Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

SDSU Students Help Shape Climate Plan In Lemon Grove

A trolley stops at the Massachusetts Avenue trolley station in Lemon Grove, March 5, 2017.
Nicholas McVicker
A trolley stops at the Massachusetts Avenue trolley station in Lemon Grove, March 5, 2017.
SDSU Students Help Shape Climate Plan In Lemon Grove
SDSU Students Help Shape Climate Plan In Lemon Grove GUEST: Jessica Barlow, director, Sage Project at San Diego State University

The city of San Diego has a groundbreaking plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A plan remains elusive for most of the cities. Small cities with small staffs find the prospect especially challenging. The San Diego suburb 11 growth is getting help from a local University. KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson has details. Reporter: a graduate student at San Diego State University and three other students are huddled around the back of the car checking their gear. The sum we have to calibrate and put it on and we will be ready to go. Reporter: the students are at the Massachusetts Avenue trolley stop in lemon Grove. Their equipment will allow them to measure things like noise and pollution. Grad student Brittany Akins measures two things with pollution that may be coming from a car or truck. Both measure particulate matter this one measures the bigger one so it takes the mass and this one measures the number because it cannot get the mass. Reporter: this heavily traveled trolley stop is the first of several locations being monitored and recorded on this day. We can take this now and start -- you guys want to start now? Once ready the group takes a quick stroll through the parking lot next to the intersection and passed the trolley. The 10 minute snapshot will be repeated here at different times. Students working with their professors are touching a short -- sort of data map of lemon Grove that will help them shape the city's climate action plan. Here is lemon Grove Avenue here is -- Reporter: Miranda Evans and city manager Mike James are given a glass of credit -- graduate students a briefing on the bedroom community of nearly 26,000 residents. James says the city is still feeling the fiscal crunch of the great recession and that makes the student contribution so vital. Each student that is participating with us is able to help the city because we only have 52 employees and half of those are firefighters. Reporter: the climate action plan is just one part of the sweeping general plan update. The planning document guides city action on topics such as homelessness traffic and public safety. It is a major undertaking for city staff already stretched to the limit. When you bring that together staff is excited because we have more help. Jessica Barlow is the director of San Diego State University's program. The use of progress to direct school resources to local municipalities. They want to be doing real world project you want to be doing things that they know can make it is -- difference. The initiative allows them to do a wide range of projects. Lemon Grove got picked for the project this year they were to get the boys to become more sustainable while imitating the urban communities small town charm. They will identify problems suggest opportunities and solutions. They will have a baseline reading and move forward because this will be an ongoing process. They will not ever be done. Going forward they can look at over the years. Reporter: Professor and city officials guide the plan. They do the legwork and that is for Britney who is studying public health. For a city that matters and does not have this information is very rewarding. Last year the SAGE project work with civic leaders and National City San Diego Santee and Tijuana. Joining me as Jessica Barlow director of the SAGE project. Welcome. It is good to be here. Cities usually spend thousands of dollars on consultants for projects like this. How well do your students compared to what them by professional consultants? Would like to speak about the work that our students are doing with the city partners has more the work of pre-consultants so they are the ones that are going to help cities moves projects forward. They're not necessarily going to take away from all the work that is on par with consultants although sometimes they certainly do. It is more helping cities take the next step to actually implement projects that have been stuck and then need to move forward with new ideas and solutions. Can you give me an idea on how they help develop the action plan. The city will be strategic in terms of planting more trees or more green throughout the city. They have higher incidences of pollution. They suggest the installation of bike lanes and more transportation options for residents of the community. This is not the only project that you are doing with lemon Grove. We have a number of projects that we are doing we are looking at options for public art were different murals could be installed throughout the city we are doing a project on homeless outreach another project and Parks and Recreation in terms of how the city can enhance current offerings in terms of programming and so on and also a tactical urbanism project to help identify places that can be reactivated in the community space that may be utilized differently to the residents of the community. I am wondering if anybody checks the students work at they make regulations or the numbers so to speak The instructor stated. What's nice about this is that the students that are participating are actually enrolled in the course and the faculty members that choose to participate in the project are grading the students work on giving them feedback on their work and guiding them through the process so there is a level of scrutiny that would, the professor and then also staff will play a role in that as well. The deliverables we provide to the city usually come in the form of a report and we have staff that overlooks it before distributing. This is not in addition to the students is is part of the school in. Absolutely that's what I think is so cool about the model is that students show up for class one day and find out that they are participating in the stage -- SAGE project and that's why we reach more students that might otherwise choose to participate. They have to take this class that may be part of a major and they get to do this project that can make a difference. Sometimes to the students in the calculations and the results from the project do they have trouble being taken seriously by city leaders? Not typically. Certainly there's a range of ideas that come about from students. Some of them, but really novel and usual -- unusual ideas that may not fit for the community but a lot of times the city appreciates the novel approach and the multidisciplinary approach that the students are taking. He gets them thinking about things in a different way and also helps get conversations started. In a different way -- in a city that may have been more challenging otherwise because it is reaching more people. How to the students feel about being involved? I -- they love that I often get students involved with me following up the next semester and either three SAGE others city partner with had students who have gotten full-time jobs with former city partners. We have two students who ended up with Johnson the city just from taking a single class and the SAGE project. It sounds like the cities are pleased as well. Absolutely the students are very not -- knowledgeable about their communities The SAGE program is about to pick its next project. Hi will you be making a selection. We took -- to a request for proposal. Yesterday was the deadline. City managers include list the proposals that they would like to work on with us the one that is best suited for the campus and the students and what we offer this next year and then we start planning the partnership for that winning city. When we make the decision? It usually happens in April. You will be involved in that? Yes. I've been speaking with Professor Jessica Barlow the director of the SAGE project for San Diego state University. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me.

SDSU Students Help Shape Climate Plan In Lemon Grove
Climate action plans remain elusive for most of the county's cities, but Lemon Grove is enrolling students in an effort to reduce the city's climate impacts.

A group of college students spent a recent Thursday morning measuring noise and air pollution at the Massachusetts Avenue trolley station in Lemon Grove.

Vian Oraha, a San Diego State University graduate student, directed three other students who were huddled around the back of a car. She instructed them to check the pollution monitoring equipment.

"OK, so this one here we'll have to calibrate and then put this on and we'll be ready to go," Oraha said.

Once ready, the group took a quick walk through the parking lot, next to the intersection and past a trolley.

That heavily-traveled trolley stop was the first of several locations being monitored and recorded that day.

RELATED: Program Focuses On Tracking Air Pollution At US-Mexico Border

This 10-minute snapshot will be repeated at the same locations at different times. The students, working with their professors, are sketching a sort of data map of Lemon Grove. That map will help them shape the city's climate action plan.

Climate action plans remain elusive for most of the county's cities, but Lemon Grove is enrolling students in an effort to reduce the city's climate impacts.

Understanding where they are working

Back in a San Diego State University classroom, Lemon Grove officials gave students a detailed peek at their community.

"Here's Lemon Grove Avenue, here's the (state Route) 94 to orient you guys," said Miranda Evans, a city management analyst.

Evans explained where the community is and what challenges the city of about 26,000 residents is dealing with. Most of the challenges are linked to the city’s financial struggles in the wake of the great recession. Money woes forced the city to cut back all of its recreation programs, although the recreation facilities are still there.

"Each student that's participating with us is able to help the city because we only have 52 employees and half of those are firefighters," said Mike James, assistant city manager.

James told the SDSU students that the city does not have the resources to do the work required to create a climate action plan, which is just one part of Lemon Grove's sweeping general plan update. That planning document will guide city actions on topics as diverse as homelessness, traffic and public safety.

"The students are excited, the professors are excited, and when you bring all that together and, obviously, staff is excited because we have more help," James said.

SDSU Students Help Shape Climate Plan In Lemon Grove

Students are key

Students working with the San Diego State University's Sage Project are more than happy to help.

"Universities have excess capacity and so we have tons of students who want their work to be meaningful," said Jessica Barlow, Sage project director.

The program uses a competitive process to direct school resources, mainly students, to local municipalities.

"They want to be doing real world projects. They want to be doing things that they know can make a difference. And so, we're just connecting those two things," Barlow said.

The initiative allows local communities to apply for help with a wide range of civic projects. Lemon Grove applied and got picked for the project this year.

The city is looking for ways to become more sustainable while maintaining the urban community's small-town charm. Barlow said the students will identify problems, opportunities and suggest options.

"The city can have a kind of baseline rating and the move forward, because the climate action plan is going to be an ongoing process, because they're not going to be done, ever. So, going forward they can look at how they can improve, over the years," Barlow said.

Professors and city officials guide the different aspects of the general plan project. Students do the legwork. That is an appealing trade-off for Brittany Akins, a San Diego State University graduate studying public health.

"To actually be doing something, in a city, that matters, that doesn't have this kind of information, is very rewarding," Akins said.

Last year the Sage project worked with civic leaders in National City, San Diego, Santee and Tijuana. The selection process for next year's project or projects is currently underway.