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SDSU Students Help Shape Climate Plan In Lemon Grove

A trolley stops at the Massachusetts Avenue trolley station in Lemon Grove, M...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: A trolley stops at the Massachusetts Avenue trolley station in Lemon Grove, March 5, 2017.

SDSU Students Help Shape Climate Plan In Lemon Grove


Jessica Barlow, director, Sage Project at San Diego State University


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.

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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.

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.

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