With ever-rising temperatures and more extreme weather across the world, climate change has become one of the largest crises facing humankind.
Most cities in King County have seen climate change impact, but each city has responded differently.
For instance, in 2020, Redmond passed an Environmental Sustainability Action Plan with the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Issaquah also passed a Climate Action Plan to cut down its emissions by 95 to 100% by 2050.
In contrast, Sammamish refrained from even proposing a plan to tackle its emissions, until now.
In a meeting on March 14, city council members voted unanimously to set goals, baselines, and checkpoints to develop a Sammamish climate action plan. The council is aiming for a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2030, and a 95% reduction by 2050. In addition, they set a target to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 30% by 2030 and 50% by 2050.
Councilmember Pam Stuart, one of the strongest advocates for the plan, celebrated this milestone after years of advocating for the city to take climate action.
“I’m super excited that we’re finally getting this off the ground…we seem to have a lot of community engagement and a lot of momentum going on for us at the moment,” Stuart said.
This proposal did not happen overnight. For years, advocacy groups led by youth have constantly lobbied the city to take action. But it was only after a contentious election in 2021 that elected three pro-environment council members, and the resignations of three other council members in 2022, that the council finally had the majority to prioritize climate action.
The bulk of the work was then focused on how the city should set its targets. K4C, King County’s official coordinating body for climate change action, had created guidelines for the reduction of GHG and VMT, but the council had to adjust these numbers to accommodate for Sammamish’s unique environment.
“[Sammamish] has the highest median income for a city our size in the income and…statistically, the wealthier the household, the more waste and greenhouse gases you produce,” Stuart said.
Sammamish also has far more land zoned for residential than commercial purposes, meaning that the proposed plan must prioritize communications with residents, rather than business owners.
Another decision point was which year to use as the baseline for emissions. K4C recommended using 1997 or 2007 as the baseline, but Sammamish did not have reliable data from either of those years. The city council ended up deciding on 2019 as the baseline.
“We were recommended the 2019 baseline by [our consultant group] Brightworks Sustainability because we don’t know how to calculate other numbers from the past…This was also supported by what cities around us had been using for their plan,” Stuart said, referring to the consulting firm that is helping the city create the plan.
Yet, Sammamish’s late start also raised an additional question – how feasible were these goals? With the first checkpoint being 2030, Sammamish would have only seven years to reduce GHG emissions by 50%.
Stuart believes this aggressive approach would yield more positive results.
“I believe that we should be aggressive as possible because there’s always a chance that we’re not going to make it. But we’ve really got to swing for the fences because, even if we come up short, we’re still making really great progress,” Stuart said.
She also believes that Sammamish’s late start gives it the benefit of stealing best practices from other cities.
“We can see what jurisdictions, other cities have implemented that have actually yielded responses. That way, we’re not starting from the beginning, but instead from where the other cities left off,” Stuart said.
Maanit Goel, 17, has been one of the more vocal youth advocates on this issue. He is a junior at Eastlake High School who also chairs the Sammamish Youth Board, a city appointed youth advisory body.
“[This plan is] super exciting as I’ve been one of the main driving forces behind the creation of [it] since January 2021,” Goel said.
With targets set, the city must now determine how it will meet them. The council is creating a Climate Action Group (CAG) of stakeholders ranging from high school students to environmental activists, and even Snoqualmie tribe members.
The CAG will come together to decide how Sammamish will achieve the city’s targets, and give their recommendations to the city’s planning commission and council for approval. The city hopes to adopt the full climate action plan by December.
“As the saying goes, this has and this will take a village…But, I think that we live in a time where we have the technology and capability to do anything we set our minds to,” Stuart said.