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A Closer Look At San Diego’s Ambitious Climate Plan

New nonprofit will be a watchdog over Mayor Faulconer’s plan

Evening Edition

Aired 3/5/15 on KPBS News.

San Diego's Climate Action Plan has several ambitious goals, including changing the way people get around and where their energy comes from. A new nonprofit group is working to make sure the plan stays ambitious.

It's been five months since Mayor Kevin Faulconer released the Climate Action Plan — an ambitious blueprint for making San Diegans into better stewards of the environment.

The plan calls for specific actions over the next 20 years, including changing the way people get around and where their energy comes from.

It calls for increasing the number of people who commute by public transit from 10 percent to 25 percent, by bike from 1 percent to 18 percent and by foot from 1 percent to 7 percent. Those goals only apply to people who live within a half mile of existing or planned transit stops.

That means cutting the number of San Diegans in those areas who commute by car from 87 percent to 50 percent by 2035.

The plan also says that by 2035, 100 percent of the city’s energy must come from renewable sources — solar, wind and hydro power.

The city will also install 30,000 electric vehicle charging stations by 2035 and redirect 90 percent of its garbage away from the Miramar Landfill. That means it would be recycled and composted instead.

Sound like a lot? Faulconer recently told KPBS Evening Edition he is confident the city can do it.

“It’s important and I know we can achieve those goals," he said. "I know it won’t be easy, but at the same time when we look at the world class leadership we’re doing already on solar, energy just as one example here in San Diego, we can build upon that.”

But the Climate Action Plan isn’t final yet. It’ll go through a long review process where it could be changed.

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Nicole Capretz, director of the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign, bikes to make a presentation to business groups in the Gaslamp District. February 10, 2015.

Former city staffer Nicole Capretz helped write a climate plan for Councilman Todd Gloria when he was the city's interim mayor, and it's similar to Faulconer's. Because of her interest in the topic, a few months ago she started the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign to be a watchdog over the process.

Capretz wants to make sure the goals the mayor has set aren't scaled back during the review.

"We want to make sure the city keeps the climate plan as ambitious as it is right now in its draft form," she said. "I think that's going to be really pivotal, because there might be some interests that would like us to water down the plan. I don't know who those interests are, but given past history it seems like that's a possibility. So we'll be watchdogging to make sure the city stands its ground and the mayor stands his ground and the council stands their ground and stands behind this amazing groundbreaking climate plan."

Capretz is one of two paid staff members at the nonprofit, which is funded by grants and private donors she didn't want to name. A big part of her work so far has been meeting with community planning and business groups to explain the climate plan and ask them to support it.

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City of San Diego Climate Action Plan

City of San Diego Climate Action Plan

City of San Diego Climate Action Plan

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Community Choice Aggregation

The city's climate plan could involve something even more ambitious. It’s called community choice aggregation, which would change the way the city gets its energy. We’ll explain it more in Part Two of this story next week.

Last month, she spoke to the Gaslamp Quarter Association’s hospitality committee, a small group of about 10 people from Gaslamp restaurants and other businesses. As part of her presentation, Capretz talked about sea level rise.

"I think it's important for you to know that the city doesn't really have a plan to figure out what we're going to do when sea level rises. What's going to happen when flooding starts coming through the Convention Center and into the Gaslamp Quarter?" she said. "What's that going to mean for your business?"

The committee said it would take the issue of whether to support the climate plan to its larger association.

"Based on her presentation, I think it’s a cause we can get behind," said the committee's co-chair, Nathan Wing. "It’s definitely an interesting thing to talk about, and it’s definitely things that businesses can benefit from."

Capretz’s goal is to get as many smaller groups as possible on board with the bigger climate plan. She said that will help avoid battles the city has seen in the past over specific development projects.

"Unfortunately, the city of San Diego as well as private developers are not necessarily trusted messengers in the community because of failed outreach and education attempts," she said. "So we are coming in and discussing what the climate plan is and what it means and how it's going to impact their lives. But we don't have a financial stake in the climate plan, unlike a private developer with a specific project. So I think that allows for a less emotional conversation."

For example, instead of a developer asking a community to build more bike lanes to meet a green building requirement, Capretz hopes that by explaining the larger aims of the climate plan, her group can build support.

"When you put it in that larger context, I think people see things differently and are more open minded maybe than when the city or a private developer comes with a project," she said.

So far, she's seen success. After hearing from her group, several of the city's community planning groups have voted to formally support the plan.

Evening Edition

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