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Local leaders react to Biden's announcement of environmental funding

President Joe Biden speaks about his administration's efforts to combat climate change on June 19, 2023, in Palo Alto. Courtesy Josh Becker.

When President Joe Biden stopped by Palo Alto on Monday, June 19, for an invitation-only event during which he announced billions of federal dollars to boost communities' environmental resilience, Palo Alto Mayor Lydia Kou found herself on the short list.

Kou said she was excited by his visit to the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center and Preserve. When they met, Biden was highly personable, and he took a selfie with her, she said.

Kou told Biden that she would show the photo to her daughters, who she hoped would be inspired to also enter into politics.

"To show you how kind he was, he asked me how old they are, and he said to give him their phone numbers and he would call them. I don't know if he will call, but I told them not to just look at text messages but to answer their phones," she said.

Biden announced that his administration is investing $2.6 billion to fight climate change: $575 million for climate resilience through the launch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Resilience Regional Challenge, and about $2 billion for building the electrical grid, a move that would also create jobs.

"I hope that some of the money will come to Palo Alto," she told this news organization.

Kou said that the city could use funding to help with electrification, producing clean-tech jobs and protecting against rising waters. The Baylands is exactly the type of area that could benefit. The city's horizontal levee is going up, which will enhance the natural marshland habitat while addressing sea-level rise, she said.

"He said, 'Invest in America.' He's putting action behind it, and that's always the part that's missing. There is a lot of opposition from the Republican side, but I have a lot of confidence in him to get something done," she said.

Amy Hutzel, executive officer of the San Francisco Bay Coastal Conservancy, said she appreciated Biden's mention of the benefits of wetlands restoration, including how the wetlands can absorb carbon dioxide and flood water. Biden noted the proximity of the Baylands to the U.S. Highway 101.

"It's great to hear the president say many of the things we've been talking about," she said after watching the video of his remarks Monday.

The Coastal Conservancy and its partners plan to apply for multiple federal grants this summer for tidal marsh restoration work around San Francisco Bay and other coastal flood-management projects.

While in the Baylands, Biden toured the Safer Bay Project, the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority effort to protect southern San Mateo County and northern Santa Clara County cities from flooding, including flooding from high creek flows, coastal flooding, and sea level rise.

Margaret Bruce, executive director of the SFCJPA, who also viewed the livestream video of his remarks, said she was grateful for the attention Biden brought to the issue of climate change but had been hoping to hear more details from the president about what might be funded.

Bruce's agency has been working for years to prevent flooding from San Francisquito Creek and has already added a flood wall downstream and widened a channel to protect homes in East Palo Alto during significant storms.

"After tomorrow, I plan to explore what might be applicable to the JPA's various projects," she said.

Greenbelt Alliance's Executive Director Amanda Brown-Stevens said that it was "very exciting to hear the president talk about measures we've been trying to elevate over the last few years: how to use nature to protect coastal communities."

Brown-Stevens applauded Biden's mention in his remarks of East Palo Alto and Belle Haven, which are not only places of economic value but also have vulnerable populations that have lacked the resources of other communities to protect themselves from climate change, she said.

Seth Schalet, chief executive officer of the Santa Clara County FireSafe Council, said that the $600 million does not include direct funding for fire resiliency projects. However, the funding will help reduce impacts of weather and improve the electrical grid.

"Many of the most destructive and deadly wildfires in the state have been tied to the electrical grid," he said.

Biden's Palo Alto stop came on the first day of a three-day trip to California that included two campaign-fundraising events on Monday, with two more scheduled for Tuesday.

Biden is expected to make an announcement in San Francisco on Tuesday about artificial intelligence and how his administration will seize opportunities and manage risks, according to a White House advisory.


About the Author: Sue Dremann

Sue Dremann is a veteran journalist who joined the Palo Alto Weekly in 2001. She is a breaking news and general assignment reporter who also covers the regional environmental, health and crime beats.
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