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San Diego officials are updating the city’s sweeping climate action plan

San Diego's skyline is shown in this undated photo.
Milan Kovacevic
San Diego's skyline is shown in this undated photo.

Maritza Garcia carried her weeks-old daughter Hinata in a cross-body sling as she walked around the same Logan Heights park that she played in as a child.

“Pretty soon we’ll be coming and you’re going to be playing in that jungle gym,” Garcia said quietly to her daughter as she carried her across the park.

Garcia’s mother is fighting a lifelong battle with asthma and that’s one reason she wants a different outcome for her newborn daughter.

“I am fighting for the health of my community who I saw grow up with me, their kids,” Garcia said as she waved her hand and tears welled in her eyes. “I’m getting emotional.”

She wants what other neighborhoods have; air that’s clean enough so that people don’t have to think about it.

“It’s so hard to stay positive about this neighborhood all the time, as much as you want to,” Garcia said. “As much beauty as you see here. There’s still those health risks, those concerns, always in the back of your mind. Always having to do extra.”

She said she is happy the city of San Diego is making clean air a priority in an updated Climate Action Plan. The document is a forward-looking plan that envisions a planet-friendly, carbon-zero future for America’s Finest City.

Moriah Saldaña, the program manager for San Diego’s Climate Action Plan, said clean air is front and center in the new planning document designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Air quality and reducing the pollution in our communities was the number one thing that residents wanted out of the climate action plan,” she said.

If successful, the new climate blueprint will transform San Diego by 2035, creating a new city.

“A walkable city,” Saldaña said. “A city where you can bike to work. A city where you can take most of your errands within your neighborhood.”

She said cars won’t be needed as much and there will be less litter.

“A city that has green spaces for recreation or playing, Saldana said. “A city that protects us from the impacts of climate change.”

Nicole Capretz, executive director and founder of the Climate Action Campaign, said the “beautiful part” of the plan is its ambition.

“It’s an incredible vision for improved quality of life in San Diego for improved public health,” she said.

But Capretz said that ambition might be the updated Climate Action Plan’s weakness as well.

She worries the document is too aspirational like the first plan passed in 2015. Great goals but weak on implementation.

“There’s just so much good,” Capretz said. “If the city took this seriously there’s so much good that can come out of it, like tangible benefits to quality of life, and to make sure we’re prepared. There’s like an earthquake coming with these climate changes.”

Capretz wants the planning document to be as detailed as possible so city officials can use it to tap into huge reservoirs of available state and federal funding for climate-related projects.

The Environmental Health Coalition’s policy advisor Kyle Heiskala said one way to fix that is by including targets with costs and timetables clearly spelled out.

“There’s been some hesitation by the city of San Diego to include strong goals to cleaning up the air,” he said. “And I think it’s a case of something that hasn’t been done before.”

Defining climate targets quantitatively with achievable goals goes a long way toward helping make sure clean air matters, especially in neighborhoods like Logan Heights. Heiskala said accountability is also important.

“Those types of projects need to be prioritized in the environmental justice communities that have held the burden of air pollution and heavy industry without seeing the benefits,” he said.

The Climate Action Plan goes before the city’s environment committee Thursday.

Councilman Joe LaCava said the effort is not just a bureaucratic exercise, it matters because the city has to prepare for a warming climate.

“While I know there’s good work being done, by city staff and city departments, it is helpful to have it actually articulated in a specific document,” LaCava said. “It doesn’t have to be a fancy report with a pretty cover, it can just be an old-fashioned spreadsheet, but it gives us that timeline.”

The climate plan update has been in the works since 2020. LaCava said it likely has enough support in the city council’s environment committee to move to the full council for adoption.

But he also hopes to flesh out the implementation matrix, which will add some accountability to the plan. That matrix includes more than 180 measurable action items — a significant jump from just over a dozen in the first Climate Action Plan.