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Guest Blog: SMUD CEO Arlen Orchard On Ensuring Sustainable Communities

COVID-19 has changed life as we know it, and our fellow citizens living in historically underserved communities are being hit especially hard. As we re-emerge from this crisis, it is more important than ever to pool our energies and resources to help everyone get back on their feet.

SMUD is proud to partner with Valley Vision to tackle some of the region’s most pressing issues, including improving the quality of life of those living in historically underserved neighborhoods and communities.

Along these lines, we recently published a Sustainable Communities Resource Priorities Map on our website that will help SMUD, other businesses, public agencies and non-profits identify and support the communities most in need in the Sacramento region.

We worked with a number of partners, including UC Davis, Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District and Sacramento Area Council of Governments, to ensure that the interactive map contains voluminous data from a wide range of sources.

The interactive map’s critical data layers include education, public transportation, tree canopy, health care, employment opportunities, electric vehicle charging, food deserts, what neighborhoods are most vulnerable to climate change, and more.

A Brookings report in 2018 found that between 2006 and 2016, Sacramento ranked in the bottom third of the nation’s largest 100 metropolitan areas in composite rankings of growth, prosperity and inclusion. Thirty-four percent of our residents live in households that don’t earn enough to cover basic expenses.

Such inequities were preventing Sacramento from realizing its potential, the report said, recommending urgent action to address our racial and ethnic disparities in education and skills. We at SMUD were aware of the problems before – and had done a lot of good things in supporting economic and environmental sustainability over the years. But the Brookings report convinced us we needed to take a more strategic, collective and inclusive approach.

We heeded the call to action by developing SMUD’s Sustainable Communities initiative in late 2018. Sustainable Communities is designed to support environmental equity and economic vitality in all communities in our region, with special attention given to historically underserved neighborhoods.

We’re supporting not only cleaner energy and carbon reduction in these neighborhoods, but partnering with policy makers, transit leaders, technology companies, heath care providers and community-based organizations to maximize our collective impact and solve real problems for real people.

SMUD obviously can’t solve these problems on our own, which brings me back to the Sustainable Communities Resource Priorities Map. This mapping tool will help SMUD and our community partners make community investment decisions based on good data and direct meaningful change in at-risk communities. It also helps all of us measure the progress of our efforts in these neighborhoods and determine the effectiveness of the investments over time.

Given the projected economic impacts resulting from the pandemic and the disproportionate impact on the poor and communities of color, the map’s rollout is especially timely.  SMUD is happy to host and commit resources to update this important community tool on an ongoing basis. The next few years will be especially challenging for the residents of our region and especially for those living in our disadvantaged communities.  The need to join together, to collaborate, and to invest in these neighborhoods has never been more pressing. SMUD is honored to serve such a vibrant, diverse community, and we’re committed to not just helping power Sacramento out of this crisis, but to building a more sustainable future for generations to come.


Arlen Orchard is CEO and General Manager of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and a Valley Vision board member.