Sonoma County - The Green Jobs Epicenter?
by Woody Hastings
Santa Rosa City Councilmember Veronica Jacobi welcomed a well-attended “Action Fair” for green jobs and training in Santa Rosa on “350 Day” - October 24th, a day of international actions focused on raising public awareness of the urgency of taking action on climate change. “350” refers to what climate scientists tell us is the maximum concentration of carbon dioxide Earth’s atmosphere can safely sustain - 350 parts per million (ppm). Unfortunately, we passed that mark in the early 1990s. We are currently at about 390 ppm and rising at about 2 ppm per year. 350.org estimates that about 5200 events took place in about 181 countries.
Organized by Evelina Molina of the North Bay Institute of Green Technology, the all-day event in Santa Rosa featured a diverse line-up of people and organizations involved in a wide variety of green career projects and programs. The bottom line is that many opportunities exist for employment and training in the rapidly developing field of “green” jobs and careers. “We want to make sure that green jobs are truly green in the sense that they provide opportunities for under-served, under-represented, low-income communities of color with barriers to employment. The jobs should provide wage-earners a family living wage, health benefits, and career pathways to prosperity. If the emerging green jobs economy does not create a fair and just opportunity for all, then it is not ‘green’ and will not create the sustainable socio-economic infrastructure that is needed to pull us out of this economic slump,” said Molina.
A green job seeker peruses the many green job categories posted at the event
“It is going to require an army of people to do all the energy efficiency building retrofits, weather-stripping, and renewable energy installations that will be needed to reach the greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets that must be met to avert global disaster,” said Chris Cone of Solar Sonoma. She reminded the audience that Sonoma County has the most aggressive climate action plan in the nation, committing the county to carbon dioxide emissions reductions of 25% below 1990 levels by 2020. “The things that constitute the crisis - climate change and the recession, are the drivers that present the opportunity - a transition to a green economy fueled in part by the federal stimulus funds for green jobs,” she went on to explain.
That point was underscored by a speaker who followed, John Richau, Regional Director of the Community Alliance of Career Training and Utility Solutions who anticipates a veritable “boom” in jobs in home retrofitting over the next few years due to the fact that the California Public Utilities Commission is funneling $3.1 billion in federal stimulus money over the next three years to communities throughout California for that purpose.
Other private sector opportunities are emerging without federal assistance. GreenRay Technologies, an LED lighting start-up based in Santa Rosa, is opening a new manufacturing plant in Sonoma County and is currently hiring. “For years and years you’ve seen jobs like these moved overseas to Asia and other places. GreenRay is reversing that trend and will be employing people and manufacturing right here at home,” said Gene Quisisem, Western Regional Director for the firm. LED lights are even more energy efficient than compact fluorescents and do not contain any hazardous materials.
Many renewable energy projects and other green projects are being proposed in the Bay Area, including the North Bay. Some of them are large and offer the possibility of significant number of green jobs. One of the struggles is to ensure that the communities in which the projects are located are not left out of the employment opportunity. Multi-stakeholder agreements that address this concern are known as “community workforce agreements.” A textbook example was provided by Joshua Arce of the Brightline Defense Project (brightlinedefense.org). Joshua recounted the recent story of a 5 megawatt solar project planned to be installed on top of the huge cap covering the Sunset Reservoir in San Francisco. No jobs from the chronically underemployed and unemployed districts of San Francisco were planned. Brightline organized a coalition of communities and succeeded in stopping the project with the demand that at least 30% of the workforce be hired from local underserved communities. The demand was met and the project was approved. Arce highlighted five key stakeholders that must be included in a successful project: 1) Industry; 2) Labor; 3) Elected Officials; 4) The local Workforce Investment Board; and last but not least 5) Community and Environmental Organizations.
From troubled unemployed teen to enthusiastic and gainfully employed green jobs advocate, Edgardo Tafoya, 24, addresses the attendees
The most compelling personal story of the day came from Edgardo Tafoya, a young man transformed by the career opportunities that unfolded for him via the North Bay Institute of Green Technology. Edgardo had spent many years incarcerated since some regrettable “mistakes made” during his teen years. “It was impossible to get a job just by filling out an application. I needed someone who was going to take a chance on me and believe that I have something to offer,” he said. Edgardo is now gainfully employed in the rapidly emerging “green collar” field of home energy efficiency retrofitting.
Woody Hastings is a freelance environmental writer based in Sonoma County. Contact him at email@example.com
Event photographed by Don Jackson.