City Council should invest in climate mitigation as San Antonio endures its hottest summer ever

Given the choice, our family does not want the modest 13.5% rebate on our July CPS Energy bill proposed by San Antonio City Manager Erik Walsh as residents struggle through San Antonio’s record hot summer.

The city’s proposed use of part of a windfall of $75 million from CPS Energy to fund a rebate would benefit those of us who do not need it at the same time it would provide only short-term relief to those in real need.

Rising energy bills driven by increased usage and spiking natural gas prices have allowed CPS Energy to deliver this windfall to the city. To their credit, at least some council members want to find more lasting ways to mitigate the brutal reality of this unprecedented heat wave on the most vulnerable citizens.

It’s been nearly three years since San Antonio City Council adopted SA Climate Ready: A Pathway for Climate Action and Adaptation. If you are wondering what progress has been made in that time, here is my answer: not much.

The plan calls for city staff to post an updated Greenhouse Gas Inventory every two years. The 2019 report was only posted last year, and the 2021 report will be posted in the coming months, according to a city spokesman. I can’t imagine it’s going to show any progress.

Thursday was the 57th day this year when temperatures in San Antonio reached 100 degrees or more, two days shy of the 59-day record set in 2009. But wait: there had only been 46 such days by Aug. 11, 2009, according to the National Weather Service, so we are overheating at a record pace. If late August and September deliver more such days, there will be a new record.

Against that backdrop, what can City Council do with the money? Quite a bit, actually. It could help VIA Metropolitan Transit construct shade shelters on outdoor bus stops that lack that protection. It could follow the lead of other cities and establish mobile cooling centers that would target the city’s growing homeless population. It could keep public pools open until cool weather finally arrives. It could stripe neglected bike lanes, improve safety signage and work to make urban core streets safer for people to park their vehicles and commute on bikes.

I like Councilman Mario Bravo’s proposal to use the funds to plant more trees, which are especially needed in inner-city neighborhoods where sidewalks and streetlights are still a dream. He also advocated for more weatherization of older, energy-inefficient homes, as well as more cooling centers. In this heat, everyone in the urban core ought to be able to walk to one.

CPS Energy can redouble efforts to promote conservation and distribute more smart thermostats to homeowners that enable the utility to remotely reduce energy consumption.

Traffic police can discourage idling vehicles spewing emissions into the atmosphere. Last week, while pedaling through Alamo Plaza, I yet again observed three of the red sightseeing buses sitting driverless and empty of passengers in the plaza, with their engines and air conditioners running. I came through again 15 minutes later and the same three buses continued to idle.

This already is the hottest summer on record in San Antonio as measured by daily temperatures from May 1-Aug. 11, according to Keith White, meteorologist in the Austin-San Antonio office of the National Weather Service.

“This isn’t the hottest year on record because we had a relatively cool January and February, but the summer definitely has been the hottest summer on record,” White said. “2009 remains the hottest year on record, followed by 2011. But with La Niña in the Pacific for the third straight year, which has only happened twice since the 1950s, temperatures for the rest of the year are expected to continue to be above average. So this could turn out to be the hottest year ever, too.”

White said the average temperature this summer has been 87 degrees, compared to 85 degrees in 2009.

It seems a bit reckless to be wishing for a weak hurricane or tropical storm to come inland from the Texas Gulf Coast and dump serious rain on the Texas Hill Country, San Antonio and South Texas, but it’s probably the region’s only chance for really serious relief. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters have predicted an above-average Atlantic hurricane season.

“You aren’t the first person to wish for it,” White said. “We are in the most significant drought since 2011, and it’s likely to continue into the fall. The majority of storm activity starts now in August. That doesn’t necessarily mean we will see any impact in Texas, but that would be the only way for us to experience a significant impact on drought conditions.”

Shakespeare gave us “the winter of our discontent.” For San Antonio, this is the summer of our discontent. City Council can invest the windfall $75 million to make the city a little bit more livable.

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