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Politics

San Diego's Climate Action Plan Moves To City Council

City officials, union leaders, environmentalists at a press conference in support of San Diego's Climate Action Plan, Nov. 30, 2015.
Claire Trageser
City officials, union leaders, environmentalists at a press conference in support of San Diego's Climate Action Plan, Nov. 30, 2015.

San Diego’s Climate Action Plan Moves To City Council
A plan to slash the city of San Diego’s carbon emissions in half in 20 years took another step closer to adoption Monday.

A plan to slash the city of San Diego’s carbon emissions in half in 20 years took another step closer to adoption Monday when the City Council’s Environment Committee voted unanimously to forward it to the full City Council.

The council will hear the plan on Dec. 15.

City staff have been working on the Climate Action Plan for two years. It outlines five strategies for cutting emissions, including constructing more energy and water efficient buildings, promoting cycling, public transit and walking over commuting by car, and transitioning the city to only using renewable energy in 20 years.

San Diego Climate Action Plan Final
The final draft of San Diego's Climate Action Plan.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

City Councilman Todd Gloria, who first released a draft plan when serving as interim mayor in early 2014, said the current plan sticks to his original vision.

"This plan demonstrates that San Diego is a progressive leader in addressing climate change," he said. "That we value our people and our environment enough to commit to progressive measurable outcomes in this plan."

In a statement after the meeting, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the vote means "San Diego is one step closer to ensuring America’s Finest City becomes America’s Cleanest City as we work together to reduce pollution and create the green jobs of the future."

"The bipartisan support shown in today’s committee vote, combined with the support from local business and environmental groups, underscores that leaving a better San Diego to our children is something we can all get behind,” he said.

The plan and its environmental impact report outline specific targets to help achieve greenhouse gas reductions.

For example, 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 by 2035. 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's environmental impact report suggests that those changes would cut carbon emissions by 36.1 percent by 2020 and by an additional 10.9 percent by 2035.

City Councilman David Alvarez, who chairs the environment committee, said the plan is legally binding, but also called for establishment of a working group to monitor the city's progress in meeting its targets and for enough funding to achieve the plan's goals.

"If we don't do that then the plan will not mean very much," he said. "It will just sit on a shelf."

Included in the environment committee's action was a direction to city staff to bring an implementation and funding plan to the City Council by April 1, 2016.

The plan also would commit the city to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, either through an alternative energy program called community choice aggregation, "or another program."

Under community choice, the city would decide where to buy its energy from, but still use SDG&E’s grid to deliver electricity.

City Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who sits on the environment committee, asked that the deadline for bringing a community choice program to the City Council for consideration be pushed up by two years, moving it from the second to first phase of the plan.

"We should go big or go home," she said, adding that she did not believe the city needed a separate economic analysis on the program.

"It's not like I have something in for SDG&E, I don't," she said, but said the energy market is changing and the city needs community choice to keep up.

Gloria responded that he was happy to move community choice to the first phase of the plan.

"The truth of the matter is I think either way we're going to accomplish it," he said. "The time frame difference is minimal."

Gloria's spokeswoman clarified after the meeting that Gloria meant the city is going to accomplish 100 percent renewable energy, not specifically community choice.

The plan says that by 2035, community choice or another program would cut carbon emissions by 3.19 million metric tons, compared with a cut of 0.4 million metric tons through SDG&E.

The plan's environmental impact report generated 36 response letters, including one from SDG&E, which took issue with this description, saying the calculations overstated community choice’s reductions and understated progress the utility is making in moving toward more renewable energy.

The SDG&E letter also suggests it's unrealistic to achieve the 100 percent renewable energy goal.

"The Climate Action plan would necessarily rely on the use of local natural gas-fired power plants to maintain grid stability, especially at peak usage hours in the evenings," it said. "Natural gas is needed to provide grid reliability, as more and more intermittent renewable resources are integrated into the system."

Alvarez said he has not seen anything from SDG&E in support or in opposition to the plan. He said he met with utility representatives two weeks ago and they didn't raise opposition to the overall plan or community choice aggregation then.

By state law, SDG&E is not allowed to market or lobby on community choice unless it forms an independent marketing district with separate funding that customers don't pay for. In November the utility announced it's doing just that.

Nicole Capretz, the director of the environmental nonprofit Climate Action Campaign who helped Gloria write his draft plan, said Gloria "could have taken the easy path, or taken the path to do the right thing."

"He chose to do the right thing, and that takes guts, that takes courage, and that is the only reason we are standing here today," she said.

Union representatives, including Gretchen Newson, the political director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569, also rallied in support of the plan. Newsom, who is running for mayor, said she fully supports the plan's goals, but told the committee "environmental and economic sustainability must go hand-in-hand."

"We need to lift up working families as we address climate change, and do it in a way that is equitable for our most disadvantaged neighborhoods," she said. "As the city implements this vision, we need to make sure we are tightly tracking programs so we create high-quality jobs for local residents, as this plan specifies, and we are meeting major milestones to reduce emissions."

Georgette Gomez, the associate director at the nonprofit Environmental Health Coalition and a candidate for City Council, said the plan should identify how much funding it will need to be implemented and should do more to ensure equity for low income neighborhoods.

"Let's make San Diego a leader not only in climate action but in ensuring we lift up communities that have been impacted the most," she said.