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San Diego’s Plans for Federal Energy Stimulus Money Questioned

Audio

Aired 5/26/09

To environmentalists, the $12 million in federal energy stimulus money headed to San Diego was supposed to be the dawn of their day in the sun. But they say Mayor Jerry Sanders has kept them in the dark by shutting them out of the planning on how best to spend the money.

— To environmentalists, the $12 million in federal energy stimulus money headed to San Diego was supposed to be the dawn of their day in the sun. But they say Mayor Jerry Sanders has kept them in the dark by shutting them out of the planning on how best to spend the money.

If Nicole Capretz of the Environmental Health Coalition had Mayor Sanders’ ear, here’s what she would have advised him to do. Call the people in San Diego’s with the most expertise in global warming. Ask them to design the most effective strategy for dealing with climate change. It should cut energy consumption by 30 percent. It would set priorities so that everybody in the city knew the goal. That she says would have been a good plan.

“A bad plan is basically what’s proposed now, which is that the mayor’s office internally and without any stakeholder and public involvement shoddily crafted a group of ideas that haven’t been vetted through the public or through the council or through experts,” says Capretz.

“That’s the next step in this in this process,” says Rachel Laing with Mayor Jerry Sanders’ office.

“Basically we developed the framework and then we take it to the public and the environmental community and get their input,” she says.

Councilwoman Donna Frye says that’s not true. She contends she and her colleagues didn’t even find out about the stimulus money until someone from the environmental community talked about it at a public meeting in late April.

“In fact one of the mayor’s representatives indicated that the guidelines had yet to come out and that they really didn’t know how this was going to work,” says Frye.

A few days later, Frye says she walked into her office to find a group of the mayor’s staffers with a list of ideas of how the money should be spent. Frye says the date on that list and the details of the projects made it clear the planning had been in the works for some time.

“I was more than a little agitated,” says Frye. “Rather than say something I did not want to say, I essentially kicked them all out of my office and asked them to please leave because I really felt like I was not getting the full story and that once again there was not going to be public participation.”

The energy stimulus money allows the city to spend up to $250,000 to write a strategic plan a rarity in the federal grant giving world says Frye.

“It’s sort of like manna from heaven, I was very thrilled,” she says.

Frye and other councilmembers favor taking the planning money. Laing from the mayor’s office says Sanders is thinking about it,” she says.

“It draws the process out considerably. It means a longer period between coming up with your plan and actual work getting done,” says Laing.

Among the ideas in the mayor’s proposal is a $5 million plan to cover Balboa Park with solar panels.

But people in San Diego’s green industry like Dan Sullivan who owns a solar company say the city should be more ambitious. It should create a plan to cover every home and business with solar panels.

“If this country was able to put a man on the moon, we can obviously put solar on our roofs it’s not that hard,” says Sullivan. “It’s somewhat ironic that we’re bathed in sun all day, everyday, all year long that we have less solar than Germany and other countries that have more aggressive policies.”

Each project the mayor’s office has outlined lays out how many new jobs will be created. But Sullivan worries the bidding process won’t be open and fair. He says green energy companies have been waiting for contract proposals.

“Those never came forth except for a press release saying they extended about a two-year contract with an out of state company to do all of the solar in Balboa Park,” says Sullivan. “The city needs to be more accountable with what they do stimulus money. Not taking any public input or not putting this out to public bid is a sham in my opinion.”

But Sanders’ spokeswoman Laing says just because the out-of-state company – Sun Edison – has the contract, that doesn’t mean there won’t be local jobs.

“What most people don’t realize about this is that they can use local companies, local products, local workers,” says Laing.

But they’re not required to. Capretz at the Environmental Health Coalition says there was a time it might have made sense to hire companies outside of San Diego.

“But today in 2009 this is where it’s at and so there are plenty of companies in San Diego that are coming up and are ready and willing to take on any kind of programs we put in place.”

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