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Facing Backlash, Del Mar Councilman Walks Back Comments On Climate Change

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 and incoming San Diego Association of Governments board chairman Terry Sinnott on Monday walked back recent comments that some understood as skepticism of climate science.

Speaking at the Del Mar City Council meeting Monday evening, Sinnott said his comments to KPBS were "misinterpreted" and that he did, in fact, believe humans were contributing to global warming.

"I am not a scientist, but I do believe that we are in the midst of climate change, and that humans, man-made people, are contributing to that climate change and that it is absolutely necessary that we as a community and society move forward in doing things to reduce greenhouse gases and address climate action," Sinnott said.

SANDAG board members elected Sinnott unanimously as board chairman last Friday. After his election, he gave the following response to KPBS when asked whether climate change was caused by human activity:

I don't get into that situation. 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.

The comments prompted a backlash, with three members of Del Mar's Sustainability Advisory Board and a former city councilman questioning Sinnott's fitness to serve on the SANDAG board. SANDAG is responsible for helping San Diego County meet state-mandated greenhouse gas reductions.

Henry Abarbanel, the former Del Mar city councilman, went so far as to urge the council to remove Sinnott as the city's representative on the SANDAG board.

"He has two jobs: One is to represent his constituents and his council," Abarbanel, who is also a physics professor at UCSD, said in a phone interview. "The other is to lead the members of SANDAG, whatever their present beliefs, to recognize the issues of climate change and to help educate them."

The Del Mar City Council reappointed Sinnott to the SANDAG board at its meeting Monday evening, after his some council members expressed their initial dismay at his comments. Sinnott pledged to advocate for Del Mar's interests in climate action on the board.

Over the weekend, Sinnott wrote his own email to his City Council colleagues offering further explanation of his comments: "As I see it, my role as chair is to foster discussion and the development of consensus – not to make statements that may alienate some members of the (SANDAG) Board and make consensus more difficult to achieve," Sinnott wrote.

The email did not explain Sinnott's personal views on climate science, but it did say he supports the city's climate action plan and would "continue to represent the Council in its environmental concerns at SANDAG." He also said the "SANDAG Board as a whole and the agency staff are dedicated to achieving the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets as required by state law and state regulators."

Below is Sinnott's full email:

Dear Council,

Yesterday I was elected to the chair position at SANDAG. It was a unanimous vote representing support from all 19 agencies. It was a vote that was made by elected officials who support climate action efforts and those who do not

After the meeting, a KPBS reporter interviewed me on the goals of SANDAG for the coming year. At the end of the interview he asked me if I accepted the conclusion that climate change is occurring and that it is caused by human activity. I answered the question from the standpoint of my new role as chair of the SANDAG Board of Directors, which includes elected officials with a wide variety of perspectives on the issue. Rather than answer the question directly, I focused on my role in working with the Board to achieve our overall goals, which include the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. As I see it, my role as chair is to foster discussion and the development of consensus – not to make statements that may alienate some members of the Board and make consensus more difficult to achieve. The Board as a whole sets policy, not the chair.

I would also note that, regardless of what opinions individual members may have about the issue, the SANDAG Board as a whole and the agency staff are dedicated to achieving the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets as required by state law and state regulators. SANDAG also supports the efforts of individual cities to develop climate action plans. And, as you all know, I have always supported Del Mar’s climate action plan, and I will continue to represent the Council in its environmental concerns at SANDAG. I whole-heartedly support all of these efforts.

Hope this clarifies what you are hearing.

Thanks,

Terry

Terry Sinnott, a Del Mar city councilman and incoming chair of the SANDAG board, is walking back statements he made last week on climate change. He now says he does believe humans are contributing to climate change and cities should work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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