Sundown in desert.

With extreme summer temperatures fast approaching, Phoenix city administration has proposed allocating $2.8 million toward “climate change and heat readiness” in its trial budget.

The initiative, part of the $1.46 billion spending plan proposed on March 16, would address the “growing hazard of urban heat to the public, particularly vulnerable populations,” and add 14 new positions spread out through various environmental subcommittees, according to the city manager’s report. 

Last year in Maricopa County, 207 people died of heat-related causes and 134 deaths are under investigation, according to the most recent report from county Department of Public Health. An increase from the 197 confirmed heat-related deaths in 2019.

If approved, the proposal would create the Office of Heat Response and Mitigation, a shade and tree program administrator and “connective tissue” for environmental initiatives such as the Shade and Tree Master Plan and the Cool Corridors Program, said Nancy Allen, the city environmental programs administrator. 

“When you have a city the size of Phoenix, there’s an awful lot of stuff going on,” Allen said. “It does make sense to have that central organization coordinating those efforts across the city.”

City Council approved the Shade and Tree Master Plan in 2010 with the goal of a 25 percent shade canopy by 2030. Phoenix’s shade canopy was about 12 percent, according to the most recent reporting in 2014. The budget hopes to double efforts to create more shade to help during the hottest months of the year. 

Beyond shade, increasing the number of trees in the Valley helps environmental departments manage air quality, stormwater and reduce energy costs, according to the master plan.

Of the potential 14 positions, four would be for the new Office of Heat Response and Mitigation office, which would be housed in the city manager’s office as a central organizing office for all environmental plans. Five positions to support the Solar Energy Inspection Program and five additional forestry positions to plant trees in Phoenix parks and update the tree inventory database. 

The additional funding will go toward creating green-house gas emission inventories, bilingual community engagement programs, and the implementation of the future Climate Action Plan, which should be open for public review by early August, Allen said. 

“Some of the things that (Phoenix officials) are concerned about is how this heat impacts the homeless population,” she said. “They see (the Heat Response and Mitigation) office, or a tree administrator, can help make those connections and help respond to those needs better.”

Nearly 2,000 people have died from “excessive exposure to heat” in Arizona from 2009-2019, and around 3,000 people a year visit emergency rooms due to heat illness, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

There will be 14 budget hearings that Ahwatukee residents can participate in starting April 2 and ending on April 20. The proposed budget will be presented to the council for a vote on May 4. 

“It’s drinking from a firehose because we have so much to do with the whole realm of climate planning,” Allen said. “So, it’s an awful lot of stuff going on and so it’s very exciting that things are moving."

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