An East Bay city wants to repurpose unused COVID stimulus dollars to fight another massive problem: climate change.
Some Berkeley city leaders want to use leftover American Rescue Plan money to expand the city's electric car fleet and help low-income families swap natural gas appliances for all-electric ones. There is even talk of making all of the city's police squad cars electric.
Berkeley has had a goal of reducing the ctiy's greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.
"We're finally making real headway in investing in our climate and our people," Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison said.
Back in March, Congress passed a sweeping economic stimulus bill to help cities recover from the pandemic. Berkeley's share of the stimulus amounted to $68 million.
Harrison wants to use some of the remaining funds to help the city transition toward a zero-carbon economy. Part of that plan involves expanding the city's fleet of electric cars.
"Right now, we have not bought a lot of electric vehicles because we lack the charging infrastructure," Harrison said.
But that will all change if the mayor's budget passes, which include funding for more charging stations.
When asked which city employees would use the electric vehicles, Harrison said "they range from parks department employees, who travel from park to park to do maintenance, to people in public works (and) eventually the police department."
Included in the mayor's budget is a climate equity program for low-income families who do not have the money to retrofit their old homes into green homes. Without direct help, Harrison worries low-carbon technology will be out of reach for many struggling families already disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change.
"Working people that need help to make this climate transition," Harrison said.