Alelia Parenteau — who was Santa Barbara’s first recycling coordinator and the city’s first energy and climate manager — can add another “first” to her resume.
She’s the first director of the city’s new Sustainability and Resilience Department. Ms. Parenteau has been the department’s acting director since September 2021.
“We have launched Santa Barbara Clean Energy, the city’s community choice aggregation program, the Solid Waste Franchise Agreement and an updated climate action plan roadmap to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality. These are just a few of the highlights of what we have accomplished in the last year,” Ms. Parenteau told the News-Press. “Our teams run programs every day cleaning up homeless encampments, building solar rays and more.”
Ms. Parenteau, who grew up in Santa Barbara, started out as an intern riding on trash trucks in the city in 2006.
“I then became the first recycling coordinator for the city, followed by the first energy analyst, the first energy and climate manager, and now the first director of the new sustainability and resilience department,” she said. “This new department was created in 2020.”
Ms. Parenteau provided some background.
“The city council passed 100% renewable energy goals in 2019,” Ms. Parenteau said. “When they passed that, our whole purview shifted. The community choice aggregation program brought the whole community along. There was a 95% participation rate, reducing the city’s carbon emission rate by 20%. This gave us a viable pathway to 100% carbon neutrality.”
Ms. Parenteau said it feels great to be a pioneer of environmental sustainability in Santa Barbara “because it shows we have the support of leadership and council. It shows they listen, and that there is support for implementation.”
“I grew up with a mother who is an eco-warrior and understood the importance of taking care of the planet,” she said. “That has always been instilled from a young age, and I want to pass that on to my own children. There has been a series of global and local events that have emphasized the importance of these issues.
“The modest silver lining to the 2018 Montecito debris flow is that it underscored the importance of these issues and minimizing future impacts,” said Ms. Parenteau. The News-Press asked Ms. Parenteau about her goals in her latest role in her environmental career.
“My biggest goal is to achieve the carbon neutrality directive,” she said. “If we can even get substantially closer, that is a big achievement. I hope to work with the region collaboratively for greater change and instill sustainability throughout the culture and community.”
“To an extent, it’s a defined role. The environmental service and creeks division are longstanding and well-oiled machines,” Ms. Parenteau said. “The teams are very capable and innovative. I get the fun job of supporting the really good ideas and working through the less good ideas.
“Energy and Climate is our newest division, and I am more involved in how that is manifesting as I developed that division. I get to create the role as I go, but with guidance of leadership and they are generally supportive,” said Ms. Parenteau.
The News-Press asked Ms. Parenteau on how she plans to lead the fight against climate change.
“The first step was council taking a stand and giving us the best sense of how aggressive to be,” she said. “Step two is figuring out the pieces of the climate action plan that sets us up for a work plan every year. I’m really excited for that to come out and design the next few years for us. Santa Barbara Clean Energy is important to the community’s carbon goals.”
She added, “I can’t speak highly enough of the team I oversee and the leadership. The city council has been supportive and my leadership, the city administrator and city assistant administrator, have seen the need for the department and acted on it. I am a big picture strategist.
“I get excited about what might be possible. I want to find a way to do the impossible.”