.Petaluma Mayoral Candidates Participate in Climate Forum

Seeking to uphold the city’s reputation as a leader on environmental policy, Petaluma residents watched local political candidates discuss how the city should respond to one of the most pressing issues of the day: climate change.

The Petaluma City Council Mayoral and District Candidates Forum on the Climate and the Environment, held online on Oct. 12 by Aqus, a community-building nonprofit, gave the voting public an opportunity to hear city candidates share their intentions for local action to address the unfolding crisis.

While many who are concerned about pollution and climate change have long expected environmental degradation to be a primary voting issue, the issues have been largely absent from past candidates’ debates.

That is starting to change. A 2020 Politico survey found 69% of registered American voters, including 55% of Republicans, are in favor of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The climate emergency was raised in both Biden-Trump presidential debates.

In the locally framed issues featured in the Zoom forum, three of the four Petaluma mayoral candidates identified transportation, housing and inclusion as key themes when addressing the climate crisis. The participating candidates were D’Lynda Fischer, Susan Kirks and Kevin McDonnell.

A fourth mayoral candidate, Patrick Flower, did not participate in the forum. He did not respond to a request for comment by the Bohemian.

A recording of the Oct. 12 virtual forum.


While climate change and pollution are driven by the effects of many different human activities, many of which have been made possible by the burning of fossil fuels, the candidates agreed that the most important area for improvement at the municipal level is transportation. In 2020, transportation accounted for approximately 58% of Sonoma County’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

The candidates each endorsed improvements to public transportation and bike infrastructure. They also called for environmentally responsible crosstown connectors, like the new bike path between Southpoint and Payran which opened last weekend.

Switching to electric vehicles (EVs) charged from clean energy could reduce local emissions significantly. However, electrification does not address the burden of infrastructure development that comes hand in hand with private vehicle ownership.

One of the most interesting ideas presented in the meeting was a microtransit fleet. Raised first by Kirks and independently by Fischer, such a fleet would work like a city funded rideshare. 

Fischer described a small fleet of electric vehicles, allowing Petalumas who prioritize biking, walking and public transit to have access to a car when needed. Kirks’ vision was similar but included the possibility of using hybrid SUVs.

This proposed service could help to address the concern raised by McDonnell that EVs are often not realistic for car owners in the multifamily housing that is meant to be the majority of future housing development in Petaluma.


Rising rents and home prices have forced many community members out of Petaluma. Essential workers such as nurses and food service workers, vital community members while at work whether they live in town or not, often commute in from other, more affordable cities, increasing carbon emissions.

Fischer says that housing development and cutting emissions need to go hand in hand. “With the state requirement for the housing we need to build, there is no question that we need to be building just around our transit centers,” she said. 

New multifamily housing is much more water efficient because it is built with the latest fixtures and does not have the same landscape watering requirements, Fischer pointed out. The average single family home resident uses 60% of their water on landscaping, she said. 

McDonnell stated that he has focused his political efforts on championing solutions to homelessness and housing. “For me, housing policy is everything; it’s climate policy, it’s education, it’s health outcomes, it’s everything,” he said. With housing prices and rents continuing to increase, new development is needed to keep our workforce from being priced out of the city, he added.

McDonnell noted the city is already taking steps in the right direction. In 2022, of the 300 new units being built in Petaluma, 100 will qualify as affordable housing.  The city used California state Project Homekey funds to create The Studios at Montero, which, when at full capacity, will house 60 “chronically homeless” individuals in self-contained units with private bathrooms in a repurposed two-building site.

Kirks raised concerns that Petaluma has very little wildlife habitat left. “We have to look for prioritizing and identifying greenspaces and in addition to that, wildlife corridors,” Kirks said. In housing development, she supports “looking in existing areas that can be rezoned, mixed use, near neighborhoods, near amenities, creating amenities for those, affordable housing and middle income housing as well.”


Understanding how climate change impacts some communities more than others is imperative to good climate policy. Including the voices of leaders in those communities in discussions of city actions allows for municipal projects which are more response to the needs of those communities.

Kirks raised concerns about the relatability of current climate policy proposals, saying that local climate activism needs to “add more environmental elements so that people are more connected and more interested.” 

McDonnell said “all of our climate action needs to be out of its silo.” He expressed a desire for the city’s climate commission—the committee of volunteers that makes, reviews and recommends proposals on climate action to the city council—to be more supportive of other commissions when they are ready to take action, such as the pedestrian and bicycle advisory committee, on which McDonnell serves as city council liaison. 

Fischer asserted that community engagement was “the most critical element of our [Climate Emergency Framework],” referring to the policy guide adopted by the city in 2021, adding “it is a matter of educating our community.”

There are recent engagement examples in Petaluma. In 2020, Fischer was part of the action committee that brought the Cool Cities program to Petaluma, securing a $1 million grant from the national nonprofit the Empowerment Institute to facilitate community resilience efforts on a block by block scale. “Block leaders” engage their immediate neighbors to help one another prepare for the impacts of climate change and fire. More than 100 blocks around Petaluma are actively organizing and reporting.

The Bohemian recently reported on efforts to include Spanish speakers and BIPOC citizens in an independently run sustainable development workshop whose findings, facilitated by green architects and civil engineers, were presented to the city council earlier this year. Engaging with the local Spanish speaking population, who are much more likely to be on the front line of the climate emergency, has been one of the most difficult and important hurdles in recent years. 

While climate justice was a talking point for each of the participating candidates and Kirks voiced a desire for more BIPOC representation on the city’s climate committee, none identified a need for new strategies to bridge racial and cultural barriers to participation in climate action, as in the example of directly engaging Spanish speakers.


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