Unclear metrics impair San Diego's climate equity index
Speaker 1: (00:00)
In 2019 San Diego unveiled its climate equity index. The index essentially ranks all the city's neighborhoods based on access to opportunity and the risks of being harmed by climate change. It's meant to guide city decision making. So the communities on the front lines of the climate crisis get help first, but the tool is far from perfect as explained in a recent article by voice of San Diego environment, reporter McKenzie, Elmer who joins us now McKenzie, welcome to the program. Thanks Andrea.
Speaker 2: (00:31)
Good to be here.
Speaker 1: (00:32)
Can you start off by reminding us what the San Diego climate equity index is and what purpose does it serve?
Speaker 2: (00:39)
The climate equity index is supposed to help the city identify as you very accurately put it before, uh, communities that are historically disadvantaged and also worst impacted by climate change in the future. And now,
Speaker 1: (00:54)
And how does that apply to actual decision making? So
Speaker 2: (00:58)
Lots of governments, including the state of California have created tools like this to try to help funnel extra money, extra support to those communities, to help them mitigate and prepare for those impacts of climate change. We're talking like extreme heat drought, sea level rise is one as well. All those sorts of things that we hear about.
Speaker 1: (01:18)
Tell us about the inputs. What are the variables that this index can sitters when analyzing any given neighborhood?
Speaker 2: (01:25)
So the city of San Diego decided to create their own unique climate equity index. The state has its own, uh, as well. Um, so the city of San Diego actually has 41 different, uh, inputs or indicators that it uses everything from age to income, poverty burden, to different types of pollution, a neighborhood's proximity to something like hazardous waste or a landfill to actual like climate indicators like extreme heat, urban heat island, tree coverage, and sea level rise as well.
Speaker 1: (01:58)
And in what ways has this tool actually helped communities since it was first introduced? So
Speaker 2: (02:04)
2022 will be the first time I believe that we will see the city actually use the climate equity index to funnel money towards a community. So that will be the first time that the index is actually used in that way. And the city recently created a climate equity fund to basically kind of like a savings bank to put dollars for those types of investments in these communities that need it most. And there's about 5 million in that right now to spend in 2022. And the city's already selected those projects that will move forward.
Speaker 1: (02:34)
Can you give us examples of some projects that that fund would, would put money towards? Yeah, so
Speaker 2: (02:39)
The city has a list of projects like, um, there's some bicycle facilities, bike lanes, street lights, and traffic signals and areas like Linda Vista. Um, there's a, the Cho Creek Oak park trail. Um, there's also part of university avenue would get some money to do a complete street. Um, and there's some money going to different parks around the community, but I haven't yet, uh, specifically mapped all those out to see how they layer over the actual climate equity index itself. And that's important because when I talk with the city I wanted to, I asked specifically, you know, is it only these communities of concern that you identify through your climate equity index that can act, actually receive this funding? And it's not so cut and dry. The city's operating on this idea that a richer community that maybe isn't as impacted by climate change could, uh, potentially get some climate equity funding to build something like a bike lane that might connect a park in that richer area to a poor area for. So that could be considered a climate equity project as well. It doesn't necessarily only put in these different neighborhoods that are identified by the tool,
Speaker 1: (03:47)
Your story zooms in on the community of nester and how that neighborhood represents some ways in which this climate equity index might actually be falling short. Can you tell us more about that?
Speaker 2: (03:58)
So nester's a community that's just east of Imperial beach. Um, it's a place that if you ask people from nester, they're often frustrated that people in San Diego don't know where nester is, but it's a smaller neighborhood neighborhood. And it roasted my attention because between the city's original climate equity index tool in 2019 and the update that they made and released in 2021, that community actually became in eligible for funding technically under the, the climate equity index, uh, the city identified it as a place of moderate access to opportunities or moderate, you know, community of concern to, um, one that was considered, um, higher access to opportunity. So I was interested in why that changed. And then I compared that to another community nearby, um, just east of nester called ocean view Hills, and it's, um, has a much higher, uh, median income they're much.
Speaker 2: (04:49)
Um, the, the cost of housing is much higher. It's much richer area. There's a lot of new developments over there. And I was curious because that community actually became eligible for funding under the update. So when you go on the ground, you know, boots on the ground in these neighborhoods, you can start to see why this is so difficult to actually have the data reflect. Maybe what's actually happening on the ground in the communities and whether the tool is accurately identifying ones that are maybe more disadvantaged than others. And so when looking at the community of nester versus ocean view Hills ocean view seem to be located in a census tract, an area that's near pollution, like a landfill, the OTI Mesa landfills nearby. There's a lot of sort of old car, lots, it's near an airport. The Montgomery airport is down there. And so even though that community is the people living there are doing much better or more well, the nester, it seems that perhaps those pollution indicators have perhaps incorrectly identified that neighborhood as more in need of extra support from the government versus nester, which is older, generally has a lower income rate and everything kind of the opposite of ocean view Hills in general,
Speaker 1: (05:59)
McKenzie, as we're looking ahead to trying to provide extra help to these communities that are most at risk of climate change, what limitations do you see with using data and numbers, uh, and, and things like this climate equity index in actually trying to guide those decisions? Well, if
Speaker 2: (06:16)
You talk with, uh, anyone in kind of a climate justice or climate equity space, they're often frustrated by, you know, just the use of data to try to spit out the correct answer when it comes to trying to identify where in the city might need most support. It's usually sort of obvious, I would say in, in some regards, like people know the areas of town probably that need more help than others. Um, I talked to another researcher that I quoted in the story from the Luskin center, uh, who studies a lot of these tools. And he said that most of these tools and most of this data will spit out probably 60% of the right communities that, uh, should be identified and that are facing adverse impacts from climate change, more than others have, you know, poorer residents who don't have the means to support themselves through those challenges. Um, so I think what it really takes is a lot of, uh, ground truthing, meaning, you know, going on the ground, getting advocates out there and, uh, verifying that these neighborhoods are the ones that indeed deserve, uh, or need this kind of support. So it kind of kind of need data paired us, um, real world reality based, uh, understanding of the actual neighborhood
Speaker 1: (07:22)
Itself. I've been speaking with voice of San Diego environment, reporter McKenzie, Elmer McKenzie. Thanks for joining us. Thank you.
In 2019, San Diego unveiled its Climate Equity Index.
The index essentially ranks all the city's neighborhoods based on access to opportunity and the risks of being harmed by climate change.
It's meant to guide city decision-making so the communities on the front lines of the climate crisis get help first.
The tool is far from perfect, however, as lower-income neighborhoods such as San Diego's Nestor district is currently marked as being in less need of climate equity than the neighboring, more affluent community of Ocean View Hills.
Voice of San Diego Environmental Reporter MacKenzie Elmer joined Midday Edition on Monday with more on the story.