioswales [and] hydroponic farming.” 

He presented a more developed strategy for adaptation, highlighting the climate impacts of water security and drought. With extended periods of drought becoming more frequent, Turner wants to work with “Valley Water, San Jose and Gilroy to develop a water recycling program for Morgan Hill.” He also hopes to expedite work on Anderson Dam to avoid “unreasonable delays due to regulatory agencies.”

Turner concluded his mayoral vision with a CAP-related addition. He would move to create a “Climate Action Plan Committee which would include concerned citizens” to work with the council in implementation of the plan.

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