October 25, 2022

Interview by Hank Greenberg

Hercules, CA Vice – Mayor Alexander Walker-Griffin’s official photograph

Hercules California’s incoming mayor, Alexander Walker-Griffin, just celebrated his birthday in September. He was not turning 55, nor 45, not even 35. Alexander became 25 years old. 

The City of Hercules was organized, formed, and incorporated under the laws of California on December 15, 1900. Walker-Griffin’s term as mayor starts on December 17th. Right now, he currently serves as Vice Mayor. 

Walker-Griffin started his public service canvassing for progressive candidates when he was only thirteen. In his biography, on the city’s website, it mentions that he helped create a LGBT+ Appreciation Day at his college, and his work with autistic children. He currently serves in the National Guard.

His unwavering commitment to environmentalism and a greener future stand out as areas he intends to make progress on for the citizens he represents, his state and the world. He sees the climate crisis as an existential threat to humanity.

“Climate change is inevitable and all the red flags are going off right now. Look outside. It’s October and it’s 84 degrees [in Hercules, California],” he said during our recent interview.

Walker-Griffin believes there is a deep connection between his age and his advocacy, “being a Gen Z elected leader, environmentalism is a lot more personal because now I am seeing the effects of what happened … I will admit it is a little frightening, but it’s also an opportunity for us to be optimistic.” 

Most recently, Walker-Griffin signed a petition, along with close to 600 state and local elected officials from across the U.S.A., formally asking the federal government to “use California’s standards [for emissions] on light-duty vehicles” as the federal baseline. 

On September 27, 2022, he and four other elected officials were speakers at a press conference to publicly voice their support for electric vehicles, and to represent everyone who had signed on.

President Joe Biden and CA Governor Gavin Newsom are off to a promising start— 

Even though Walker-Griffin wants further action from the federal and state government, he acknowledges crucial progress has been already made. He has found that it is often easier to explain what has been accomplished when answering questions.

Walker-Griffin explained, “they ask ‘how can I afford this fifty thousand dollar vehicle?’ and I say ‘the Biden administration has lots of tax incentives, so we can put more equity in this.’”

Cars line Hercules’ Railroad Avenue. In a generation, the cars here should all be electric. 

Specifically, these tax credits include a $7,500 dollar rebate for those buying a new electric vehicle and a $4,000 dollar rebate for those buying a used electric vehicle. There is no longer a limit on how many rebates each vehicle manufacturer can give out. 

Walker-Griffin agrees with his constituents, “it makes no sense to have just a few people who can afford electric vehicles and then to have a disproportionate amount of people who cannot be in that same [financial] realm. I am proud of what the Biden administration has done.”

 California’s current governor, Gavin Newsom, is another ally for environmentally-minded leaders. Walker-Griffin specifically pointed out that because of Newsom, “by 2026, all car dealerships [in California] have to have a plan for their phase-in of electric, hydrogen, and hybrid vehicles into the fleet that they sell” and that “California is requiring, by 2035, all car production, manufacturing, and sales have to be electric.”

The passage of these new California laws show that environmental advocacy works. This success inspires Alex.  “I think that’s something that’s pretty bold… It makes me proud to be a California resident,” he said.

Walker-Griffin believes that these actions from the federal government and from California are important because they build momentum behind environmental causes. On a practical level, he knows from experience that it is “a lot easier to make local policy when there is clear guidance from the state,” he said.

Walker-Griffin backs up his advocacy with action of his own— 

According to the Vice-Mayor, to be most effective in the fight against climate change, action must be taken at every level. “This is an all hands on deck situation and everyone has a stake in what we do,” he said. 

Walker-Griffin sees involvement in government as something that is attainable for everyone. He encourages young people to not be afraid to jump into politics.

“Some of my best friends are elected officials in their twenties,” said Walker-Griffin. A friend of his from college, Jorel Chavez, is a council member in Bell Gardens, California.  

Walker-Griffin tells people who want to find a way to effectively combat climate change to “pay attention to what your state is already doing, if they’re doing anything at all. Then, you should ask yourself ‘what is most relevant to the day-to-day lives of people?’and ‘what is actually obtainable?’”

This advice is based on his time in government. 

“In my case, it was obtainable to push for the electrification of new buildings because we [Hercules, California] are pretty consistent with new development here,” he said.

Electrification of all new buildings seems like a major infrastructure project, but Walker-Griffin encourages people to look at the problem one step at a time. “It all starts with an ordinance. One ordinance will establish a precedent,” he said.

Walker-Griffin got his own ordinance passed a few months ago. “It requires new development to be one hundred percent electric. If you are going to remodel more than fifty percent of your home, you have to switch it to electric as well,” he said.

Looking ahead, Walker-Griffin believes that there is political will for “seven new electric vehicle charging stations in Hercules.” Right now, the charging stations are just a proposal, but he feels confident they will be approved.  

Walker-Griffin knows that electric vehicles will be a mainstay in California life in the near future. He wants his town to be prepared for any changes. As he says, “good policy is proactive, not reactive.”

According to Walker-Griffin these changes could be the start of a new “precedent” or way of thinking about climate change in Hercules. 

“This is saying we care about our future. This is thinking about the long term,” he concluded.