We find out where San Diego shines and where improvement is needed.
January 24, 2012 1:07 p.m.
Ann Tarte, Executive Director, Equinox Center
Related Story: San Diego Trends: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
ST. JOHN: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. In the thick of daily life, it's difficult to keep track of the big sweeping trend it is affecting our quality of life. But we notice the water and power bills going up, the traffic getting worse, how much we're spending just to cheap our homes. The equinox center today releases its third annual dashboard report card on our region, and it's worth paying attention to. Ann Tarte is executive director of the center. Thank you so much for being with us.
TARTE: Thank you, Alison.
ST. JOHN: Why should people care about this report? Reports gathering dust on shelves all over the region. What is superintendent about this 1?
TARTE: This is our third annual report on this these issues, and they really impact all of us. Whether you're a homeowner, when you're got a great job or you have kids that are going to grow up in this region, these issues are going to affect our quality of life.
ST. JOHN: Give us a thumb nail of some of the issues you discussed.
TARTE: We look at issues like transportation, which you were just talking about, air quality, water quality, water consumption, renewable energy, housing affordability, waste disposal. A number of issues as well as economic prosperity and clean jobs.
ST. JOHN: Let's start with transportation since we've just been talking about that. One of the things that I found interesting is that our state attorney general seems to think that San Diego has some of the worst ozone lairs of anywhere in the state. Your report says that our per capita emissions are 10% lower than the state average. What is the truth? Are we getting worse or better?
TARTE: Well, the dashboard data that we have around air quality, is that the number of unhealthy days for our vulnerable populations in particular, children and elderly, and lowest that year than it was in the past decade.
ST. JOHN: Okay.
TARTE: So things are improving. But there's no mistake that we do certainly have air quality challenges here in the region. And we're happy to see the trend going down in terms of the number of days that are unhealthy, but it's something that we need to be concerned with and still work on.
ST. JOHN: What did your study find in term it is of region transportation?
TARTE: Some interesting findings on that topic. One is that on average, San Diegans drive more miles every day than the average Californian, even more than our friends just to the north of us in Los Angeles. And so many of us think of Los Angeles as being so car centric. It was a pretty interesting finding
ST. JOHN: That's amazing. Is this just happening in the last year or so?
TARTE: No, we've seen San Diego County be higher than others in general for the past couple of years. But it's really striking this year. And another finding is that about 75% of San Diegans commute to work alone in their cars. And only a fairly small percent take public transit to commute to work. And that's lower than what happened in Los Angeles. You see more Los Angelesans taking public transit than San Diegans.
ST. JOHN: Do you have any sense about what needs to be done about that? Is it a matter of changing public attitudes or changing something about our environment? About our transit options?
TARTE: Well, you definitely hit on one thing there. Changing attitudes is something that people perceive publicity transit as something they don't want to take. That's other issues. A lot of people feel like the transportation system or the transit system we do have doesn't go to the places where they want to go. It's not as fast as as they'd like to see it be. But there are also other issues as well. It's our land use patterns and how our region developed is a pretty sprawling pattern of development. That makes it difficult to put get transit in the region as well.
ST. JOHN: I'd like to put the call out and say what is your concern about life in San Diego? If you live here and you're thinking about staying here in future decades, are you concerned about the cost? Are you concerned about your ability to move around? Are you concerned about bills for water and -- are you concerned about the environment? What do you think is the biggest challenge to our quality of life here in San Diego? And we have a caller standing by. Kirby Brady, who commutes to a job downtown. So Kirby, things for joining us.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thank you.
ST. JOHN: Do you drive? Do you use public transportation? New 92 I commute usually four or five days a week on my bike.
ST. JOHN: Okay. And did you have anything to do with the SANDAG plan that we just talked about in the last segment, the region transportation plan?
NEW SPEAKER: No, I mean, I do know about it.
ST. JOHN: So what is injure experience of getting from A to B in this town?
NEW SPEAKER: Basically, I live in Point Loma and I work downtown. And I started riding my bike, basically, maybe about six months ago for a variety of reasons, but mainly it's been a combination of my personal health goals as well as consideration for our environment.
ST. JOHN: Would you use public transport if there was more of it? Or do you feel like more people need to use their bikes?
NEW SPEAKER: I use public transition now. That's my alternative. It takes a little more thought and planning in terms of get fog where you need to be on time, but I definitely think the system works. And so I feel like they're both viable alternatives to riding alone in your car.
ST. JOHN: And you have a reaction to -- it sounds to me like Kirby is fairly rare. I know even SANDAG wants more people to ride their bikes. But are we making any progress on this front?
TARTE: Well, I think so, and I commend Kirby for her commitment to what she's doing. And I think there are a number of people in the region that do that, which is great. And we have the perfect climate for it too, in particular with biking. But it's not as convenient for everyone as it might be for Kirby living in Point Loma and going downtown. There's other areas we need to work on, improving the infrastructure.
ST. JOHN: Let's go to Mike in Oceanside who has a broader point to make. Go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi, I'm also a bicyclist, although I'm a retired satellite systems engineer but I did bike for 36 years to my job. And the comment I have is you're going to talk about quality of life, I think you have to talk about stabilizing the climate. And to do that, we're going to have to accomplish what climate scientists tell us we have to accomplish. And we have to be down to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. And that's where SANDAG fell down in its job. They ignored that, and they are not on that trajectory with cars and light duty trucks. Their own numbers are that in 2035, it would be 13% down. But I went through the calculations, and shared that with SANDAG, and asked them to check my math, and I didn't get anything back at all. Even in the environmental impact report, I did not get a response.
ST. JOHN: Interesting.
NEW SPEAKER: But my math showed me that we had to reduce driving per capita 35% by year 2035. And like I say, they only did 13%. That's what they asked CARB to give them, and that's what they gave them.
ST. JOHN: That's the California air resources board, right?
NEW SPEAKER: The whole point is we are destabilizing the climate. And if this lawsuit is not successful, other metropolitan planning organizations will continue their freeways, continue to drive, to destabilize the climate and this was an example for other states and other countries. And we all know the problems we have with China and India, and so on and so forth. And that is going to be a collapse of the human population. So I guess that's pretty much the opposite of quality of life
ST. JOHN: Mike, thanks so much for the call. I wanted to ask you, Ann, what does your report suggest about how we're doing with claimant change? You make some federal positive comments about the direction that San Diego is moving.
TARTE: There is some good news about climate change in the region in terms of the way that our jurisdictions are preparing to adapt to it, and also inventorying the Greene house gas emissions, implementing plans. There's unprecedenteds adaptation in this region for climate change, a number of cities surrounding the bay have really been working hard to come up with a good plan for that. Of so there's some good news on that front. I do need to say, though, that to Mike's point, there have been studies done about the region's Greene house gas emissions, and transportation, particularly cars are a huge percentage of what tribute to our emissions. So we need to get a handle on that challenge.
ST. JOHN: You've covered a lot of topics in this report. So I want to get onto some of the ones that you feel are of most concern. What would you say when you look at all the things that are happening, and the bigger trends that are perhaps of the most concern to you?
TARTE: One is the waste disposal issue, and higher numbers of waste being disposed in the region than we've seen in the last four years. It's difficult to site new landfills as expensive. There are environmental issues related to it. One of the others that we think is a core indicator that has a domino impact on others is this idea of cost of living and particularly housing cost, which are very high here in the region compared to other regions in California as well as nationally. And that affects all of us. It's really difficult for businesses to recruit and retain employees, when there's a high cost of housing. It also contributes to the transportation issues. If there's not a reasonable amount of housing that's affordable to the different income levels in our core area, it forces people to live further and further out in less expensive areas. And that puts them on the road for more hours, it increases their transportation costs, and it increases traffic congestion for all of us.
ST. JOHN: So what would the equinox center see as being a solution to that?
TARTE: We think we need to really start coming up with some better ways to make sure that we have reasonably priced housing in our core neighborhoods. That we're planning intelligently, in a more integrated way so those -- so that housing is near transit, near bicycle paths and other options. And really just kind of having a better integrated planning process for the region.
ST. JOHN: So that is coming down to land use, isn't it? And of course there's a lot of different opinions about, know, density. That's one of the things that's very unpopular in the past. But you were saying more intelligent use of dense housing might help to resolve that issue?
TARTE: Right, I definitely think so. And there are some great examples in the region. The city of San Marcos has really taken a leadership role on trying to increase the amount of housing that's affordable in its core areas, making sure that housing is near transit, and actually also finding some permanent sources of funding to improve their transportation city and their own community so as their region grows, they've got less traffic congestion and better air quality.
ST. JOHN: What about water? You can't have this discussion without talking about water.
TARTE: One of my favorite topics. There's kind of -- I'd say it's some good news and bad news in the water area. The data in the dashboard this year shows our water consumption is down by about 7%. So people have been more efficient with their water use during these recessionary times. But our water supply is very vulnerable still. And so we think we still need to make sure that we're using our water as efficiently as possible in this region.
ST. JOHN: Richard from El Cajon, thanks for calling the program. Go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: Just what my point was. If we already have to ration water in dry years, there is just not enough water, but we go on subdividing property so that builders can make profit, jamming more and more people in so we need more freeways so that air quality is deteriorated. There is already the maximum amount of people living here. I mean, I actually own a large property in the east county. It's only zoned for one house. I'm willing to just build one house on it and not subdivide it because there's already too many people here.
ST. JOHN: Richard, thank you for your call. I know that maybe you're reflecting the view of many people, that it's time to just call a halt to the people arriving in San Diego. But how realistic is that, Ann?
TARTE: Well, the equinox center is not in the business of telling people whether they can or can't have children, etc. Population growth is a key factor to some of the challenges we face. But the reality is most of our growth that we'll expect in the coming decades is really the children and grandchildren of people already living here. And most people do want their kids to be able to stay here in the region; they want their grandchildren to be able to stay close to them. So we need to find a way, and we think there are smart ways and solutions out there to use our resources more wisely and make sure we can have great jobs and environmental quality as the region goes.
ST. JOHN: And then we should just talk quickly about energy. We have these goals we have to meet in the next few decades. And SDG&E is our local utility. How would the report card assess those goals here in San Diego?
TARTE: We're definitely making progress on that issue in term was renewable energy. I think the numbers from 20 ten were showing that SDG&E's procurement was at about 12%, and the end of 2011, the numbers are still being crunched but they're expected to be at 20% of renewable energy as part of their supply. We're hoping that that happens. And overall in terms of -- in terms of solar installations, we saw a significant increase in the past year, about a 28% increase in kilowatts of solar installed across the region so people I think are really taking up that challenge here.
ST. JOHN: We're in an election year. I know you're hoping that people will use this report card which you can find on the equinox center. There's a link to it on our website at KPBS.org. So if you want to see more of what they've found and some of the trend ends that they're keeping track of, you can find it there but what would you say, Ann in terms of the election year that voters can do to -- how can we empower ourselves to take control of some of these issues?
TARTE: I think one of the first things is to get informed, to really know the facts about how we are doing, how your city is doing compared to other cities, how this region compares to other regions, and really asking your elected officials, and the candidates questions about these issues, that we're all concerned about. So far that election rhetoric has been focused on pension reform, almost exclusively in this region. And we all know that many of these issues we talked about are key to our quality of life and our kids and grand kids. I think it's getting informed and asking your elected officials and candidates about what they're going to do about these.
ST. JOHN: Great, well, thank you so much for coming in and giving us a glimpse of your report.
TARTE: Thank you, Allison.