From Retirement to Reach Codes

After a long career at the Environmental Protection Agency, Kathleen Goforth had a 35-year backlog of personal projects to do.  Yet, she decided to add one more to her list: she applied to Green Foothills’ Leadership Academy. “I was just starting to consider retiring and thought it would kick-start my thinking about what I might do in my post-EPA life,” she says, adding, “I had a number of ideas about things I wanted to get involved in but I needed to figure out how best to focus my efforts and where I could be most effective in a leadership role.”

By the time Kathleen became a member of the 2019 Leadership Academy cohort, she was already volunteering as a docent and board member of Friends of Edgewood, which promotes stewardship of San Mateo County’s Edgewood Park. The climate crisis weighed especially heavily on her mind. With federal action stalled, she saw a great deal of potential and need for meaningful action at the local level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve resilience. She retired from EPA midway through her CALA training and soon signed up with Environmental Volunteers to teach natural science in elementary classrooms. She also became actively involved in the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). A year later, she became a Climate Reality Leader, trained by former Vice-President Al Gore and other global climate leaders, through the Climate Reality Project.

Kathleen credits the connections she made through CCL, Climate Reality, and the Leadership Academy, for helping her be instrumental in persuading the San Carlos City Council to adopt an all-electric Reach Code, a building energy-efficiency code that exceeds California’s statewide code and will accelerate the necessary transition away from reliance on natural gas –a major source of greenhouse gas emissions–  to power our buildings. She explains how she and a friend applied one of the Leadership Academy teachings: “We worked to build relationships with city council members, just sending them information and offering to be a resource. ‘Let’s try this. Let’s push that way.’ We were just trying to see what works and being persistent. We demonstrated that we knew what we were talking about and knew folks who knew even more. We connected one council member with a low-income housing builder who had expertise on the subject.”

“We didn’t intend to spend a year and half on it,” she says, but that’s how long it took. “We thought that we had failed after a few months. But then we kept resurrecting it and building our network of supporters.” Her efforts and persistence succeeded: the city council passed an all-electric Reach Code in February 2021, applying to major residential reconstruction as well as to new buildings.

And as if there were nothing else going on in her life, Kathleen now is a volunteer with Court Appointed Special Advocates, an organization that supports foster children and youth. In the midst of all this, she is converting her garden to plants native not just to California but to her local  area, including mariposa lilies, ceanothus, manzanita, and “a very happy dwarf coyote brush that is taking over the yard”.

And what would Kathleen say to young advocates? “Thank you. We need you. Don’t be afraid to speak up. I have seen how impactful having young people speak up can be through my involvement with the Citizens Climate Lobby. They have set up their own meetings with community leadership. They’re making stuff happen. It’s great.”

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