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New SANDAG Board Chairman On Climate Change: ‘It’s A Debatable Issue’

Del Mar City Councilman Terry Sinnott sits at a SANDAG board meeting, Dec. 15...

Photo by Andrew Bowen

Above: Del Mar City Councilman Terry Sinnott sits at a SANDAG board meeting, Dec. 15, 2017.

Del Mar City Councilman Terry Sinnott was unanimously elected the new board chairman of the San Diego Association of Governments on Friday, taking the helm of the county's lead agency in charge of meeting state climate goals.

But in a brief interview after his election, Sinnott declined to acknowledge the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by human activity and the burning of fossil fuels.

"I don't get into that situation," Sinnott said, when asked whether climate change was caused by humans. "It's a debatable issue that the board talks about. We have representatives from all 18 cities and the county of San Diego, and they bring their political thoughts in when they make decisions. My job is to facilitate and make sure we make progress and stick to the mission of our agency."

Part of SANDAG's mission is to help ensure San Diego County meets the ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals written into California law. The law, SB 375, requires metropolitan planning organizations like SANDAG to develop a so-called "Sustainable Communities Strategy" that sets the course for a less carbon-intensive transportation network.

Nicole Capretz, executive director of the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign and a frequent SANDAG critic, said in an e-mail that she was surprised by Sinnott's comments.

"It's disappointing and frankly shocking that the new Chair of our transportation agency does not understand that reducing the carbon footprint from transportation is one of the core missions of the agency as required by state law," she said. "It's not politics, it's about basic human rights like clean air and protecting our quality of life for future generations."

RELATED: Investigation Details How SANDAG Pushed Boundaries Of Public Records Law

The SANDAG board chairman is responsible for running meetings, and can exert some amount of influence on the agency's transportation policies. The post does not carry any extra voting power.

Environmental and progressive activists frequently say several SANDAG board members — most of whom are Republicans — doubt climate science. SANDAG board member and La Mesa City Councilwoman Kristine Alessio stated as much at a council meeting in April 2015.

The board on Friday also elected Poway Mayor Steve Vaus as vice chairman — a position that often leads to the chairmanship. Vaus, like Sinnott, is a Republican. He beat out Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas, a Democrat, for the post.

For more than a year, SANDAG has been weathering a revenue forecasting scandal that prompted the early retirement of its former executive director and fueled an ultimately successful campaign to reform the agency's governing structure.

SANDAG is currently conducting a nationwide search for a new executive director.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Terry Sinnott is a Del Mar city councilman, not mayor.

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