July 2017

Community Conversations on Santa Fe’s 25-Year Sustainability Plan


John Alejandro


The Sustainable Santa Fe Commission (SSFC) is a volunteer citizen-advisory commission charged with advising the city’s governing body on sustainability-related programs, projects and policies. In 2014 the city council and mayor passed a resolution calling for the city to become carbon-neutral by 2040. To help achieve that goal of achieving zero carbon emissions (greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming), in 2015 the SSFC was charged with developing a 25-Year Sustainability Plan that also addresses renewable energy, energy efficiency, land use and water use, while developing a path by which the city can improve the overall well-being of its citizens.

To assist with the planning effort, the commission created 10 committees comprised of over 50 subject-matter experts from the community to identify and develop a set of sustainability-related recommendations that could be implemented in the near-, medium- and long term to achieve the city’s goals.


Community outreach and feedback on the initial elements of the plan were seen as being critical to the plan’s development and ultimately its overall success. To engage the community, the commission held four community meetings throughout May 2017 at the Genoveva Chávez Community Center (GCCC), Hotel Santa Fe, Southside Public Library (convened in collaboration with Earth Care) and at the Chainbreaker Collective’s center (convened in collaboration with Chainbreaker). Close to 200 people from throughout the community participated.


Each meeting had a 30-minute poster session of 14 informational posters in English and Spanish that showcased a set of high-priority, draft recommendations from the commission’s working committees. Each poster contained a brief background on its specific topic, the triple-bottom-line impacts of it, and five priority goals and action items that could be undertaken to benefit the community. Participants were given the opportunity to indicate which issues they felt were important within the topic, and whatever thoughts and concerns they wished to voice. They were also given sticker dots to vote on what they considered to be their top five goals, to inform the commission as to what the public’s key issues were based on the initial set of draft recommendations.


After the poster sessions at the GCCC and Hotel Santa Fe sessions, attendees participated in table discussions organized by topics: Energy & Built Environment; Transportation & Land Use; Water; Housing, Food & Education; and Environmental Stewardship, Climate & Waste. Crosscutting issues discussed were Social Equity and Economic Development. The facilitators at each table asked:

1.     What issues are most important to you?

2.     What issues are missing from the posters?

3.     What is your highest priority for action?

4.     How do you see yourself participating in the solution?


At the Southside Library session facilitated by Earth Care there were three discussion tables organized by scale of sustainability actions: 1) USE, HOME: Resources we control and use in our homes—waste, water, food and the barriers there are to action; 2) DISTRIBUTION, NEIGHBORHOOD: Access to resources —how our housing, transportation, education and employment impact our ability to live a sustainable life, and what our ideas are for how to change that; and 3) SUPPLY, SYSTEM-WIDE: Supply-side of resources—where our resources originate and what we can do to protect and make more environmentally friendly the ways in which our resources are acquired.


The Chainbreaker event had four tables organized into the two topics that most impact climate change in Santa Fe: Transportation and Built Environment. All other topics were discussed under these. The conversations at this session were more freewheeling, with questions focusing on which issues were the most important to the participants.


Below is a short summary of feedback and suggestions that were placed on posters and communicated at the table sessions.

·        Continue to educate the public on all forms of sustainable practices.

·        Incorporate solar solutions in the community.

·        Advance all forms of environmental technologies in city operations.

·        Increase advertising and marketing campaigns around sustainability—more media attention!

·        Work with environmental organizations to implement the plan.

·        Train an array of people on the jobs needed, like permaculture, local food production, etc. More job training is needed.

·        Build high-density mixed-use neighborhoods.

·        Install better Internet and high speed Internet in the community.

·        Get sustainability curricula into schools.

·        Find ways to help people in the community with sustainability programs.

·        Keep engaging different demographics that make up Santa Fe.

·        Find ways to have people ride more bikes.

·        Employ youth in the summer to teach them about sustainability; create a Youth Sustainability Corps.

·        Better public transportation to grocery stores is needed.

·        Set a goal of 100 percent renewables.

·        Focus on equity supporting the most impacted people with access to existing and new resources; work for buy-in from all stakeholders.

·        Education as part of equity—not everyone understands sustainability concept.

·        With buildings emitting such a large amount of CO2, retrofitting should be a priority.

·        Eco-districts shouldn’t be limited to low-income neighborhoods.

·        Compost food leftovers and distribute leftovers from restaurants to those in need.

·        Encourage neighborhood/community gardens in all neighborhoods.

·        Encourage citywide composting and green-waste pickup.

·        Curbside compost pickup is needed to get economies of scale for processing.

·        Link zero-waste to economic development (e.g., forest/watershed restoration; turn wood chips to power, like they teach at Santa Fe Community College).

·        Buy local, create a long-range plan that increases local procurement by 10 percent by 2025.

·        Have a program to convert yard waste to compost.

·        Get solar energy fully integrated into Santa Fe, reducing emissions from coal plants. Energy and environmental issues go hand in hand. Santa Fe is in a good position to take a leadership role in this effort. 

·        City government should be taking a stronger role in ensuring the use of solar power for all its buildings—implementing all energy sources the law allows to achieve 100 percent renewable energy use. These demonstration sites could provide job development and economic development. In conjunction with this effort, the city can offer rebates to homeowners to encourage the use of solar energy.

·        Partner with the state, PNM and local government to encourage the state to:

·        Develop a tax on carbon dioxide emissions

·        Tax on gasoline (which can be local also)

·        Subsidies for renewable energy

·        Develop storage capacity for renewable energy (such as pumped hydro storage)

·        Lobby for grid changes to allow 100 percent renewables

·        Education about the benefits of fresh produce and non-processed foods is critical to change shopping and eating habits.

·        There are fears that natural or manmade disasters can threaten a fragile food supply.

·        Climate change will inevitably impact farmers and ranchers; they need to know how to be resilient.

·        The city needs to address issues of too much blacktop that affects increasing heat and inability to cool off land. Perhaps creating policies around use of rain gardens, infiltration points for water tables and run-off will be important to harness an important resource such as run-off.

·        Develop cost-effective funding mechanisms to promote energy efficiency in low- and middle-income households.

·        Education is important, and there needs to be more of it; the kids teach their parents.

·        Businesses need to be educated on how to save energy.

·        Let’s make solar more affordable by providing expanded programs like low-interest loans.


Overall, the sessions were well received by the participants. The number of attendees indicates a high level of interest in sustainability efforts from community members throughout the city and county. The format of the sessions also demonstrates a willingness of community members to provide feedback through a variety of ways, enabling them to feel that their voices are being heard and their opinions valued.


These community conversations are but a starting point in initiating an ongoing dialogue focused on sustainability. At each meeting, it was clear that educating and informing the public about the programs, policies and projects occurring around sustainability are a priority for the community. The SSFC believes such dialogue is important in achieving the goal of carbon neutrality and the adoption of many programs and projects that will be recommended in the 25-Year Sustainability Plan.


Detailed summaries from each community meeting can be found at www.sustainablesantafe2040.com . Also, the work done on the plan to date can also be found there. The public is encouraged to provide feedback on it directly through the website.



John Alejandro is the renewable energy planner for the City of Santa Fe, and is city staff to the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission.




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