Austin city officials are gearing up to make investments in sustainability.

Council passed a resolution in February that kickstarted a search for funding opportunities to achieve climate-related goals. However, reaching these goals has proven difficult without investments toward them, said council member Ryan Alter, who authored the resolution.

The setup

City officials have adopted many plans related to the environment, including the Austin Climate Equity Plan in 2021.

The plan was meant to respond to climate change by prioritizing greenhouse gas reduction, supporting community-led initiatives and setting a goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. This means local greenhouse gas emissions, such as those from fossil fuels and landfills, would be removed from the atmosphere through reductions, storage or carbon offset credits.

To achieve net-zero emissions by 2040, the plan includes a goal that by 2030, all new buildings are net-zero carbon—an energy-efficient building—emissions from existing buildings are reduced 25%, and natural gas emissions are reduced by 30%.

Austin Chief Sustainability Officer Zach Baumer said city staff are not on track for the 2030 goal, but many of the projects proposed in the environmental investment plan may get them back on track to reach targets outlined in the plan.

The options

The following is an estimated summary of funding city staff needs to achieve climate-related goals:
  • $455 million to reduce emissions from energy and transportation, and reduce waste
  • $1.1 billion to acquire and manage land to benefit the public
  • $233 million to improve infrastructure
  • $90 million toward city operations and electric vehicle infrastructure
Much of this summary was made with input from city staff and the public, including thoughts shared by Austinites during a Joint Sustainability Committee meeting March 27. Many residents emphasized the importance of preserving land for green space and focusing on transportation.

“It's important when we're thinking about planning and deciding where we're going to focus our efforts to focus where the city can actually directly control where we can spend money or take action and actually create a result,” Baumer said. “But, then also be thinking very carefully about where we can incentivize action because this is a community-wide global problem.”

Project funding

In a memo sent to City Manager T.C. Broadnax on May 24, council members Ryan Alter, Vanessa Fuentes, José Velásquez, Paige Ellis and Alison Alter shared how some of these projects could be funded.

Projects funded by a bond brought to voters could include:
  • Land acquisition
  • Expanding trails, sidewalks and shared mobility
  • Heat and stormwater resilience infrastructure
  • Residential and commercial resilience infrastructure
Projects funded by a raise in utility rates could include:
  • Water conservation at the utility level
  • Weatherization and energy efficiency incentives
  • Electric vehicle charging stations at city-owned facilities
  • Flood resilience improvements
Projects funded by the city budget could include:
  • The creation of an inventory and management system of the city’s trees
  • Community outreach for sustainability incentives
  • Reducing emissions created by city vehicles and including more infrastructure for electric vehicles
  • The creation of a Central Grants Office
What’s next

Staff will continue to work on determining how to finance environmental goals, and everything is subject to change, Baumer said. City staff are not recommending a bond for November to fund these projects.

A public hearing will be held during a City Council meeting May 30 for direction on the environmental investment plan.